Monday, November 12, 2007

Chart Breaker

Brian Wood, the author of DMZ and Local, isn't angry about sales numbers, after all. Good for him. It doesn't stop him from making incorrect claims about them, however. Let's do another fact check.

At his weblog, Wood responds to John Mayo, who writes a monthly sales column for Comic Book Resources. Wood states:

And just to further beat you all with the point we've been making all this time, that these sales charts are fiction - they would tell you that this book has sold, to date, significantly less than half of the actual amount.

To support his point, Wood cites a royalty statement for one of his books, noting the discrepancies between it and the estimates derived from the Diamond charts.

There are a couple of problems with that line of thought. First up, Mayo doesn't claim that the numbers he uses refer to total sales. On the contrary: His columns come with all the appropriate disclaimers and qualifiers. So if anyone reads them and comes away with the assumption that he's talking about total sales, it's certainly not his fault.

Of course, Wood is actually on the record saying that he doesn't trust people to be able to read and understand the existing sales reports properly and make their own judgments about them. So his complaint doesn't come as a great surprise at this stage. Still, I think it's worthwhile to set the record straight on this stuff. (For anyone who's interested, I addressed the question what information Diamond Comic Distributors' charts represent, how they do it and which sales are on the charts in detail here, so I won't go into that again.)

Second, on a related note, I'm not sure why anyone, including Wood, would expect the Diamond numbers to match the numbers from Wood's royalty statements. As we've just established - and Wood agrees on that, evidently -, the Diamond charts do not reflect total sales, whereas Wood's royalty statements presumably do. As such, it's eminently pointless to compare the two. We know that the North American direct market isn't the only distribution channel, so it's no great surprise that the total number of books sold is larger than the number of books sold through Diamond only. If Wood's comparison says anything relevant to the topic he's discussing, I'm missing it.

Another one of Wood's comments seems to be more aimed at the column I write for The Beat, although he doesn't come out and say so.

I never see how one-liners like "wow, this is on it's last legs" or "another failed launch" or "predictably mediocre" or "the losing streak continues" or the classic one-word: "declining" or "solid" actually contribute anything meaningful to the situation. Do you?

Well, I do, obviously. I think these recurring phrases are useful in describing and identifying certain recurring sales patterns. And I think that's meaningful, in a purely functional sense. Of course, whether or not the discussion on direct market sales, comics sales or comics in general is meaningful in a broader sense is open to debate. (And, for the record, I don't recall writing something as gleeful as "wow, this is on its last legs." I frequently use the other comments Wood is citing, though.)

In the discussion thread of his blog post, Wood adds:

Thankfully, we don't see blog posts about [the New York Times bestsellers list], saying, wow, Book X is slipping in the charts!  Harper Collins is totally fucked! :)

Well, that's probably because Book X generally isn't a series and the New York Times bestsellers list doesn't suggest actual sales numbers. Otherwise, I'm sure we'd see quite a few blog posts about that.

Later on, in a Blog@Newsarama post, Wood summarizes his misgivings again.

[T]hese top 100 and top 300 sales charts are just full of incomplete data that gets misrepresented, intentionally and unintentionally, as gospel in the subsequent analysis. [...] If we’re going to have analysis, even snarky analysis, it might as well be based on fact, not fiction.

So far, I've always assumed that Wood, as a seasoned creator and someone with quite a bit of experience in the industry, may be privy to information I don't have, so I've been more than willing to grant him the benefit of the doubt on many of the vague blanket statements he's been making. Unfortunately, I can't help but observe that he's yet to identify a single concrete case of those numbers or their subsequent interpretation and analysis being wrong. Instead, he keeps bringing up limitations of the available data that are already well-known to anyone dealing with it, and he keeps criticizing the data for not saying what he wants it to say. While that's fair enough in principle, it doesn't support his larger point of the data and subsequent analysis being wrong.

If Wood really thinks that the available sales data is "fiction," and that it's being "misrepresented," or "intentionally" misrepresented even, as he says in the passages quoted above, he's failed to back these claims up with anything approaching fact or even the hint of an explanation so far. To be honest, looking at comparisons like the one with the royalty statement, which are deeply flawed at best, I'm beginning to wonder whether he even knows what he's talking about.

No comments: