Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Lies, Damned Lies, and Publishing

The bulk of this post is a comment I made over at Jeremy Lassen's LiveJournal, in response to a reference to this article in the Book Standard. I've also seen this statistic -- that only 7% of "books" sell more than 1000 copies -- being repeated as gospel on other blogs this morning. I am constitutionally incapable of taking numbers at face value, which led to the following:

I suspect some serious disingenuousness behind that statistic. Let's take a closer look at it...

The exact quote is "93 percent of ISBNs sold fewer than 1,000 units in 2004, according to Nielsen BookScan." Now, he didn't say the universe was of books published in 2004, but of ISBNs, which includes every book in print, and plenty of books that are now out of print (ISBNs have been standard worldwide since 1970).

So what he's actually saying is that, in this one given year, only 7% of all of the books published since 1970 moved more than 1000 units. This is not particularly controversial.


Dave Garrett said...

Absolutely correct. Makes no sense using that statistic. More correct would be --how many fiction books first published in 2004 sold more than 1000 copies? That would exclude non-fiction, academic text books, etc. Just fiction. Could they actually get that number? Dave G.

Andrew Wheeler said...

dave: There are people who have that number -- the BookScan folks certainly do -- but I don't know if there's anyone who would make it public for free.

Anyway, the short answer to your question is "all of them." Even disasters from major publishers sell more than a thousand copies -- that's an extremely low figure. Some small press books have first printings under a thousand, but those are most likely limited editions to begin with.

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