Large Newspapers Start New Book Lists

Article excerpt

N.Y. Times News Service

Publishers and authors seem to enjoy few things more than being able to announce that a book is a best seller. But what that really means is surprisingly imprecise.

For one thing, there are myriad best-seller lists, calculated by different methods and conveying different degrees of prestige. For another thing, being a best seller doesn't mean that a book will earn back its advance, sell all its copies or even sell a large number of copies, except in relation to the other books on the market.

But people are crazy for lists. And publishers love being on lists because, as Robert Miller, the publisher of Hyperion Books, said: "The more places that call attention to new books emerging as popular, the more there's a chance that people will go to a bookstore and buy them."

Which might be why The Wall Street Journal last week began publishing its own best-seller list. In doing so, The Journal joined a growing crowd of regional lists and the Publisher's Weekly list. USA Today started its list in the fall.

The lists in The Journal and USA Today are clearly attempts to compete with The New York Times's list, whose power often leaves publishers grumbling (particularly when their books don't make it) and which has a major effect on sales because bookstores typically use it to decide which books to discount and which books to display prominently.

Joe Urschel, the managing editor for special projects at USA Today, said that the newspaper began its list "for competitive reasons" and that USA Today made the radical decision to lump all the books together and rate them 1 to 50 as a way to more accurately reflect the marketplace.

Of The New York Times's system of dividing the books into five categories (fiction hard covers; nonfiction hard covers; mass-market paperbacks; trade paperbacks, and how-to, advice and miscellaneous books), he said, "The Times creates five No. …