I have been mourning the loss of my favorite bestseller list, the USA Today Bestseller list, which was discontinued on December 1, 2022. I loved this list because it gathered the top 150 books that sold in a given week without worrying about what category said book fell in, who published it, and for what age. Literally just the 150 best selling titles. It was an easy way to understand, from one perspective, what the most popular books were in the country at any snapshot in time.
But alas, it is gone.
However, that does not mean you get to stop caring about bestseller lists. Rather, you have to be even more aware because the landscape is fractured. You can use the NYT lists, PW Lists, Amazon lists, Bookshop.org, any and all. But it is hard to follow so many. I am settling on the PW lists as my default because they use BookScan data.
Here is the hard truth not matter which list you use, it is important not because of the numbers these titles sell but because for many patrons, a book being a “Bestseller” is a genre. Yes I know that genre as we see it had absolutely nothing to do with genre conventions, but....
That really doesn’t matter to our patrons.
For many readers, “bestseller” is a designation that means the book is good and worth their time. It is a way for them to shift through the thousands of reading options and create a smaller universe of books to choose from. They want to know if the book is popular because that will let them know it is worth a try. Others liked it, so I probably will too.
Look, I know this is frustrating because with just a few moments of their time and a quick conversation, we could find those patrons the perfect read regardless of whether it was a bestseller or not, but again, if the patron wants a “bestseller,” your best option is to have as many types of bestseller lists to cull from as possible.
As I mentioned above, I seek out many bestseller lists on a regular basis both to use as I help readers, but also to give me a sense of the niche areas. What books are popular in certain genres? What authors are getting a lot of buzz? What is popular in self publishing? There are many reasons to know this information, but here is an important example. When patrons first started coming in to ask for Colleen Hoover, many library workers had no idea who she was. However, if those library workers had been aware of the self publishing bestselling charts or even, at that time, followed the USA Today, they would not have been caught off guard because she was everywhere on those lists.
People saw Colleen Hoover on those bestsellers lists, they heard their friends talking about her, and they wanted to know what the buzz was about, so they turned to their libraries figuring if it was truly this popular and bestselling the library was bound to have it.
Once you become consciously aware of the fact that patrons love the concept of "bestsellers" more than how many copies they sold, you can use "bestsellers" to your advantage by creating your own library's hyper-local "bestsellers" list. Use the word "bestseller" because it will draw the attention of our patrons. It is a word they know and understand. It is a word they trust. And, it is not library jargon; it is plain language.
So how do you do this? How can you create a hyper-local bestseller list?
Your ILS can easily be mined for useful data here. Running reports on materials is something that is done regularly by most public libraries. But generally these reports are run by the tech services and or circ staff for very specific purposes: missing reports, overdue materials, billed, clearing the hold shelf, identifying titles for potential weeding, etc....
But, we could just as easily be running reports on more positive things like the items that are most checked out, or as we need to rebrand them as-- THE LIBRARY’S BESTSELLERS LIST!
Here are some easy to pull up lists in most ILS:
- General Best Sellers-- most checkout out of the week overall or broken down by each service area; so Adult, teen, kids, fiction, nonfiction.
- Format Best Sellers-- most checked out videos, audio books, streamed, download, Large Print.
- Genre Best Sellers-- as long as you have the genre noted somewhere in the item record be it in a subject heading or in it’s own field, you can easily do this.
- Want to promote the non-traditional things you check out like technology items [Go Pro cameras, Rokus] or maker items like sewing machine, art kits; some libraries do fishing poles and art. Whatever. Do a Best Seller lists of unexpected items. People might not even know that you have them.
- And my favorite.... Make some Backlist Best Seller Lists. For example, the most popular adult items checked out this week which were published before 2000. Or whatever your parameters. These are great to remind people that it is not only the newest 3 James Patterson books that are being checked out.
However, you also need to make sure these lists make room for marginalized voices. So if you pull these lists and find they are too white or too straight, intentionally diversify them with diverse readalike titles as well. But Becky....that would be changing the lists? Yes it would. But guess what? There is no library jail that someone is going to send you for doing this. You are in charge here. Your goal is to get books in front of people in an enticing manner so that they check them out. They are NOT going to fact check you, especially if you are saying...Hey, these books are popular here at our library!
In fact, I would even go so far as to look at those "bestseller" lists and remove the obvious authors-- Patterson, Roberts, King, Baldacci, etc.... All those authors that everyone knows about already. The point of creating lists and displays at the library is to expose people to books they would never have known about without your help. Making them "bestseller" displays and lists that are surprising, that alert them to titles they didn't know about, that's where you will get their attention.
And this is where we get back tot he beginning of this post. Now that the only true bestseller list we ever had-- The USA Today-- is gone, we are left with a landscape of fractured and specialized lists. Let's jump on the bandwagon and add our voice to the bestseller conversation. Apparently everyone has an agenda with their lists and none are 100% true. We can do that as well. And by making the experience hyper-local, our patrons will feel like they are getting more personalized service.
Everybody wins when you jump on the bestsellers bandwagon.