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Bestseller ( English best , "best" and to sell , "sell") is an Anglicism for commercial items whose sales volume is above average. These statistics are published in bestseller lists . If an article sells at least a million times, one speaks of a million seller , especially in the music industry . The German-language synonym blockbuster has its origin in the use of the term hit for a successful, mass-compatible (see., Often selling product Engl. Literally and mutatis mutandis hit as well as the German proverb a hit like a bomb ).

Word origin and history

The word bestseller was first used in the Anglo-Saxon language for books in 1889, and the word gained acceptance in the American trade journal The Bookman , in which the first bestseller list appeared in 1895. The word bestseller appears in German dictionaries from 1941 onwards. Sonja Marjasch defined bestsellers in 1946 as “mass-produced items which, within a certain period of time, in a certain sales area, compared to the other books of the same genre (during the same time in the same place) have a maximum number copies sold ”. The Große Brockhaus has been using the term since it was first published in 1953. Since the late 1960s, the term supramedial has been used, particularly in Germany, including for movies , comics and records .

Martin Luther : To the Christian nobility of the German nation , 1520

Das Narrenschiff , published in 1494 by Sebastian Brant in Basel, is considered the oldest (German) bestseller in literary history . It was only replaced by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe'sThe Sorrows of Young Werther ” almost three centuries later.

From Martin Luther's pamphlet To the Christian Nobility of the year 1520 4000 copies were printed and sold within a week. His Das Newe Testament Deutzsch appeared in folio format in September 1522 with an edition between 3000 and 5000 copies. A second edition was required as early as December 1522, a third followed in 1524 and more in later years; his New Testament developed into a steady seller and is believed to have sold around 200,000 copies during his lifetime. Christian Fürchtegott Gellert's fables and stories (1746–1748) were widely used. When the new edition appeared in 1839, it was sold out within a few months; Three more editions followed in quick succession.

Typical bestsellers in aesthetic literature were Daniel Defoe's Robinson Crusoe (1719), Jonathan Swift's Gulliver's Travels (1726), Voltaire's Candide or Optimism (1759), Johann Wolfgang von Goethe's The Sorrows of Young Werther (1774), Harriet Beecher Stowe's uncle Toms Hütte (1852) or Mark Twain's The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (1876). Goethe recognized the importance of high sales figures. He is quoted with the sentence "But if you don't expect a million readers, you shouldn't write a line." In 1867, the publishing rights of the German classics expired and gave the book market a boom in sales for cheap editions of works by Schiller , Goethe and Lessing , which according to contemporary information were within a few Days with a circulation of half a million could be sold. In addition, at the end of the 19th century, the colportage book trade led to the massive distribution of books and magazines , for example the social novels by the first German bestselling author E. Marlitt in the gazebo . Long-sellers from this period, such as Struwwelpeter (1844) by Heinrich Hoffmann and Max and Moritz (1865) by Wilhelm Busch, are still available in almost unchanged form.

The colportage in Germany is followed by the adventure novels by writers such as Karl May and Robert Kraft , which are also distributed in large numbers.

Another German bestselling author of the early 20th century, who can only be assigned to the trivial novel to a limited extent, is the playwright Ludwig Ganghofer , whose work has reached a total circulation of more than 30 million copies to date.

In modern times, the fantasy books by Joanne K. Rowling's Harry Potter , published since June 1997, have developed into an unsurpassed success story. The German edition of Volume 4 starts on October 14, 2000 with a first edition of one million copies. By December 2001 the books were translated into 47 languages ​​and sold 123 million times, including 15 million in Germany. Worldwide, over 450 million copies of the seven books had been sold by 2012. This makes the novels the most successful book for young people of all time.

Controversial literature such as Adolf Hitler's Mein Kampf or Thilo Sarrazin's Germany is getting rid of itself are among the bestsellers. Of the 10,000 copies of the first edition of Mein Kampf , published on July 18, 1925 , 9,473 copies were sold; the second edition came onto the market on December 2, 1925 with 10,000 copies. By November 17, 1933, 854,127 copies of Hitler's Mein Kampf had been delivered; Eher-Verlag announced a print run of 1.182 million for 1933. The total circulation (including all cheap prints and special editions) reached 7 million. The book Thilo Sarrazins Germany abolishes itself, published in August 2010, sold more than 1.3 million times, making it one of the best-selling political non-fiction books in Germany.

In literature, the reference category is the bestseller list , which takes on certain directive functions for various instances of the literary business ( book publishers , bookshops , buyers ). In this context, the bestseller is referred to as a list bestseller. Such lists exist especially for novels, but also for other types of literature. The book titles contained in these lists or, in particular, the book titles leading the list are referred to as bestsellers. This makes it possible to determine unequivocally which literary works have been the most successful. As a literary description category, the bestseller is a book that - relative to other books of the same type - sells particularly well within a limited period of time.

Most experts for the determination of book bestsellers set a lower sales limit, so they start from the number of copies sold. The question is whether a work can even be advertised as a bestseller . A book is considered a bestseller if the original edition has sold 100,000 copies or more. However, no lower limits are set in the bestseller lists , which are based on different methods for surveying sales or sales volumes. The term bestseller is used not only for lists, but also in the cultural pages of the press, in book reviews and descriptions.

Variants of terms of the bestseller

In the course of her investigations into the phenomenon of bestsellers, Sonja Marjasch came to the conclusion that it can be divided into itself. However, these sub-terms are much less oriented towards exact sales figures. In this context, literary works can be classified according to measurement time, turnover or turnover duration:

  • seller: good sales; no fixed turnover period
  • good seller: quite good sales; no fixed turnover period
  • steady seller: good sales with long sales times; z. B. the Bible
  • long seller: work that can be sold over a long period of time
  • fast seller: quite good sales with a short sales time
  • bestseller: very good sales within a certain measurement period: week, month, year
  • steady bestseller: very good sales during two or more measurement times; z. B. Mitchell: Gone with the Wind

However, these terms are purely theoretical and the question of the historical background or environment of a work remains unanswered. Sonja Marjasch describes bestsellers as the cultural barometer of our time , but their definitions do not indicate when a book should be classified in one of the above categories for what reason. As an addition to the five categories Sonja Marjaschs the contrary term can worst sellers are called. This describes a book, which during a long period of sales could hardly achieve any sales or even almost no sales (e.g. Stendhal: About love ). Since 2006, Diogenes Verlag has been publishing the novelty of a paperback brochure with its own worst sellers.

Another widely accepted approach to analyzing the "lifespan" of a book is to use a typology broken down into four types:

  • Bestsellers: novelties with current topics and / or by well-known authors
  • Longsellers: Bible , classic children's books, classics, reference works, modern classics, textbooks
  • Steadyseller: Lexica , loose-leaf, magazine subscriptions, scientific periodicals
  • Problem children: popular magazines, novelties by unknown authors, daily newspapers, titles that require explanation and persuasion.

Most booksellers use this model to select their product range and can thus estimate whether they have a balanced range with controllable risk (for example from problem children).

The way to the bestseller

A book becomes a bestseller if it sells more than the average. The literary quality of a book is not always the decisive factor. A book can be made a bestseller through a production that is planned in great detail by the publisher and literature agency. The right topic at the right time, good marketing with press and public relations work, both by the publisher and in the book retail trade, are important for the success of a book . But a bestseller campaign is by no means a guarantee of sales success.

According to an empirical analysis of the sales figures for 1,206 books (603 titles each published as hardcover and paperback), the various participants and factors have different effects. For example, literary prizes previously awarded to the author have had a positive effect on hardcover sales, but no verifiable effect on paperbacks. For the word of mouth factor, it is exactly the opposite.

The fact that a bestseller success is not easy to achieve is clear from the fact that an estimated 200,000 books came onto the market in the USA each year, of which just 1% can achieve bestseller status.

On the way to becoming a bestseller, a book encounters different people and institutions who decide about its future. They include booksellers, publishers, editors, literary agents, and the media. The most important publishing houses in Germany such as Bertelsmann , Suhrkamp or even the Fischer -verlag have so far been able to unite a large part of the bestsellers published in Germany.

The recording of editions is often different, from which z. B. in the case of books shows that the current bestseller lists are not synchronized.

Not only is the book itself a subject of marketing strategies, but the author as well . Especially if he already had a bestseller, his person can be used to market a new work. Frequent appearances of an author in public and on various media platforms (TV, Internet) can also promote the sale of his books.

Million seller

Among millions Seller ( English million-seller ) refers to products of which a number of items have been sold at least one million copies. These are purely mass-produced products, but these sales figures can only be achieved in appropriately affluent markets. In terms of content, the term million seller is an absolute term that describes the minimum sales level reached, while bestseller merely compares them with competing products. Linguistically, the word is made up of the German morpheme "millions" in combination with the English - "seller".

The method of counting the sales of sound carriers is difficult. In the case of singles, the A-side counts as long as it is sold as part of the initial exploitation; the sales period can exceed the year of publication. The globally recognized reference book for million seller by Joseph Murrells counts a single as one unit, an EP as two and a music album as six units, but also has to make sales estimates. Murrells often proves that a million seller did not advance to the top spot on a hit parade , which was blocked by another title that was less selling. If a single is re-released at a later date or is part of a compilation as part of the secondary exploitation , this also counts proportionately in the sales. For example, the CD, which was released in Germany in February 2009, contains everyone knows - Rock'n 'Roll million-sellers a total of 20 tracks - which were not all really million-sellers; the sales of the CD are credited proportionally to the sales of each title.

"There is no one who can give precise information about the record sales of White Christmas ," says industry expert Bob Livingston. Returns of unsold records can correct the sales statistics downwards. The RIAA , which grants gold or platinum status in the USA, only checks the exact sales figures after a waiting period of 120 days. The transfer of sales figures, airplay or online downloads into a current compilation by means of sequence is a highly subjective process. The tabulation of a certain chart is not a measure of intensity (sales figures, airplay etc.), so that a certain top 10 hit is a certain period could have surpassed the number one hit of another period in terms of sales.

Sound carrier

The word million seller is mostly used in connection with sound carriers , automobiles and entertainment software. If sound carriers ( singles , LPs , CDs , DVDs or music downloads ) achieve sales of at least one million pieces in the music industry , these are called million-sellers. Spiegel has been using the term since April 1981, when it first highlighted the million seller status of Bruce Springsteen's album Born to Run . Since then, the term has appeared frequently in this news magazine . It is published in issues 39/1984 of September 24, 1984 (via Prince LP Purple Rain , p. 220), 7/1985 of February 11, 1985 (via Creedence Clearwater Revival , p. 175), 17/1985 of April 22, 1985 (via Paul Young , p. 226), 22/1985 of May 27, 1985 (via Sade Adu , p. 118), 27/1985 of July 1, 1985 (via Madonna , p. 159), 12 / 1986 from March 17, 1986 (single Du by Peter Maffay , p. 242) until recently mentioned. In connection with Rickie Lee Jones, Spiegel knows how to report that their surprising change of style is not exactly the professional approach "that makes you a million seller according to the laws of the music world."

The size of a million-seller is still seldom achieved and marks the particular success that a certain music title has achieved with the buyer audience. The million seller status (or even sales successes below) is associated with the award of a gold or even platinum record , the award of which is made dependent on reaching a minimum number of pieces. The advertising reference to this can further promote sales. Artists who reach the million mark are celebrated by the music industry as proven audience favorites, presented on television or on tours and can count on attractive record deals. Million sellers are a measure of the popularity of a certain music track and are particularly highlighted in the media. They are also an external status feature of record stars .

Enrico Caruso - Vesti La Giubba (1904)

In the USA, the world's largest record market, the number of million seller had doubled since the Second World War. While in 1945 a total of 21 records reached the million level, in 1955 there were already fifty. The period in which the million status was reached there had shortened from 3 to 5 years in 1945 to one year since publication in 1955. The records usually achieved this status in the first year after their release. In Great Britain there were only 3 million sellers in the 50s, 17 in the 60s, 27 in the 70s, 19 in the 80s, 32 in the 90s, 15 between 2000 and 2009 and since 2010 already 10.

First million seller

The first million seller in the music industry in the USA was Enrico Caruso's title Vesti La Giubba (RCA Victor 7720), from the opera Pagliacci by Ruggero Leoncavallo . The song was written for the first time with only piano accompaniment on November 12, 1902, was then re-recorded on February 1, 1904 in New York and sold over a million times after its US release in May 1904.

First German million seller

Lale Andersen - Lili Marleen (1939)
Elton John - Candle in the Wind (1997)

The first million seller on the German record market was Lili Marleen ( Electrola 6993), sung by Lale Andersen , who sold almost two million copies after its release in August 1941. The song was released in at least 42 versions worldwide and is considered the classic soldier song that is also broadcast in Afghanistan (for the Bundeswehr by Radio Andernach ).

Biggest million seller worldwide

As a necrology on the death of Princess Diana , Elton John had released a remake with new text in September 1997 of his ballad Candle in the Wind , which had already been released in February 1974 , the lyrics no longer of Marilyn Monroe , but of the deceased Princess Diana ("England's Rose" ) was dedicated. The single was sold 37 million times worldwide, with 4.98 million copies in Great Britain alone. In Germany it has been the best-selling single of all time since 1997 with 4.5 million copies .


Even when it comes to cars, there is talk of a million seller. The VW Beetle , which has been manufactured since 1946, was the best-selling vehicle in German automobile history from German production until 1974. While 20,000 Beetles were delivered in February 1948, there were already 100,000 in March 1950. On August 5, 1955, the one millionth vehicle ceremoniously rolled off the assembly line. With 15 million vehicles, he set the production record for the legendary Ford Model T in 1972 , which had already reached the million mark on December 10, 1915.

The VW Golf is considered with over 26 million copies sold as the best selling car in the world - but, taken together, all model names. If you strictly adhere to the model name, the Toyota Corolla is ahead with 34.188 million copies . However, million seller is not a term that can only be found in the mirror; The FOCUS headlines with "Facts about the Golf I to IV: Die Millionenseller" and describes the success story of this model.

Other products

Books are also sometimes referred to as a million seller if their circulation exceeds one million. The Federal Association of Interactive Entertainment Software (BIU) confirmed on January 11, 2013 that there were three games in Germany in 2012 with more than a million copies sold. They were Battlefield 3 , Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 and FIFA 13 .


The pioneer of bestseller research Werner Faulstich has investigated the phenomenon of the bestseller - like many others. The research areas thematized in this branch of science can be culturally critical, reception-oriented, production-oriented or media-oriented. The books that appear in bestseller lists are not necessarily the best literarily or aesthetically, but they are still the most sought-after favorite books in a certain period of time. Influencing factors that make a bestseller are in particular advertising , the media , literary critics , book fairs , bestseller lists and - last but not least - the interested readers . So-called personalization by bestselling authors (“The new Grisham ” or “the new Dan Brown ”) also plays a role . Well-known authors benefit from their brand profile, so that, for example, a new publication by Dan Brown in its segment has better chances from the start than an as yet unknown author. The influence of bestseller publishers is also proven, because the "US book market (is) in the stranglehold of the book companies". There, in Publishers Weekly, the five largest book publishers ( Random House , Penguin Books , Simon & Schuster , HarperCollins and Hachette Book Group ) took 83% of all hardcover ranks on the annual bestseller list.

Bestsellers arise in markets in which product-related knowledge is a prerequisite for consumer benefits. Knowledge is gained through

  • direct contact to the offer (currently invested reading time or previous consumption of books by the same author),
  • indirect contact via information channels (advertising, media coverage),
  • personal exchange with other people (word of mouth).

See also


  • Werner Faulstich : Inventory of bestseller research. Approaches - Methods - Income . Wiesbaden 1983, p. 70-193 .
  • Werner Faulstich, Ricarda Strobel : Bestseller as a market phenomenon. A quantitative finding on international literature 1970 in all media . Wiesbaden 1986.
  • Ernst Fischer: bestsellers in the past and present . In: Joachim-Felix Leonhard et al. (Ed.): Media Studies. A manual for the development of media and forms of communication . Berlin 1999, p. 764-776 .
  • Wolfgang Ehrhardt Heinold: books and booksellers . Bramann, Frankfurt am Main 2007, ISBN 978-3-934054-26-4 .
  • Marc Keuschnigg: The bestseller phenomenon: The emergence of a concentration of demand in the book market (research and development in analytical sociology) . SpringerVS, Munich 2012, ISBN 978-3-531-18308-4 .
  • Burkhart R. Lauterbach: Bestsellers: Production and sales strategies . Tübingen Association for Folklore e. V., Tübingen 1979.
  • David Oels: bestseller . In: Erhard Schütz et al. (Ed.): The book market book. The literary business in basic terms . Reinbek 2005, p. 47-53 .
  • Ingrid Tomkowiak: Focal points and perspectives of bestseller research . In: Swiss Archives for Folklore . tape 99 , 2003, p. 49-64 .
  • Success by pages. Forty bestsellers and their stories . Bramann, Frankfurt 2008, ISBN 978-3-934054-93-6 .
  • Zeman, Mirna: »Temporary clumps. Forms and Praxen der Literaturmoden «, in: David Christopher Assmann (Hrsg.): Literaturbetriebspraktiken (= literature for readers 38 (2/2015), special issue).

Web links

Wiktionary: bestsellers  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations


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