A little over a year ago I explored the issue of best-seller lists for Christian books (“The Mystery of the Bestseller List”).
However, in the last thirteen months, much has changed. The New York Times is adding some new niche-lists to their collection, which will affect Christian titles. A company involved in gathering book sales data sold their research group to another company who also reports book sales from many channels. This consolidation of two reporting services will have a profound effect on Christian best-seller lists.
To get a perspective on this, I asked Mark Kuyper, the president and CEO of the Evangelical Christian Publishers Association (ECPA), to update where things stand:
“Christian Bestseller lists have changed dramatically over the last decade. Ten years ago the data was compiled from virtually all of the major Christian chains as well as most of the independents. None of the general market retailers or other sources of distribution were included. At the time, the list was still a good barometer of sales because Christian retail represented a majority of the market. Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Borders and the Clubs (Sam’s, Costco, etc.) were gaining market share, but there was enough reporting from Christian stores to be representative of the market. After all, most of the best selling Christian titles in the CBA stores were also the top sellers in the general trade. The list was co-distributed by CBA and ECPA.
“Over the years the ECPA list morphed to include some general market, but also lost some of the Christian trade. We expanded our categories and added the Multi-Channel list, which incorporated the general market retailers reporting through Above the Treeline. We refined our processes to deliver the lists as quickly as possible.
“Today, the ECPA list is compiled through Nielsen’s BookScan and now includes Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Walmart, Sam’s, Costco, BJ’s, Lifeway, Mardels and a wide range of other retailers operating in other channels, collectively representing 75%+ of the total market. http://christianbookexpo.com/bestseller/
We no longer have the Multi-Channel list because now every category represents the breadth of the retail market. This new list is easily the most comprehensive and representative in the history of Christian Publishing.”
So, that’s a pretty big deal. For the first time, there is actually a list that indicates what Christian books are selling across the country, without having to clarify whether it is “only in non-Christian outlets,” or “Christian stores only.”
The Christian Booksellers Association (CBA) still produces their list through data collected from member stores, http://cbanews.org/category/bestsellers/ and it is helpful to compare how Christian stores are doing with certain products.
To repeat a point from last fall’s blog post, every best-seller list has an editor. (Editors are everywhere!) The organizations behind any bestseller list need to approach the list with appropriate amounts of subjectivity and objectivity. That means no list is a simple download of data without review. If a book sells a majority of copies through a relative few sources or at a dramatically reduced price, it will probably be excluded from consideration since the sales are not spread broadly and do not reflect widespread interest.
After all, the purpose of a national best-seller list is to portray trending for the entire country, giving readers from all over an idea of what is popular to the broadest number of people and give retail channels a sense of what they should be carrying to meet their customers’ needs.