A Library Demand List

February 20, 2022

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 (&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.

Update: It's Feb­ru­ary 2022, so I will no longer be updat­ing this sketch. Thanks for checking in!

Thanks for viewing!

Robin

NYT   Holds Owned Ratio
1 IT ENDS WITH US
Colleen Hoover (Atria)
⬇︎ ⬇︎⬇︎ ⬇︎
2 VERITY
Colleen Hoover (Grand Central)
⬇︎⬇︎ ⬇︎⬇︎ ⬇︎
3 THE SEVEN HUSBANDS OF EVELYN HUGO
Taylor Jenkins Reid (Washington Square/Atria)
⬆︎ ⬇︎ ⬇︎
4 UGLY LOVE
Colleen Hoover (Atria)
⬇︎⬇︎ ⬇︎⬇︎ ⬆︎
5 THE MAID
Nita Prose (Ballantine)
⬇︎ ⬇︎ -
6 THE LINCOLN HIGHWAY
Amor Towles (Viking)
⬆︎ ⬆︎ ⬇︎
7 THE MIDNIGHT LIBRARY
Matt Haig (Viking)
⬆︎ ⬆︎ ⬇︎
8 BLACK CAKE
Charmaine Wilkerson (Ballantine)
⬇︎⬇︎ ⬇︎⬇︎ ⬆︎⬆︎
9 THE LOVE HYPOTHESIS
Ali Hazelwood (Berkley)
⬆︎ ⬆︎ ⬆︎
10 THE LAST THING HE TOLD ME
Laura Dave (Simon & Schuster)
⬆︎ ⬆︎⬆︎ ⬇︎
11 THE CHRISTIE AFFAIR
Nina de Gramont (St. Martin’s)
⬇︎ ⬇︎ ⬆︎
12 THE JUDGE'S LIST
John Grisham (Doubleday)
⬆︎ ⬆︎⬆︎ ⬇︎
13 PEOPLE WE MEET ON VACATION
Emily Henry (Berkley)
⬆︎ ⬆︎⬆︎⬆︎ ⬇︎
14 WHERE THE CRAWDADS SING
Delia Owens (Putnam)
⬆︎ ⬆︎ ⬆︎
15 ONE STEP TOO FAR
Lisa Gardner (Dutton)
⬆︎ ⬆︎ ⬆︎⬆︎