A Library Demand List
July 18, 2021
This tableThe table below takes the current New York Times Best Sellers list for combined print and e-book fiction and adds a bit of information for each title reflecting the demand for its e-book edition at a collection of U.S. public libraries, selected for their size and geographic diversity.
Here's how it works. I take the fifteen current NYT Best Sellers and “re-rank” them according to:
the number of holds, to get a sense of the relative number of patrons waiting for each e-book.
the number of copies owned, to get a sense of which e-books libraries have purchased/licensed in great quantity. These tend to be books that have lingered on the list and/or were well-promoted ahead of time.
the ratio of holds to copies owned, to get a sense of not just which books are popular, but which are “more popular than expected”; think acceleration instead of velocity. These tend, conversely, to be newer books and/or surprise hits. (This is my favorite ranking.)
In the table, for each book, I give you a sense of how widely those new library ranks diverge from its NYT rank. A book at the top of the NYT list but with (relatively) low demand at these public libraries will be coded with red arrows; a book low on the list that is hotly demanded will be solid green.
A dash (-) indicates no divergence in rank. A typographical dagger (†) indicates that no library holds any copies of the e-book.
Read more details.
I don’t display the raw number of e-book holds because this isn’t a full accounting of all U.S. public libraries (I wish!) so the numbers have meaning only in comparison to each other, not as free-floating measurements.
And, I'll repeat this, because it's important: the library ranks are calculated within the current NYT list, not among like, all library e-books. I do not currently have a way to survey all library e-books 😉
One more wrinkle! Sometimes, when a book is very popular, libraries will purchase a “cost-per-circulation” license, which means they can pay for loans to patrons on demand and, as a result, those books at those libraries will have zero holds; you ask for the e-book, you get it. This muddles my rankings a bit! Unfortunately, I have no way to determine how e-books are being licensed at different libraries, and this murkiness is one of the reasons I wanted to keep these re-rankings very “high level”—directional indications, not exact accountings.
I think these views of the NYT list are interesting because library e-book lending has exploded in the past few years, and now consitutes a very important channel for reading in the United States. It feels worthwhile to try to understand how its patterns both mirror and diverge from book buying.
I am being cryptic about where this data comes from, for Secret Reasons, but/and I think this is compatible with my desire to show the broad gist. The NYT list is gist-y, after all—not a raw tally of books sold, but a deeper divination of commercial momentum.
If you’re not familiar with the supply side of the library e-book equation, it’s worth reading Dan Cohen’s post outlining the myriad acquisition models for these weird entities. It’s… a lot!
Project scope: This is intended as a sketch, and I consider it finished. I’ll keep this page in sync with the NYT list for at least one year, until February 2022.
Thanks for viewing!