Is Bestseller a Dirty Word? : LUSENET : Is Bestseller a Dirty Word? : One Thread

Crichton and Clancy. Grisham and Higgins Clark. They all sell huge and we consider their books enjoyable throwaways. But "Snow Falling on Cedars", "Cold Mountain" and "Angela's Ashes" spend years on the Bestseller list and also win National Book Awards. Can we judge a book by how well it sells and does that change your experience with it?

Talk. Now.

-- Kevin Smokler, Publisher (, July 30, 2000


Much of the problem with "bestseller lists" is the result of making what is a tool for the publishing industry into a marketing tool. They make sense for publishers who have a legitimate interest in knowing how their books are selling relative to each other, or for booksellers to know what they should be stocking. They are not, except in the minds of cover designers who slap "New York Times Bestseller" on the front of every book that's made an appearance in that list (whose validity is questionable), a sign of literary quality.

The very question being asked brings to the fore a different relationship, namely that between the profit-driven publishing industry and readers who do not consider their book purchases to be in the same vein as mere physical items, like food or new stereo. Rather, they are buying entrance into a art performance of a kind. The publishers, meanwhile, are more worried about how many units they're selling, whether those units be a Pulitzer Prize winning autobiography by Frank McCourt or some disposable sci-fi paperback by Alan Dean Foster.

As such, it shouldn't concern a true reader whether or not a book is a best-seller or not, except insofar as the publishing industry's desire to produce "big sellers" prevents them from providing works of higher literary merit but smaller print runs. Best-seller lists are things that, if one ignores, will have no real effect on your life.

-- Jeremy Hancock (, July 30, 2000.

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