An advertisement appearing in Publisher’s Weekly, a book trade journal, reads: “A bestseller you will not find listed on the opposite page.” The book—The Late Great Planet Earth, by Hal Lindsey. The list—Publisher’s Weekly’s well-known “bestsellers” list. This Zondervan advertisement succinctly summarizes a problem of religious book publishers: they have bestsellers that never reach the major bestseller lists, such as the one the New York Times or the Washington Post runs. The Late Great Planet Earth is one of the best examples of this. Since its publication in 1970 the American edition has sold over one million copies; no bestseller list picked it up.

One of the difficulties with these lists is that they consider only hardbacks. Lindsey’s book is in both a hardback and a “trade” paperback edition. The paperback edition, which costs $1.95, is outselling the hardback thirty to one. Zondervan executives point this out; they differentiate between a trade and a mass-media paperback that sells for only $.95. They complain that trade paperbacks shouldn’t be overlooked in the compiling of bestseller lists.

How are those lists compiled? Selected bookstores throughout the country are polled to determine what books are selling. The Times closely guards its store list, but publishers have been known to obtain it. An author and English professor told CHRISTIANITY TODAY that the list was based on only ten bookstores in the Manhattan area. He claims that the stores submit projection sales lists to the paper. Therefore the bestseller list not only doesn’t reflect a true sampling of stores in the country but often doesn’t even reflect sales actually made. Several large New York publishers send buyers into these stores to push books they want ...

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