Hugh Howey
Hugh Howey

Bestselling author of Wool and other books. Currently sailing around the world.

Maybe this’ll make it go away…

I have a routine. Every single morning, I get out of bed, grab the New York Times off my driveway, and put on pants. Sometimes in that order. And then I sit down with a bowl of cereal and read a paper made out of actual paper. It’s my favorite thing in the world, something I got hooked on when I lived in New York and returned to while working in a bookstore. It feels quaint, sure, but it’s not like I’m trying to live in the past. That’s for the editors of the New York Times to do.

More specifically, it’s what Pamela Paul wants us to do. The new book editor has decided that e-book bestsellers will no longer appear in the print edition of the New York Times Book Review. The argument is that they belong online. I haven’t heard what this means for the combined list, but my guess is that it’ll stay combined (the first list and most important one right now jumbles the print and digital together).

Interestingly, when Simon & Schuster launched the print edition of WOOL, the New York Times refused to count the print and digital as the same book, which kept us off the combined list. That was how WOOL could show up on the hardback bestseller list, the paperback bestseller list, and the e-book bestseller list, but not on the combined. Three versions of the book hitting the charts in competition with one another but not on the main list. It shook my confidence in those lists in general. This move does as well. These lists should reflect what you, the reader, are . . . reading. Not what publishers want to see advertised. For that, it should cost them. You know, so the paper can stay in business.

The whole thing smacks of a child hiding their eyes, assuming if they can’t see something then it’s not there. Change scares the shit out of some people. The rest of us know it has never been a better time to be a reader or a writer. And if you see me with my pants off in the driveway, squatting over a copy of the New York Times, I’m not making a political statement. I’m just grabbing my favorite paper in the entire universe, and sometimes I get my morning routine all out of order.

Edit: @Swedgeland informed me via Twitter that this has an ugly precedent.

13 replies to “Maybe this’ll make it go away…”

“So which books are popular right now?”
“This one from a big-name author, this one by a politician, and one that’s self-published.”
“Well…which books are SELLING the most?”
“One from a big-name author, one by a politician, and one that’s self-published.”
“Well which books are getting the best reviews?!”
“One from a big-name author, one by a politician, and–”
“Goddamnit Jeff, if you say ‘self-published’ one more time, you’re fired! I don’t want to hear about self-publishing! I don’t want to talk about self-publishing! I just want to talk about real, honest, quality fiction! Now just tell me this: what was your favorite book this year?”
“What is this, a trick question?”

the NYT Book Review’s days as a tabloid section are numbered anyway. Soon all the lists will be online-only. Sad but inevitable.

And then again – today I bought my 5th copy of “Wool” and my 4th copy of “Shift” while having influenced at least two other family members to buy a copy of “Wool” – one of them going on to buy just about everything a certain Hugh Howey has written.

Thanks to whoever chose Wool and Shift for the Kindle Daily Deal. :)

In any case, this move can hardly be surprising from a paper that gives inches to preposterous tirades about the impending death of the American author.

Does this mean your James Pattersons etc.. will only have their print figures count going forward – or will there be some kind of weird rationalisation for including both online and print figures for these darlings?

I think the combined lists will include e-book sales, but the e-book only list is being removed from the print edition.

If I had to guess (and nobody is forcing me to guess; I honestly enjoy it), I would say that there’s a bit of frustration at the NYT from e-book only authors who now go around calling themselves “New York Times Bestselling Authors” (yours truly among them), which is perhaps cheapening the brand.

Blergh. What I really want to know is how long these folks can continue to miss the forest for the trees. Reporting of an individual publisher’s sales figures would be a valuable data point in *a trade publication* like PW. The NYT Bestseller List is supposed to be for readers. Arbitrarily excluding the same book in different editions from counting together defeats the whole damned purpose – and the only real value – of the list.

I think one common misconception of the NYT bestsellers list is that people believe that to make the list, lots of readers have to actually be buying your books. This isn’t exactly true. The “sales” that they are counting for print books to get onto the list are when the distributers buy from the books from publishers. So essentially, the publishers are dictating what books are bestsellers and which are not. Sales to the reader are just a bi-product of this set up. This is of course the old way when print was basically it. They’ve had to evolve to include digital sales but as far as I’m aware, print sales are still counted the same way. So if your publisher gets distributers to buy 100,000 copies of your book to put into stores, you will make the list even before readers actually start buying it. Of course since you are so widely available and on the NYT list, you will sell copies to readers but that is not what gets you there in the first place. Sort of a chicken and the egg type of scenario.

My point is that NYT is just a mechanism that big publishers have manipulated for years to push the authors they are most heavily invested in. It’s free marketing in a way and since having the moniker “NYT Bestseller” is sure to get you even more sales, you can bet that this move wasn’t made by the folks at NYT alone. This has the big publishing houses smell all over it. They are trying to cling to one more avenue that they can reserve only for the priveleged few who they dain to bless with a publishing contract ensuring that traditional publishing will remain an elite class in this literary caste system they have going. We can’t have the untouchables aka self published authors sullying the good name of their precious list now can we?

Oh bud, you’re just scratching the surface on what goes on behind-the-scenes of the list. I’ll tell you some stories some time…

Andrew, this sort of thing is hardly a function of the medium, but the quality of the editors. Refusing to read a print paper because it disappoints you is fine, but most news media are sufficiently bound into “entertainment” that if you apply the criteria evenly you won’t read anything but books by authors you like. (Nothing wrong with that in my mind, actually). Dissing print because some editors are not with it seems strange.

Sure print is fading but I sometimes read the New Yorker in print. I wouldn’t bother with it at all if it was only available online as it would lack the experience of their abominable type fonts and I do like the layout–it makes me feel good.

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