Monday, February 05, 2007

When it comes to book sales, he said she said

Patty here…

Back on December 11, I posted about a brouhaha that was developing over the movie “Sahara,” based on one of Clive Cussler’s Dirk Pitt novels. The whole episode started when Cussler sued Philip Anschutz, the multi-billionaire producer of the film. The movie lost $105 million, which is partly why everybody is so hacked off. Cussler claimed Anschutz reneged on promises made in the contract. Anschutz retaliated by countersuing, claiming that Cussler “perpetrated a massive fraud” to secure an “unprecedented” contract agreement to sell the rights to his book to Anschutz for $10 million. And how did Cussler do that, you ask? By—gasp—inflating the number of books he’s sold.

The civil case has just begun, but according to Los Angeles Times reporters Glenn F. Bunting and Joan Getlin, the publishing industry may soon be on trial as well.

“Although they declined to comment on the specifics of the Cussler case, New York publishing experts said Thursday that the industry had a long history of inflating book sales and hyping an author’s success. But these practices have declined, they added, with the emergence of Nielsen BookScan in 2001.”

“Even with the Nielsen data, there are disparities between what the company reports and what publishers say they have sold. An article in the current Publisher’s Weekly, for example, noted that though HarperCollins said it had sold 20,000 copies of Vikram Seth’s latest novel, “Two Lives,” Nielsen BookScan reported 6,000 copies sold.”

In preparation for the trial, Anschutz’s forensic accountants have been pouring over Cussler’s royalty statements to find out whether he has sold 125 million copies of his books as his publishers claim or 35 million copies as claimed by Anschutz’s accountants.

I vaguely remembered hearing the name BookScan, but I wasn’t sure who they were, so I went to their Web site. Here’s what it said:

“Nielsen BookScan is designed to provide weekly point-of-sale data with the highest possible degree of accuracy and integrity. Functioning as a central clearinghouse for book industry data, Nielsen BookScan enables its subscribers to access comprehensive reports from a wide variety of perspectives.

“Most of the nation's major retailers for books are included in our panel of reporting book outlets: Borders and Walden, Barnes & Noble Inc., Barnes &, Deseret Book Company, Hastings, Books-A-Million, Tower Music and Books, Follett College stores, and Weekly sales information is also tracked from Mass merchandisers like Target, Kmart and Costco, along with smaller retail chains and hundreds of general independent bookstores.”

However, "most" isn’t all. Apparently BookScan doesn’t include sales from Wal-Mart. And that word "nation" in BookScan’s claim? I take that to mean they don't count foreign sales. If asked to testify in the Anschulz vs. Cussler trial, how could BookScan accurately verify the number of books Mr. Cussler has sold, even since 2001, without all of that data?

Apparently, lots of people, including authors, want access to these sales numbers and will pay a high price to get them. It’s called BookScanning and there are rules. Check out Book Clubbed: Why writers never reveal how many books their buddies have sold:

“There's an etiquette to BookScanning. You BookScan your enemies to take joy in their failure or to aggravate the agony you feel at their success. You don't BookScan your buddies, your colleagues, or your editors. That's partly to protect the BookScanned from the embarrassment of having others know that the project on which they labored for five years racked up sales in the middle three digits. And partly to protect the BookScanner from the embarrassment of knowing just how successful the guy who sits in the next cubicle has been. After all, the only thing worse than seeing friends fail in the literary marketplace is seeing them succeed in the literary marketplace.”

Ouch! If you haven't had enough, here's More big-advance bad-sales details

I can pretty much figure out how many books I’ve sold by reading my royalty statements, even without the aid of a forensic accountant. I’ve never shared those numbers with anyone, not even with my closest friends, although none of them have ever asked. But I’m going to tell you all now. My books have sold 15 million copies.

Okay, I'm just joking. But seriously, with all the incomplete and contradictory he-said, she-said data floating around in the publishing world, it might be tricky to prove me wrong.



  1. Great topic Patty, nice to see I'm not the only on with that "don't ask, don't tell" ethical quandry.

    And yay! for the Colts. Dungy is an awesome coach who's finally gotten the credit he deserves.

    I mostly rooted for them because Adam Vinatieri is a Rapid City boy done good, who hasn't forgotten his roots.

  2. Hey, Lori, thanks for stopping by. The game was amazing. I was surprised that anybody could hold on to the ball with all that rain.

    It would be wonderful if writers didn't have to be so paranoid about book sales, but—alas—it's the nature of the business, any business.

  3. Curiouser and curiouser. Great info for us outsiders, Patty. Thank you.

    Anxiously awaiting more.


  4. Hmmm, this is interesting. I know all about Bookscan, but frankly, I am not interested in finding out about my book sales - like you, Patty, I can tell a lot from my statements. I prefer those unexpected and surprising snippets - like finding out that my first book was a bestseller in Taiwan (I know, I just wonder what the title was), or that the series is going great in Sweden. At the end of the day, I'm a storyteller, and I just like to write my books, and if enough people buy them so that I can go on writing, then that's good enough for me. I had too many years working in the corporate world, having to worry about sales figures until I wanted to tear my hair out, to repeat the process now I'm doing something I really love. I'll let the people in the publishing world who are paid to get upset or elated about these numbers continue doing their thing, and I'll do mine. MInd you, I wouldn't say no if a kazillionaire offered me a few million for the film rights to my books - now, about the 20 million I've sold .... just kidding!

  5. Thought you'd be interested, G, since you're a big fan of Clive's.

    Our J, how fun to know the Swedes and the Taiwanese are enjoying Maisie's escapades...and people in many other countries, as well. I have an interest in sales numbers, but I don't get emotional about them.

  6. Now I look brilliant for purposely keeping the sales of my books low. I've set a standard that I can exceed and would sell any of my books to the movies for less than $10,000,000 and still be pretty happy.


    Jim Born

  7. Fascinating stuff. It'll be interesting to see how the Cussler vs. Anschutz fandango plays out.

    And I was rooting for da Bears, mostly because Peyton Manning's antics behind the line of scrimmage annoy the bejabbers out of me, and because I still haven't forgiven the Irsays for sneaking out of Baltimore. That said, though, I liked both teams and thought the Super Bowl was mildly entertaining for once ;-)

  8. Jim, I've always said you were a brilliant strategic thinker. Why else would you have joined Team Naked?

    And Rae...what Peyton behavior are you talking about? Dish, girl.

  9. So, this is what bugs me:

    The play is called in the huddle. The players line up. Then, instead of simply taking the snap, Manning will start pointing and gesturing and changing the play - he looks like he's trying to conduct an orchestra out there. It seems as if he does his little dance on every dratted play, and it just annoys me to death. Take me with a giant grain of salt though...I develop strong antipathies toward sports figures, and no amount of logic or reality will change my mind. I still refer to Steve Young as That Poseur, and don't get me started on Dan Marino. Or Bill Parcells.


  10. Okay, Rae, I noticed that, too. I thought it was unusual but didn't know exactly what to make of it. Has he always done this?

  11. Yeah, it's sort of his trademark. Those who like him think he's being a 'field general' and moving things around as he reads what the defense is doing. Those of us who are a bit less enamored of him think he's being a big fat egotist who thinks he knows better than his offensive coordinator. Guess which camp I'm in?


  12. That's one of your most stellar traits, Rae. You tell it like it is. :o) Till next season...

  13. Okay, I read Clive Cussler extensively over the years. Reread them too, 'cause they were good, tales. However, when Cussler introduced Pitt's twin adult children (spawned from the supposedly dead love of his life0, and he embraced them and gushed over them, I nearly threw up. Blech! Talk about midlife crisis. I haven't read any since then.

    The Sahara movie was well-put together popcorn fluff, but only carried the ghosts of the main characters. Not to mention the plot was only a shadow of its former book self. I kind of liked it anyway. :-D Much better than the Raise the Titanic fiasco they made years ago.

    Sorry, missed the Superbowl: I was painting. But we caught up with some of the commercials online.


  14. Regarding "the field general:" He's not doing anything that any decent quarterback does periodically throughout any game: audibles at the line. The reason it seems more accentuated is that he's in the shotgun and then has to walk up to the line and bark and point, etc, then he's back in the gun again.....further, I think with Indy's offense, a majority of plays and blocking schemes are determined at the line instead of in the huddle; so he's not really audibilizing in the classic sense.
    HURRAH for Indy a "stupor bowl" worthy of Keystone Kops award, the Colts won, despite several turnovers (there were 8 turnovers in the game!!).

  15. Good points all, Anon.

    Re turnovers: I know, I know, but don't they get dispensation for the rain?

  16. Shoulodn't some of these people quibbled over sales numberws BEFORE they signed a contract? Or...does that just make sense?

  17. Good point, Jeff. And YAY, you're back.