New York Times Announces the Best-Selling Ebooks

The New York Times ebook best-seller list

It’s finally happened! I stayed up late Thursday night to watch a very historic moment. The New York Times finally published its first best-seller list which includes ebooks!

They’d spent two full years working on a system to track ebook sales, according to a November article in the Times. “It was clear that e-books were taking a greater and greater share of total sales,” a Times’ editor explained, ” and we wanted to be able to tell our readers which titles were selling and how they fit together with print sales.” In fact, some publishers predicted ebooks would become 25% of their sales within the next two to three years — saying that ebooks already represented 10% of their sales — so the Times really needed to change. “To give the fullest and most accurate possible snapshot of what books are being read at a given moment you have to include as many different formats as possible,” said an editor at the Times’ Book Review, “and e-books have really grown, there’s no question about it.”

But that’s an understatement — at least, judging by the lists, since there’s a remarkable pattern which suggests that ebooks have already become the industry standard. The Times reported the best-selling ebooks as well as the best-selling print books, and then also reported which books sold the most after combining both their print and ebook sales. But it turns out that two of those three lists were identical! Here’s the top five best-selling ebooks.

  1. TICK TOCK, by James Patterson and Michael Ledwidge
  2. THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO, by Stieg Larsson
  3. THE GIRL WHO PLAYED WITH FIRE, by Stieg Larsson
  4. THE GIRL WHO KICKED THE HORNET’S NEST, by Stieg Larsson
  5. WATER FOR ELEPHANTS, by Sara Gruen

But when you calculate the top five overall best-sellers — adding in the print sales to the ebook sales — nothing changes. Adding the print sales had no effect on the ranking of what were the top five best-selling ebooks. (Or even the top seven best-selling ebooks, if you read the Times‘ extended list.)

  1. TICK TOCK, by James Patterson and Michael Ledwidge
  2. THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO, by Stieg Larsson
  3. THE GIRL WHO PLAYED WITH FIRE, by Stieg Larsson
  4. THE GIRL WHO KICKED THE HORNET’S NEST, by Stieg Larsson
  5. WATER FOR ELEPHANTS, by Sara Gruen
  6. THE CONFESSION, by John Grisham
  7. CUTTING FOR STONE, by Abraham Verghese

And the pattern is the same for non-fiction ebooks — at least, for the first four titles on the list. Whether you do or don’t include print books, the rankings are exactly the same.

  1. UNBROKEN, by Laura Hillenbrand
  2. HEAVEN IS FOR REAL, by Todd Burpo with Lynn Vincent
  3. BATTLE HYMN OF THE TIGER MOTHER, by Amy Chua
  4. DECISION POINTS, by George W. Bush

The only major difference was in the #5 position, suggesting ebook readers have slightly different tastes. The fifth best-selling ebook was $#*! My Dad Says — whereas on the combined print and ebook list, it only reached the #11 spot. And it looks also like a Harlequin romance novel was able to crash its way into the #8 spot on the best-selling fiction list.

What does it all mean? I’ve heard it said that the world changes before we realize that it’s changed. So I’m wondering now if the ebook has already permanently altered the way that we read. In November the Times credited the Kindle (and the iPad) for increasing ebook sales — and noted that ebook sales actually tripled between 2009 and 2010. (“According to the Association of American Publishers, which receives sales data from publishers, e-book sales in the first nine months of 2010 were $304.6 million, up from $105.6 million from the same period in 2009, a nearly 190 percent increase.”) What’s interesting about Friday’s historic event is the Times’ is America’s single largest local newspaper, according to Wikipedia — and each month more than 30 million people visit the Times’ web site. The New York Times best-seller list has always been considered a definitive record of the best-selling books in the country.

And now that definitive list…is including ebooks.

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