Bookstore Sales Drop

Publishers Weekly reports that US bookstore sales dropped 4.3% in April. This is the third consecutive month in which sales have plummeted. Is this the result of a faltering economy? Or is Amazon’s rising slumping stock connected to this?

Meanwhile, this guy tries to uncrack Amazon sales ranking and concludes that they probably don’t mean a thing.

© 2006, Edward Champion. All rights reserved.

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4 Comments

  1. Wow, rising stock?: http://finance.yahoo.com/q/bc?s=AMZN&t=1y
    Learn how to read a graph.

    As for the linked article:
    “…the ranking does not depend upon the actual number of books sold, but rather, on a comparison against the sales figures of the other 9,999 books within that same hour.”

    Erm, yes–it’s a *rank*, which means it only makes sense in context to other items in the list.

    “In fact, the predictive nature of the Amazon ranking system is what makes it possible for a newly-released book to outrank an older established title, even though the actual sales figures for the latter far exceed the former.”

    Also, it ranks orders (incl. pre-orders) not sales or shipments. And he’s already explained the hourly calculation for high-rank items, so “actual sales figures” in the sense of total sales (sic, since it’s orders not sales that are calculated) over the history of the item’s existence are irrelevant.

    “a book’s ranking can leap from 900,000 to 200,000 in the span of 24 hours or less. Does this mean the book has sold 700,000 copies in 24 hours? Absolutely not!”

    Wow, thanks for clearing that up. It’s like seeing the sun for the first time.

  2. …I think the quality of books being published is also likely responsible; too much same-old same-old writing on the shelves. You buy and read one, you’ve automatically bought and read a bunch of others because they all seem to be written on the same template–in my opinion at least. And both the economy and online sales can be responsible, plus the quality of books. Plus the recent “scandals” about dishonest memoirs and plagiarism–maybe some consumers are finally becoming angry with the publishing industry and using the power of their wallets. Or maybe I’m just wishful thinking.

  3. Oh–I should point out that when I said “books being published” and “the publishing industry,” I primarily meant large publishers/houses. Smaller presses often publish different books, but as far as I’ve personally seen, most bookstores, big and small, carry mostly large/larger press books, especially on their more prominent racks and in the fronts of their stores.

    I’ve complained about this to an “independent” bookstore before. You’d think supposed “independent” bookstores would carry more books from independent presses. Where are those bookstores though? I hear other people talk about “good independent bookstores,” but I don’t see them, at least not where I live.

    So because the stock size of bricks-and-mortar stores is more limited by their physicality and the specific personalities and tastes of their stock buyers, and they (in my opinion) mostly stock and push the same-old same-old books by the same-old same-old publishers, their sales are more likely to suffer if consumers are tired of the same-old same-old and are being offered mostly the same-old same-old. But online stores generally seem to list/”carry” a wider variety of books, like many books from smaller presses, self-published books, out-of-print books, etc. Online buyers have more direct access to many other-than-the-same-old-same-old books. I’d expect that online stores with more progressive stocks wouldn’t suffer as much sales-wise in leaner economic times–at least proportionately. But I’m not sure about this. I just think that’s probably the case.

    W.r.t. Amazon’s stock worth–how does that specifically translate into sales volume or vice versa? Like if online sellers are suffering right now, just like bricks-and-mortar bookstores, I’m curious about the extent of the suffering, like compared to each other. If online stores don’t suffer as much as B&M sellers, that would probably support what I’ve discussed above. But if online sellers suffer more, that would probably not support my comments. (And both sellers could also be suffering by the exact same amount.) For example, like if total online sales for most online bookstores have plummeted only 3% vs. that B&M 4.3% for the same time period, or have plummeted 6% vs. that 4.3%. Any numbers available on this stuff?

  4. Fran,

    I disagree with your comment. Smaller publishers are no more likely to publish different types of books than bigger publishers. Certainly HarperCollins, Random House publish a wider title selection than Soft Skull, Ten Speed Press, or Seven Stories.

    Big publishing companies aren’t perfect, but I don’t think it’s constructive to be negative here. Plus, I don’t think it makes sense. We’re all competing in a limited marketplace. Book publishing, like independent trade accounts, is getting hit very hard. Even university bookstores are going down. Borders letting 90 people go isn’t a cause for celebration. It’s a very scary sign. If an organzied sales force and buying tem like Borders or even Codys is getting hit, the small stores are certainly scared.

    You mention how supposedly independent bookstores don’t carry enough independent presses. What is your definition of an independent bookstores? Not part of a larger corporation? Not a chain? Would you consider Chapter 11 an independent bookstore? Frankly I’m not sure. It sounds harsh and I’m sure people will jump on me, but indepedent publishing houses do not consistently release bestsellers. You’ll probably gag at the comparison – but bookstores are basically retail stores akin to supermarkets. They sell a product with a very limited amount of space. Bigger houses bring strong marketing & publicity for their key titles. Obviously this really helps sell books. Should bookstores not prominently display Bukowski (HarperCollins) or Neil Sheehan (Random House).

    I’m just very frustrated wtih people pissing on the business behind books. I love books, but we need to figure out how to me make the business strong. Strong enough to grow and prosper. You’ll can rip on Bzz Marketing, or various ad campaigns, but this is how books get into people’s hands and how publishing houses make money.

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