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  • Christopher G. Moore

COUNTING BOOK SALES AND VIOLATING COMMON SENSE RULES

The Grumpy Old Bookman posted this eye-popping piece of publishing information:

“Jim King, senior v-p and general manager of Nielsen BookScan, noted that 93% of all ISBNs of books whose sales were tracked by the company during 2004 sold less than 1,000 units.... During 2004, 7% of ISBNs accounted for 87% of sales, prompting King to suggest that in 2004 the old 80/20 rule of 80% of sales coming from 20% of titles had become a 90/10 rule.”

I wonder if there has been a mixing of apples and oranges, along with mushroom and turnips in this case. The key phrase is “all ISBNs for 2004” and all publications must have one of these numbers. It would be far more useful to have a breakdown of sales into categories so that one would have a better idea of what sold and who was doing the selling. Standing alone, this percentage breakdown is virtually meaningless.

It is difficult to believe that even for a medium sized publisher that 93% of its books would sell less than 1,000 copies. I suspect that all of the POD books, iuniverse, lulu, are included in the lump figure of 93%. Most of those books are sold through venues which Bookscan doesn’t operate so they remain uncounted (at least by them).

I want to know what is the breakdown for fiction and non-fiction sold by the top dozen commercial publishing houses (or their imprints) in New York. I would wager that this 93% failure to 7% success does not come close to representing the sales for their list of books. I venture if you tracked the top 100 publishers in the United States which do the lion’s share of the sales, again, I doubt these figures would hold. That leaves one to the conclusion that mountains of small press run editions, self-published or niche type books with little or no commercial value is directly responsible for the 93% figure. Or, alternatively, these books are sold outside of the Bookscan system. Traditionally such books are difficult to get into bookstores, and when they are ordered, it would be in a small numbers.

If these numbers held up across the board, then shareholders of publishing house should be instructed to immediately sell and invest into something more financially sound and just as risky such as Nigerian hidden treasure.

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