Homework assignment: Bookscan

Perhaps the biggest thing to happen while we were away was this wholescale lid-ripping by Brian Hibbs who gets hold of the Bookscan graphic novelssales chart for all of 2007 and analyses the top 750 items. We’ve seen Dirk’s response, and a briefer analysis by Tom Spurgeon, but we’re still digesting the numbers and don’t want to rush our own findings.

In any event, Hibbs does the unthinkable and reveals actual sales numbers on a ton of books — we’ve seen numbers from time to time, but this is a wholescale rumble. We’ll have our own comments tomorrow but in the meantime, here’s the most quoted part of Hibbs’ piece:

Not one of the Minx titles makes the Top 750, nor does any CMX title except for Megatokyo, which is OEL. Looking deep into the Long Tail, Minx’s Plain Janes sells 3201 copies, none of the other four Minx titles even manages to crack a meager 800 copies sold in the bookstore environment. Aren’t those books specifically designed for the bookstores, and the customers that shop there?

There’s a lot of conventional wisdom that suggests that things like the Minx and Vertigo books sell oodles and oodles better in the bookstore market than the do in the DM, but I have to tell you, now that I’m looking at the “full” BookScan list, I can guarantee you that this is simply false. Now that I can see into the Long Tail, what I can tell you is that, while the bookstore market can (potentially) sell more copies of the “top” of the “bookstore-oriented” material, on anything else the DM beats them handily.

Here’s just one example: none of the three American Virgin trades charted more than 400 copies sold on BookScan; we can pretty definitively state that each of those three sold at least 2000 copies in the DM (because their first month, alone, sold-in more copies than that) Many many Vertigo titles are selling 3-5x as many copies in the DM, as they did through BookScan.


Discuss. Meet you back here tomorrow.

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Comments

  1. > none of the other four Minx titles even manages to crack a meager 800 copies sold in the bookstore environment

    Wow. And how much did they say they would spend on advertising? Score one for the direct market. I mean, that’s where I got my copies of Plain Janes, Re-Gifters, Clubbing, and Good As Lily.

  2. Something to consider in all this is the way Minx books are racked up in the bookstores. In the rather large Barnes and Noble I visited in New York, they were not shelved with the other graphic novels or the manga. I assume that they were shelved with the teen novels at the other end of the store.

    If this is the case, was separating them out from the comics — especially the manga — a bad idea? Who comes up with where to put these books — the store or some sales sheet from DC? Is racking up comic material with text material — even if for the same audience — a bad idea?

  3. Well, in my local bookstores the Minx books are shelved with the manga, so… A little more information would be good. Heck, a lot more information would be good; sell-through figures for the DM, for one thing. But given the way the DM works, you might as well ask for the moon on a stick…

  4. Brian Hibbs does not write analytical pieces on the sales trends in the Direct Market. He writes position papers stating the supremacy of the Direct Market. When you start off a paper with clearly faulty math, it undercuts the authority of the rest of the document.

  5. Gary E says:

    Your point is somewhat covered by the first section of his article that explicitly states that the math he is using is faulty. And I didn’t read it as stating the supremacy of the DM, but rather the supremacy of the DM with regards to American material.

  6. Bill:

    Considering I’m an opinion columnist, with a (clearly stated and double-underlined) DM focus, I’m not sure how the former is a surprise. I outright say that I am biased, and that my analysis may be flawed and that I’m very interested in any other analysis of the data involved.

    As for the latter, I’m only discussing what metrics there are — if you have better metrics I can use, I’d be happy to do so. I don’t think the comparison is THAT “faulty” however — the DM charts linked to are the sum of the Top 100 charts for the twelve months of the year, not just the year-end Top 100, so there’s a data set of (at least partial sales) on roughly 1100 items involved…

    Trust me, I’d LOVE to have a better/more comprehensive/more accurate report for the DM side of things, but there is no such beast that I am aware of.

    -B

  7. Torsten Adair says:

    My bestsellers for the year were: Persepolis, Pokemon Yellow and Red, Watchmen, 300, Heroes, Dark Tower, and of course, Naruto.
    Slow but consistent sellers are the Vertigo series …Preacher, Doom Patrol, Sandman… as well as Asterix, Tintin, DC Showcase, and anything with a big name author, like Moore, Ellis, Eisner.
    The Minx placement was probably requested by DC to get notice from teen fiction buyers, not manga fans. Those titles did not succeed at my store, the Barnes & Noble at Lincoln Center, which profits from TWO high schools two blocks away.

  8. Kat Kan says:

    You might see different numbers if the library market had been included. The Minx titles need to be hand-sold, they need to be booktalked in the schools. They’re getting reviewed in library review journals, but you can’t just stick them on the shelves in bookstores (my local Books a Million buries a couple of copies spine out among the other graphic novels) or in libraries. People need to hand the books to teens who might like certain kinds of books or authors. Yeah, you need librarians, for whom Readers Advisory is part of their job. But they’re already overworked and underpaid and don’t have enough time in their work week to do more than they already do.

  9. Not that the conversation should really be about Minx (Dirk is very right that building new markets takes time), but here’s the DM #s, via ICv2

    Plain Janes: 6049
    Clubbing: 4264
    Confessions of a Blabbermouth: 3174
    Re-Gifters: 3008
    Kimmie66: 2717
    Good As Lily: 2417

    Now, if you hit an (easy) target number as a DM retailer, you could return unsold copies, but knowing what I know about traditional DM “open returns” percentages, I’m going to guess that they got back maybe 2-300 copies of Plain Janes, and it went down from there.

    -B

  10. > Dirk is very right that building new markets takes time

    True, but I can’t imagine that these numbers were all “part of the business plan” for the Minx line. Personally, I was hoping Minx would do better, especially with all the money they had budgeted for advertising.

  11. Brian,

    I don’t quibble with the difficulty in measuring the market for comics because everyone involved in publishing and distribution has a vested interest in not releasing the hard numbers. To anybody. Last week, I congratulated Willingham on the fact that the first FABLES trade went into a seventh printing and he had no idea. It was in a Diamond update to the retailers, but the creator had no idea. Or, one publisher does not want another publisher know how well they are doing with a licensed book, etc.

    In my humble opinion you should compare like numbers in terms of the width of your survey. As in compare Top 100 numbers to Top 100 numbers. (Not Top 100 to Top 750.) Or when you take BookScan as representing 75% of retail sales when you reference that other numbers suggest 65% is closer to the fact. By taking different starting points, you tilt the prism you are looking through to see the market.

    It’s a little like saying that they are apples and oranges but we are going to keep going because I like fruit punch.

    Bill

  12. Alan Coil says:

    “…the first FABLES trade went into a seventh printing…”
    ===
    That’s not unusual, as DC doesn’t print 200,000 copies every time. It’s much cheaper, because of storage costs, to print enough to last a year or so.
    ===
    Brian does this analysis every year. Every year, he writes the same things about the potential accuracy of his numbers. And every year, somebody jumps in to say that his numbers aren’t accurate and they want hard numbers, dammit. I suggest that if they want hard numbers, they call Marvel, DC, Dark Horse, and Image and demand to see their books. See how far that gets you.

  13. And its too much for the editor to tell the talent that he/ she works with every week about the new printing.

    I am just suggesting that Brian should add a note about the flaws in his calculation process as well.

  14. Alan Coil says:

    And the more I read Tom Spugeon’s opinions on anything, the more I am convinced he has outlived his usefulness to the comics industry and he should move on to another hobby. I am so sorry I wasted my time going to that link.

  15. Bill:

    On the “75%” thing, outside of the introduction where I AM EXPLAINING BOOKSCAN’S FLAWS, it only ever gets mentioned ONCE, in like two sentences talking about the possible size of the Long Tail that BookScan isn’t tracking. Two sentences out of more than 11,000 words. Jinkies.

    Further, RE “other numbers suggest 65% is closer to the fact”, only suggests that in terms of Dr. Phil diet books and Ben Franklin biographies — we have no ON THE RECORD source that has ever said any such thing in relationship to COMICS. In point of fact, I have more than one OFF the record source that tells me that BookScan is equivalent to NINETY percent of their bookstore sales. Given the lack of ON THE RECORD sources, I’ve chosen to go with Neilsen’s Official Party Line, because there really ISN’T any credible evidence otherwise…

    On the “Top 100″ thing, there may be a miscommunication here because there are two different Top 100s — the monthly ones, and the end of the year one.

    The end of the year one is ABSOLUTELY USELESS as a metric of ANYTHING. Why? Because it isn’t indexed to anything — there’s literally no way of telling anything about most of the books that appear on the year end.

    The MONTHLY Top 100s *are* indexed, and can give specific numbers (within their remit)

    The comparison to Diamond’s figures, and Diamond’s yearly growth in the book category (which, I should underline, is not *MY* calculation, but one performed by BOTH Comics Chronicles and ICv2… and they match!), is THE SUM of those twelve monthly Top 100s. In other words, there’s something on the order of 1100 data points. It is still WOEFULLY incomplete, yes, of course, but it is the ONLY set of data points that one can POSSIBLY reference.

    I’ve never disagreed that it is NOT a “apples to apples” comparison, but it is LITERALLY the ONLY comparison that CAN be made, because of the way Diamond reports.

    Either way, four-to-six sentences out of 11,000+ words.

    Hope that makes some of this clearer?

    -B

  16. “I’ve never disagreed that it is NOT a “apples to apples” comparison, but it is LITERALLY the ONLY comparison that CAN be made, because of the way Diamond reports.”

    Again: You’ve first taken the top 750 out of some 13,000 units sold in bookstores last year, compared it to the top 750 out of an unknown number of books sold the year before — and declared a 2.3% overall growth for the market. That’s indefensible math solution #1.

    You then compare this to Diamond’s yearly top 100 list, which — again — doesn’t give one anything remotely resembling a complete picture of the Direct Market. Brian, this isn’t “LITERALLY the ONLY comparison that CAN be made,” it’s a comparison that shouldn’t ever have been made to begin with.

    Look, aside from the bit discussed above and your conclusions about art-comics sales — a conclusion so thoroughly contradicted by the facts on the ground that one has to wonder about the factors that your analysis misses — I’ve largely restrained myself to demonstrating that different conclusions can be drawn from the same circumstantial evidence, in as entertaining a fashion as I can. This isn’t a fight to the death, Brian. It’s a debate over what an analysis concerning information of limited reliability can actually tell one about various markets. That other people are arguing with your conclusions is just par for the course, not an attempt to castrate you in public. Calm down.

  17. Warren Acoose says:

    “That’s indefensible math solution #1.”

    Actually, a statistician would call it “sampling” and a sample of size 750 is quite large (even assuming an infinite population) for estimating something like a growth rate. Of greater concern would be the possibility that the population of retailers that report to Bookscan is different than the overall population of retailers.

  18. If the sampling were a representative sample from a variety of points on the graph, you’d have a point, but it isn’t — it’s the top 750 books sold by unit, with the size and curve of the rest of the “long tail” not taken into account. It’s like assuming that people living in North America are over seven feet in height because Andre the Giant was so huge.

  19. Actually, that’s a bad analogy. Here’s a better one: Comparing the tallest person in a room with 30 people to the tallest person in a room with 50 people won’t tell you anything about the median height of the people in either room.

  20. “You’ve first taken the top 750 out of some 13,000 units sold in bookstores last year, compared it to the top 750 out of an unknown number of books sold the year before — and declared a 2.3% overall growth for the market.”

    I didn’t declare that it is overall growth for the market (as a whole) — just within that 750 items I’ve had access to.

    Assuming that I continue to get the full list next year, THEN I’ll be able to determine something about the BookScan reporting venues overall growth.

    “your conclusions about art-comics sales — a conclusion so thoroughly contradicted by the facts on the ground that one has to wonder about the factors that your analysis misses”

    One of the reasons I write this thing each year is to try and get a better idea of what those factors are or might be.

    I’m still less than assured that the “facts on the ground” say what you think they say (since they currently sit at “anecdote” stage, rather than facts, in my opinion), and I put an email into Eric to try and sort out some of the answers; once I’ve gotten his response, I’m going to pitch the same to both the Chris’, and we’ll see what we see.

    -B

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