The “Best Sellers”
THE term “best seller” denotes a book that is being bought by the public in unusually large numbers. Strictly speaking, there is only one all-time best seller. That is the Holy Bible, which has been sold in thousands of millions of copies and translated, in whole or in part, into over 1,400 languages. Any other book is only a “good seller” by comparison.
Best-seller lists today are usually divided into two categories: fiction and non fiction. How do books get on these lists?
Do bookstores report the exact number of each title of a book they sell? No, that would be too time-consuming. The vice-president of one of the largest bookstore chains in the United States speaks of the reports as conveying a ‘feeling.’ He writes:
“Bookstore reports of best sellers are made up of intuition, a ‘feel,’ hope, love and, alas, the need or desire to get a book moving that hasn’t yet moved but is expected to. . . . The list is full of surprises to booksellers themselves. How odd to find on the list books your store has not sold a copy of all week, or some negligible number. The list never says how many a title has sold—18,000 countrywide last week, 23,000 countrywide this week. Publishers aren’t giving out that kind of information. . . .
“What’s really interesting about the list is what’s not there . . . Stores automatically report novels and general nonfiction. . . . But there is a whole world of self-help books or ‘tool’ books that never make the best seller lists and should.” (The Writer, January 1968) Thus books such as cookbooks might sell large numbers and still not make a weekly nonfiction best-seller list. Bibles and textbooks are also usually omitted from the lists. Yet when an important new translation of the Bible is published, it may become a best seller and appear on the lists.
The publishing of books in paperback editions at lower prices has greatly increased the sale of many books. Thus a fiction book may sell only a few hundred thousand copies in its hardbound edition but millions of copies in the paperback edition. Especially have mystery books and those featuring sex and sadism found a fertile market in paperbacks.
More books have been published during this twentieth century than ever before. If we consider, then, all books that have been written during this century, whether fiction or nonfiction, what books have the greatest distribution? There are problems in compiling an exact list, say of the world’s ten best sellers, since some religious publications have had wide distribution, but figures are not available. Further, distribution figures are not readily available for “best-selling” books in Communist lands. But if you take a look at the Guinness Book of World Records, you will find that Peyton Place is listed as the best-selling fiction book, with a sale of 9,915,785 copies by the end of 1965 (most of them in paperback edition). As for nonfiction, the above authority lists the top best seller as being The Common Sense Book of Baby and Child Care, with total sales of over 22,000,000. It is now believed that the figure has risen to 23,000,000.
However, there is a book with a much larger distribution. Since June 1968, the Bible handbook The Truth That Leads to Eternal Life has reached a distribution figure of 35,000,000, in sixty-seven languages.
The chart on the preceding page shows a list of the ten top best sellers among nonfiction books. Six of them are books based on the Bible and distributed by Jehovah’s witnesses.
Since the Holy Bible is the world’s all-time best seller, it seems most appropriate that the foremost best seller on the accompanying list is a book that explains what the Bible is all about. It is encouraging to lovers of God’s Word to see books that underscore Jehovah’s kingdom as mankind’s only hope receiving the widest distribution among all books.
[Chart on page 19]
(For fully formatted text, see publication)
THE WORLD’S BEST SELLERS*
Publication Languages Quantity
1. The Truth That Leads to 67 35,000,000
Eternal Life (1968)
2. The Common Sense Book 23,000,000
of Baby and Child
3. Le Nouveau Petit Larousse 20,000,000
4. “Let God Be True” 54 19,246,710
5. Better Homes and Gardens 14,800,000
Cook Book (1930)
6. From Paradise Lost to 59 13,097,668
Paradise Regained (1958)
7. Did Man Get Here by 11 11,580,153
Evolution or by Creation?
8. Is the Bible Really the 18 11,079,468
Word of God? (1969)
9. Pocket Atlas (1917) 11,000,000
10. “Things in Which It Is 34 9,984,234
Impossible for God
to Lie” (1965)
Of nonfiction books written in the twentieth century. The list is based primarily on Guinness Book of World Records and Watch Tower Bible & Tract Society distribution figures. Other lists, using different authorities, may vary.