A website that lists books sold by year?

I’m in the middle of a really petty and trivial email feud on my fantasy baseball league. I love petty and trivial feuds.

Anyway, the debate at hand is whether the “Where’s Waldo” books could be considered a popular late 80’s thing or a 90’s thing. They first book was published in '87, but my thinking is it didn’t really take off until the 90’s.

So if there is a website that shows book sales by year that would be awesome.

I realize this is helping ignorant bastards as opposed to fighting ignorance, but thanks in advance!


No hard numbers, but here is a list of U.S. bestsellers for every year of the 20th century.

And for years since 2000.

Believe me, everybody in the publishing industry would love to have such a site. Even publishers would … for every publisher’s works except their own. :slight_smile:

I’ve never heard of anything even close.

The lists given by Intelligently Designed are examples of the kind of nonsense that passes for public data in the industry. They are meaningless. Depending on how you want to classify books, what outlets you sample, and whether you put together different editions into a single total, you could come up with hundreds of different bestsellers lists for every year.

The publishing industry is a mess.

Well, given that there is no way to determine this exactly I shall declare victory.

Thanks anyway!


I agree with Exapno Mapcase. Publishers won’t release their sales data, so everybody builds their lists from a different set of data. New York Times, Book Sense, and Publisher’s Weekly may be the best known, but there are many, many others. What makes them different?

What retailers are surveyed? Book Sense is only independent (non-chain) bookstores. NYT includes wholesalers, grocery stores, and drug stores. PW includes indies and chains both.

What products are included? Is it all books, or just a specific genre? Are mass-market paperbacks included? How about gift books (books traditional sold in drugstores and gift shops rather than bookstores)? Audio books on CD or cassette? Digital audio books? E-books?

What constitutes a sale? Do wholesale transactions count? How are returns factored in? Do they combine paperback and hardback sales of the same title? What if a book is purchased new, sold back to the store, sold as used, sold back, and sold as used again? Is that one sale or three? (Answer: it’s one in every list I’ve ever heard of).

What time period is included? If somebody ganks the Amazon list by arranging a special one-hour deal (show your email receipt from Amazon and if it has this timestamp you get a rebate or special promo item) so that everyone buys at the same time, they can make the Amazon bestseller list for an hour and put “Amazon bestseller” on the cover of the next edition. Does that make it a “real” bestseller?

Coming up with real “hard” data on publishing is just about impossible.

I was working in a bookstore in the fall of 1991. The fourth Waldo book was already out then, and we could barely keep them in the store. While awareness and popularity certainly peaked in the early 1990s, the craze had clearly begun several years earlier.

To echo scotandrsn, I worked in the campus bookstore when I was in college from 1986-1989. There was a new book each fall starting my sophomore year (1987), and they were all bestsellers.

Pubisher’s Weekly reports that each of those first three editions sold more than 2.5 million copies, which puts them among the top-fifty best selling children’ books of all time. According to this article, the 1990 book sold considerably less (1.3 million), and none of the rest made the list at all.

I realize that these figures are not to be taken as gospel, and it doesn’t mean that all the copies sold in the year they were released. However, it’s at least good circumstantial evidence for my recollection that the popularity of the series had started to wane by 1990.

Oh man, that sucks! Luckily no one else in my silly argument knows I went to look these numbers up from those more knowledgeable than I. I shall let it die a slow death.

But I thank you all for the information, I honestly did think that it really started in the 90’s. Oh well.


There were cartoons, comics and all manner of other Waldo-related items in the early 90s, but clearly the books were not selling as well. A case of market saturation, I would venture to guess. I remember thinking at the time that the fourth book, the Great Waldo Fun Book or whatever, was a bit of a reach.