It’s the ultimate honor for a book to be included in the New York Times bestseller lists. Authors and publishers gain prestige, recognition and… more sales.

But why do some books get chosen over others? I wanted to see how closely the NY Times bestseller lists matches popular opinion.

Are the books selected for inclusion into the NY Times bestseller lists chosen because they are actually bestsellers, or are they bestsellers because they are chosen?

New York Times book selection methodology

According to the New York Times website, bestsellers are chosen based on the sales data reported to them by book vendors. This includes book retailers, universities, news-stands, supermarkets, and a variety of other outlets.

This information is then weighted using statistics to give a good approximation of overall sales figures, nationwide.

Sounds like it makes sense. Let’s take a look.

Top five books in the New York Times bestsellers list for hardcover fiction

The following titles were taken from the NY Times bestseller list for hardcover fiction titles on Feb 8th, 2012:

Sales figures for New York Times bestsellers

From the sales graph, provided courtesy of RankTracer – Amazon Analytics, you can see the following sales data:

Before continuing, it’s important to note that the NY Times list actually contains twenty books, not five. So, there may well be other books on the list that are currently selling better than these five titles.

Bestseller sales analysis

I would say that on aggregate, the books appearing in the New York Times bestsellers lists are genuine bestsellers. How much impact being included on the list has on the sales of the books is difficult to predict without knowing which books will appear on the list ahead of time.

Obviously, the sales figures on Amazon change by the hour, whereas the information in the NY Times is provided by vendors as and when they can. It’s also subject to who reports their sales figures back to them.

Overall then, the NY Times provides a reasonable snapshot of the leading books – a good guide, but not necessarily truly representative.

If you know of any books that are going to appear on the list for the first time, then please drop me a line in the comments, or follow on twitter and Google+ to share that info there. You can also track those books on RankTracer yourself to see the impact in real time.

How much is Stephen King earning off his latest book?

As a matter of interest, let’s take a look at how much Stephen King is earning off his latest book. I’ll use the same revenue calculation that I used in a previous article entitled “Dummies author earning nearly $6000 a week off one title“.

The calculation is as follows:

revenue = books sold on Amazon x book price x 0.225 = 1340 x 35 x 0.225 = $10553

The period tracked is just shy of a whole week, so we can round up to approximately $11 000 per week, or $44 000 per month, or around $484 000 per year (although there will be some serious fluctuations depending on season, reviews, marketing campaigns, and so on).

As always, feel free to share your thoughts in the comments below, or by following on twitter and Google+.