Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Bestseller Lists, Take 2--Part 3

So some of you aren’t feeling all that hot about the bestseller lists anymore, I see. Having a little more of a tainted view of the things? Darcie asked yesterday (in the comments) if the general market is any better in collecting their data. Afraid not. (More on this tomorrow.)

Julie asked, "Do you know of any plans to get actual sales of books from all (or most) outlets? I'm thinking Walmart, B&N AND Family...all melded into one big sales pot. Would be nice."

I don't see this happening, as Christian booksellers seem to want to control their own data, and of course, they can only use what they're gathering. They'd have to go to an outside source like Bookscan for data in the secular stores. But even Bookscan doesn't get data from big box stores like Walmart (who won't seem to let anyone have their sales data). Neither does Bookscan gather data from Christian stores. So, you see, looks like never the twain shall meet. And no, there is not one entity that gathers all. But we will look at this more tomorrow.

Tina said, “I hate to sound cynical here, but then why do we watch the CBA listing so closely...?”

Because the lists are all we have. Are all the bookstores have, actually. Booksellers want to see what books are moving the most. They tend to use the list to “pull out” the bestsellers—at least those up toward the top—and give them a special display in their stores. In this way, the bestseller list begets publicity, which begets more sales. This is why the lists are important to authors, too.

On Monday, November 6, when the posting of the November lists (other than the Top 50, which was up) was almost a week late, I wrote the good folks at CBA, asking them what was up with this whole situation in general. Here is my letter to them, followed by CBA’s response:
Greetings in Christ:

What's happened to the Nov. bestseller lists? (Other than the Top 50.) This isn't just a short-term question, but also a more general question of what's happening. I have a blog with a good readership in which I try to keep authors/readers updated on various issues in the industry (among discussing many other things), but I'm at a loss to explain what's up. Neither my agent nor even my publisher, Zondervan, can explain.

From what I understand, CBA answered ECPA's STATS with their own data-gathering: CROSS:SCAN. Many booksellers, including all of Family, pulled out of reporting to STATS and began reporting only to CROSS:SCAN, while others reported to both. The ECPA was supposed to replace STATS last May with the new Pubtrack. Am I right so far? I was hoping Pubtrack might provide a compromise that would negate the need for CROSS:SCAN and bring those who jumped ship (like Family) back into the fold. (Now there's an interesting mixed metaphor. :)

However, I see no evidence that Pubtrack ever started. Bestseller lists in Aspiring Retail and on still say the data are coming from STATS. Which means the lists are skewed, because so few booksellers are reporting. For example, a book that's appeared in the Family catalog and had a large promo at the 350 Family stores = nothing for the bestseller list.

Truthfully for us authors, it's all so very frustrating. I understand the data aren't ours--they belong to the booksellers. But may I just say, "I wish we all could get along." The tension between various methods of reporting leaves our industry without a solidly-based bestseller list. Plus we have to wait so long to even see the lists that are generated. Meanwhile these lists, skewed as they may be, are used by booksellers for "bestseller" promotion in their stores. Which is understandable; these lists are all they have to work with on the matter.

I'd love to think that the current slowness in posting all the lists is due to some great change in the wind. ?? But since the Top 50 is listed, seems you'd have to know the rest of the lists.

In our industry, with a formal organization for the booksellers, and one for the publishers, we authors, who produce the product, sometimes are left feeling rather discombobulated. I'd love to really understand this issue, what the plans are for the future of data-gathering and the lists, so I can explain it fairly and accurately to others. I'd really appreciate any time you can give in helping me understand this matter.

Blessings and joy on your journey,

~ Brandilyn Collins

CBA responded:

Hello Brandilyn,

Thank you for your email. I think you hit the nail on the head, as well as could be done as the nail is really doing some dancing currently. (You like my metaphor?) The November lists are posted as of today, I am not sure what caused this delay, and hope it was a one-time occurrence.

You are correct that the situation is currently unclear where the future of CROSS:SCAN, STATS & PubTrack may or may not intersect in the land of data collection and data sharing. CBA is continuing to pursue options that will provide the best overall gathering of data from as many Christian retailers as possible, ensure the protection of this data where necessary, develop tools for Christian retailers to use this important data, and share what we can with the public and industry partners such as authors and publishers.

The best I can say is stay tuned, we should have some more news to report in January during Advance 2007!


Eric Johnson CBA Member Services Manager


Hey, you gotta love a guy who picks up on mixed metaphors.

Bottom line, I don’t know any more than before I wrote the letter. Except that perhaps change is coming. Of course, if I hear stuff about this issue from Advance, I’ll pass it along. (Advance is a yearly convention-like gathering of booksellers and publishers in January. The main, bigger convention for the industry is held in July.)

Tomorrow—wanna hear how the secular lists are put together? Oh, my. Now that’s a tale …

Read Part 4


Tina said...

I am not sure if my response is, "well, thanks for clearing that up." Or, "I'm still confused." LOL.

Thanks for the info. It's good to be shown that the booksellers need to use the list, even if it's not 100% indicative of the market. It's just disheartening since it creates this circle where the same big authors, once secure on the list, stay there for what seems like forever. It doesn't represent the variety of literature that is out in the CF market.

Your research is a good remidner that we don't do this to be on a list, right? It would be nice, because then a bigger audience would discover new fiction. But, in the end we will just have to remember that God will take our work to readers in his way. We might not always get a slap on the back for it from the big guys, but God is still working through us.

Tina's Soap Box Ramblings. I'm stepping off now. :)

Anonymous said...

I think we should write to George Barna.

Cara Putman said...

Okay, so this is completely off topic, but in the midst of this headache should bring a smile to your face.

Last night I was at my in-laws, and my sister-in-law had to tell me why she missed an appointment yesterday. Seems she's finally discovered your books after I've raved about them for a couple years. She read Stain of Guilt on Monday, and yesterday was reading through Eyes of Elisha. She looked up at one point and gulped. Seems the clock said the time was 1:10, and she had an appointment at 1:15. Only problem was the appointment was 40 minutes away. She called and rescheduled for 5:00. The appointment you made her miss -- a DENTIST appointment.

I thought that was incredibly appropriate!

Susanne said...

Wow, Brandilyn, there is so much more to writing books than writing books, isn't there. I'm learning so much from your posts!

Air Force Family said...

Learning tons from you, even though I'm not quite clear on how it all works! Hope you have great day! Thank you for your prayers.

Bonnie Calhoun said...

This problem is such a constant frustration! And I can see authors pulling their hair out over missing numbers.

I love all facets of Christian fiction, and I'm going to put this problem on my prayer list...let's see what God has to say!

Thanks Brandilyn for keeping us in the loop!

William G. said...

Is it wrong that my inner editor wanted to delete the word 'currently' from the guy's metaphoric response? And that it still bothers me that it was there to begin with?

Oy! I think it's past my bedtime.