Thursday, May 04, 2006

Question on Bestseller List--Part 2

Quick note regarding the questions from yesterday's post and any questions you might add today. I'll address these questions as best I can tomorrow, in a follow-up post. For now, part 2 of our topic: sale numbers needed to make the bestseller list.

By the way, if you missed yesterday’s post, please read it first as background.

STATS data are copyrighted, and the reports are available for purchase only by publishers and booksellers. Authors can’t buy the data, even if they’d be willing to shell out the hundreds of dollars it costs to purchase the reports. I’ve seen STATS reports only through my publisher for marketing reasons, as a way of seeing where my sales stand in the industry. (And frankly, in response to apparent CBA accusations about how publishers use STATS data, this has never had anything to do with selling to secular stores. In fact, by definition it’s just the opposite—how do my sales stack up in Christian bookstores, where the majority of my books sell, as compared to other CBA novelists?)

At any rate, because of the proprietary nature of STATS reports, I’m not going to list book titles and their sales for a named month. Instead, I hope to give you enough specifics to answer your curiosity about the bestseller list without overstepping my bounds. Note: these examples are old enough to include the 1000+ stores that used to report to STATS before CROSS:SCAN came along (in other words, before October 1, 2005).

In short, the numbers can vary considerably, depending on how big a seller is at the top of the list.

Example 1 of a certain month of the bestseller list (numbers rounded to nearest 50).

#1: 14,600
#2: 5750
#5: 3350
#10: 2150
#15: 1800
#20: 1300

Example 2. This is two months after Example 1. The same book is at #1, but sales are now much lower because that book has been out for awhile. Meanwhile, no huge-selling book has replaced it.

#1: 7150
#2: 5750
#5: 3600
#10: 3150
#15: 2400
#20: 2050

Interesting to see how the numbers shift, isn’t it. While it took more sales to hit #1 in Example 1, for the rest of the slots, it took more sales to hit #2-20 in Example 2. Overall, I’d say Example 2 is more typical in that it’s rare to find that much difference in sales between slots 1 and 2. At the same time, sales of fiction have increased (these examples are over a year old), so if anything, today it generally takes higher numbers to make the list than ever before.

One final important note. Remember that the sales above were only reported from about 1000+ Christian bookstores. For a rough estimate of total sales of the book in a given month, the formula I’ve heard is to multiply the STATS number by 3. Of course, from current lists this formula would be a higher multiple, since the number of stores reporting to STATS has fallen from 1000+ down to around 650.

So--the bestseller lists certainly don't show all sales, but neither does any bestseller list out there. Secular lists work in the same way--sales reported from a set number of participating stores. And secular lists never use Christian bookstore data, while the Christian list doesn't use secular bookstore data. That's why when you see a Christian book hit a secular bestseller list, that book is really selling, because one of its biggest venues for selling--the Christian bookstores--have no representation at all.

Even though the number of participating stores that make the CBA bestseller list has fallen, it's still the most accurate representation we have, and as you can see, it can indicate how books are selling in comparison to one another--in Christian bookstores. The numbers can get skewed if, say, a book has a special promotion only in Family Christian stores, which no longer report to STATS. But at least in my experience, this hasn't happened. When my publisher buys special promotions for my books, they hit all the major Christian chains--Family, Lifeway, Mardel, Parable, etc. Numbers can also be skewed if a book is selling heavily in the secular market, but not as well in the Christian market. Books that hit Costco, for example, or WalMart, or Target, etc.--these sales aren't reflected in the CBA bestseller list. So just because a book doesn't hit the list, that doesn't mean it's not doing well overall.

Still, I remain convinced that the CBA list is a good thing to hit because it's publicity, and because Christian bookstores often pay extra attention to books on the list by reordering additional copies, turning them face-out, giving them special placement on a "bestseller" rack, etc.

Hope I have managed to make sense of all this. Questions? Leave them today, and we'll discuss them tomorrow.

Read Part 3


Becky said...

Extremely informative, Brandilyn. But am I deducing correctly that NO ONE really knows which books are actually selling the best--real sales in customers' hands, regardless of where they purchased their copies?

That's really an amazing thought in this era of computer data.


C.J. Darlington said...

I've often wondered how many books someone has to sell to make the bestseller lists. Thanks for giving us this info.

Wayne Scott said...

As a computer programmer that works with business intelligence, data warehouses, and data sourcing for one of the largest technology companies in the world, I'm not surprised there's no central place to get all the sales information. My company is STILL trying to get a single system to report all it's orders and sales from. I would suspect the logistics involved in trying to get sales data from all the different book stores in the country make gathering that data cost prohibitive.

Bonnie Calhoun said...

Face out...I know that as a good my Apri 21 post showed Web of Lies face out at my local Parable store...Wahoo! Brandilyn is a big seller here!