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Bestseller befuddlement: ‘The Times list is what it is’

The Dark Tower: The Gunslinger Born

The Dark Tower: The Gunslinger Born

Just in time for this week’s installment of the Graphic Books Best Seller List, Heidi MacDonald rounds up discussion of the mysterious mechanics that power The New York Times charts.

I, for better or worse, kicked off things last Friday when I was left scratching my head by the seemingly miraculous appearance, and disappearance, of Marvel’s two-year-old collection of The Dark Tower: The Gunslinger Born from the hardcover list.

Retailer Christopher Butcher quickly offered a possible answer: that The Times may be relying on orders from Diamond Comic Distributors, rather than sales to customers, for its data from direct-market stores — and that a deep discount on remaindered copies of The Gunslinger Born triggered the one-week spike.

Since Butcher’s initial response, retailer and ComicsPRO board member Brian Hibbs has joined the discussion at both Butcher and MacDonald’s blogs, revealing that “something close to a quarter of ComicsPRO’s membership has put their names in to report” sales information to The Times.

So, the newspaper is receiving sell-through data from at least some comic shops. How that’s added into The Times’ arcane bestseller formula is anybody’s guess.

And that brings us to Todd Allen, who attempts to “reverse engineer” the Graphic Books list by comparing The Times positions with Diamond ranks and estimates.

His conclusions pretty much bring us full circle, with more questions than answers about how the newspaper compiles its bestseller information.

“The Times list is what it is,” Allen writes, “and some indication of sell-through is better than none.”



I’ve been to three comic book shops in the past two weeks — two in Boston, one in Providence, RI. All three wrote down what I’d bought in a notebook (instead of having a computer-slash-cash register on hand that used the barcodes to keep track of sales). I work in a bookstore, and have trouble believing that this method of inventory maintenance can be very effective. Any thoughts?

Tracking sales on paper might not be as efficient as using a computerized system, but it’s still certainly possible for a store to use that method to adequately track its inventory and business. Before many comics stores had the means to purchase cash registers and POS systems, they had developed reasonable means of tracking business through cycle count sheets and paper notes; some may still be using similar methods.

I suppose I too would be a little surprised at any but the smallest retailer (in any kind of business) that doesn’t have a cash register or POS-system. But though I think that alternate paper-based means are surely less efficient, I wouldn’t conclude that they are automatically inaccurate or ineffective. (Heck, there were retailers successfully retailing for years, or decades, or centuries, before the advent of computerized cash registers…)

Yeah it’s ludicrous to suggest that paper = inaccurate.

I work in the data collection industry, if not the retail and book-data collection industry (!), and know that all data is inaccurate to some degree. You can only ever get a true picture from a consensus – asking ALL retailers. Which is basically impossible. So my only advice is simple advice: Forget about it. Those that need to know how well a book is selling, publishers and creators, will do from their revenue. And us? The ordinary punter? We’ll find out by whether the book is still available month after month and the sale price. A deep discount on the remainding copies of Gunslinger doesn’t sound too good does it? So, whatever boost it got from the sale, I’d say it’s pretty safe to assume that lately it’s sales have been weak. So this tells us that the Times book chart IS probably inaccurate as feck, but can any of you honestly come up with a better way of tracking sales? I mean noone has yet suggested what the Times SHOULD be doing, just slagging off their system — which is a mkystery to us all anyway.

All in all, this whole discussion seems a bit pointless to me. And, although I feel I should end this little rant soon, can I just say that I’ve heard similarly dismissive views of the Diamond data you were so keen on comparing the Times data to. I mean, for hecks sake, I hear things here in Blighty about how UK unemployment data — something as important as the livelihood of 60 million people — is unreliable and skewed to heck by issues regarding what qualifies. So, please, end this now. You’ll never get to the bottom of it..

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