The New York Times selects its best sellers through a ranking system that considers sales from a sample of independent and chain book stores and wholesalers. The exact metrics that the Times uses are a trade secret so that other publications cannot copy its success and publishers cannot rig the system so that more of their books appear on the list.
The lists are put together by the News Surveys department and not by the Book Review, where the list appears on a weekly basis. The list also relies more on brick-and-mortar stores for its print bestsellers list and does not consider actual sales of books as do other bestseller lists, such as the one published by Amazon, but the number of books that are shipped to a store in expectation of sales. The specifics of the retailers and wholesalers the Times uses to compile the list are not know, but some general numbers are provided at times. In 2004, for example the list was compiled from the sales in 4,000 bookstores and an unknown number of wholesale companies.
As of 2016, the Times published six main bestseller lists comprising three different formats of both fiction and non-fiction books: hardcover, paperback and e-book. Other lists have intermittently appeared in the pages of the Book Review or in the Times's website, including the Children's Bestseller list, created due to the Harry Potter phenomenon.