I still meet first-time authors who are convinced that their self-published book is going to rocket to the New York Times bestseller list. It's true that miracles happen and it would be awesome to know authors who have defied the odds and become overnight sensations. But the facts from the first quarter of 2016 show that the NYT bestseller list is dominated by the largest New York publishers.
Random House tops the list with 2,548 books on the list, garnering 30.2%
Penguin is next with 1,682 books or 19.9%
Hachette rounds out the Top Three with 1,213 books or 14.4%
HarperCollins comes in 4th with 945 books or 11.2%
Simon & Schuster is close behind with 923 books or 10.9%
And Macmillan trails with 653 books or 7.7%
The remainder - 486 books or 5.8% is all other publishers combined.
Why is this?
First, although the NYT closely guards how a book appears on their bestseller list, insiders point to book stores across the nation who submit their sales to the newspaper on a weekly basis. If a town has 1,000 residents and they sold 2 copies of a book in a given week, it could make that book a bestseller in that town. Once the information is obtained from all the book stores, statistics are drawn, conclusions made and the list goes to print.
If a book is not carried in these stores (and the list is highly confidential) there is no chance they'll be sold. And the largest publishers dominate the physical brick-and-mortar book stores.
Second, it costs a lot of money to get books into those stores. It requires a sales team pushing certain titles; insiders say that the publishers know exactly which books they will push to the bestseller lists. The publishers also have to be prepared to take back the books that don't sell, should their marketing and sales strategy fail. We've all seen books that have even reached the bestseller lists selling for a fraction of the cover price just to get rid of the excess inventory; only the largest publishers can afford those losses.
But there are other ways to measure success. Smaller publishers don't need to sell millions of copies to make a profit. Ebook and audio book sales can be effective revenue streams. Critical acclaim is one sign of success, even if large numbers of books are selling.
If you're an author, how do you measure your success?
And if you're a reader, how much emphasis do you place on a bestselling status before you'll buy it?