Like the death of a warrant canary, sometimes the most notable news stories stem from absence rather than presence. Such was the case last night when literary agent Charles Olsen tweeted out this doozy:
Graphic novels can no longer be @nytimes bestsellers as of February 5th. No explanation for change, I think we deserve one. Please RT!
— Charlie Olsen (@ComicsisPeople) January 25, 2017
According to an email subscription version of February 5th’s NY Times Best Sellers List, “Beginning with the advance BSL edition that will be delivered today for February 5, 2017 there will be revisions to multiple categories in the publication. These changes will span weekly and monthly lists.” One of these changes appears to be the deletion of the hardcover graphic novels, softcover graphic novels, and manga Best Seller lists, as none of these sections are included in the document that we have reviewed.
Graphic novels have been a constant source of profit and expansion for the ailing publishing industry over the last several years. According to ICv2, “graphic novels in the book channel represented the biggest area of growth” in 2016. Raina Telgemeier’s Ghosts received a monumental 500,000 copy first printing when it was released last year. Recently, John Lewis’ biographical comic March won four awards from the American Library Association and topped the Amazon Bestseller List as well. With these things in mind, it is certainly seemed possible that the NY Times had omitted the three graphic literature lists by accident.
— Neil Gaiman (@neilhimself) January 26, 2017
However, as confirmed by comics sales aggregator Comichron, graphic novel and manga categories have been eliminated from the NY Times Bestseller lists.
Cindy from TimesDigest, the advance subscription service that provides the bestseller list early to publishing professionals, told Comichron “Please be advised that the Best Sellers List will be focusing on its core lists. These include the lists in this week’s advance BSL publication.” That suggests the lists are gone not just from the advance version, but also will not appear Friday online and this weekend’s print Books section.
— Christian Hoffer (@CHofferCBus) January 26, 2017
Comics are a demonstrably important cultural force in America. With a deeply rooted history in subversion and resistance, we need them now more than ever. It is a huge loss to us all that the Times has pulled back on their coverage of the industry.
Asked for comment, the New York Times provided the following response:
Beginning February 5, The New York Times will eliminate a number of print but mostly online-only bestseller lists. In recent years, we introduced a number of new lists as an experiment, many of which are being discontinued.
We will continue to cover all of these genres of books in our news coverage (in print and online). The change allows us to devote more space and resources to our coverage beyond the bestseller lists.
Our major lists will remain, including: Top 15 Hardcover Fiction, Top 15 Hardcover Nonfiction, Top 15 Combined Print and E Fiction, Top 15 Combined Print and E Nonfiction, Top 10 Children’s Hardcover Picture Books, Top 10 Children’s Middle Grade Hardcover Chapter Books, Top 10 Children’s Young Adult Hardcover Chapter Books and Top 10 Children’s Series. Several more including Paperback Trade Fiction, Paperback Nonfiction, Business, Sports, Science and Advice Miscellaneous will remain online.
Readers will be notified that individual lists will no longer be compiled and updated by The New York Times on the relevant article pages.
It’s worth noting that while the loss of the graphic novels and manga bestseller lists is of great import to the comics industry, it was not the only sector to be impacted by this policy change. Mass paperbacks will be losing their sales coverage as well. Sports books, however, will continue to receive coverage.
In addition, while the Times called the graphic book and manga charts an “experiment,” these charts first appeared in 2009 when the Watchmen movie debuted and have now been around for nearly a decade. The Times’ post heralding the arrival of these sales charts proclaimed that “comics have finally joined the mainstream.”
UPDATE: The New York Times has explained its reasons for eliminating the graphic books bestseller lists.
Alex is the New Media Editor of the Comics Beat. He is also a freelance comics editor with previous credits at First Second, Top Cow, and Papercutz. He primarily covers DC Comics and Magic: the Gathering.