Determining and Displaying Bestsellers


For authors and publishers, there’s nothing like the affirmation that comes with getting a book on a bestseller list. The label brings instant confirmation that a book has reached an audience and is selling well. For readers, too, bestseller lists can prove useful. Confronted with thousands of books to choose from, readers can turn to a bestseller list to narrow their options to a few dozen titles that have already been validated by others. And nowadays, there are even lists of bestseller lists. Just look at the Sunday book review section in The New York Times, which is several pages long and includes categories from hardcovers to audiobooks to e-books to children’s literature.

Like many independent bookstores, Politics & Prose contributes to outside rankings, including The New York Times’ bestseller lists, by reporting how well books are selling at our store. But as helpful as such external rankings are, P&P also creates its own unique list of store bestsellers, which includes a dozen fiction and a dozen non-fiction titles. The store’s staff compiles the list each week, working hard to eliminate those books that might have spiked in sales but may not actually be reaching broader audiences. For example, a book sold in bulk to an outside group may not really be resonating beyond that group, even though the sales numbers may be high. By contrast, a book sold at an event in the store will be counted. Why? Because a fair amount of curatorial work goes into determining which authors are hosted for P&P events. Our staff also looks at store sales across a week or month and even at a book’s popularity with book groups and classes.

Until recently, we displayed our bestsellers along a row of shelves in our “new releases” section. But we’ve determined that a number of the books there were often overlooked. So we’re pleased now to offer a display table devoted to our fiction and non-fiction bestsellers. The books are easier to find and easier to look at. An added bonus is that, on the same display table, readers will also see our staff’s monthly book pick—called “Cover to Cover”—which features a title worthy of attention, even if it hasn’t made the bestseller list.

Beyond bestsellers, we continue to offer other tools to help readers navigate our vast inventory of titles: staff recommendations, themed displays, holiday newsletters, and occasional blogs highlighting one book or another, plus the hundreds of author events we host annually that bring readers closer to the people writing the books we sell. We hope that all of these tools, including our new bestseller display table, will guide you on your path to discovering many more of the great books available at P&P. 

--Brad and Lissa