Dispatches from the Digital Revolution
Last Monday, Digital Book World (DBW) unveiled its new ebook bestseller list in conjunction with Iobyte Solutions. Unlike other ebook bestseller lists, including those from the New York Times, USA Today, and the Wall Street Journal, this one won’t look exclusively at the number of units sold: it also accounts for price differential, publisher information, the number of retailers that include the book on their bestseller lists, and much more.
This kind of weighted ranking isn’t unheard of in the print world. In the New York Times “About the Bestsellers” section of its ebook fiction bestseller page, the newspaper acknowledges that it weights the print sales it receives from various retailers but is hesitant to do so for ebooks:
The universe of print book dealers is well established, and sales of print titles are statistically weighted to represent all outlets nationwide. The universe of e-book publishers and vendors is rapidly emerging, and until the industry is settled sales of e-books will not be weighted.
According to the DBW press release, one of the problems faced by other ebook bestseller lists is that sales data from various ebook retailers isn’t supplied to the list creators in real-time. So sometimes one-hit wonders will pop up on the existing bestseller lists that don’t really represent what’s topping the sales charts for the entire week. DBW’s list has adjusted for that by rewarding “books that are best-seller lists every day of a week versus just one day.”
The DBW list also acts differently from other lists in that it isn’t an aggregation of multiple sales data; instead, it looks at the bestseller lists that are available from the retailers themselves—including Kindle, Nook, Google, Kobo, and Sony—and then uses its own set of criteria to make a judgment on a given title’s importance on those lists for the week. Each appearance on a list gets scored, but a top score is more valuable than a low score, and where the title is ranked also plays a part in where it ranks on the DBW list: a book that appears at number one on the Kindle bestseller list is going to be weighted higher than the book appearing at number one on the Kobo bestseller list.
The weighted scores from this analysis are then further described by separating them into sub-lists based on sales price. The sub-lists are separated in tiers of $0.00 – $2.99, $3.00 – $7.99, $8.00 – $9.99, and $10.00 and above. Each of these lists are published in a Top 10 format on their own in addition to the larger Top 25 Overall list. As none of the other three existing bestseller lists display price information for each bestseller, some people were taken aback by the results of the DBW list with prices included; according to DBW writer Jeremy Greenfield in a post for Forbes:
When we published this new best-seller list [last Monday], it caused some surprise in the publishing industry. It had been thought that inexpensive e-books, many self-published, were starting to control the best-seller lists. Our new list, which we believe is superior to e-book best-seller lists compiled by the New York Times and USA Today, showed that to be untrue.
Only three books priced below $3.00 made it to the Top 25 Overall list, with 17 priced $9.99 or higher. This result is intriguing in light of the Department of Justice antitrust suit, in which the Department of Justice claims that the alleged collusion led to artificial ebook price inflation over the last couple of years. But if readers are willing to buy books at higher prices—and, in fact, frequently do—perhaps the assumption that the agency pricing model inflated an ebook market that’s crying out for a return to lower prices is incorrect. At any rate, it lends credence to the argument made by many publishers and authors that ebooks shouldn’t be considered free-books and should be priced closer to their print counterparts.
Sadly, in DBW’s attempt to provide a more accurate picture of what readers are buying, we learn that book two of the Fifty Shades of Shame trilogy, Fifty Shades Darker, still holds firm at number one.