Bestsellers Aren’t What They Used to Be

I received a fascinating e-mail this morning from Susan MacTavish Best of Best Public Relations. According to a study published by (a self-publishing site), the life-expectancy of a bestselling novel has been cut in half in the last decade.

The study looked at the average number of weeks that a new No. 1 bestseller stayed on top of the hardback fiction section of the New York Times Bestseller List. Here are the results by decade:

DecadeAverage Number of Weeks to Stay on
the No. 1 Spot
1960s21.7 weeks
1970s13.9 weeks
1980s7.2 weeks
1990s5.5 weeks
2000s (so far)3.0 weeks

While this is bad news for established authors, it is potentially good news for authors hoping to hit the No. 1 spot. According to the same study, the number of novels to reach No. 1 per year, in each of the same decades was as follows:

DecadeAverage Number of Novels To Hit the No. 1 Spot Per Year
1960s2.8 titles
1970s4.4 titles
1980s7.6 titles
1990s10.0 titles
2000s (so far)18.2 titles

According to recent statistics from R.R. Bowker, U.S. publishers released 113,589 new titles in 1995. In 2005, publishers cranked out 172,000 new titles—a 51.4% increase. Bottom line: more titles are competing for the same number of available slots.

Fortunately, title output dropped by 9% from 2004 to 2005. But I don’t think this is enough to reverse the trend. “The genie is out of the bottle.” Too many media options are competing for consumers’ discretionary time. As a result, their attention span is decreasing. Somehow we have to factor this into our strategic planning. The world is changing rapidly!

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