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Thursday, September 18, 2014

Of fraudulent lists and fake "bestsellers"

File 770 sounds a little disappointed to discover that an SF "bestseller" on the NYT Bestsellers List doesn't necessarily indicate the mainstream adoption of SF:
I’m a science fiction fan, yet I’m constantly being surprised to discover how that shapes my thinking. Although I know bestseller lists are artificial constructs, I also know they are constructs dominated by mainstream fiction and literary biases. Consequently, when a science fiction writer appears on the New York Times bestseller list I don’t ask how, I just shout “Hooray!” But now a Higher Critic has explained why I should be dissatisfied and suspicious about how they got there.

And now I am.

Vox Day unfavorably compared John Scalzi to Larry Correia based on alleged manipulation of the bestseller list. But isn’t Correia’s status as a bestselling author the same reason people believe Correia is the gold standard?

Even here, all Larry Correia ever did was point out two times when his books made the New York Times best seller list. Which they did. But both times the books disappeared from the list the following week. One and done....

I’m perfectly happy that Larry Correia is an NYT bestselling author. (Which I said in the post.) But since Correia and Scalzi both have experienced the same one-and-done pattern, then why would anybody doubt that Scalzi’s listings are also the result of real sales, Vox Day notwithstanding?
Actually, I didn't compare them. I merely referenced Scalzi's own comments on the subject. As always, Larry Correia is perfectly capable of speaking for himself. As for me, I answered Mr. Glyer on his own blog as follows: There are two reasons for the difference between Scalzi's one-week showings and Mr. Correia's. 1. Correia’s Amazon rankings at the time correlated correctly with his NYT bestseller listing. Scalzi’s Amazon rankings aren’t egregiously off, but they’re not high enough to be credible. 2. Baen Books is not known for attempting to game various awards and bestseller lists. Tor Books, which has won the Locus Award for Best Publisher 27 years in a row, among other things, is.

Does anyone really and truly believe that whereas OLD MAN’S WAR and THE GHOST BRIGADES did not sell well enough to make the NYT Bestseller list, FUZZY NATION did?

All one had to do was look at the Amazon rankings to see that LOCK IN was not selling well enough to have made the bestseller list without a bulk-sale marketing campaign. And as noted on File 770, I had an inkling LOCK IN would not only be on the NYT bestseller list, but be there for a single week before disappearing.

These faux bestsellers aren’t any great secret. It’s just one of the ways the Big Five publishers promote their favored authors. Talk to a top editor or a publishing executive if you don’t believe me; I’m not making this stuff up. Tor is simply trying to massage public perceptions to bump a high mid-list writer into reliable bestseller status.

And then, as it happened, the Washington Examiner happened to address the issue of the unreliability of this particular list today:
The New York Times Book Review, which has a history of belatedly recognizing conservative bestsellers, has banished conservative legal author David Limbaugh’s latest, Jesus on Trial, from its upcoming best seller list despite having sales better than 17 other books on the list.

According to publishing sources, Limbaugh’s probe into the accuracy of the Bible sold 9,660 in its first week out, according to Nielsen BookScan. That should have made it No. 4 on the NYT print hardcover sales list.

Instead, Henry Kissinger’s World Order, praised by Hillary Clinton in the Washington Post, is No. 4 despite weekly sales of 6,607....

The September 28 list of the top 20 print hardcover best sellers includes one book that sold just 1,570 copies.

Limbaugh, published by Regnery, has been a New York Times best seller, so the newspaper should have been looking out for his high sales numbers. And as a hint, they could have looked at Amazon, where Limbaugh’s Jesus hit No. 1 recently. On Thursday, it ranked No. 6 in books sold on Amazon.
Note first that Mr. Scalzi's LOCK IN is presently ranked #3,566 on Amazon and did not make the September 28th list. The #20 book to which the Examiner presumably refers is I AM MALALA which is presently ranked #992 on Amazon. Keep in mind that there are two different lists and that non-fiction usually sells more than fiction.

The New York Times bestseller list is simply not what it claims to be. It's mostly a marketing device manipulated by media ideologues and marketing departments. Some books make it legitimately. Others don't. Fortunately, Amazon gives us a means of distinguishing between the two.

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49 Comments:

Anonymous SkinDeep September 18, 2014 4:12 PM  

I don't believe it for a second. Remember that he's on book tour and selling plenty of copies through bookstores rather than Amazon. He's also been fairly critical of Amazon in the very recent past and it's possible that his fans are seeking other resources. There are a hundred different ways in which Scalzi's Amazon's numbers wouldn't reflect his overall sales.

You, Vox, could do a better job arguing my own point because you know it's true. But you wouldn't do that because it doesn't work with your hateful propaganda.

Blogger James Dixon September 18, 2014 4:18 PM  

> There are a hundred different ways in which Scalzi's Amazon's numbers wouldn't reflect his overall sales.

Actually, there's only one. Sales made outside Amazon. Do you have those figures?

Anonymous Daniel September 18, 2014 4:25 PM  

I believe it for a billion seconds. Book tours, especially ones as small as McRapeys are well-known to increase sales by dozens in most cases, if that: book tours are generally not primarily book-selling events, they are line marketing events. Lock-in's sales rank at Barnes & Noble which includes in-store sales is worse than Amazon's, and therefore, he's provably not doing better in book stores. There are a hundred different ways in which Scalzi's numbers could be measured, but all the significant ones are in support of the obvious: Lock-in is a faux bestseller.

That is not a knock. I wouldn't mind the one-time bump in royalties that comes with a forced-buy (as long as my publisher isn't lying to me on the royalty statements, which is another issue.)

Just don't pretend it is something else. Mike Glyer should stop caring about which books are winning the marketing purchases, and get back to being enthusiastic about damn good sci-fi. I mean, really, was Glyer over the moon about Twilight's success? Because Lock-in is about as science fictiony as that.

Anonymous VD September 18, 2014 4:30 PM  

I don't believe it for a second. Remember that he's on book tour and selling plenty of copies through bookstores rather than Amazon.

I suggest you look at how copies for book tours are customarily obtained by the publishers. All those bulk-bought books have to go somewhere, after all....

Blogger Chris Gerrib September 18, 2014 4:31 PM  

Sales made outside Amazon. Do you have those figures? - Do you? Does anybody? (Other than the publishers, agents and authors, that is.)

2. Baen Books is not known for attempting to game various awards and bestseller lists. Assertion, lacking in fact.

Tor Books, which has won the Locus Award for Best Publisher 27 years in a row, among other things, is. Interestingly enough, going back to 2010, the #2 publisher in the Locus poll is Subterranean Press, an outfit small enough that the publisher himself answers customer service emails. Are they also gaming awards lists?

Blogger Chris Gerrib September 18, 2014 4:32 PM  

bulk-bought books have to go somewhere - you mean, if I show up at a signing they give me a book? Wish I'd known that ;-)

Anonymous VD September 18, 2014 4:36 PM  

Remember that he's on book tour and selling plenty of copies through bookstores rather than Amazon.

Let's say 30 stores and 200 copies sold per store. that's 6,000 copies, right? And yet, we know that 6,700 would be enough to place #4 on the better-selling non-fiction list, for a book that is presently #15 on Amazon, only 3,551 spots higher than LOCK IN.

Doesn't add up. Math is hard, Barbie.

Blogger James Dixon September 18, 2014 4:42 PM  

> Do you?

No, which is why I asked.

> Does anybody? (Other than the publishers, agents and authors, that is.)

I don't believe so.

Anonymous VD September 18, 2014 4:45 PM  

Do you? Does anybody? (Other than the publishers, agents and authors, that is.)

You don't know how this works, do you. Only the publishers have the numbers, but we can approximate them fairly well by using Barnes & Noble. Even the publishers numbers are problematic, because they don't include returns.

Baen Books is not known for attempting to game various awards and bestseller lists. Assertion, lacking in fact.

Oh, really? Do demonstrate how Baen is "known for attempting to game various awards and bestseller lists", by all means. Or retract your idiotic statement.

Are they also gaming awards lists?

No, they're just popular with the usual suspects. You're forgetting that I've been on three Nebula juries, Chris. I have scores of awful Tor books that they used to send all the judges. It's a big priority for them and they devote a lot of resources chasing awards.

Look at how they included the entire WoT in the Hugo packet when Orbit wouldn't even include its novels.

Anonymous WhiteBirch September 18, 2014 5:02 PM  

The big surprise here is that less than 10,000 books sold is enough to get you on the bestseller list in a nation of 300 million+ people. Is that seriously right?

Blogger James Dixon September 18, 2014 5:02 PM  

> Only the publishers have the numbers, but we can approximate them fairly well by using Barnes & Noble.

Since B&N is primarily still a brick and mortar book seller, I'd think the combination of B&N and Amazon sales would give you a very good metric for overall sales, yes. But notice that the original poster didn't even try offering them. Daniel, on the other hand notes: "Lock-in's sales rank at Barnes & Noble which includes in-store sales is worse than Amazon's, and therefore, he's provably not doing better in book stores."

Vox's gauge of Lock-in's success may not be correct, but every indication we can see argues that it is.

Blogger James Dixon September 18, 2014 5:02 PM  

> The big surprise here is that less than 10,000 books sold is enough to get you on the bestseller list in a nation of 300 million+ people. Is that seriously right?

Apparently unless is name is Limbaugh, yes.

Blogger Chris Gerrib September 18, 2014 5:05 PM  

approximate them fairly well by using Barnes & Noble so we went from Amazon ranks being the gold standard to Barnes & Noble. What's next - the sales figures from the Podunk Iowa branch of Books-A-Million?

Do demonstrate how Baen is "known for attempting to game various awards and bestseller lists", - how about we start by demonstrating that Tor is "gaming" anything? You've provided no evidence of anybody gaming anything - just bare assertions.

You're forgetting that I've been on three Nebula juries, Chris. I have scores of awful Tor books that they used to send all the judges. - how is that any different from offering free ebooks on one's website? What it's not is gaming a best-seller list by buying books at retail.

More importantly, it does nothing to explain why, since 2007, a publisher small enough to be a rounding error in Tor's sales is consistently #2 on the Locus list, a list voted on by thousands of readers.

Look at how they included the entire WoT in the Hugo packet not that it did them a bit of good.

Blogger Markku September 18, 2014 5:15 PM  

What it's not is gaming a best-seller list by buying books at retail.

Now, HERE is a textbook example of a fighting withdrawal. Let's look at the original question for the lulz, shall we?

"Are they also gaming awards lists?"

Anonymous Porky September 18, 2014 5:19 PM  

Wow.

Anonymous Porky September 18, 2014 5:19 PM  

Just...wow.

Blogger Chris Gerrib September 18, 2014 5:29 PM  

So Tor is "gaming" awards lists by giving free copies to judges, but posting "please vote for this slate of authors because I like their politics" isn't?

To be clearer - no Tor is not gaming awards lists. Nor, so far as I can see, is Baen, Orbit, Subterranean or any other publisher. What I do see is publishers trying to sell their books.

Anonymous VD September 18, 2014 5:38 PM  

What I do see is publishers trying to sell their books.

I don't care what you see. I don't care what you believe. I don't care why you're so concerned about the legitimacy of FUZZY NATION's bestseller status.

Why don't you try talking to a Tor editor, Chris? Or even an executive in the industry who is familiar with how Tor works?

but posting "please vote for this slate of authors because I like their politics" isn't?

Who said that? Certainly not me. You're getting increasingly desperate, Chris.

Anonymous VD September 18, 2014 5:40 PM  

how is that any different from offering free ebooks on one's website?

Because it's totally different. It would be akin to an author emailing free books to all the judges and forcing them to take delivery of them.

Note that Tor was actually shipping all those books to Europe too. They must have spent hundreds of dollars on me alone.

Anonymous VD September 18, 2014 5:43 PM  

This is amusing. About that "bestseller" at Barnes & Noble:

"Sales rank: 38,400"

Anonymous Josh September 18, 2014 5:54 PM  

Note that Tor was actually shipping all those books to Europe too. They must have spent hundreds of dollars on me alone.

Fantasy football is a significantly cheaper way for these myopic idiots to receive some external validation.

Anonymous Mr.A is Mr.A September 18, 2014 6:00 PM  

Mr Gerrib demonstrates he's not tall enough for the ride.

Blogger Chris Gerrib September 18, 2014 6:01 PM  

It would be akin to an author emailing free books to all the judges and forcing them to take delivery of them. you don't know how to return a book, or toss it in the trash?

What bothers me about this debate is two-fold. First, there exists an actual count of how many books were sold. Second, since you don't have that count, any comment you make is really just talking out of your hat.

Anonymous Daniel September 18, 2014 6:06 PM  

Sheesh Chris. It was funnier when John Belushi did it.

But not by much!

Anonymous Chad September 18, 2014 6:07 PM  

So you're probably the type who wouldn't question election results that skew heavily from exit-polling. The principle is the same; using a known number to speculate an unknown one. Is it conclusive? No, but it arouses suspicion.

Anonymous VD September 18, 2014 6:11 PM  

First, there exists an actual count of how many books were sold.

Sort of. All of those actual counts are problematic in different ways.

Second, since you don't have that count, any comment you make is really just talking out of your hat.

No, because I am both an author and a publisher, and so I have a considerable amount of information which serve as a basis for reasonable estimates. Have you forgotten that I correctly ascertained John Scalzi's Internet traffic was considerably exaggerated BEFORE I had the actual evidence proving that to be the case?

Remember, I correctly expected LOCK IN to make the list on the lower section and then vanish after a week.

Blogger RobertT September 18, 2014 6:51 PM  

goodness, all the bastions of my pre cynical naivete are crumbling around me

Blogger RobertT September 18, 2014 6:57 PM  

there are some who will argue regardless what you say. i do the same thing with many lawyers, who can remove layers of profits with their layers of complexity

Blogger James Dixon September 18, 2014 7:52 PM  

> Second, since you don't have that count, any comment you make is really just talking out of your hat.

So why are you arguing the other side? You don't have the numbers either. Vox could be wrong. But all the available evidence backs his conclusion. The fact that the available evidence is weak or second hand isn't his fault. The author in question can release his sales figures anytime he wants after he gets them from the publisher.

Anonymous Scintan September 18, 2014 7:54 PM  

Mr Gerrib demonstrates he's not tall enough for the ride.

He does that pretty much every time he posts.

Anonymous Lgrin September 18, 2014 8:22 PM  

The fact that the available evidence is weak or second hand isn't his fault

Certainly, THAT isn't his fault, but it is his fault for " talking out of his hat" about it.

Anonymous The other skeptic September 18, 2014 9:28 PM  

Currently, Scalzi's Lock In crock is at 49 in SciFi purchased.

By purchasing the one below it we could push him down and eventually drop him below 100.

I would spend $100 to do that.

Anonymous The other skeptic September 18, 2014 9:33 PM  

Or, we could buy Zombie Illinois!

Zombie Illinois

or Last Stand: Patriots

Anonymous LL September 18, 2014 9:41 PM  

Mr. Gerrib, I would like you to address the Wall Street Journal rankings and the USA today rankings in Vox's earlier pieces. Since they are different from the NYT metrics, one can assume they use different book stores, online sales, evidence. Please explain the dichotomy between NYT and 2 other fairly widespread news companies, even taking into account Scalzi's disdain for Amazon.

Anonymous LL September 18, 2014 9:50 PM  

And to be more clear, we have B&N, USA Today, Wsj/ and Amazon all ranking this particular book well outside of the top 20. And yet one ranking system, which Vox (and other articles) claim is regularly gamed, nicely slotted it up there for one week. What is your explanation outside of the Occam's Razor that the rest of us see, Mr. Gerrib?

Blogger Jmac September 18, 2014 10:19 PM  

"More importantly, it does nothing to explain why, since 2007, a publisher small enough to be a rounding error in Tor's sales is consistently #2 on the Locus list, a list voted on by thousands of readers."

You have to do your research a little better Chris. From 2014-2012 Subterranean was fifth in the Locus poll. They were second from 2011-2007, which is impressive but pales in comparison to Tor's number one (you do know the difference between first and second right?) position since 1987.

I have seen evidence that Tor, with its no doubt extremely skillful marketing department, goes all out to win awards, so it would not be a huge stretch to say they also try to game bestseller lists.

Granted they cannot do this for every book because then bestseller lists will lose their meaning (and even Pirates of Mars could reach the NYT list), but Scalzi is a known entity.

This is mostly due to his skillful self-marketing, and his fudging of his blog traffic numbers, but he is known, so it isn't a big stretch to claim he's a NYT bestselling author, even when he isn't.




Blogger James Dixon September 18, 2014 10:49 PM  

> Certainly, THAT isn't his fault, but it is his fault for " talking out of his hat" about it.

And what are you talking out of, Lgrin?

Anonymous kh123 September 19, 2014 12:11 AM  

You know those cherub statues, the fountain fixtures that look elegant and classy at a distance but ultimately just pour more water into the mix via their urethra. High brow facade with a fixed low brow purpose.

Anyhow, carry on.

Blogger bruce September 19, 2014 1:15 AM  

Anyone know how libraries buy books? Amazon, publisher direct, or what? Relevance here- I see lots of Scalzi in my public library branches. Not checked out much. My copy of Fuzzy Nation is a 25 cent hardback, library sale, three months after it was bought, no sign of use. (Not a bad book, though not good).

Librarians have to cite credentials in their budgets, and may be a little easier to sucker with 'This won a Hugo award, so people who like Hugo Gernsback's genre will like this'; or even the more open fraud and much more vile slander of 'He won a Campbell award, so people who liked John Campbell's Analog must like him'.

Blogger Jmac September 19, 2014 2:24 AM  

Bruce, I imagine libraries get their books via wholesale distributors. A very select number of publishers market their books directly to libraries (Robert Hale books from the UK and some of their imprints come to mind), but I doubt the libraries buy direct from Amazon. There are estimates that Robert Hale's Black Horse Western books are checked out around 5,000 times a year per book in UK libraries.

I'm not sure how to estimate Scalzi's numbers by that, but one could probably guess based on the number of libraries in the States, the relative popularity of science fiction over traditional Westerns, and the Scalzi self-promotion machine, that his books are probably checked out more frequently than 5,000 times per year. How much more is the question though...

Anonymous Jovi Won Kenievl September 19, 2014 7:01 AM  

Of course, JS now has a TV deal for Lock In. But I'm sure VD has discovered a fraud that the folks at Legendary missed.

Blogger Markku September 19, 2014 9:26 AM  

Jovi: Unless something new has turned up since the previous thread, it was an option, not a deal yet.

Anonymous Titus Didius Tacitus September 19, 2014 11:21 AM  

Jmac: "Bruce, I imagine libraries get their books via wholesale distributors."

Acquisitions buys directly from publishers, often at the start of that library's financial year, at full price, a lot, because hardback and library binding are important (for standing up to circulation), and plans are rigid and justified in writing by objective criteria and reviews in received publications. (Talk of "objectivity" should not disguise the effect of library culture, which is feminine and politically correct, as is inevitable given library staff demographics.) Prices are high because flexibility is low; sales and "if I see it cheap" play no part in the process. (Except in donations of course.)

Joe and Jane Average Book-buyer are much better bargain hunters than the local, school, university and state library, and always "grazing", so they can wind up with much better value-for-money collections, though less balanced, systematic, well-housed and well-documented.

bruce: "Librarians have to cite credentials in their budgets, and may be a little easier to sucker with 'This won a Hugo award, so..."

Forget "so" and everything after it. You have your plan and your rationale, with received credential. Item request to Acquisitions justified; on to next item. You ain't got all day.

I have seen one (1) public library (as opposed to a university special collection) that had a superior quality collection, because real thought and discernment had gone into every item out of thousands. I was boggled by the effort that had gone into that, and how productive it had been. There was no career or any other reward for that amazing effort, other than whatever moral satisfaction there may have been in satisfied clients with their information needs exceptionally well met.

Blogger Ragin' Dave September 19, 2014 11:33 AM  

And now, David Limbaugh's "Jesus on Trial" is #1 at Amazon currently, but it's banned from the NYT best-seller's list because raciss-whitepriviledge-conservative-hateyhatemongery or something like that.

So this guy is outselling EVERYONE right now, but he's not a "New York Times Bestseller" like Scalzi. Of course, Limbaugh is not a member of a writer's organization who supports and protects child molesters either, so that also separates him from Scalzi.

Anonymous Jake September 19, 2014 5:47 PM  

Regardless of sales, Correia can write, and Scalzi still sucks.

Anonymous Jake September 19, 2014 6:23 PM  

By the way, there is also this:

"My publisher is really furious because The New York Times best-seller list came out yesterday, and I'm No. 2," [Dinesh D'Souza] says as he stares at his phone, in its American flag case. "My book is outselling the No. 1 book by a mile." How does that work, exactly? "They don't want me to be No. 1, I think." He puts his phone away. "I'll show you the numbers after the set."

http://www.nationaljournal.com/magazine/dinesh-d-souza-is-winning-20140912

Blogger Cee September 19, 2014 8:35 PM  

Talk of "objectivity" should not disguise the effect of library culture, which is feminine and politically correct, as is inevitable given library staff demographics.

Why I fled screaming from an MLIS in my first semester. I wanted to learn how to do book preservation, cataloging, and research. They wanted to teach me about how unfair the housing market is, ADA accessibility, and how Christofascists just WANT TO BURN ALL THE BOOKS.

Blogger Jon Bromfield September 20, 2014 6:27 PM  

For fun I checked with the Barnes and Noble, Shea Blvd., Scottsdale, AZ for LOCK IN sales.

Copies Ordered: 4
Received: Aug. 25th
Copies Sold as of Sept. 19th: 0

Bestsellers ain't what they used to be.

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