Beginning February 5, The New York Times is ending its “Graphic Books” bestseller lists, the company confirmed to ICv2 today.  That includes its Hardcover Graphic Books, Paperback Graphic Books, and Manga charts. 

“In recent years, we introduced a number of new lists as an experiment, many of which are being discontinued,” New York Times VP – Communications Danielle Rhoades Ha said in an email.  “The discontinued lists did not reach or resonate with many readers.” 

The graphic novel bestseller charts date to 2009, with George Gene Gustines of the Times marking the significance of the launch in the Arts Beat blog with the pronouncement that “Comics have finally joined the mainstream” (see “’New York Times’ Adds ‘Graphic Books’ Bestseller Lists”).

We read the “did not reach or resonate” comment as “didn’t get enough clicks,” but note that publishers and comic creators have used the “New York Times bestseller” moniker frequently as a way to provide a widely accepted measure of a title’s popularity.  So even if direct traffic was less than the Times wants for the amount of labor it took to produce the lists, they certainly spread the brand and credibility of the Times to a broader audience.

We see this as a retreat by the most important publication in the U.S. from one of the fastest-growing and most influential parts of pop culture, even though the Times may increase other forms of coverage.  “The change allows us to expand our coverage of these books in ways that we think will better serve readers and attract new audiences to the genres,” Ha told ICv2.  The lack of understanding that comics are a medium, not a genre, is not reassuring.  And even if there are more reviews and other coverage, there is no way that the number of titles affected by such reviews can ever come anywhere near the number of titles to which publishers were able to append “New York Times bestseller” for the past eight years. 

It’s an unfortunate event for the comics business, which has been growing (particularly in the graphic novel format, see “Comic and Graphic Novel Sales Top $1 Billion”), and one sign of the seemingly inexorable forces that are pummeling the newspaper business at the Times and elsewhere.  Regardless of the reasons for the move, the impact on comics will be negative, particularly on the front lines of the medium’s battle for legitimacy, such as schools and libraries.  And we find it hard to believe that it will ultimately be good for the New York Times.