What does it mean to be a “bestseller”?

When you’re choosing a new book to read, are you more likely to pick up a title with ‘Bestseller’ on the cover?

For many readers, a sticker on the cover of a book proclaiming it as a bestseller makes that book a good choice for their next read. For authors who have this designation, it’s also a great achievement and a reason to celebrate.

But what does “bestseller” actually mean?

Top Of Which List?

In recent years, there has been an explosion of bestseller lists. The New York Times is a well-known one — they list the top selling books sold in the United States by format and genre. Amazon publishes a large number of lists for different subcategories based on their own sales data. In Australia, bookstores such as Readingsand Dymocks will promote their best-selling titles.

However, due to the complexities of the book buying landscape, a true definitive bestseller list doesn’t exist. As people purchase books (print and ebook) through physical stores and online retailers, both Australia-based and overseas, no one can know exactly how many copies of books are sold into the local market, or which books are the most popular.

How Many Copies Makes A Bestseller?

It’s hard to know what the magic number is to become a bestseller. After all, it all depends on the success of other titles. If your book happens to be released in the same week as another big title in the same category as you, unfortunately it will probably sell more copies and bump you down the list.

As a guide, experts say that you need to sell at least 9000 copies in the first week of publication to make it on to the esteemed New York Times bestseller list. That’s a lot of books!

Amazon Bestseller

So if it’s so hard and you need to sell so many books, why does every second author on the internet claim to be a ‘bestselling author’?

The term bestseller has been diluted somewhat by the introduction of Amazon’s lists. Because of the number of their lists, broken into small niche micro-categories, and the way Amazon compiles the lists by the hour, it’s actually pretty easy to reach the top of a list. Authors can manipulate the algorithm and achieve bestseller status with only a dozen sales, as long as they occur within a short time period.

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