The Frankfurt Book Fair has an indicator to help publishers gauge public interest in the new offerings presented at the annual exhibition -- the unofficial "most stolen book" index.
Bild am Sonntag and Germany's ZDF television have come up with lists of titles most stolen from 15 leading German publishers' stands set up in the Frankfurt trade fair grounds.
"The most-stolen books are usually the most-sold later on," Claudia Hanssen of the Goldmann Verlag publishing house told Bild am Sonntag newspaper, which published a list of the 10 most stolen German-language books this year.
I say it's useless because, now that it's publicly known that such an indicator exists, someone is going to try to game the system. It's just a short matter of time before some publisher will start reporting its books stolen at the book fair in order to create media buzz. The more ambitious might even stage a few thefts.
When I worked in bookstores in Alaska, the most stolen books were not the most popular ones, although those were stolen too. The most stolen books were the ones people were uncomfortable being seen buying--pornography, certain categories of self-help, and The Anarchist Cookbook. Obviously, the reason for reluctance to be seen buying porn and self-help books is embarrassment. The Anarchist Cookbook was a different matter. Most Alaskans, in those days, weren't embarrassed to be thought of a drug-taking, bomb-making maniacs. If anything they were a bit proud of the image as part of our frontier heritage. The main reason The Anarchist Cookbook readers didn't want to pass the cash register was the paranoid, libertarian rumor that the government required bookstores to keep a list of anyone who bought the book. In those innocent, pre-Patriot Act days, bookstores didn't keep lists of our customers' reading habits. If the government wanted to know such things, they had faith in the microtransmitters that they planted in everyone's butt at birth to tell them about it.