The front page of the New York Times Book Review has always been—and continues to be—a much coveted spot for authors and publishers alike. But just how much does a Book Review cover affect a book’s sales in today’s publishing climate—does the revered paper publication still move units in the digital age? Using six lower-profile titles featured on the covers of two May issues of the Book Review, as well as numbers from Nielsen BookScan, which covers between 75% and 80% of print sales, PW found that the Gray Lady still has influence in the minds of readers, though not nearly on a big enough scale to seriously alter a book’s fortunes.

The first issue PW studied was the May 13 edition, featuring three nonfiction books on motherhood and family life under the headline “Family Way.” The first featured book, Anne Enright’s Making Babies: Stumbling into Motherhood (W.W. Norton), increased sales from 234 copies to 417 copies sold at the outlets tracked by BookScan after the cover review. Sales of the other two titles reviewed that week fell, the only books of the six surveyed that saw decreases in sales following a Book Review cover. Elisabeth Badinter’s The Conflict: How Modern Motherhood Undermines the Status of Women (Metropolitan/Henry Holt) received a negative review—her viewpoints were called “profoundly wrong” and “downright offensive” by reviewer Judith Warner—and sales decreased from 140 copies to 121 copies immediately following the review’s publication. The May 13 edition’s final featured book, Madeleine M. Kunin’s The New Feminist Agenda: Defining the Next Revolution for Women (Chelsea Green), was grouped in the same piece as Warner’s review of The Conflict. Warner’s critique of Kunin’s book came after her criticism of Badinter’s book and although Warner called The New Feminist Agenda a more effective thesis on motherhood than The Conflict, sales decreased afterward, falling from 293 copies sold to 199 copies sold, perhaps because of its deep placement after a scathing review.

Books on the May 27 cover of the Book Review fared better. Under the headline “Market Values,” the three economic books were all reviewed positively and all saw sales increases. The greatest success of the three was Land of Promise: An Economic History of the United States by Michael Lind (Harper), with sales more than quadrupling from 150 copies sold to 636 copies sold, for weeks ending May 27 and June 3, respectively, according to BookScan. The other two books on the May 27 cover were Arlie Russell Hochschild’s The Outsourced Self: Intimate Life in Market Times (Metropolitan/Henry Holt) and Timothy Noah’s The Great Divergence: America’s Growing Inequality Crisis and What We Can Do About It (Bloomsbury). Sales of Hochschild’s book increased from 52 copies sold to 134 copies sold, while Noah’s book increased from 231 copies sold to 421 copies sold, for weeks ending May 27 and June 3, respectively.

The two covers were chosen because they featured lower profile books than some other Book Review cover titles, thus making it less likely that major marketing campaigns would be in the works to influence sales. The titles were also not surefire hits such as the new Toni Morrison and Richard Ford books that the Times reviewed recently. Given the importance reviews can have on serious nonfiction, it’s important to note how quickly sales dropped off after their cover appearance. Sales kept increasing for only one of the six titles following its initial bump—The Great Divergence sold 591 copies for the week ending June 10, 170 more copies than the week before, and two weeks after it first appeared on the cover.

Sales Impact of Sunday 'Times' Book Review

Title Author Pub Date Review Date May 13 Copies Sold May 20 Copies Sold May 27 Copies Sold
Making Babies Anne Enright April 2 May 13 234 417 161
The Conflict Elisabeth Badinter April 24 May 13 140 121 78
The New Feminist Agenda Madeleine M. Kunin April 23 May 13 293 199 180

Title Author Pub Date Review Date May 27 Copies Sold June 3 Copies Sold June 10 Copies Sold
The Outsourced Self Arlie Russell Hochschild May 8 May 27 52 134 41
The Great Divergence Timothy Noah April 24 May 27 231 421 591
Land of Promise Michael Lind April 17 May 27 150 636 384

Source: Publishers Weekly and Nielsen BookScan
*for week ending