How to Kill a New York Times Bestseller
If a tree falls in the forest and no one hears it, did it really make a sound?
If a consumer doesn’t notice a book is a New York Times bestseller, is it really a bestseller?
Many people determine what book to buy based upon seeing the phrase, “New York Times Bestseller.” However, a lot of publishers fail to capitalize on the long-term sales of their top-selling titles. Worse, some kill their bestsellers by not clearly identifying them for shoppers to see. The result is a lot of lost book sales, especially when you multiply the problem over numerous titles for several years.
For example, click on the following links to Amazon and Barnes & Noble. Can you tell if the books displayed are New York Times bestsellers?
As you can see from these links, consumers would never know that both books hit the New York Times bestseller list. In fact, each title made the list over two years ago and stayed on the list for several months! The publisher killed these books’ bestseller status by failing to make this distinction apparent to shoppers.
How many sales were lost because customers weren’t aware of a book’s bestselling achievement? In addition, how should the authors feel when they realize people don’t know their books are legitimate bestsellers? There are literally hundreds of bestselling books without correct identification or effective language on the retailer sales pages. I’ve seen more lost opportunities than I can count on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and other major retail websites.
What if these lost sales could be prevented? According to data I’ve received from online retailers, many New York Times bestsellers are viewed at least 50,000 - 100,000 times a year. If a tiny amount of those views were converted into sales, such as half of one percent (.005), publishers would accrue a lot of extra revenue over time. This problem actually represents one of the easiest growth opportunities in the industry.
Here are four reasons why publishers should act swiftly to provide better support for their New York Times bestselling titles:
1. Almost 70% of All Books Are Now Purchased Online
The industry recently experienced a revolutionary change. In February, Mike Shatzkin reported that 69% of all book sales, including print, ebook, and audio, are now purchased online! Consumers are buying more books than ever before without visiting a bookstore or holding a physical copy in their hands.
Today, people make most of their purchasing decisions on smartphones, tablets, and computer screens. When browsing books online, all they get to see is a small cover image and a few sentences of marketing copy. There isn’t much screen space or much time to connect with a consumer’s limited attention span. If the language and imagery isn’t obvious, people can miss the fact that a book is a bestseller.
Simply adding “New York Times Bestseller” to the book cover art isn’t enough in most cases. That’s because the image size or the font size is too small for consumers to easily read on a smartphone, tablet, or desktop monitor. Go online and you’ll be shocked how hard it is to see that phrase on some of the tiny book cover images. What good is labeling a book a bestseller if the words are too small for people to read?
Customers cannot be expected to look for what they don’t know. If publishers want to maximize sales of bestselling titles in the online age, it’s essential to optimize the marketing language and imagery for computer shoppers.
2. Consumers Buy Books Based on the Bestseller Status
In September, 2016, the Codex Group surveyed over 4,600 book shoppers and asked the question, “What determining factor led to your last book purchase?” Researcher, Peter Hildick-Smith, told me that 5% of respondents answered, “Saw the book on a bestseller list.” Plus, their selections applied to both frontlist and backlist titles. Extrapolate that 5% response rate to the American population and it represents millions of people.
Other reasons why people purchase books include following their favorite author, responding to the book's topic, hearing positive word of mouth, etc. But, those factors are mostly beyond a publisher's control. In contrast, publishers have complete control over the marketing language they display and the ability to draw attention to a bestselling title at online retailers.
Some industry leaders, such as Random House, Simon & Schuster, and Hachette, are vigilant about highlighting their top titles for customers to notice. For instance, they will update their cover art or add a bolded text notification to their books’ online sales pages. Click below to view two effective samples:
Why do these publishers take the extra steps? Their marketing teams tested the tactics and concluded that they help boost sales. Yet, even the best publishers aren’t perfect. Too many tend to display a lot of inconsistencies. These inconsistencies contribute to lost book sales.
3. The Solution Is Free
The best part about updating a book’s information online is that there are no added expenses or personnel required. Publishers can highlight their bestsellers for free by updating the metadata details using the ONIX For Books system. Or, they can make a direct request to specific retailers.
In most cases, publishers can transmit updates for a book simultaneously to numerous retailers, which saves time and labor intensity. The only requirement is that publishers must monitor which titles need updating after they become a bestseller. Since taking these steps is free and doesn’t require extra staff, it’s one of the most cost-effective marketing tactics a publisher can make.
Yet, judging by what’s currently displayed online, many publishers don’t seem eager to fully utilize this free promotional opportunity. If making book updates is free and easy, why don’t some publishers make it a priority? The next point explains the underlying problem.
4. It’s A Process Problem, Not A People Problem
The people at a publishing house do not kill their New York Times bestsellers. Instead, their process does. People follow the process they are given. If a publisher’s internal system doesn’t signal the need to highlight a bestselling book, nobody on staff will make the update for consumers to see.
In addition, a publisher’s process can make personnel so focused on launching new titles that “old books” are overlooked – even after becoming a bestseller. Thus, consumers remain unaware that they are looking at a bestselling title that deserves to be highlighted. Sales are lost because the publisher’s process causes the oversight.
Solving this problem requires more than just asking employees to go back and update a book’s metadata details. Books won’t be properly updated until the leadership at a publishing house addresses their internal process. An objective third-party perspective can help publishers examine their internal issues and prevent a “can’t see the forest for the trees” mentality from developing. A good process will lead the staff to take the appropriate actions automatically and consistently over time.
But, Wait…There’s More!
Highlighting a New York Times bestseller for shoppers to notice is just the beginning. Doing so will help boost sales of those specific titles. But, publishers can use the same tactics to increase purchases of other titles associated with a bestselling book.
For example, the phrase, “New York Times Bestseller,” can be used to enhance discoverability on major websites where millions of readers congregate, such as GoodReads. The phrase can be connected to related products that heighten credibility and interest in those items. Multiple books from a bestselling author can be highlighted together. There are numerous ways to expand sales beyond just the bestselling title.
Publishers have more control than ever to display language that increases the decision to buy a bestselling book. Even though most people now shop for books online rather than bookstores, they are still influenced by the status of a recognized bestseller. When books become New York Times bestsellers, they receive large-scale credibility and exposure that is unmatched in the industry. However, too few publishers take steps to maximize this exposure after their books hit the list.
If you want to increase sales of your top titles, make sure consumers notice the New York Times bestselling achievement when they view them online. Otherwise, your books are just trees in the forest that don’t make a sound.