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

February 20, 2009

You Should Really Go Read Brian Hibbs’ Analysis Of 2008 Bookscan Numbers

Simply by diving into the yearly Bookscan results of sales information compiled from bookstores, as in his latest Tilting At The Windmills, the retailer Brian Hibbs does comics a huge favor. There are a number of takeaway gems in the details, such as the numbers reported for Persepolis and the general success of the book implied.

I do advise, however, that anyone diving in take all of the numbers with a huge grain of salt, take the analysis with a shaker's worth of the stuff, and the advocacy for a salt-lick sized deposit. Brian posts his own disclaimer, and that's nice of him, but I want you to conceive of a bigger and more assertive one.

imageMost importantly, I think the numbers have been shown not only to be wrong, but to be wildly and erratically wrong. This interferes with any specific lessons we might take away from individual examples and should compounds our suspicion of any analysis involving more than one number. For instance, Fantagraphics' Eric Reynolds tell me that rather than the 719 copies Bookscan reports that Love and Rockets: New Stories Vol. 1 sold through the book trade, they've sold just over 4000 copies. That's an astounding difference, not just in terms of the math but how those numbers span the chasm that exists between "uh-oh" and "all right!" "We're thrilled," he wrote back to me. I guess Reynolds could be lying, as I'm sure a lot of publishers and creators have and continue to do. But I don't think he is, and he has a sterling reputation for not doing that. I know from my own past experience comparing royalty statements to Bookscan numbers that they can be way, way, way wrong, and not in any clearly discernible way.

That should be enough right there, but I also think Brian's fighting a phantom argument against members of the 2003 blogosphere when he stresses the importance of the DM in terms of the overall sales landscape. New markets are additional markets, not replacement markets. Reynolds says that L&RNS sold just about as many copies in the DM as it did when in comics form -- so the bookstore sales are new. They're not happier about one over the other, they're happy that the new one leads to a greater, more significant total. Everyone not just spouting off on the Internet or drunk in a convention hotel bar at 12:45 AM knows the importance of the DM, just as they have a keen sense of its limitations and frustrations. Other than a vague sense that comics shops no longer enjoy things like being stops on book tours, there's never been a convincing argument made that the DM has been neglected by certain publishers for the sake of the bookstores. Believe me, I've asked after this for years. In fact, I strongly believe the investment that companies not Marvel and DC have in the DM has traditionally far outstripped the investment shown by the DM in total in return.

Comics publishers need the DM, which is one of the reasons why Diamond turtling up for the remainder of the recession is a lousy thing. Many also need the bookstores, and every other sale they can get their hands on. It's a sign of comics' fundamental weirdness that one of the best people when it comes to selling comics feels compelled to argue once year for what should be the largely self-apparent effectiveness of the specialist. So enjoy the article, but leave at least that underlying argument where you find it.
posted 7:25 am PST | Permalink

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