Publishers reacted with a mixture of dismay, confusion and surprise at news the New York Times has eliminated a number of its print and online bestseller lists, effective February 5.
Although it is still unclear exactly which lists have been dropped, the NYT has confirmed that the bestseller lists for graphic novels and manga, as well as the lists for mass market paperbacks, middle-grade e-books, teen e-books have been eliminated.
The NYT said the cuts were part of an overall plan to evaluate and revamp its book publishing coverage and, in a statement, emphasized it planned “to cover all of these genres of books in our news coverage (in print and online).”
Nevertheless, many publishers were blindsided by the changes, which were not announced or discussed in advance. Many publishers discovered the lists would be dropped only when they received the New York Times Advanced BSL edition for Feb. 5, which only noted that “there will be revisions to multiple categories in the publication."
Steven Zacharius,CEO of Kensington Publishing, which publishes hundreds of mass market titles each year, called the decision “enormously troubling.” Zacharius said dropping the mass market list “effects sales, and not having this list will hurt authors tremendously.” Other large trade book publishers found the cuts perplexing and were particularly dismayed because they were not informed in advance.
The elimination of the graphic novel and manga lists, in particular, was met with outrage and expressions of frustration from the comics and graphic novel community.
The NYT launched the graphic novel and manga bestseller lists in 2009, explaining to PW at the time, that its internal research, “led us to conclude that these three graphic categories [hardcover, softcover and manga] are a natural place to start.”
Many comics professionals point to the launch of the graphic books list as an important turning point for the comics medium. Many complained that cutting the list at this time was particularly baffling—graphic novel print sales rose 11% in 2016, according to BookScan, one of the strongest gains in the adult fiction segment.
“I’m pretty shocked,” said Terry Nantier, publisher of both the adult graphic novel publisher NBM and PaperCutz, a children’s and YA graphic novel house. “This category continues to grow, there’s continued mounting interest in it, how come?”
Kevin Hamric, senior director sales, marketing at Viz Media, which publishes manga, said he was "dismayed with this decision especially in light of the fact that the graphic novel/manga/comics category has been one of only a very few book categories that have shown growth in the past 2-3 years. Our fans, readers, authors, and licensors look forward to seeing the bestseller list each week.”
“Comics need to be measured against themselves, not the larger whole of books,” explained Charles Kochman, editorial director of Abrams ComicArts, the graphic novel imprint of Abrams. “No more than you would judge the sales of a celebrity memoir or a cook book, for example, against all other nonfiction titles.”
Although all the comics publishers were troubled by the decision to cut the lists, some publishers criticized their accuracy and were not especially worried that their elimination would hurt the category.
Ted Adams, CEO of IDW Publishing, one of the largest independent comics and graphic novel publishers in the country, said he was disappointed to see the list go, but: “We liked being able to say something was a NYT best-seller but I don't know that it ever really impacted sales.”
Kurt Hassler, publishing director of Yen Press, a graphic novel and manga joint venture with the Hachette Book Group, said the Times' methodology for compiling the lists was, “somewhat cryptic and never necessarily directly reflected what we saw in terms of actual, ground-level bestsellers through other channels and metrics of reporting. I can’t say it will have a negative impact on our actual sales as a consequence.”
Some comics publishers question whether the New York Times book editors understand the category, complaining that the Times sometimes appears to erroneously describe the graphic novel format as a “genre.”
Drawn & Quarterly publisher Peggy Burns, said, “We always had small qualms the Times treated the medium like a genre.” Nevertheless, she said, those qualms would disappear when a novel by D&Q, a small Canadian literary comics publisher with a long list of acclaimed comics artists, would appear on the New York Times lists.
“When D&Q made the list, as we have with several titles a year for the past few years, it felt like the Times supported the underdogs.”