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January 14, 2013

Go, Read: Colleen Doran On Misleading Bookscan Numbers

The cartoonist and artist Colleen Doran put up a post over the holidays here that I'm late on because I wanted to give it its own post and CR is mostly unable to do that during the holidays. Doran focuses on a couple of things through her own example, one I knew about and one I hadn't considered.

imageThe first is that Bookscan numbers can be horribly unreliable in terms of what gets reported. I would hold that this is even more true for the kinds of books that we find in the comics world, books that tend to gravitate towards some of the avenues not covered by that metric. She also, I think, flat-out suggests that the service may even be doing a poor job collecting data where it purports to collect data. This is something I've been writing about for years. The only sales metric that is even halfway reliable when it comes to making statements about certain books is that which is culled from royalty statements or otherwise linked to money. Fudging those gets people in trouble. Although that's certainly happened, too, it's far less likely to happen than the distortion caused in assembling a more abstract number pulled from multiple sources. Doran provides personal examples.

The second focus isn't as overt, but by pointing out that people working in the publishing industry vouch for and apparently use these numbers as if they're wholly accurate or close to being so, the publishing industry is portrayed in a really unflattering light. It's hard to fathom that any business making decisions on bad information is going to treat its artists fairly, let alone do so through a proper appraisal of non-quantifiable benefits like how well a specific book or creative entry acts in terms of developing a property for other media. It's kind of scary, actually, to think that your career could feel the impact of faulty measuring tools: like having your blood pressure checked by something a smart eighth-grade built in the garage. It makes you wonder just how much of the publishing industry has floated along on the stream of cash generated by a pretty sturdy model over the years as opposed to rigorous upkeep of that model. Well, it makes me wonder, anyway.

I think that Bookscan numbers have a purpose, one of which is suggested pretty early on in Doran's piece: as a shot across the bow of over-inflated claims. If a book is claiming 200K readers and show up on Bookscan as having 132, something is probably worth looking into. But as a way to judge midlist? Yikes.
posted 7:30 am PST | Permalink

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