Number-crunching the New York Times' bestseller list is not a good look for diversity

Originally published at:


“The Correlator” is either the worst or best superhero name. I can’t decide.


If white people are roughly 70% of the population, why are both numbers less than 70%? If black people are roughly 12% of the population, why is weeks on the list larger but best seller a little bit smaller?
So at least for two races selected at “random” it makes sense.

Now where things get a little funny are where ethnicity and race are conflated. Latinx books might not be well represented on an English language list. Even if the books are written in English they might target bilingual speakers, or might have both an English and Spanish version (as my friend setup for his Dad’s book). Same goes for Vietnamese, Tagalog, etc.


Not sure what to make of this. The author makes a big deal that if 2 white and 2 black authors are removed, the numbers change greatly. So there are 4 dominant authors, 2 white and 2 black?

Also right up front they say the NYT Best Sellers list is “curated” with a link to the NYT that says “Rankings reflect unit sales reported on a confidential basis by vendors offering a wide range of general interest titles published in the United States.”

I can glean more from the NYT description of their process than i can from the info in the Medium post. It seems that the NYT make a best-sellers list from, in fact, the best sellers, and don’t publish the exact methodology to try to avoid publishers gaming the system. That’s different than it being “curated”


John the Correlator" has … crunched the numbers to analyze the demographic diversity of the authors represented by the list. And, perhaps unsurprisingly, it’s not very representative of the US population

But it is. Those author ethnicity pie charts are roughly comparable to population ethnicity pie charts. If anything they show greater diversity than population pie charts.

1 Like

(Full disclosure: I do work for a company that is owned by the New York Times , a fact which does not and I am not aware of any impact that fact has on my perspectives either way.)


1 Like

US Population breakdown by race. There’s definitely a little bit of White and Asian overrepresentation, quite a bit of Hispanic/Latino/a underrepresentation, and the Black representation is about a wash (way over for ‘weeks’, a bit under for bestseller list).


That was my gut reaction/intuition looking at the chart. Came to the comments to see if there was a better explanation. Not seeing one so far.


That shows the same thing - they’re roughly comparable.

The white and latinx categories are a little muddled between the Census and this NYT analysis due to the way the Census tabulates hispanic ethnicity. The Census treats race and hispanic ethnicity as separate variables while these NYT charts are assigning hispanic ethnicity to a discrete racial category.


These are good analytical points, but the lack of diversity in publishing has been called out
by people working in the industry frequently in the past. In a way, you wouldn’t expect the bestseller list to reflect this lack of diversity since the book-buying public should be broadly representative of diversity as a whole. However, I think what the author of this analysis was trying to communicate is that for Black authors you get a few high-impact names (removing the two best-selling authors reduced share of weeks on list to just over 3%) while removing the two best selling white authors didn’t have nearly as much influence.

It would be interesting to see the analysis carried out over a longer time period.

Questions about who gets their manuscript read, who gets published, who gets promoted, who the literary critics, who gets long-term book deals and who leads the major publishing houses are still relevant, but those data aren’t reflected in the NYT bestseller list.


“You have saved the city, Correlator!”
“Well- the city was saved shortly after I showed up. let’s not look into it any more deeply than that.”


And his arch-nemesis: Causation-man!


yeah i didn’t know disclosures could be erased by saying “but it doesn’t affect my thinking”

Same way Trump can say “My sons run the businesses now, and it doesn’t affect what I do as President”

1 Like

I will go for why not both: a problem system and a metric that does not reflect it at the points examined with a bonus disconnection as the data that does not point to a problem is being used to say there is a problem however we know that the problem exists.

“Latinx”. Gag me with a spoon.

I used the term presented in the article. Generally that’s preferred when quoting or referring. As for the term itself, it depends on a publication’s recommended style.

I would recommend caution when expressing contempt about something that is new or different to you. In this particular case the change is intended to use inclusive terminology, and you can end up in annoying internet arguments if people think you’re against inclusivity and diversity.

When it comes to gendered language, we already accept firefighter instead of fireman. I remember decades ago when this sort of change was controversial. The arguments against were all stupid. The arguments for were harmless and easy. Not being shitty won for a change.


I expressed my contempt about the article, not your presentation.

I appreciate your concern. It’s just it seems this mangling of a foreign term serves no purpose other than showing off how the author is aware of modern trends.

I acknowledge your internet argument skill of indirectly calling my point of view stupid and shitty. Well done.

Credit where it’s due


People’s awareness of trends, whether the trend represents inclusiveness or just creativity* is precisely how language evolves. So who really cares, unless they actually want some to feel excluded.

*Today, every person in the UK knows what “grotty” means - it was probably invented by the Beatles in A Hard Days Night. At the time there was no shortage of busy bodies tut tutting its use.

This topic was automatically closed after 5 days. New replies are no longer allowed.