Understanding Dimitri’s Civil War Sales Reports: Help!

I finally got around to reading Dimitri’s recent post on 2006 Civil War sales; unfortunately, I have to say that I don’t understand a word of it.  Most of the links are of absolutely useless to understanding specific claims.  I failed miserably in trying to navigate the Ingram site which is where Dimitri seems to have found the relevant slaes figures  What exactly does it mean to say that “the sales debut of ‘new thinking’ titles is soft”?  What books fall into this category?  Do they straddle popular as opposed to academic publishing houses?  According to Dimitri, “New Lincoln books were a washout,” including D. K. Goodwin’s book Team of Rivals which sold “especially poorly.”  I am willing to admit to not understanding the publishing world, but if I remember correctly this book was on the NYT’s bestseller list for weeks.  Is that fact not based somehow on sales?  We also learn that the “springtime” of Grant books has passed and that it will be a long time before we see another study from a major publishing house.  I am sure Dimitri was pleased to learn that McPherson’s Battle Cry “continues steady state with altogether insignificant sales variation year on year.”  He goes on to speculate that sales of the book can be explained in large part by their use in college courses.  William C. Davis and Gary Gallagher should be happy to learn that their recent releases are “suffering normal sales decay rates on modest debuts across a wide number of titles.”  Savas Beatie, on the other hand, is doing just fine.

My biggest problem is that Dimitri’s “observations” seem to be based on some fact of the matter as to what counts as normal or positive sales figures.  Perhaps there is some kind of standard, but none is provided in this post.  Exactly what are these conclusions regarding specific titles and authors being compared with?  How exactly are sales measured and how does this translate into an analysis of “success”?I don’t know how to even begin to make sense of any of this.

Finally, isn’t it interesting that Dimitri’s “observations” fall into line with his sometimes irrational disdain for the authors mentioned.  Coincidence?

One thought on “Understanding Dimitri’s Civil War Sales Reports: Help!

  1. Russell Bonds

    Kevin:

    I don’t see how sales of Team of Rivals could be characterized as “poor” by any standard. The book was the #1 New York Times bestseller and was on the hardcover nonfiction bestseller list for 19+ weeks (and then spent another 15 weeks on the paperback bestseller list – see NYT Jan. 28). Team of Rivals had a first print run of 400,000 (!); and it went to a second printing in hardcover. Publishers Weekly puts sales at 620,000 copies for 2005 alone (!!) (see link here: http://www.publishersweekly.com/article/CA6318930.html?display=archive ) There is NO WAY that Team of Rivals sold only 14,000 copies in 2005 and made #1 on the NYT list. Getting on the list at all ain’t easy; hitting #1 and staying on the list for weeks–especially with a 900-page Civil War book–is a real accomplishment.

    The problem is with this revered but baseless “Ingram x 6″ formula, which does not take into account the fact that Amazon, B&N, and Barnes & Noble all stock certain titles–especially large titles like Team of Rivals–direct from the publisher or from other wholesalers and don’t go through Ingram at all–not to mention library and book club sales (which for Team of Rivals must have been huge). Even now, the book is still the #1 Civil War title on Amazon.

    Don’t you worry about Professor Goodwin; she’s doing just fine.

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