Monday, June 22, 2009

The Lie that is Bookscan

Today I had a project rejected by a publisher.  It's the author's third book and the prior two books had been well received and have sold well.  But according to this publisher, "the Bookscan sales of his two titles have been modest in comparison to the great praise and attention his work has received, and in this economy that’s a very difficult obstacle for us to overcome with our accounts and booksellers."

There's only one problem with this argument:  The Bookscan numbers are wrong.

According to the royalty statements I've received, the author's first book has net sales of just under 14,000 copies.  According to this editor, Bookscan shows sales just over 7,200 copies.  That's nearly a 100% difference!

Questioned about this, the editor responded, "Bookscan is indeed an imperfect tool, but it’s also enormously helpful to us, and we do interpret the information with the proverbial 'grain of salt.' Our rule of thumb is that Bookscan captures about 70% of retail sales, give or take. In this case, Bookscan shows sales of just over 7,200 copies for the ___________________ book, so it seems that the accepted formula may be a bit low here.  14,000 copies is a strong performance for this title, and it’s great that this one has earned out for the publisher."

A bit low?!  Bookscan is reporting half of what the author's own royalty statements show and, in the case of the author's second book, Bookscan is reporting approximately ten percent of what the statements show.

Are publishers really so dense that they haven't compared Bookscan's figures with their own sales figures?  Surely if they have, then they would have stopped paying Bookscan for its clearly and outrageously wrong data and put it out of business for lack of subscribers.  Because, you see, Bookscan is pretty much only of use to publishers and to, say, news organizations writing about publishing.  Sure, it's supposed to be the Nielsen Ratings of books, but Nielsen Ratings for TV and radio have a purpose:  they tell advertisers where it's worth spending money on what shows.  But books have no ads, so what is the purpose of Bookscan?  To prove that the NEW YORK TIMES best-seller list is wrong?  That the number one book this week is not RELENTLESS, by Dean Koontz?  That the number two book isn't THE PHYSICK BOOK OF DELIVERANCE DANE? (Really?  That's the number two book?)  Do we need some ultimate decider beyond the NYT or Barnes & Noble or Amazon?  I don't think so.

I am one-hundred-percent sure that if Bookscan were reporting higher numbers than publishers, publishers would pull their subscriptions and put them out of business.  Why?  Because agents and authors would be hammering publishers and demanding to know why the publishers are reporting lower numbers and where the hell are our royalties?!  But because Bookscan reports lower numbers, publishers happily use its data to crush authors and insist that they can't pay what the author or agent believes a book is worth because Bookscan says the author isn't selling as many copies as the author says he or she is.  Even presented with actual royalty figures, publishers seem to still favor Bookscan, which I think puts a burden on publishers to ensure that Bookscan gets it right.

Thus, I propose that publishers should have to report their sales to Bookscan and Bookscan should have to reconcile the differences.  After all, don't publishers want accurate reporting?  Doesn't Bookscan?  So if Wal-Mart or Amazon or Target or whomever that isn't reporting to Bookscan won't provide the figures, why shouldn't the publishers?  Sure, the publishers would be reporting wholesale numbers and not point-of-sale figures, but certainly that's better than having no data at all?

C'mon, Nielsen, put your money where your mouth is.  And publishers, too.  If you want to make or break authors' careers and base your acquisitions on Bookscan data, then you need to have accurate data, which you don't.  So, please, put up or shut up.



The Paper Tyger said...

Well said, Andy. Publishing people fully realize what a crock Bookspan numbers are yet they insist on using them in sales comps on marketing tip sheets, etc. It's bizarre.

Great blog, by the way, good to see what you've been up to!

Michele Lee Amundsen

Peter P said...

Did the publisher change their mind after seeing the real figures?

I completely agree that bookscan is worthless if it's getting nowhere close to accurate figures!

LauraLee Shaw said...

Wow, great info, powerful argument. Thank you.

jonathan evison said...

. . . i can attest to the inaccuracy of bookscan! . . . in my case, there is an 11k difference between my bookscan numbers, and my actual net retail sales . . . when i was a talk radio host, i never believed the arbitron numbers, either . . .

Timothy Burns said...

Only accurate data is valuable date. Everything else is just . . . well you know the saying.


HemlockMan said...

That's pretty disturbing news. But hardly surprising. As we've learned (especially) over the past couple of years, corporations are run by thieves and criminals.

Roger S. Williams said...

BookScan numbers are not wrong. BookScan numbers are POS (point of sale) numbers. That is number of books sold to consumers from "a highly representative sample" of retail outlets. There are some outlets that do not report sales via BookScan - e.g. special markets, shipments into the wholesalers. Most publishers use BookScan, but you have to know HOW to read the numbers and extrapolate for comparison - not to be used as a comparison for royalty purposes.

Since BookScan does not include sales of books into the institutional channel (libraries, school course adoptions, etc.) they are never going to be 100% correct. There are other tools that publishers use to identify those sales.

So you should know to whom you are discussing these BookScan numbers and it what context.

Roger S. Williams

Roger S. Williams said...

...that should be "in what context".:-)

Andrew Zack said...

It's true that Bookscan numbers are POS. And that key to using them is understanding they are POS. But as POS, they are just one part of the picture. But publishers don't really have the ability to get a bigger picture on books they didn't publish, as is the case in my example. The publisher was considering taking on a previously published author.

Yet publishers use Bookscan as an excuse to pass on projects all the time, which is probably the last thing for which it should be used. Bookscan would be a great tool for publishers to use in urging bookstores to order more copies. For example, let's say publisher prints 100K copies and ships 90K. Bookscan reports that 75K copies have been sold. That means there's only 15K in inventory outside of the publisher's warehouse. Time for bookstores to reorder or they might end up OS on the book.

Thus, Bookscan is a tool for the Sales Department, not the Editorial Department. But since Editorial wants to use it so aggressively, publishers and Bookscan need to make Bookscan a more accurate representation of sales.


Allison Brennan said...

Bookscans numbers are POS--but I think it's absolutely vital what they track. They do not include Walmart, for example--which I believe is the largest single retailer for mass market titles.

They also do not include most grocery and drug stores because they don't report POS (though this is gradually changing chain by chain, from what I've heard from one major distributor), so if you're a mass market author--especially a PBO author who is routinely in grocery stores and drug stores--then bookscan is even further off on your sales.

Bookscan appears to collect data from the following stores: chains (bn, borders, etc); target; some airport stores; many indies; and amazon. If you're a hardcover author, unless you're a mega author like Roberts, Grisham, King, Evanovich etc then you're probably not in Walmart and grocery stores, so your bookscan percentage of total sales is likely higher. But if you're a PBO then bookscan can be anywhere between 20-50%.

Caitlin Reardon said...

Well said, Roger - the problem is often not the numbers themselves, but the fact that many people don't understand quite what they're looking at and what's included (or more importantly, what isn't included) in BookScan numbers. BookScan tracks about 70-75% of mainstream hardcover sales. Sales departments are usually better at understanding these anomolies than editors are.

As for Andrew's comment, "publishers and Bookscan need to make Bookscan a more accurate representation of sales.", Well, let's put the blame where it belongs - obviously publishers and BookScan would like the numbers to be as close to 100% as possible, but they can't force a retailer to report sales. We can pressure them, though - whereever your books are being sold, ask them if they report to BookScan, and if not, encourage them to start. You'll be helping not only yourself, but every other author whose works are sold there. Get your publishers to pressure Wal-mart and anywhere else that isn't counted in BookScan. If enough of us push them, they'll have to give in eventually, and we'll all have more accurate information.

Mike Hendrickson said...

I could not disagree more with the sentiment in this post. Bookscan numbers give insights, not precision into what happened in the PAST. Comparing POS numbers with Royalty statements is bad practice. Inventory sits in bookstores for months and months for some books. If your potential publisher is making decisions solely based on Bookscan, then you are better off not working with them. As far as claiming that Bookscan in inaccurate, they are pretty close to accurate in our auditing of the numbers. We have built an extensive Data Mart with the numbers and use it to look at trends. I still think publishing decisions come down to 'editorial sensibilities' of which analytics are one component.

Debra Grant said...

Plus, the quality of the writing is but one factor in whether books sell. It has a lot to do with whether the publisher's sales reps are pushing it, what the cover looks like, whether the publisher paid for bookstore placement, etc. It's not just the author's fault if a book didn't sell well.

ellen9 said...

Acquiring editors have told me that "inside the houses" every editor knows Bookscan numbers are a crock o'crap.

They just use that as a convenient excuse to turn down projects they wouldn't or couldn't have acquired anyway.

behlerblog said...

Good job, Andy. I admit that I do refer to Bookscan when considering an author with previous publishing credits, but I also know to take the numbers with a grain of salt. Why? I see how Bookscan reports some of our books, and I certainly know those fall well below actual sales.

Anonymous said...

Previously editors had to rely on marketing hype, publicity heat, and an agent's own word as to an author's previous sales when divining whether a new project would work. Now editors have actual numbers. Those numbers are imperfect, which everyone in publishing realizes, but they are better than supposition, prejudice and conventional wisdom. Thus, they can try to pay for what a book might actually sell, not some inflated figure based on fantasy.

Andy has a justifiable gripe when it comes to the percentage of books sold that's reported by Bookscan. Let's say an editor figures a new project will sell as well as a previous book, and Bookscan records 10,000 sales for that book (which is pretty good for the vast majority of trade hardcover titles today). Then that means it sold either 20,000 (if Bookscan reports 50% of sales) or 14,285 (if it reports 70%). The difference is nearly $19,000 in potential advance money given standard hardcover list royalties. The solution, of course, is for agents to share royalty statements. If you've got better numbers, editors will listen.

Editors want to give authors a fair deal. And if the don't pay enough up front, well, then the money will come to the authors as royalties. Editors just don't want to incur write-offs, which can kill a bottom line.

The real value of Bookscan, though, isn't its application to individual titles. It's being able to look at an entire genre and see what's worked and what hasn't, then trying to figure out why. Unfortunately, the "why" too often remains a mystery.

Anonymous said...

As an acquiring editor I DO know bookscan's numbers can be crap, but in a sense they aren't crap at all. The buyers at B&N and Borders are basing their buys almost entirely on those "crap" numbers, which in a sense makes them real... while bookscan doesn't reflect what has happened accurately it does somewhat accurately reflect what will happen in terms of a buy-in for an author's next book- hate that this is the reality- but it is.

Geoff Shandler said...


Interesting and provocative post.

Perhaps, this is a good example of how technological advances can complicate things in unexpected ways. In ye olde days (not that long ago), agents would routinely inflate the sales of the authors whose books they were peddling. That inflation was no worse that the Bookscan deflation for some titles. So publishers had good reason to wish for something more accurate when making acquisition decisions, as well as for inventory management. Stores used to do that inventory by hand, which is tedious and encourages you to do it every so often. That meant some books stayed on shelves longer than they might today. Then the indie stores began to die, the chains began to flourish, and everyone computerized their inventory management systems. Now even a small store could get a daily report about what they sold, what they didn't, and could return and reorder accordingly. Because many of these stores were struggling, they wanted to get rid of books that didn't sell and get more of those that did. The chains centralized orders based on accurate (for their stores) data, and had the same philosophy about inventory. Publishers, stuck with the waste and profit damage caused by returns, became increasingly attuned to supply ebb and flow (because, among other things, they could track it), and as everyone at the store level became more conservative, so did publishers. With a database of past sales, stores could order with a precise sense of what the author had sold, which could also depress orders. So you had technological progress, and if you had a successful book it was of great use, because the odds of it being out of stock were greatly diminished. But at the same time, smaller titles were squeezed. Etc., etc.

(Ironically, Bookscan is most inaccurate for blockbuster bestsellers, because (as another poster noted) those are the sort of titles that end up selling in accounts like Wal-Mart that don't report.)

Bookscan, though imprecise, can serve several purposes. It can give a useful sense of movement by region and city. It allows for some publisher-to-publisher comparison. It can be broken down into categories for (generalized) observation.

So in the end, you can hope for more accurate data, but that might work against authors and agents trying to sell their second and third books, etc. Or you can hope for a veil of ignorance, in which case agents can go back to inflating figures when selling projects, but you have to deal with the possibility of the book going out of stock when it sales velocity increases.

Don't get me wrong: I wish Bookscan was better. But that said, we draw upon Bookscan when making decisions because, flawed as it is, it is the best comparative tool that we have. We also have precise data from the chains, and we factor that in, too. (And from that data we can extrapolate how accurate Bookscan might be for a particular book.) If agents would like to dispute its figures, send your royalty statements to us and we can factor those numbers into the equation.

Kirtim said...

I think using one author as an example of how inaccurate bookscan numbers may or may not be is not very good statistics. And I totally disagree that there is no advertising connected with books. How do you think most people find out about books if not through marketing i.e. advertising.

Andrew Zack said...

Yes, books are advertised, but in the majority of cases, they do not CARRY advertising. Nielsen tracks TV ratings so that advertisers know what to pay for ads on various shows. Since there is no advertising in books, what is the point of Bookscan? To me, I think it was to get publishers, bookstore chains, and authors to pay thousands every year for the data, which I personally feel is highly flawed.


Deborah said...

With over 16,000 public libraries in the US - NOT counting books sold to them isn't giving anyone an accurate count. It's a huge market that many publishers tend to ignore.

Andrew Zack said...

Library sales tend to be through programs, e.g., a library in the program buys all books in the program. These figures are readily available from other sources, but whether or not EDITORS actually look at the numbers from all sources when making acquisition decisions is a different question. My money is betting on they don't.


Geoff Shandler said...

Actually you can make advertising and marketing decisions based on Bookscan data. If we do an ad in Albuquerque and via Bookscan can see that sales have significantly risen after the ad ran, that might influence our decision to run another ad in Albuquerque, or throughout New Mexico, or throughout the Rockies or the Southwest. If we send an author on tour and see their Bookscan sales rise significantly in a particular metro area, we might conclude that the local media there was effective, and keep that in mind for subsequent tours, even subsequent authors.

Andrew Zack said...

That was good to know, but I think you've discovered an ancillary use of Bookscan. You can get similar info from the chains, no? You don't need really need Bookscan to guide you on that one.

TV ratings make and break TV shows. Unless Bookscan can get more accurate figures, it should NEVER be allowed to have the same power over books. And, even then, do we really want to boil books down to sales? It used to be that publishers GREW authors and started out small and were happy with earning out an advance of a few thousand and then doing the next book and selling a few more. In a Bookscan world, we are increasingly in danger of only publishing "big" books by "big" authors or authors with "platforms" that sell the books, rather than the books themselves hitting the market.


Geoff Shandler said...

If we use only chain numbers, then we further marginalize the indies, and given the sort of books they stock, perhaps the impact of the tour/ad/media will be statistically muted.

I suppose some finger pointing is bound to occur when talking about data and dollars. Your argument about what publishing used to be about implies an imbalanced evolution, in which publishers are supposed to dial back to an age before multiple submissions, to an age when books had a more prominent role in American culture, to a time when many nonfiction projects could be supported by a more robust magazine industry, etc. Meanwhile, agents are agents, with their multiple submissions, foreign rights departments, etc. I'm not saying that's bad or good--it just is, for both sides.

You may be the exception, but 94.7% of the agents we work with are all about one thing: maximizing the advance. There's a good reason for this: few books earn out, so why would you want to wait for royalties that likely are never going to come? What percentage of your sales have been to underbidders? What has the average underbid been? Are there imprints where you would consistently take less money, knowing that the publishing experience would be better? I'd love to know because perhaps we could learn from those imprints.

Again I ask: would you show publishers your royalty statements when they are trying to make a decision?

Andrew Zack said...


In my blog post today, I happened to raise the subject of asking for statements and the pros and cons. As I say there, I've rarely been asked. When I was acquiring as an editor, I did sometimes ask and called the agent on the b.s. when he said he didn't have them.

It's a fact that many, many books don't earn out (90% at one house, per its CFO), but publishers continue to survive and thrive. Clearly publishers can be very, very successful even though a lot of books don't earn out.

In answer to your question about imprints and would I take less money from some than others for a better experience, the truth is it's more about the contract than the imprint. Houses with deep-discount clauses and other exceptions to "standard" royalties are always less attractive markets to agents. Authors see three things from their publishers: the contract first, which if it is author-unfriendly immediately sends up red flags; the book next, which if it is well done with a good cover, solid binding, nice paper, etc., makes an author very happy; and the royalty statement, which if easy to read is a plus and if hard to read is a big minus.

Of course, one cannot ignore that certain imprints have more "prestige." Would you rather be published by Random House or Knopf, by Doubleday or Dell, by Little, Brown or Grand Central? Would you prefer FSG or SMP? Holt or SMP? S&S or Atria? In each of these comparisons, the author will get essentially the same contract, but he or she will not get the same publishing experience. Reviewers favor "literary" imprints over commercial imprints. Smaller imprints may offer a more "quality" experience to the author.

But in answer to your question, I think, yes, authors would take lower advances to get a better publishing experience. They might also take lower advances to get higher royalties per book.

Authors are not the enemy, nor are agents. Sometimes I think it's the chains, because it's the discounts they are demanding that turn publisher against author and created things like "deep-discount clauses," but you can't live without the chains and you can always find enough authors willing to take the hit, unfortunately.


Geoff Shandler said...

You say "publishers continue to survive and thrive. Clearly publishers can be very, very successful even though a lot of books don't earn out." Tell that to all the folks laid off from S&S, Harper, Perseus, Random House...

I still am not sure: would you show a publisher royalty statements?

I admit freely that publishers need to figure out how to enhance the publishing experience for many of our authors. And no, nobody's the enemy: editors and agents both have deeply personal attachments to authors and their books, and publishers would love for everyone to make money, authors, agents, themselves, etc. Without successful stores, we're all shot. It would have been interesting if American bookselling had adopted a fixed price agreement as was the case in some foreign countries, though that, too, ended up problematic.

The greatest challenge for all of us a shared challenge, and like all shared challenges, sharing is part of the solution. That sharing has to involve all.

Andrew Zack said...


If I've got them, I'll show them. But if I take an author on after they've already published ten books, I won't have their statements. And since not all publishers provide cumulative statements, it can often be difficult to get a career's worth of statements for that author.

It's great that you believe in sharing. Are HBG's reserves for returns on all of the statements yet? As that is one area I believe agents would like to see shared.

Thanks for being so involved in this conversation. You've turned my little rant into a substantive discussion and I appreciate that.


Anonymous said...

The editor was clearly trying to soften the blow for all involved and grasped at the Bookscan straw without knowing any better.

Let's go ahead and assume the first book netted 13,000 copies. For the second book, the accounts will base their orders on that first net number. So, you get the 13,000 out there and the overwhelming odds are that the net number for the second book will be in that 6-7,000 copy range. (Sadly, these days the marketplace is so grim the above numbers are supremely generous.)

Whatever Bookscan's limits, the editor's math was sound and was an accurate basis for his discussions with the higher-ups. (Another highly important factor is the gross number of copies shipped of that first book if the agent would like to share it.)

So, either the editor simply doesn't like the book and is trying to mask that with a clumsy appeal to Bookscan, or his bosses won't let him offer for any number of reasons. Maybe they don't like the book. Maybe they lost money because of the advance or the gross copies number I mentioned--or both. Or maybe they're simply cutting their list because of the heinous retail environment and a novel with a potential upside of 7,000 doesn't fit their business model anymore.

Don't hammer on the editor too hard. I guarantee he feels terrible about it. And come to terms with Bookscan. It is increasingly accurate and often dishearteningly so to an acquring editor. That extra "30%" of unmeasured sales used to help A LOT when listing comp titles. I don't even bother padding the number anymore. Based on my experience, the discrepancy in this case is anamolous.


Andrew Zack said...


The book was nonfiction, trade-paperback. The 14K net is a great number in this category. Not sure about shipped. The statements aren't cumulative and I only did the math on the net sales.


Deidre Knight said...

Excellent post, Andrew! As an agent it can be so disheartening to try reasoning around Bookscan numbers which aren't accurate-- yet being given serious weight in the overall acquisition process.

As Allison and others pointed out, Bookscan does not cover Wal-mart or grocery store sales figures, making it less accurate for mass market reports, especially for the blockbuster bestsellers. For mass market releases, these outlets represent a huge chunk of sales.

And this can create problems on the agenting side, because in some instances, romance authors have big buys/sales at Wal-Mart, grocery stores, drug stores, but more average sales at the chain level. It's not typical, but it does happen.

Let me show how that can impact this type of author's career. I have a USA TODAY bestselling romance author whose publisher shipped some 115,000 copies of a title. Well, a very large portion of those numbers went to Wal-Mart b/c they took a heavy buy. This author sells well there, book after book, although chain sales are good, but more average. Looking at her Bookscan numbers, you'd never understand how she hits bestseller lists because of the black hole left by the absence of Wal-Mart's numbers.

So, in a scenario where I might want to move this author to a new house, the first question editors ask is, "How are her Bookscan numbers?" and I find myself trying to explain that she's doing extremely well at Wal-Mart--even though it does not show on Bookscan at all. Everyone's left scratching their heads, frustrated, and my author--who has a great track record--can't prove it via Bookscan.

Still, as others have said, it's a glimpe, one angle of the lens for looking at an author's career, and I get that. But I also feel and share your "pain." :)
Thanks for the great post.
Deidre Knight
The Knight Agency

Joelle said...

I can report having had the exact same experience that Andy reports, and I have faxed the royalty reports! The additional (unreported) sales were not always institutional sales, which in any case, are not something to dismiss.
The point with any data is to develop interpretive skills, to understand what the data actually indicates, to look beyond it. What Andy is pushing for, I think, is that both agents and publishing houses need to be more responsible in presenting this information.
As an agent, I look to make the best overall deal for a client, and of course the highest advance is enticing, but we do consider the entire deal, including royalties, high discount royalties, and the publisher's vision in making that determination.
If you're an editor (and I've been one before becoming an agent) turning down a book because you didn't love it or don't know how to market it or it because it doesn't fit your list, that's fine. Just don't hide behind Bookscan. We can take it!
Joelle Delbourgo

Jackie said...

Thank you so much for writing this. The differences between Bookscan numbers and royalty statements have perplexed me forever. I was starting to take it personally!! Maybe it's time to relieve Nielsen of the duty.

Anonymous said...

As an employee of Nielsen, I hope you understand that my comments must remain anonymous. Nielsen is outsourcing jobs to India like a drunk at an open bar and I need my job.

Bookscan does not take into account Mom & Pop book sales, Target, BJs, Amazon and other large box retailers and it should not be relied upon to show accurate sales data.

A lot of their data is also incorrectly reported because the data is not aggregated here. It is aggregated overseas and is virtually useless because it is never aggregated correctly and there is no US counterpart to check it. Look at all the problems with Nielsen TV/Media data.

Nielsen will be worthless as a data provider if they continue on this path because they don't want to pay for the quality of data.

Gemma Halliday said...

Wow! As an author, this is scary information. Seriously, the entire industry is basing its movements on unreliable numbers? (*throws hands up in the air*) Thank you for posting and for the others who have weighed in with their comments. Very illuminating. In a tearing-my-hair-out way.

Laurel said...

Working for a textbook publisher I was shocked to find that highly successful titles (high adoptions in programs that had shiny new hardcover texts on every desk at student orientation)showed poor follow through. Sometimes the publisher pushed too hard to get placement and got bitten on the returns. More often,however, reporting was flawed and data from online retailers simply didn't show up. My bonus structure was highly tied to these shenanigans and I'm telling you,something is rotten in the state of Denmark. These types of numbers are good for trends only. The info needs to be looked at analytically if a house is truly making a decision on reported numbers and royalty statements could fill in a lot of blanks. Otherwise,this objection is just a smokescreen...a bargaining tool.

People in sales live and die by reporting.We are entitled to get it right. It is not a public service but rather one that is contracted.

I can't tell you the shame I felt buying Allison Brennan's book at Walmart knowing how hard it would be for her to get credit. It is valuable information that people are willing to pay for.IF they make it more accurate, it will be more valuable for both proprietor and consumer.

There is opportunity here. I look forward to seeing the market solution.

Allison Brennan said...

Laurel, please do not be ashamed at buying at Walmart! I'm happy to sell books anywhere :)

And while Walmart doesn't report to bookscan, they do provide numbers to my publisher which I see on a regular basis when I have a book out. Until reading this thread, I had no idea that bookscan was so important in making decisions because I know exactly how the numbers relate to my actual sales, and never in negotiations have the bookscan numbers been used to argue for/against an advance. This may be because I'm a mass market author and mass merch like walmart and target and meijer are the bulk of my sales.

Jane Finnis said...

As an author, I find this all very alarming, but not, alas, all that surprising. You can prove anything with statistics...but why do publishers believe stats from outsides sources instead of their own records?
Jane Finnis, Hunmanby, North Yorkshire, UK

NTKO said...

This seems a strange mashup of Pournelle's Iron Law of Bureaucracy applied to the private sector ((I)n any bureaucracy, the people devoted to the benefit of the bureaucracy itself always get in control, so that those dedicated to the goals the bureaucracy is supposed to accomplish have less and less influence, and sometimes are eliminated entirely.), and Joel Spolsky's observation that, "almost any (productivity) metric you can come up with... is trivial to game."

In other words, it appears your publisher has been told to justify everything in terms of one metric (BookScan), and whether that metric actually leads to increased sales is irrelevant. The important thing here is that your guy show bureaucratic loyalty, and if money has to be left on the table in unrealized sales, well, c'est la guerre.

Jacqueline Lichtenberg said...

I just saw this post when I googled bookscan because Joe Finder mentioned it on Twitter as he was talking about Dan Brown's bookscan numbers.

So I tweeted your URL and put in an alert to Joe Finder.

Jacqueline Lichtenberg
Phoenix, AZ

Jay said...

BookScan numbers are surely about how one uses them, and also informed by the formats and types of titles one is looking at and comparing (paper, cloth,... academic, popular, etc.). It's most valuable when used
collaboratively, between sales and acquisitions, and when backed up with information from other publishers (bulk sales, library wholesaler numbers, publisher website sales). It's not a Holy Grail, but one more tool in the game.

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