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Shannon Smith On Those Bookscan Numbers And Their Like
posted February 27, 2009

One thing I think we can all take comfort in is that there is no evidence to suggest that the buyers for book chains or even direct market retailers (well, with maybe the exception of one DM retailer) care about the bookscan numbers enough that they would influence ordering decisions. From the smallest DM retailer to the biggest superstore, ordering and returning decisions are really made on internal numbers and experience. (And occasionally a hunch.) Even if bookscan numbers were not a joke and they could be counted on for 100% accuracy, if a store sells a book well then they will probably keep re-ordering that title regardless of what some external report says. And, if it does not sell, they’ll try to return it and not place any re-orders. Even within the chains that do have accurate numbers one book won’t sell as well in one store as another. I literally worked at two different Borders on the same road and our customers were night and day. Books that sold out in the one store couldn’t be given away in the other. A lot of what we are talking about is fringe stuff that gets handled on a special order level in book stores. With the exception of perennial sellers, those DK guides and manga, no graphic novel has a tremendous shelf life in a book store. There is no shame in that. It is the same boat that most books other than genre favorites are in. Most books are niche books. Most of what is sold in a bookstore is niche stuff. Tarot cards, role playing guides, metaphysics, self help, art books, foreign books etc. It’s all niche and a lot of what passes for cash at the registers is sold as special orders and I’m just about positive book scan would not have those numbers because that stuff is going through the register with a special order code rather than an ISBN or UPC. There are never going to be external numbers on that kind of thing but the special order clerk knows and if they sell five special orders of a book then they will probably order three for the shelf. Long story short, about the only value I can see in any external numbers of this nature is that they can fuel heated internet arguments.