Wednesday, August 08, 2007

The Missing Puzzle Piece

The July 30th issue of Publishers Weekly is the most recent printed issue that I've received. Living in the West, it normally doesn't arrive until late in the week. This particular issue had a fascinating short article which ranked the top 20 bestsellers from January to June 2007 called "It’s 'The Secret' By a Long Shot" Normally the bestseller lists and rankings are separated according to the type of product such as fiction, nonfiction, hardcover, trade paperback, or mass market (I didn't list all of the categories but gave you an idea of them). This list combines all of the various products and ranks the top 20 bestselling products from any category. The title for the article comes from the fact The Secret book and audio are both on this list of bestsellers.

One of the things to spot is something which is not there. It's true when you proofread your manuscript and it's true when you read publications -- whether articles in the newspaper or magazines or books. It's part of your challenge as a reader to pick up on what is missing as well as what is actually there. I see it as actually processing the information instead of simply absorbing everything like a sponge.

One of the elements which bothered me about this list is the lack of any Christian product. First you have to understand these numbers come from Nielsen BookScan which measures the actual sales from the general marketplace. A number of Christian authors have some substantial sales--yet not all of their sales are reported in Nielsen BookScan. Why?

I returned to an article which Mike Hyatt wrote in late December about the inaccuracy of bestseller lists. I'm encouraging you to read the entire article along with the sequel article from Mike. For the purposes of this post, I want to quote a couple of paragraphs from his excellent information for you:

"The best solution of all would be for Nielsen’s BookScan to collect data from Christian bookstores. It already collects data from 6,500 general market bookstores and other retail outlets, including Target, K-Mart, and Costco. (It apparently does not collect data from Wal-Mart or Sam’s.) It is also based on point-of-sale data, so the data is thus more reliable. It reflects what customers are actually buying. The sad fact is that Nielsen can't get Christian bookstores to participate. They don't want to share their data. They are afraid that general market booksellers and mass market outlets will use this data to gain a competitive advantage. In my humble opinion, this is nonsense."

"For starters, competitors to Christian bookstores already have access to Christian bestsellers lists. This data is published monthly by the two major trade magazines and is readily available on the Web (see previous links). In addition, all the major Christian publishers call on the general bookstores and the mass market outlets. In the ordinary course of business, they tell these accounts which of their particular books are selling best. So, these competitors have access to all the data they need. Because Christian bookstores refuse to cooperate with Nielsen they either intentionally or unintentionally reduce the visibility of Christian products on the major bestsellers lists. Because sales through Christian bookstores can't be counted, many books never hit the list that are, in fact, probably outselling those on the list! (Just to give you an example, in the last 12 months, we have had over 100 of our books at Thomas Nelson sell more than 100,000 copies. You can make it onto the list, depending on the velocity and the season, with as few as 20,000 books sold.) As a result, people who might be interested in Christian books, never get the opportunity to discover those books, because--to be blunt--Christian booksellers are "hiding their light under a bushel."

"In addition, the larger Christian publishers, in an effort to drive the bestseller lists, tend to send their authors to general market bookstores, because they know that they report to the various bestsellers lists. If Christian bookstores reported to these lists, particularly Nielsen, then it wouldn't matter to most of us if the author signs books at a Christian bookstore or a general market bookstore. Both would get reported. But Christian booksellers aren’t giving us that choice. As a result, everyone loses, especially the would-be Christian book consumer who doesn't get the opportunity to discover books that are, essentially, invisible."

OK, these three paragraphs from Mike Hyatt explain the missing puzzle piece in the bestsellers. My encouragement is to read deeply but also think deeply about the material that crosses your screen or your desk or your mailbox.

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