Making the List Doesn’t Always Yield More Sales

The New York Times bestseller list does not always mean increased sales. According to Alan Sorensen, an assistant professor of strategic management at the Stanford Graduate School of Business, making the bestseller list had, “no discernible impact on sales,” for established authors such as John Grisham. On average, he estimates, appearing on the Times list might increase a book’s first-year sales by 13 to 14 percent with the primary benefit going to first-time authors whose sales increase by an impressive 57%.

Sorensen’s findings explode some myths about book retailing. It appears that assessments such as the Times list may be better market-analysis tools than volume-building devices.

Bookstores rely heavily on the Times list in determining book placement and pricing. Make the list and your book is likely to be moved to the front of the store and discounted by as much as 40%. While these merchandising efforts probably yield results for new authors, they may just cut into profit margins for the biggest names.

Sorensen questioned conventional bookselling wisdom and found it wanting. The question for retailers in general is whether other long held assumptions upon which they base their merchandising actually work. If the venerable New York Times bestseller list is a paper tiger, what other bedrock merchandising assumptions need to be reexamined?

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