Bestseller befuddlement: 'The Times list is what it is'

Just in time for this week's installment of the Graphic Books Best Seller List, Heidi MacDonald rounds up discussion of the mysterious mechanics that power The New York Times charts.

I, for better or worse, kicked off things last Friday when I was left scratching my head by the seemingly miraculous appearance, and disappearance, of Marvel's two-year-old collection of The Dark Tower: The Gunslinger Born from the hardcover list.

Retailer Christopher Butcher quickly offered a possible answer: that The Times may be relying on orders from Diamond Comic Distributors, rather than sales to customers, for its data from direct-market stores -- and that a deep discount on remaindered copies of The Gunslinger Born triggered the one-week spike.

Since Butcher's initial response, retailer and ComicsPRO board member Brian Hibbs has joined the discussion at both Butcher and MacDonald's blogs, revealing that "something close to a quarter of ComicsPRO’s membership has put their names in to report" sales information to The Times.

So, the newspaper is receiving sell-through data from at least some comic shops. How that's added into The Times' arcane bestseller formula is anybody's guess.

And that brings us to Todd Allen, who attempts to "reverse engineer" the Graphic Books list by comparing The Times positions with Diamond ranks and ICv2.com estimates.

His conclusions pretty much bring us full circle, with more questions than answers about how the newspaper compiles its bestseller information.

"The Times list is what it is," Allen writes, "and some indication of sell-through is better than none."

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