Quick recap for those of you who may not have been following this news: Last week, the New York Times cut a bunch of its bestseller lists. What does that mean? It means, for the affected formats, the Times will no longer publish a bestseller list. Which formats were affected? My understanding is that mass market, e-books, and graphic novels/manga were among them.
Let’s begin with me acknowledging that I’m not a NYT bestseller, nor was I ever in danger of becoming one. But I’m an author whose books were published in mass market and e-book formats – and I’m a 7 days-a-week print subscriber of the Times. I have been for years – long before it became “cool” to be so. Which is why their recent decision gives me such heartburn.
But I’m not going to unsubscribe. Why? Well, first, because I’m not a child. I do, sometimes, vote with my feet, but the circumstances have to be much more egregious than this. Second, my subscription is actually a gift subscription for my parents. They adore that paper and I’m happy to be able to give them a gift subscription every year. And third, I support the paper because of its journalistic integrity – even when decisions like this one seem baffling.
Why is it baffling? Because I can’t quite figure out why they did it. Various theories have been advanced. The RWA wrote an open letter suggesting sexism was behind the changes, but I’m not convinced. I think it more likely that the Times was motivated by something else and didn’t particularly care about the indirect consequences of eliminating those lists. (Seems hypocritical to cut its e-book bestseller list and then tout its own increased digital subscriber figures. If the Times doesn’t include the preferred formats of a genre that sells more than $1.3 billion a year, those lists are neither inclusive nor accurate.)
A desire to avoid brand dilution may have played a part. Myriad lists and the practice of authors “getting their letters” through boxed sets led to a lot of NYT bestsellers. (I don’t begrudge those authors; part of me wishes I’d joined them!) But, from my perspective, instead of preventing dilution, the Times just damaged its brand.