Saturday, February 18, 2006


Fun With Statistics

Lots of coverage today in Britain over the Waterstone's saga and the departure of literary kingmaker Scott Pack. For those of you who haven't been following this mercantile soap opera, an article aptly titled The Aim Is Volume Sales in the Times of London gives a quick overview of the history of British bookselling, including this lament:

WATERSTONE’S WAS ONCE the favourite bookseller of the literati.... You would certainly expect the shops to display large piles of widely reviewed works of fiction. But no longer. One of the most acclaimed titles of the year has been Helen Simpson’s collection of stories, Constitutional. The initial order for all Waterstone’s branches was 225 copies — just over one for each branch. By comparison, Hatchards, the Waterstone’s-owned shop in Piccadilly, has 300 copies of Joanna Trollope’s Second Honeymoon. Scott Pack, Waterstone’s books buyer, has said that he finds the literary pages of newspapers irrelevant.
Meanwhile, Nigel Reynolds reports in today's Telegraph:
His head office decisions on which books should be placed in Waterstone's windows, promoted heavily or sold cheaply in "three-for-two" offers, are blamed by many authors for creating the cult of the often low-brow bestseller - celebrity biographies, "chick lit" and thrillers - at the expense of better quality literature....

Mr Pack has announced that he is leaving for "personal reasons" but will remain with the company for six months while he looks for another job. A Waterstone's spokesman said yesterday that neither Mr Pack nor the company would comment further. Insiders say, however, that Gerry Johnson, who arrived as Waterstone's new managing director four months ago, regards the attention paid to Mr Pack's influence as highly embarrassing and has pledged to give power back to local managers.
Reynolds goes own to note the company's duly registered denial of this explanation and of criticism of Pack: "It claims that of 67,500 titles stocked last year, only 5,610 were selected by Mr Pack's buying team."

Ahh -- very nicely played.

But enough witty statistical banter about the number of titles: what's the breakdown for the total number of copies ordered? If 50,000 copies of one title get ordered and placed in window and front table displays, and a staffer in Thetford orders 1 copy of another title that gets stuffed into their store's back shelf... that's not exactly equivalent, is it?

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