NYT Splits Paperback Bestsellers in Two

For such a major change to the way paperback bestsellers are computed by the New York Times, the chatter’s been fairly quiet thus far. I first heard about it when I read Ed Gorman’s blog on his amazement that so many mass market paperback bestsellers debuted the same week, and Sandra Ruttan’s correction which pointed to Tess Gerritsen’s post on what really happened.

Starting with the September 23 editions released last Wednesday, the NYT will separate the paperback fiction bestseller list into two different

lists, one exclusively for trade paperback fiction, and the other for

mass-market paperback fiction. As Gerritsen (who debuted at #7 on the new mass market list with THE MEPHISTO CLUB) points out, “this is a good thing for those of us published in mass market, because

it effectively doubles the number of slots on the bestseller list.” More so, in fact: each list now has twenty slots, plus an additional fifteen extended listings.

It’s also good news for those publishing more literary efforts, as the trade list, according to the notice accompanying the advance lists sent out last Wednesday, “gives more emphasis to the literary novels and short-story
collections reviewed so often in the Times (and sometimes published only in
softcover).” Though a source close to the NYTBR wouldn’t go on record about the list changes, this rationale was essentially confirmed in an email this morning.

If there is a downside, it’s that the lists, which now number eight, encompass a great deal of books – so being an NYT bestseller is both easier and perhaps less meaningful (of course, one could argue that ascribing meaning to a list is an exercise in absurdity, but that’s besides the point.) And mass market fiction, already subject to something of a ghetto, will be that much more of one as the trade list gets all the “glory” from having books in there that more closely match what’s included in the Book Review (and would it really be so bad to, say, have a column devoted exclusively to mass market paperback fiction, since that might be of considerable benefit to NYT readers?)

But then, a quick look at the inaugural trade list shows many multiweek stalwarts (Gruen, Hosseini, Nemirovsky, Edwards, Eugenides, McCarthy) a number of commercial offerings (Weiner, de los Santos, Picoult several times, Monk Kidd, Giffin, Harris) and very few “purely literary” titles (Messud, Powers, Allende, Haddon) – not quite in line with the NYT’s rationale, but depending on titles released and of course, sales of such, that may change considerably over the course of the next few weeks or months.

So authors and publishers, rejoice: NYT bestsellerdom got that much easier.