So It's True - The NYT "Massages" Its Bestseller Charts

AgentPete

Capo Famiglia
Guardian
Full Member
Joined
May 19, 2014
Location
London UK
This is disturbing news from the Economist:


I have no problem at all if the NYT wants to list its top ten picks of the week. Listicles are usually interesting to read and usually damn good clickbait.

But the NYT charts have always had an aura of definitive respectability about them. If your book is a NYT bestseller, you've arrived as an author.

The Economist concludes:

Like Coca-Cola, the New York Times guards its proprietary formula; exactly which retailers report sales, how they are weighted and which sales are screened out is shrouded in mystery.

One more illusion smashed!
 
I can well believe it. I recently saw a bit of a rather engaging interview with Simon Cowell, how he helped make Sinitta a hit. He got a big record retailer to hold back stock, though they said they were not supposed to do that, then they released the stock all in one go...and that hit the metrics.
 
What if the New York Times bestseller list is biased towards typical Times readers from New York City? Maybe all of the bookstores they survey are in Manhattan and Brooklyn. This would be a very big bias, but not unexpected.
 
That's quite likely, Brian.

There's no strong argument against open-sourcing this data and method. And even if there were, giving a "hands off" subcontract to a research firm with a solid reputation would instantly lend integrity to their charts again.

I suspect the NYT wants it both ways, though - the kudos of being the arbiter of national bestsellers, with the behind-the-scenes freedom to fix the results.

Not a great look.
 
This is disturbing news from the Economist:


I have no problem at all if the NYT wants to list its top ten picks of the week. Listicles are usually interesting to read and usually damn good clickbait.

But the NYT charts have always had an aura of definitive respectability about them. If your book is a NYT bestseller, you've arrived as an author.

The Economist concludes:



One more illusion smashed!
After my "Trust" in Pulitzer Prizes I am not surprised. The corporate suits have decided that authenticity and integrity are irrelevant. They think everything can be sold and manipulated to a gullible public. And they have been too accurate. However I think the coming generation is going to smash that smug reliance on agorhythms and smarm. The young wans have an immunity that no other generation has and they are beginning to crave authenticity.
 
I believe that many Times readers would prefer the bestseller list to be biased towards the idealized Times reader. Let's face it, those online Times subscribers in the suburbs of Ohio fancy themselves as living in a loft a few blocks from the Brooklyn Bridge and certainly pretend that they think the same way. That crowd - which may well be the majority of Times subscribers - wants and expects a bias that leans heavily in their direction.
 
That's quite interesting. I've seen the same thing at work within the NY publishing scene. There are very few native New Yorkers there - many from Ohio, I'd bet - but they do assume what they take to be NY sensibilities once hired.
 
Hasn't it always been known that the NYT bestseller list is a list of the bestselling books of which the NYT approves? Writers they don't like, have never made their list, unless it's with a monster smash that can't be ignored.
We were always told that a book with a good review in the NYT books, and 50,000 in sales, was always going to make the list, regardless of what was out there outselling it.
It's like the motto of the Times, All the News that's Fit to Print (in KC we adapted this to our approach, "All the News that Fits we Print"). the Board at the Times has always been quite at ease deciding what is reality, and what isn't. When we beat the Times, like a kid with toy drum, on the holes in the weapons of mass destruction evidence in Iraq, the Times dismissed us as annoying. We were told by the industry, nice try, but this was Times territory. When we were proven right, it wasn't until the Times admitted as much, in a very low key way, that we got credit, and a meh movie.
 
So here's the frightening question ... let's say that the Times hired a third-party book sales data gatherer. They then objectively charted the best-selling books in the United States and what would they come up with? Romance novels on top by a long mile, followed by ... ??? Certainly not the literary novels the Times loves. And nonfiction? Would Steve Bannon outsell Thomas Friedman?

From what I see, Americans read. Some might read what the Times loves, and many more read titles that are off their radar. Romance, Christian, truck repair, and (hopefully) recipes are all being sought out. No, the Times doesn't care, but some sort of objective count might. And we might learn that an Amish housewife with a typewriter outsells the past five or ten Booker Prize winners. (or not)

Times readers could still look down on the farm and rust belt crowd, but they'd have to admit that they read.
 
It's like the motto of the Times, All the News that's Fit to Print (in KC we adapted this to our approach, "All the News that Fits we Print"). the Board at the Times has always been quite at ease deciding what is reality, and what isn't. When we beat the Times, like a kid with toy drum, on the holes in the weapons of mass destruction evidence in Iraq, the Times dismissed us as annoying. We were told by the industry, nice try, but this was Times territory. When we were proven right, it wasn't until the Times admitted as much, in a very low key way, that we got credit, and a meh movie.
The cultural similarity between the Times and the BBC is striking… and although this pre-dated the arrival of Brit Mark Thompson at the Times (former BBC supremo and now charged with rescuing CNN) there is a rather off-putting smugness common to both operations.

In the UK, the BBC was once rather affectionately known as “Auntie”, but that’s long gone, sadly. As has its willingness to engage with all but the least trivial of controversial issues. It no longer bites the hand.

So here's the frightening question ... let's say that the Times hired a third-party book sales data gatherer. They then objectively charted the best-selling books in the United States and what would they come up with? Romance novels on top by a long mile, followed by ... ??? Certainly not the literary novels the Times loves. And nonfiction? Would Steve Bannon outsell Thomas Friedman?
Very probably. But I’d prefer to know what’s actually going on in the marketplace rather than live in a fool’s paradise of make-believe sales data.
From what I see, Americans read. Some might read what the Times loves, and many more read titles that are off their radar. Romance, Christian, truck repair, and (hopefully) recipes are all being sought out. No, the Times doesn't care, but some sort of objective count might. And we might learn that an Amish housewife with a typewriter outsells the past five or ten Booker Prize winners. (or not)
I so agree, and I would be rooting for that housewife :)
Times readers could still look down on the farm and rust belt crowd, but they'd have to admit that they read.
Exactly.
If Bannon (soon to be incarcerated, I believe) vastly outsells Krugman, then damn, oughtn’t we to be publishing books that are simply better than Bannon’s in every way? (Elitism / snobbery has always been an unpleasant presence in publishing… I believe it’s on the decline, and none to soon…)
 
The cultural similarity between the Times and the BBC is striking… and although this pre-dated the arrival of Brit Mark Thompson at the Times (former BBC supremo and now charged with rescuing CNN) there is a rather off-putting smugness common to both operations.

In the UK, the BBC was once rather affectionately known as “Auntie”, but that’s long gone, sadly. As has its willingness to engage with all but the least trivial of controversial issues. It no longer bites the hand.


Very probably. But I’d prefer to know what’s actually going on in the marketplace rather than live in a fool’s paradise of make-believe sales data.

I so agree, and I would be rooting for that housewife :)

Exactly.
If Bannon (soon to be incarcerated, I believe) vastly outsells Krugman, then damn, oughtn’t we to be publishing books that are simply better than Bannon’s in every way? (Elitism / snobbery has always been an unpleasant presence in publishing… I believe it’s on the decline, and none to soon…)
I finally understood what it meant to live in the NYT world in 2005/or 6. I was in Baghdad, it was really nasty and the US was planning to pull back into bases, which meant evacuating all civilians, though there was no announcement that this was a plan. I was the last one walking out of a press conference one morning, when i noticed one of Petraeus' top guys talking to Burns of the NYT. The US military and NYT were always close, so not a huge surprise, but worthwhile to walk nearby and see if it could steal a tip.. What I heard was, "You're sure this is everyone who['d need to be evacuated." "Absolutely, our complex, the Palestine and the Sheraton, and that's everyone."
I realized what was being discussed, so broke in and said, "No, that's about half the US press here."
Burns said, "No, it's not this is everyone. It's everyone who matters, at least" and stared daggers at me.
Baghdad didn't fall, as predicted, that week, but had it, this guy was very willing to condemn about 150 US journalists to kidnap, imprisonment and murder because his arrogance was so great he could not accept that he might not know the entire situation. They had come to him several days earlier (the military sees everything in terms of rank, and to their eyes, the NYT was the highest rank, he was the highest rank at the NYT, so he was effectively in charge).
Either that, or he wanted extra seats for his stuff.
But that was the Times: We said it, so it's true.
Even when it had been proven wrong.
 
Hasn't it always been known that the NYT bestseller list is a list of the bestselling books of which the NYT approves? Writers they don't like, have never made their list, unless it's with a monster smash that can't be ignored.
We were always told that a book with a good review in the NYT books, and 50,000 in sales, was always going to make the list, regardless of what was out there outselling it.
It's like the motto of the Times, All the News that's Fit to Print (in KC we adapted this to our approach, "All the News that Fits we Print"). the Board at the Times has always been quite at ease deciding what is reality, and what isn't. When we beat the Times, like a kid with toy drum, on the holes in the weapons of mass destruction evidence in Iraq, the Times dismissed us as annoying. We were told by the industry, nice try, but this was Times territory. When we were proven right, it wasn't until the Times admitted as much, in a very low key way, that we got credit, and a meh movie.
NYC never got over the Wizard of Oz and NYT never had the self awareness to see they were the Wizard. Not even when the Washington Post beat the pants off them with Watergate.
 
Back
Top