Amazon’s new bestseller list tracks what people are actually reading

Amazon’s new bestseller list tracks what people are actually reading

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Today, Amazon is launching a new bestseller list called Amazon Charts, which will track the top 20 books that have sold the best on any given week and the 20 books being read the most.

While Amazon already has a number of hourly bestseller lists across a broad range of genres, this list will provide a more stable snapshot of the week’s bestselling and best-read books. The list will be broken into two broad categories: the top 20 books read and purchased in fiction and the top 20 in nonfiction. The list will incorporate data from three places: physical books bought through the site’s storefront, Kindle books, and Audible audiobooks. The list will track the sales, borrows, and preorders, in an attempt to present a look at what Amazon’s customers are reading.

The team stressed that this list wasn’t going to replace the numerous hourly lists present on the site that get broken down by category. Rather, this new list will provide a week-long snapshot of sales and reading data.

Image: Amazon

Bestseller lists are a huge tool used by readers and publishers alike. Major lists like those found in The New York Times, LA Times, and other publications can lead to huge exposure and new sales for authors. These lists are important, especially in specific categories, because of the exposure they bring. The New York Times recently culled its bestseller lists down to 14 categories, prompting outcry from authors and publishers alike. The team behind Charts notes that Amazon’s list will likewise be useful to publishers, and includes some specific data, like an author’s agent, alongside the books on the list.

Charts is also an opportunity for Amazon to utilize what it describes as a purely data-driven list, eschewing the editorial latitude that some lists have by presenting a list that’s driven entirely by sales and reading data, compiled from the data the Kindle and Audible users generate. The list won’t pull information from the book social network Goodreads, which Amazon owns. Charts also won’t work with existing systems that track sales data, like Nielsen’s BookScan, instead opting to use its own data. “Many well-known bestseller lists today add, remove, or re-rank books based on editorial considerations and customers have asked for a bestseller list that is based on reading engagement and sales data,” David Naggar, Amazon’s vice president says, “rather than an opinion-based list of what books they should be paying attention to.”

Removing the editorial consideration out of the list could have its drawbacks, however. There’s been examples of where lists dependent upon data have backfired, such as what happened to Facebook’s Trending Topics after the company fired its editors for the section last year. Amazon appears to hope that the sheer volume of data will make gaming the list difficult, but it’s not clear if there’s safeguards in place for identifying obvious attempts to artificially change the list’s rankings.

The raw-data approach means that Charts will look slightly different from other bestseller lists out there: it won’t include the broader snapshot of sales across the bookselling ecosystem, such as what are sold at physical brick-and-mortar bookstores like Barnes & Noble. There are some usual suspects present on the list at launch: Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series, Stephen King’s IT, in addition to the current hot books, like Paula Hawkin’s Into the Water. But Amazon’s data picked up Beneath a Scarlet Sky by Mark Sullivan, which appeared on Charts, but not others.

The data also allows Amazon to insert some features that are pretty unique. Some entries on the list will be labeled as “unputdownable,” based on how fast readers read the entire book relative to the others on the list. Other labels include where a book is most popular, and it’ll also provide the book’s customer rating and links to reviews, sample chapters, and of course, an option to add the book to your shopping card.

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