Tom Spurgeon's Web site of comics news, reviews, interviews and commentary

June 19, 2006

What I Do With Bookscan Numbers

Occasionally people will send me Bookscan numbers for graphic novels to see what I'll do with them. I expect they expect me to cause trouble, but the answer is that I don't really know what to do with them except stare at them. I usually break them down into a color coded list, like this one:


Then I look at issues that interest me, like 1) how many Naruto volumes Bookscan says have sold this year (275,000 as of this chart's mid-May date), 2) how many art comics make the list (almost none; this is still an extremely tough category for solid bookstore peformers particularly for as many people as enter it), 3) which strip collections make it (it's a smaller sample than most people would guess), and 4) how much money DC Comics continues to make from Alan Moore's comics (a lot). The dominance of manga is always interesting to see represented in stark black and white, and I'm always frankly surprised that several thousand of various mainstream comics collection sell eventually, not that they don't sell more.

There's enough wiggle room with Bookscan -- comics have to sell that week to make the chart; many indy bookstores aren't counted, etc. -- that it's hard to use it to catch someone in a specific lie about a book's success. And that wiggle room is legit; I know one book that had a year-ending sales figure of 5800 or so that had sold in the mid-teens according to same-time royalty statements. This Slate article indicates that the numbers are used by book commentators to make statements only when the information shows something really obvious, like when a book tanks. With the Direct Market, I'm not even sure we can do that! Still, there are general truths to be gleaned, both about the shape of the market and when some books -- some whole kinds of books -- never show up, week after week, month after month.
posted 2:50 am PST | Permalink

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