Monday, October 27, 2008

Commenting on Comics of the Times

Another jumped-up comment, from this blog post by Publishers Weekly's comics blog, The Beat:

This isn't actually a Direct Market issue -- not in the case of Watchmen or of The Dresden Files: Welcome to the Jungle -- since both have sold strongly enough in particular weeks through book-industry outlets to outrank many books on the published lists.

The problem is that the bestseller lists are actively, and heavily, managed -- perhaps for the image of the New York Times, or perhaps for the benefit of the Times's ad-sales department. The Times deliberately leaves out many categories from their bestsellers lists -- their "fiction bestsellers" doesn't include books published as Young Adult, or graphic novels of any kind. (As we've all recently learned.) Similarly, their non-fiction list is mostly limited to history, memoirs, and current events -- they suppress all how-to books, self-help, computer books, and other categories.

Given that sales data is all captured electronically these days, it's clear that the Times must start with a compiled weekly list of sales (from the outlets that report to them) and then decide which books are actually "fiction" or "non-fiction" by their definitions, and which are not worthy of being listed at all.

(When you see the Times folks talk about the list, they often say that a book "was placed" on a list -- I suspect this is how they refer to it internally, and another sign that their bestseller lists shouldn't be taken as pure reportage.)

From their website: "Among those categories not actively tracked are: perennial sellers; required classroom reading; text, reference and test preparation guides; journals and workbooks; calorie counters; shopping guides; comics and crossword puzzles." Note that "among," as well -- they're leaving themselves the room to "not actively track" other things, at their whim.

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