I rarely make breaking news announcements, but something big happened today in the publishing industry.
The Wall Street Journal announced that they have discontinued their bestseller lists for books effectively immediately.
Source: Thanks to Publisher’s Weekly for this update.
This decision is a surprising move, because The Wall Street Journal bestseller lists are widely considered part of the top-tier lists, which include The New York Times and USA Today. (As you might recall, USA Today recently put their bestseller list on a lengthy hiatus earlier in 2023.)
According to Paul Gigot, editorial page editor at the WSJ, the company’s contract with Circana expired, “and we are not renewing it.” He added that all other aspects of the paper’s book coverage will “continue as usual.” (Circana owns Bookscan, which tracks retail sales of books across America and reports those sales to the bestseller lists.)
The WSJ featured a total of six fiction and nonfiction lists, as well as a hardcover business list. The fiction and nonfiction categories were both divided into hardcover, e-book, and combined lists. In something of a unique feature, the lists combined adult and children’s titles on one list.
Personally, I’m sorry to see the WSJ bestseller lists disappear. But, I think this change could mark a positive turning point for publishers and authors. Over the past several years, there have been too many attempts to “game the system” and put books on the WSJ bestseller lists that didn’t deserve that recognition.
For example, the WSJ would allow e-books priced at $.99 to qualify for their bestseller lists. But, readers weren’t told that the books were priced that cheaply. Thus, it wasn’t an apples-to-apples comparison and misled the public’s understanding of a bestselling book.
I know of several unethical companies who would guarantee authors that they could turn a book into a WSJ bestseller by dropping the e-book price to $.99 and hiring a group of buyers to make a bunch of purchases. Now, those deceptive practices can no longer be rewarded.
Another strange aspect of the WSJ bestseller lists is that they wouldn’t acknowledge sales of paperback books. Only sales of hardcover and e-books were tracked. This was an oversight on their part, because there are a lot of paperback books that deserve bestseller recognition. Choosing to ignore that common format didn’t make sense.
Currently, there are only a handful of bestseller lists with any legitimate credibility, such as The New York Times, USA Today, Publisher’s Weekly, and a few regional lists, such as The Los Angeles Times, The Washington Post, ECPA Christian books, and a few others.
As bestseller lists shrink, some people have made the attempt to claim “bestseller” status by hitting #1 in an Amazon book category. Authors would constantly move their books into irrelevant categories just win a bestseller badge. Fortunately, Amazon recently cracked down on this duplicitous behavior by limiting the amount of categories and making selections permanent with change requests no longer allowed. Good move on Amazon’s part.
So, where do we go from here? Now that one of the major bestseller lists is gone and another one was recently put on hiatus, how should authors view these developments?
Put simply, authors should stop obsessing over the bestseller lists.
I know, I know…easier said than done. As an author myself, I’d love to be known as a bestselling writer. But, is the pursuit of that title doing us more harm than good?
Why not focus on selling more books over a longer period of time, rather than just trying to sell a certain amount of books within one week in order to make a list?
You only need to sell around 10,000 copies within seven days to become a bestseller. But, that also means you can write a bestselling book and still go broke. This is the big delusion that tricks a lot of authors. Hitting a bestseller list is like a mirage. It looks good and it feels good, but it won’t necessarily improve the overall quality or financial health of your life.
As a book marketing consultant with numerous bestselling clients, I am routinely contacted by authors who “just want to hit a bestseller list.” In my opinion, this type of thinking is short-sighted and actually reduces the overall sales potential of a book.
If all that matters is hitting a bestseller list during one week, then why should the author care about promoting the book for months and years to come? It’s like having a baby, but only deciding to parent the newborn for one week and then leaving it to fend for itself.
The best thing an author can do for their books is to adopt a long-term approach to marketing and sales. For instance, isn’t a book that sells 100,000 copies over five years a superior book to one that sells 10,000 copies in a week? Part of the problem with bestseller lists is that they make people focus on short-term results. But, that narrow window of sales never gives the full picture.
If The Wall Street Journal believes that bestseller lists are no longer worth tracking, maybe we should follow their lead and reduce our infatuation with becoming a bestseller.
Write the best book you can. Promote it like a proud parent for the long haul. Then, don’t worry if you hit a bestseller list. Just like raising a child, endeavor to help your book reach it’s full potential, then you will truly experience being a “best” seller.
Curious about how you can maximize sales of your books?
Check out my 1:1 Book Marketing Master Class for authors.