After years of criticism for its relationship with the New York Times and its bestseller list, Barnes & Noble has announced it will abandon the Times rankings as a discount tool and will instead discount from its own newly created list.
Barnesandnoble.com will continue to use the Times list, and bricks-and-mortar stores will still report to the Times. B. Dalton stores will maintain its own list.
The new rankings, which will be shown on store displays but will not be available in printed material, will show 15 top hardcovers in both fiction and nonfiction categories. The store will separate paperbacks by format -- 15 trade and 10 mass market -- so that mass market fiction won't "monopolize the list." There will be no how-to section. Barnes & Noble has been testing the new list in about 50 stores over the last several months, and expects to roll it out over the next two weeks.
Barnes & Noble COO Alan Kahn stressed that "the Times list is still important to us. Customers will still be able to get the list at information kiosks." But he said his company felt that bringing bestsellers in-house would make for a more accurate representation. "It depends on the time of year, but there are times when there are two, three or four books that are different. It's significant enough that we feel we should have a list out there."
Updated weekly, the B&N rankings will cover the period from Monday to Sunday. They will reflect sales in a more current manner than the Times, which represents sales for the period that ended two weeks prior to the list's publication. Kahn said that B&N's list, like the Times's, will use total sales. The newspaper's list has been criticized for not using a weighted system.
The decision to depart from the Times could have far-reaching implications in many quarters of the publishing industry. Many observers say that the entry of a megalith like Barnes & Noble into the bestseller game could weaken the influence of the New York Times list -- and undermine houses whose books traditionally do better at other outlets.
"This is not as simple as Barnes & Noble switching lists," said a high-ranking official at a publishing company. "A lot of us will have to rethink what a 'Times bestseller' means." Among the areas that could see implications, said the official, are marketing. "We'll be sad to lose in-store promotion for a Times bestseller [that d sn't appear on B&N's list]." Other observers cite potential customer confusion between the Web site and the stores over books that do not overlap, but at this moment bn.com says it will not make the switch.
Among agents, too, the effects could be widespread. Vicky Bijur, president of the Association of Authors Representatives, stressing that she was not speaking for the organization as a whole, said she thought that many agents might try to add the new B&N list to publisher contracts as a yardstick of bestselling success on which certain bonuses and extra payments are calculated. (In the past the Times list has been the only such measure, although some agents have tried to add the PW list to contracts.) Bijur added: "I doubt that the Times list will lose its cachet, but it's probably a good thing to have another yardstick."
The creation of a Barnes & Noble list further crowds the rankings field.
In the past few years, newspapers like the Wall Street Journal and USA Today, several regional bookseller associations and, of course, Amazon.com have launched lists.