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Amazon’s new best seller list knows what we’re really reading

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SAN FRANCISCO — Amazon has introduced a weekly best seller list that ranks books by what readers are actually reading — not just what they’ve bought.

The new list, called Amazon Charts, also has a most-sold component that incorporates sales of its Kindle e-books and audio, as well as print books.

The Seattle company had long posted lists of book sales by the hour but the weekly lists are new and reflect the increasingly complex trove of data about users’ habits Amazon has available to it from its e-commerce site and other connected apps — including audiobook purveyor Audible, the GoodReads social recommendation service, and its Kindle e-books app. The lists also sharpenthe rivalry with other best-seller lists, such those at USA TODAY and The New York Times.

“This won’t supplant the (New York) Times — or USA TODAY for that matter — but it will definitely add a lot of interest because it measures things a different way and the ‘compare and contrast’ gene will kick in for many observers,” said Mike Shatzkin, founder and CEO of Idea Logical Company, a publishing industry consulting company.

Amazon’s “Most Read” list comes from Kindle ebooks and Audible audio books, but doesn’t include paper books. It ranks books by the average number of daily Kindle readers and daily Audible listeners each week, whether they are in the process of reading or have completed reading the book in that week, the company said.

The “Most Sold” list ranks books based on the number of print and electronic copies sold and pre-ordered through Amazon.com, Audible.com and Amazon Books brick-and-mortar stores as well as books borrowed from Amazon’s subscription programs such as Kindle Unlimited, Audible.com, and Prime Reading.

Amazon is also leveraging other data it has about the American book-buying public’s habits. That includes lists which books are most anticipated, based on the rate of customer pre-orders and which Kindle books “were simply Unputdownable,” according to how quickly customers read them from cover to cover.

Is what we read the same as what we buy?

So far Amazon’s Most Read and Most Sold lists are similar but not identical. On this week’s most read list for fiction are Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, David Baldacci’s The Fix and Neil Gaiman’s American Gods.

The most sold list is slightly different. The Handmaid’s Tale is still number one, but number two is Paula Hawkins’ Into the Water and number three is James Patterson’s 16th Seduction.

These are very similar to the top three on USA TODAY’s best-seller fiction list, which included Into the Water, 16th Seduction and Dr. Seuss’ Oh, the Places You’ll Go!, 

The New York Times fiction best sellers top three were 16th Seduction, Into the Water and Danielle Steel’s Against All Odds.

Both papers’ lists include print and ebook sales.

How different Amazon’s two lists turn out to be over time will be interesting. It’s unclear at this point if people who read e-books and listen to books have different tastes than people who read print books — or whether print sales are enough to swing the sales list in a certain direction.

Amazon does not release sales numbers for how many books, ebooks or audio books it sells nor offer any breakdown of how many of each type are sold.

The most sold list could also highlight the habit some readers have of buying books they feel they should or might someday read, but then don’t ever actually dive into.

It’s a common enough trait that the Japanese at least have a specific word for it. Tsundoku is Japanese for stockpiling of books that are never actually read.

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