Comparing Apples to Oranges - The NYT Bestsellers Lists and Kindle

The June 7th issue of the New York Times Book Review, print edition, had the following Amazon ad on page 21: An arrow pointing at the bestsellers list and the text:
"in the time it takes to skim the bestseller list, you can wirelessly download an entire book." A couple of inches Below that text was an image of the Kindle accompanied by the text:
"Choose from 275,000 of the most popular books, magazines and newspapers. Free wireless delivery in less than 60 seconds."

In the print edition of the Times the bestsellers list is spread across 3 pages:

Page Bestseller Category List Category # of Books
18 Best Sellers Fiction 15
18 Best Sellers Nonfiction 15
20 Paperback Best Sellers Trade Fiction 20
20 Paperback Best Sellers Mass Market Fiction 20
21 Paperback Best Sellers Nonfiction 20
21 Advice, How-To and Miscellaneous Hardcover10
21 Advice, How-To and Miscellaneous Paperback 10

# Pages # Bestseller Category # List Category # of Books
3 3 6 110

The Amazon ad suggests that the act of downloading a single book is equivalent to the act of browsing a list of books  (perhaps to determine which book to purchase). But it is really a comparison between (a) A pre-decision activity of browsing the list of books, and (b) A post-decision activity, since the download is done after one chose, purchased and clicked the 'Download' button - it is the device that does the work.

Let's consider Amazon value preposition which is divided into 2 phases:

  1. Choose from 275,000 of the most popular 
    1. Books
    2. Magazines
    3. Newspapers
  2. Free wireless delivery in less than 60 seconds.

In phase 1, the ad touts a clear quantitative advantage for Amazon: A choice of 275,000 bestseller books compared to the meager 110 books of the NYT. In fact, the ad is positioned on page 21 which only lists 20 books, compared to page 20 which lists 40 books and page 18 which lists 30 books - the quantitive advantage is visually enhanced.

But as Barry Schwartz (not a relative) suggests in his book 'The Paradox of Choice', 'More is Less'.

In the print edition, one only has to choose between books. Indeed, making the choice even in this short list is confusing. What's odd about the NYT bestsellers list is its classification confusion in both the Bestseller category and the list category: Format (paperback, hardcover) is intermixed with genre (advise, fiction, nonfiction), and sales channel (mass market, trade).

This list is clearly not organized with the user (the reader) in mind. It is hard to imagine a reader pondering which a mass market fiction book to get for her Summer holiday. But at least the choice is among books. The Amazon ad offers, in addition to the large quantity of books, also a range of publication types - books and magazines and newspapers -- clearly a scope beyond that of the print list, but also a completely different type of choice and context of choice.

Finally, the interface of the NYT list in print requires the reader to read. Each item includes:

  • Title 
  • Author, 
  • Publisher, 
  • List price and 
  • A short blurb. 
There may be a bias to select the top ranking books thinking that they are also the best books, but because the lists are short and easy to read, it is not an effort to cover all.


Now, the user interface for browsing the same NYT bestsellers list on Amazon's Kindle section does not require one to read. Rather, one may be compelled to make the choice by the covers, ignoring the wise proverb 'Don't judge a book by its cover'.

Here, each item includes:

  • Cover photo (title and author quite visible)
  • Title
  • List price
  • Kindle price

and here is the interface of all the bestseller books (54) in fiction category:


So, how many books could you download by the time you finish browsing the NYT bestsellers list on the Kindle website?