Nevertheless, e-books are still bought by only a relatively small number of readers — a recent Forrester survey found that only seven percent of U.S. adults read books digitally. The same poll also found, however, that once people have a taste they adopt quickly: respondents who already have an e-reader said they expected half of all the books they buy in the coming year to be digital.
Therefore, a dedicated e-book list seems a natural extension, and the Times said it had been working for two years “creating a system that tracks and verifies e-book sales.” Amazon, the 800-pound gorilla in the e-book space, has long ranked its own Kindle e-book sales. The Times does not specify but it seems logical to assume that Amazon’s rankings will significantly inform the Times’ lists. The newspaper says only that their lists will be “compiled from weekly data from publishers, chain bookstores, independent booksellers and online retailers, among other sources.”
It is not clear if the Times will include digital sales data in its main fiction and non-fiction lists, but it should. It will be a while before e-book sales information in isolation is very meaningful. Many new books are not even released as e-books immediately, notably the wildly successful saga of the 2008 presidential election, Game Change. Therefore, for a while we will see something on a hardcover list and not on the equivalent e-book list.
The power of the Times putting a big spotlight on this non-digital parity might have the (unintended?) effect of increasing pressure on publishers not to delay digital editions of at least those new releases they are positioning to be print New York Times bestsellers.
It could also make it more difficult for publishers to perpetuate the “agency” approach to e-book sales, which forces eBook sellers to sell at dictated prices even if they are prepared to absorb the difference, and decimate their own margins, to bring the retail price down. New e-book titles do tend to be priced at far below the typical $20+ cover price of new hardcovers but not as low as many consumers — and Amazon, which tried in vain to sell them for $10 — believe they should fetch since they do not incur the significant printing, storage or delivery costs of their print cousins.