number crunch

The Long Tail made it into Harper’s Index (apparently the June issue – I saw it here):

  • “Minimum number of different books sold in the U.S. last year, as tracked by Nielsen BookScan: 1,446,000.
  • “Number of these that sold fewer than 99 copies: 1,123,000.
  • “Number that sold more than 100,000: 48

Yes, those are startling enough to make the list, but not really surprising. The trick for most writers is to be somewhere on the curve where there’s still a bit of tilt, among the roughly 323,000 books that are in between big seller and my relatives bought it.

I wonder how many of those “fewer than 99 copies” are backlist titles that were in another part of the list last year or the year before? I’m guessing it’s backlist sales that are most affected by the ready availability of used books online. These days, you can buy used copies the day a book officially goes on sale. I’m presuming – though it’s not totally clear from Nielsen’s Web site – that only new books are being counted, since publishers are the primary market for the data.

Imagine what the numbers would be if they included library check-outs, bookswaps, used sales, and other forms of pass alongs.


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