Book sales 2006: Goodwin revisited

A reader of Kevin Levin's blog, Russell Bonds, has weighed in to say my Ingram-formula-derived 14,000 sales figure for Goodwin's Team of Rivals is impossible and I see a lot of merit in this view. Have a look.

Let me highlight some of RB's points with comments.

Quote: The book was the #1 New York Times bestseller and was on the hardcover nonfiction bestseller list for 19+ weeks (and then spent another 15 weeks on the paperback bestseller list - see NYT Jan. 28).

Comment: The reader must keep in mind what this list is and how it is compiled. It is not a record of sales volume nationally, it is a record of the rate of retail sales in a select number of venues over the period of a week. The number of stores used to be tiny and publishers used to game the system by buying their own books from the polled stores. Currently, the survey is much broader and it would therefore be impossible to sustain many weeks on the list with a total of 14,000 sales. I find this information interesting.

Quote: Publishers Weekly puts sales at 620,000 copies for 2005 alone!!

Comment: These numbers were supplied to PW by the publisher - but it seems unlikely that S&S would inflate sales by large magnitudes.

Quote: Even now, the book is still the #1 Civil War title on Amazon.

Comment: Again, this one is another rate of sales metric and an odd one at that: "the ranking does not depend upon the actual number of books sold, but rather, on a comparison against the sales figures of the other [top] 9,999 books within that same hour." It involves computer modeling based on extrapolation, as well. Nevertheless, I would be very surprised if a title could sustain high ranking here over a long period with a sales cap of 14.000.

Quote: The problem is with this revered but baseless "Ingram x 6" formula, which does not take into account the fact that Amazon, B&N, and Barnes & Noble all stock certain titles--especially large titles like Team of Rivals--direct from the publisher or from other wholesalers and don't go through Ingram at all--not to mention library and book club sales (which for Team of Rivals must have been huge).

Comment: This is the trend that will render the Ingram formula worthless eventually, if it is not worthless now.

I ask my readers to take these sales estimates with a grain of salt - and will make the cautionary stronger in the future. The correction is appreciated. I should have done more research.

A closing note: the author's sales success is never absolute based on total copies sold but relative based on copies sold versus publisher's expense. Strong initial sales have misled many a publisher into ordering too large of a second printing too soon, into holding too much stock thereafer, and thereby generating (paradoxically) ill will toward the author. In sum, an author can sell a million copies and still be considered a commercial failure. Meanwhile, let us toast Goodwin's sales success.