“Last week, Marvel’s 2007 adaptation of the Stephen King fantasy epic appeared, as if by magic, atop the hardcover list, unseating Watchmen. Although I couldn’t find an obvious reason for the book’s performance, I was willing to accept that the upcoming release of The Dark Tower: Treachery hardcover or another miniseries might’ve renewed interest in the original. (Or did I completely miss a new edition or reissue?)
“But this week The Gunslinger Born is nowhere to be seen. Watchmen again rests comfortably upon its hardcover throne, followed by a trio of Batman-related books.
“It’s as if last week never happened.” – Kevin Melrose, Robot 6 @ CBR
Sorry, I didn’t realize that no one had addressed this.
It’s pretty clear that the NYT Graphic Novel Bestseller lists are equally weighing all of Diamond’s direct-market sell-in with all of the other sales channels’ sell-through. What this means is that every book shipped by Diamond to a comic book store counts exactly the same on their list as every book actually sold by a bookscan-reporting store. It means that, on the week that comic-store-favourite graphic novels get released, their positions on the bestseller list will be abornomally high… but they will most likely never be heard from again. Unless their reorder velocity in a given week is incredibly high… maybe if that item was put on a sale or something?
So how did we end up with Dark Tower: Gunslinger Born on the list? That’s tricky. Marvel is a very litigious company, and has all sorts of warnings about reproducing their private personal information in public. Blah blah blah. So, let’s talk about me instead, because I doubt even Marvel would be able to argue that retailers aren’t allowed to talk about their own businesses. So: There was a time period last month where I ordered Dark Tower: Gunslinger Born and received a higher-than-average discount on that book, and for every copy I ordered, I got another copy of the book for free. I did this, it happened, and I am talking about my actions as a retailer (litigious!). So the week that all of those discounted copies and free copies of Dark Tower that I ordered shipped to me, the book ALSO appeared on The New York Times Graphic Novel Bestseller list. Do you see the correlation there?
I don’t think Marvel tried to game the system with this maneuver; Diamond Comics also reported the first Dark Tower collection as being the top-seller for the month, likely because of this promotion. Apparently according to Diamond, something that sells at a reduced price—even if that reduced price is zero—is still a sale, and when they report data to the NYT? A sale is a sale.
Basically, in the larger bookselling community, the “end customer” is the reader, the consumer, because bookstores can return unsold product to the publisher (or distributor), and so a sale is really only final once it leaves the store. But in the Direct Market of comic book stores, the “end customer” is the retailer–the comic book store owner–because the comic book store owner can’t return the books; the final sale is when the books arrive at the store. Worse than that, comic book store owners are expected to front-load their orders–order heavily up front with no immediate promise of further availability–to secure a better discount from Diamond as a supplier, which further weights the Diamond’s numbers on the day-of-release.
So two largely incongruous sales systems are being merged–pretty badly it looks like–to generate a list that has books with little long-term sales spiking on release and never appearing again, and heavily prone to being thrown entirely out of whack by promotions, sales, discounting, and… hell, just giving stuff away for free! It’s one of the many, many problems of the apples-to-oranges sales systems that we have in comics. And yeah, it’s why The New York Times Graphic Novel Bestseller List is Broken.