This morning, my editor and agent emailed me to inform me of the changes recently made to the New York Times bestseller list. As many of you know, the New York Times has long published a list featuring the top selling books of the week, broken down by different formats and markets. This list is more than a boon to the authors whose books appear on it, although it is considered a status symbol to call yourself a “New York Times” bestselling author. It’s also a snapshot of what Americans at large are reading. Granted, there has been some fair criticism about certain books making the NYT list while others didn’t, but that’s another issue. Even with its imperfections, the New York Times bestseller list was primarily a list by readers – since their purchases determined which books were on it – and for readers since readers are the intended audience of every newspaper publication.
Now, however, things have changed. Despite ebooks being the preferred format for over 50% of adult fiction readers (and some studies show ebooks nearing the 50% mark for all books purchased*), the New York Times has eliminated “E-book bestsellers” from its categories. They didn’t stop there. They also eliminated the “Mass Market” category entirely, and if you’re not familiar with the term, “mass markets” are the smaller-sized, less expensive versions of paperback books.
To me, it doesn’t seem like a sound business practice to tell 50% of your customer base that you’re not interested in their views. It also doesn’t seem ethical to publish a list purportedly showing the top books Americans are reading while deliberately excluding around half of America’s reader base. More importantly, however, I see this as the New York Times telling me, a reader of primarily mass markets and ebooks, that I don’t matter to them. Neither do other readers of ebooks and/or mass market titles. The only readers they care about, per their newly-restricted bestseller categories, are the readers of hard cover and Trade paperback books.
Why? Some think it’s elitism. Mass markets and ebooks are the main format for a lot of genre fiction, and genre fiction has frequently been sneered at as “lesser” members of the literary family. Some think it’s a form of retaliation against the continued advancement of the digital market. Newspapers like the New York Times have lost a good deal of money ** due to people canceling their print subscriptions in favor of getting their news online, so some believe this might be a simple case of sour grapes.
In all honesty, I don’t know why the New York Times did this. I only know I can’t think up a single good reason to tell millions of readers that they don’t matter by eliminating those readers’ preferred formats from a list that’s supposed to represent what people are reading. I doubt the New York Times will care about my opinion, however. They’ve already shown that readers like me aren’t important to them.