In a move surprising only for its incredible tardiness, UK book trade bible The Bookseller has announced that it will henceforth carry monthly e-book sales rankings, due to launch in the last week of July with June sales figures.

The new monthly ranking, which The Bookseller describes as, an “industry first,” will run:The Bookseller

“with sales figures supplied by all the major trade publishers in the UK.  It is the first time regular e-book sales data will have been published, and builds on The Bookseller’s annual and quarterly reviews of the book market, which have included e-book volume numbers alongside print book sales.”

As noted, the new ranking will go out with figures provided by publishers, with The Bookseller citing a panel of trade presses, including Bloomsbury, Hachette, HarperCollins, Pan Macmillan, Penguin Random House, and Simon & Schuster. “Together they represent 51% of the overall print book market and 81% of the print book fiction market,” claims The Bookseller. (Clearly someone forgot to ask Amazon.)

“Getting accurate sales data for this rapidly growing section of the book market is vital, and we hope the monthly ranking will begin the process of shining a much-needed light on how digital is reshaping the book business,” said Philip Jones, editor of The Bookseller. “The intention is to quickly grow the panel of publishers.” Publishers are invited to submit their details if they want to be considered for the panel.

The air of unreality about the whole exercise is typified by the exclusion of self-published e-books. Why are these absent from these supposedly authoritative sales rankings? If the latest Digital Book World Ebook Publisher Power Rankings for U.S. sales (covered elsewhere) are to be believed, self-published sales top all but the top three publishers in the market—who after the Penguin Random House merger, are now the top two.

And if a book trade magazine wants to get the most accurate picture of e-book sales, aren’t the key platforms the most important sources of information? Wouldn’t it make more sense to go to Amazon, Kobo, and Nook instead? There would be no great mystery about accurate sales data if The Bookseller was ready to work more closely with them; and in principle, all you need to do to see what is actually selling best on Amazon is—g’doh!—go look at the list of top sellers.

Figures supplied by major publishers, and especially by a selected group rather than a wider cross-section, are inevitably going to be less authoritative. They may not be actively falsified, but they surely will be biased. And from the sound of the planned rankings, they will reflect the UK e-book publishing industry as the major publishers would like to see it, rather than how it is.

Still, it helps cement relations between The Bookseller and the top publishers even more closely, which I guess must be a benefit of some kind, for certain parties.


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