It's terribly, terribly complicated. SPIEGEL magazine publishes the most prominent list of best-selling books every week, but the trade mag Buchreport does the actual compiling via an electronic survey of 350 bookstores every Saturday night. And like most countries, they have various different lists: hardcover, paperback, fiction, non-fiction, children's, crime, etc. Don't ask me for more details, I don't pay much attention to such lowly matters.
Anyway it turns out they've been rather lax about the whole hardback/paperback dichotomy thing, what with all the in-between formats you get nowadays. Certainly my copies of Charlotte Roche's books, which gathered dust on the hardback fiction list for months, are more like paperbacks if you ask me, just with an extra flap. I know there's a name for that format but I can't remember what it is.
So now the Buchreport people have decided to pull themselves together and make darn sure only proper hardbacks get listed on the hardcover list. From July of this year, to give the publishers advance warning not to use these disgusting innovative freaky formats. Paperback-only publishers dtv are up in arms but playing along reluctantly - although not without warning customers that prices will go up (see Deutschlandradio Kultur).
There are actually some major disadvantages that arise here. The Spiegel bestsellers are often displayed prominently in bookstores large and small, and that's obviously a major sales push. So excluding non-traditional formats is pretty mean and not exactly forward-looking. Plus it exacerbates the artificial quality/mass-market divide. The black mark of "going straight to paperback" also means certain books just don't get as much review coverage, relegated to the "in brief" section from day one. And if you've ever met a writer you'll know they all spend weeks agonising over their books' format status. A loop of false-modest whispers of "hardback with full-colour dust jacket and bookmark ribbon" is the soundtrack in the corridor to literary hell's pride section. Imagine the extra headaches they'll have now.
Meanwhile, blogger and all-round cool person Johnny Häusler launched an experiment to plumb the depths of the ebook charts in Germany. He whipped up his own ebook I Live by the River and watched how many copies it sold. He seems to have shifted 3188 units so far and moved up and down the Amazon and Apple charts - you can follow his progress behind that link. He's hardly getting rich at 99c a pop, but the plan has certainly given us a little more transparency between the doom and gloom of German publishers and the blind optimism of the platform providers. Fun.