Americans love rankings. Lists of the top-drawing movies, best-selling books, hottest CDs, or richest people rivet our attention. Viewed kindly, they feed our competitive spirit. Viewed skeptically, they reflect a culture that prizes achievement that can be measured in dollars and cents. Viewed from a journalist’s perspective, they almost always inform.
For all of these reasons, publishers love to produce rankings, because their readers and advertisers gobble them up. Billboard’s Top 40, the New York Times Best Seller List, Forbes’ ranking of the wealthiest people, and the Fortune 500 (now 1,000) are some of the legendary published rankings that come to mind.
Our Top 400 Guide to Retail Web Sites, which we preview in this issue starting on page 28, taps into that mindset. Our first ranking of America’s largest online retailers-the Top 300 Guide we published one year ago-was a huge success, and we believe this year’s greatly expanded Top 400 Guide will be worth every dime we spent on the six months of research that our directories editor, Mark Brohan, and his able assistant in research, Kathleen Harkness Passarelli, devoted to this project. Because this is Mark’s second effort to rank the largest retail web sites and because Mark is an excellent reporter who doubles as a data-gathering machine, the Top 400 Guide is not only bigger than its predecessor, it is better-with more and better information on each site.
Mark also got more cooperation this year from the subjects of his inquiry-the operators of America’s biggest retail web sites. Nearly 150 of them freely provided data on the retail sales of their web sites in 2004-about 50% more than last year-and many more winked their informal approval of estimates, while still adhering to a corporate policy that prevents disclosure of such data. As was the case last year, we came across a number of retail web site operators who strongly objected to our publishing even our own estimates of their size. Some of those rejected the estimate we came up with without providing a better one of their own. One retail web site operator, who did not dispute our sales estimate, told me he nevertheless did not want to be included in our annual ranking because many of his competitors had not yet discovered the opportunity they had on the web, and he did not want them to know just how good the Internet had been to his business. The purpose of his resistance was his desire to avoid competition.
Therein lies the different approach we take to this market. Our job is to encourage retail competition on the web, not to restrict it. I want his competitors-and all competitors-to know just what kind of opportunities exist for them on the Internet, and I can find no better way of telling them than publishing our carefully researched data on the sales leaders of the e-retailing industry. As the leading publisher for this industry, providing information on industry leaders, information that thousands of merchants can use to enhance their own competitive positions, is the primary service we provide. It is the reason we publish the Top 400 Guide.
We believe that information is essential to the efficacy of free markets. And if anyone publishing a list of magazine publishers wants to know how fast we’re growing, they need only ask to find the answer. Hiding behind the secrecy of numbers is not the key to competitive success. Making your customers happy is.
Jack Love, Publisher