What Does Bestseller Really Mean?

imagesA recent article (see link here) about the ease with which a reporter for the Observer uploaded a ‘book’ (which comprised, basically, a photograph of his foot) onto Amazon and became an instant ‘#1 bestseller’ – despite only selling three copies – got me thinking. It got me thinking, not just about the idea of scamming your way to bestsellerdom, but about the whole concept of being a ‘bestselling’ author and the kudos this  provides and implies.

Like any author, I would love to be able to claim such a title – although (perhaps not like every author) I only want to earn the title as a result of stellar book sales.  It seems, however, that through various manipulations (most often in how a book is categorized on Amazon) that the notion of being a ‘bestseller’ has become, well, let’s just say a little fuzzy. Now, this article does point out that they have always existed inherent biases within bestseller book lists and they have probably always been authors desperate enough to game the system (such as by buying their own books in bulk) in order to have the title ‘bestselling author’ bestowed upon them. However, the advent of Amazon and the plethora of ways an author can upload, market and sell their own ebooks seems to have increased the opportunities for gaming the system exponentially.

I don’t intend (in this blog post at least) to rake over all the ways and means authors manage to legitimately (or not) claim the ‘bestseller’ title but rather to consider what the word ‘bestselling’ means today (if, indeed, it means anything). As a reader, I can’t say I pay much attention to claims made to bestseller status on Amazon (especially now I now how easy it can be to claim such a title) – my eyes simply glaze over – and my decision whether to buy the book or not is far more dependent on reviews and recommendations than any ‘top selling’ status I might see on a website, book cover or author page. I do, however, take note of the bestseller lists in the NYT Book Review – to my mind this seems a better reflection of the popularity of any given book (even though I know the list probably has its own limitations). As a writer, becoming a NYT bestseller is also an obvious and much treasured goal…but, although I’d love to plop the word ‘bestselling author’ next to my name I wonder, given how many authors claim this (beyond the NYT list), how much meaning this term really has anymore.

So what about you – do you think the term ‘bestseller’ has lost a lot of its value through being bandied about so much? Do you pay any attention to Amazon’s designation of a book or author as a ‘bestseller’? As a writer, how do you view the issue? Do you think working the system is simply fair game (why not get the crown of bestseller any way you can?..) – or do you view the system as a broken one which holds little intrinsic value any more?  Which bestseller lists do you pay attention to as a writer, reader and book buyer?