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New York Times Finally Adds e-Books to Best-Sellers Lists

Today, the newspaper finally announced it would be publishing best-seller lists for e-books–one of the most dramatic changes in the ranking’s 75-year history. It’s about time.

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Books depend on one main cover accolade to fly off shelves: New York Times Best Seller. But with the so much of the industry going digital, the New York Times’ metric has become antiquated. Best-sellers can no longer just include physical sales.

Today, the newspaper finally announced it would be publishing best-seller lists for e-books–one of the most dramatic changes in the ranking’s 75-year history. The digital best-sellers list will be introduced in early 2011, and will include both fiction and non-fiction e-books. The lists will be published on a weekly basis, culling data “from a growing number of online service providers” such as Amazon and Apple, and will even include data from independent book retailers.

It’s about time. The announcement comes on the heels of a report showing that e-books were fast becoming a $1 billion industry, up around 200% from last year and set to triple by 2015. The Association of American Publishers says e-books new generate 9% of all consumer book sales–nearly a tenth of the industry that the New York Times has been neglecting.

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Clearly, the addition of e-books to the best-seller lists is validating for digital (many industries–music, for example–are going a similar trend), but are such lists even relevant in the digital age? For one, why even create separate lists for e-books? There should be no distinction between sales of physical and digital books. And second, why, in a world that expects information in real-time, would consumers want to wait a week for the New York Times to update its lists? We head to iTunes or Barnes & Noble’s Nook store to find best-sellers.

As digital sales continue to eat away at physical sales, perhaps it’s only a matter of time before we see the following accolade grace book covers: Amazon.com Best-seller.

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About the author

Austin Carr writes about design and technology for Fast Company magazine.

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