2014 Bestseller List – Exciting New Developments!

A little over a year ago I explored the issue of best-seller lists for Christian books (“The Mystery of the Bestseller List”).

However, in the last thirteen months, much has changed. The New York Times is adding some new niche-lists to their collection, which will affect Christian titles. A company involved in gathering book sales data sold their research group to another company who also reports book sales from many channels. This consolidation of two reporting services will have a profound effect on Christian best-seller lists.

To get a perspective on this, I asked Mark Kuyper, the president and CEO of the Evangelical Christian Publishers Association (ECPA), to update where things stand:

“Christian Bestseller lists have changed dramatically over the last decade. Ten years ago the data was compiled from virtually all of the major Christian chains as well as most of the independents. None of the general market retailers or other sources of distribution were included. At the time, the list was still a good barometer of sales because Christian retail represented a majority of the market. Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Borders and the Clubs (Sam’s, Costco, etc.) were gaining market share, but there was enough reporting from Christian stores to be representative of the market. After all, most of the best selling Christian titles in the CBA stores were also the top sellers in the general trade. The list was co-distributed by CBA and ECPA.

“Over the years the ECPA list morphed to include some general market, but also lost some of the Christian trade. We expanded our categories and added the Multi-Channel list, which incorporated the general market retailers reporting through Above the Treeline. We refined our processes to deliver the lists as quickly as possible.  

“Today, the ECPA list is compiled through Nielsen’s BookScan and now includes Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Walmart, Sam’s, Costco, BJ’s, Lifeway, Mardels and a wide range of other retailers operating in other channels, collectively representing 75%+ of the total market.
We no longer have the Multi-Channel list because now every category represents the breadth of the retail market. This new list is easily the most comprehensive and representative in the history of Christian Publishing.”

So, that’s a pretty big deal. For the first time, there is actually a list that indicates what Christian books are selling across the country, without having to clarify whether it is “only in non-Christian outlets,” or “Christian stores only.”

The Christian Booksellers Association (CBA) still produces their list through data collected from member stores, and it is helpful to compare how Christian stores are doing with certain products.

To repeat a point from last fall’s blog post, every best-seller list has an editor. (Editors are everywhere!) The organizations behind any bestseller list need to approach the list with appropriate amounts of subjectivity and objectivity. That means no list is a simple download of data without review. If a book sells a majority of copies through a relative few sources or at a dramatically reduced price, it will probably be excluded from consideration since the sales are not spread broadly and do not reflect widespread interest.

After all, the purpose of a national best-seller list is to portray trending for the entire country, giving readers from all over an idea of what is popular to the broadest number of people and give retail channels a sense of what they should be carrying to meet their customers’ needs.



Leave a Comment

Justin Beiber and Leisure Suits

Recognizing the difference between a cultural “trend” and a “phenomenon” is an important skill of anyone working in book publishing, both employees of publishers and authors. Why? Because book publishing in virtually every form does a very poor job responding to a phenomenon, which is generally short-lived. Often a phenomenon …

Read More

Is it Possible to Read Too Much?

Amidst all the public voices and rhetoric swirling around these days is a healthy focus on the need to make reading more a part of every life.  From celebrities sponsoring reading campaigns to Amazon providing pre-loaded Kindles to schools in Africa through their Worldreader  program, it is a good thing …

Read More

8 Things Authors Should No Longer Ask Their Publisher

Publishing is changing faster than ever before.  Book publishers have been wrenching to find new business models that make them more flexible, efficient and adaptable to the realities of the digital publishing age. Within this fast-change world, another group who has felt the pain of shifting tectonic plates are authors …

Read More

It’s Not Who You Know

From the third season of the 90’s sitcom Seinfeld, this classic interchange: Car Rental Agent: I’m sorry, we have no mid-size available at the moment.  Jerry: I don’t understand, I made a reservation, do you have my reservation? Agent: Yes, we do, unfortunately we ran out of cars. Jerry: But …

Read More

Bestselling Books in 1974

Starting today, and every six months, we are going to take a ride in the “way-back” machine (with special acknowledgment to Mr. Peabody and Sherman), traveling back in time to grab a snapshot of what books were selling on a particular date and year. To get an idea where publishing …

Read More

Actually, The World is Pretty Big

At one time or another, every one of us have remarked how small the world is, usually caused by meeting someone by chance and finding out that you both know a certain person, or went to school with the person, are both reading the same books, are fans of the …

Read More

Book Proposals I’d Love to See

By God’s will and pleasure, during my career as a literary agent I have been successful in representing authors writing Christian romance, Christian and general market trade book fiction, and Christian nonfiction. My interests have changed very little since my first blog post for The Steve Laube Agency, “Happy to Be …

Read More

How Do You Measure Success?

by Steve Laube

A few years ago while talking to some editors they described an author who was never satisfied (not revealing the name of course). It this author’s latest book had sold 50,000 copies the author wondered why the publisher didn’t sell 60,000. And if it sold 60,000 why didn’t it sell 75,000? The author was constantly pushing for “more” and was incapable of celebrating any measure of success.

Recently there has been much ink spilled on whether Indie authors are better of than authors published by traditional publishers. Pundits have laid claim to their own definition of a successful book using number, charts, and revealed earnings. Following this dialogue can be rather exhausting.

I understand the desire to measure whether or not my efforts are successful. It is a natural instinct. If it is any indication, one of our most popular blog posts has been “What are Average Book Sales?” with thousands of readers.

In one way this is a wise question so that expectations can be realistic.

In another way it is unwise in that the cliff called “Comparison” is a precipitous one. I’ve talked to depressed authors who are wounded by numbers. I’ve talked to angry authors who are incensed by a perceived lack of effort by their publisher. I’ve talked to highly frustrated authors who wonder if it is all worth it.

Ultimately I can’t help but think this is all an exercise in determining a definition of success for the individual author. If you can measure it you can define it. That is as long as we know what “it” is.

Read More

Rooting for the Bad Guy?

Last week I blogged about amoral protagonists. But what about protagonists who are unquestionably immoral?

Some general market books make their readers root for the bad guy. Think about accounts of bank robbers Bonnie and Clyde, written from their points of view. Or a book written primarily from the point of view of a courtesan, such as Amy Tan’s The Valley of Amazement. These books set the reader in a life where there is no Christ, yet the reader can’t help but feel sympathy for the protagonists by coming to an understanding of how circumstances combined by the moral failings of others set characters in one unhappy situation after another. 

Read More