In this month’s Romance Writer’s Report, there’s an article about decoding what it means to be a “bestseller.” In a curious convergence of topics, I was recently interviewed by an undergrad journalism student looking for information on how books are marketed with the arrival and market power of digital books. Seeing this article made me ponder how books are labeled and sold, both online and off, and I had to ask myself: have I ever bought a book from an author I haven’t heard of just because the cover said, ‘New York Times Bestseller?’
Nope, I haven’t. I remember being told by multiple authors that once you can place that banner on your books it’s a huge potential boost in sales, but the RWR article seems to indicate that it’s because booksellers will buy more of the book, not because shoppers gravitate to the bestseller banner itself. It’s a goal for many authors – and I don’t think that making a major list is meaningless at all. That bestseller status can represent some hella-huge sales.
Because bestseller-dom is a coveted insignia, it makes me wonder: should the same best-seller status be trackable for online purchases? What if someone sells twice or three times as many Kindle and ePub copies of their book than print? How can book sales be better measured for digital books? Does being in the top ten of a particular publishing house’s digital books make for good cover banner? Is there a way to track and measure book sales digitally so that the sales across all formats and between houses can be tallied and compared for some sort of “bestseller” status? Even now the tracking mechanisms for bestsellers is hugely flawed. According to the RWR article, Bookscan doesn’t include numbers from Wal-Mart or major discount retailer chains, so having an accurate measurement of books actually sold in a week’s time can be a challenge to say the least.
I keep circling back to my original thought: how much does the bestseller banner on a book’s cover influence the reader’s purchase? Is the bestseller insignia something that’s significant for authors, and publishers, and booksellers, but not so much for book readers? I’m going to be presenting a lot of seminars about digital reading and romance readers in the coming months, including at the O’Reilly Tools of Change in Publishing conference in February 2010, and I have been pondering for awhile now the best tactics to market to readers who want digital books, which begs the questions about what works in the present model, and what doesn’t.
Speaking specifically about bestseller-dom, does knowing that an author whose name you don’t recognize is a Times or USA Today or Publisher’s Weekly bestseller influence your purchase?