16 November 2004

Live by the Bestseller…

It appears that Barnes & Noble's ability to predict which works will actually be bestsellers is less accurate than it might wish. According to a press release summarized in the NYT, B&N's earnings were down 25% for the third quarter compared to last year, "dragged down by weak sales of books in its bestsellers category and missing Wall Street expectations." Interestingly, both same-store sales and total sales were up from last year; it appears, then, that the margin is where things suffered.

Or is it? Question: What bestselling children's series had an entry that was new during the third quarter of 2003, but did not have a corresponding entry during the third quarter of 2004? This is not just that single book driving sales, either; books of this nature—that is, fiction—tend to drive a great deal of coordinate sales, particularly starting about three weeks after initial release. For whatever reason, nonfiction bestsellers have a less-predictable pattern of getting their purchasers back into bookstores to buy more after they've finished the bestseller; and it's not just "series sales," either, as the first Harry Potter book had a substantial follow-on before the second book was released.

Perhaps what this really points out is that quality, high-end work that is also successful in the marketplace lifts more boats than does shoddy work that is nonetheless successful in the marketplace; but that's for another time.