Funny thing about bestseller lists

Consumers of entertainment love lists, like the Billboard Top 10, the top hits of the weekend box office, or the New York Times Bestseller List. The big difference between the first two lists and the third list is the honest, realistic sample size available.

If you see a list of the top 10 songs, it is reasonable to assume a music fan will have listened to all 10 songs and formed opinions about each. A moviegoer could easily watch three to five of the top 10 movies over a one-month stretch, but books require a significantly greater time commitment, meaning a reader might only read one book on a bestseller list before the list has completely changed.

The rest of the books on the list become irrelevant and vanish, like old blog posts. I remember back around Thanksgiving, everywhere I browsed for books I kept seeing the new book from Bruce Springsteen. His memoir Born to Run was all over the bestseller list for a couple of months. What list is it on now? Does anyone even remember that Springsteen wrote a book?

In a way, entertainment brokers’ lists resemble slow-moving social-media feeds. We glance over them the way we would glance over our Facebook page, reading only the posts that interest us and forgetting the others forever. Of course, there is only so much time in a day, so how many 70,000-word posts are really getting read?

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