THE SOURCE: “Readers of the Pack: American Best-Selling” by Ruth Franklin, in Bookforum, Summer 2011.
In 1895, a trade magazine published a list of books “in order of demand.” Since then, Publishers Weekly, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Amazon.com, and IndieBound (an association of independent booksellers), among others, have compiled their own bestseller lists. But while the term bestseller sounds authoritative, it has no consistent meaning. Each publisher gleans its numbers from different sources; the Times, for instance, relies on reports from a changing cast of 4,000 booksellers, IndieBound only on those from independent bookstores. “A writer with a carefully timed marketing blitz,” writes New Republic senior editor Ruth Franklin, can elbow onto a list for a day—long enough to claim permanent status as a best-selling author.
If you want ...
Research, browse, and discover more than 35 years of articles, essays, and reviews by preeminent scholars and writers. Our searchable archive of back issues is free for WQ subscribers.