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Bookscan – Week Ending 8/14/05

I thought I’d take a different approach to the Bookscan summary this week. Rather than just looking at the Top 25, I decided to expand it to the Top 50. The topic and publisher shares change a bit when you go further down the list, but as I mentioned last week, these numbers can often shift because of store promotions, new releases, etc.

When you look at the Top 50 for the week ending 8/14, the top 5 topics are (by units sold):

  1. Microsoft Office (27%)
  2. Programming/Web Development (18%)
  3. Windows XP (14%)
  4. Photoshop/Photography (9%)
  5. Mac (9%)

As you can see, the programming/web development area grows in importance when you look deeper into the list. This category also includes a lot of subtopics (e.g., Java, HTML, PHP, etc.), so it’s fairly splintered. Although Windows, Photoshop/Photography and Mac all become a bit smaller this week when you look deeper into the list, Office remains strong. In fact, it’s 2 points higher than it was last week through the Top 25. Also of note: When you look at the Office books in the Top 50 this week, it’s a Wiley and Microsoft Press world – no other publishers had an Office book in the Top 50. This helps support Juliana Aldous Atkinson’s point from my previous post, specifically that Microsoft Press is one of the key players in what is arguably one of the most important topic areas.

Speaking of publishers, here’s how the Top 50 breaks down by publisher for this past week (by units sold):

  1. Wiley (34%)
  2. Pearson/Penguin (25%)
  3. Microsoft Press (17%)
  4. O’Reilly (16%)
  5. Henry Holt (2%)

This is the same order as last week, which is pretty typical. As you can see, once you get past the top 4 publishers the numbers really drop off.


Michael Miller

Joe, the Bookscan top whatever data is really only relevant if you know what percent of total sales that top 25/50/whatever represents, and if that top 25/50/whatever breakout (by publisher, topic, whatever) correlates to a similar breakout over total book sales. In other words, just because Office is the dominant category in the top 25/50 doesn't necessarily mean that it's important at all to total book sales. There might only be 10 Office books total on the market, all of them in the top 25/50, and thus the performance at the top skews the perception of the total. Bottom line, how important to (and representative of) overall book sales is the top of the list?

Joe Wikert

Hi Mike. I'll try to keep your points in mind on future Bookscan posts. However, other than the "long tail" effect, not many trends have changed since you were on this side of the business. I'm going out on a limb to say that probably you weren't surprised at the top 5 categories I listed in the post, right? I don't have the data in front of me, but I'll bet those topics remain at or near the top of the list no matter how deeply you drill into the entire category. They look pretty similar to the types of books you generally see in the Amazon Top 25, 50 or even 100.

Here's another reason the numbers don't change that dramatically when you take more titles into consideration: Although these 50 titles represent 6-7% of the title list for the top 750 that week (50/750), they represent about 22% of the unit sales. Yes, that leaves 78% for other possibilities, but slots #51 through #750 also include a lot more books on Office, Windows, etc. IOW, I don't think you're likely to see a topic like Quicken or Linux sneak into the top 5 areas, no matter how many titles you include. The long tail certainly impacts things, but only to a point -- books that are at the other end of the scale, selling 5 or less copies/week aren't really moving the needle, even when you add a bunch of them together.

Also keep in mind that some of the buckets I've listed in the top 5 are fairly broad (e.g., Office and programming/web dev). It's often difficult to find topics/titles that *don't* fit into these 5 areas.

Michael Miller

Joe: Just want to make sure that you're keeping up the intellectual rigor. (Especially after reading Freakonomics...) The only surprise to me was the importance of Office (which I presume includes all the Office apps --- Word, Excel, et al). I've had multiple editors tell me that Office is a dead topic, yet it ranks high on the sell-through list. Is it primarily from one big book, or is it truly a thriving category and my editors are lying to me?

Joe Wikert

Oh, so you're not a fan of the Freakononics, eh? What do/did you object to?

Office, dead? I don't think so, but I certainly don't want to call your editors liars. Maybe what they're saying is that it's a tough market because of all the entrenched competitors, which is true. But then again, that's true with most of these topics...

Michael Miller

Nope, I liked Freakonomics a lot. Of course, the author(s) also know how to spin statistics; I had some questions about some of their conclusions here and there. But basically they promote good solid thinking, which we can never get enough of.

Joe Wikert

I totally agree with you on how they skewed the numbers/results to support their interpretation. Very interesting read, though.

Juliana Aldous Atkinson

About the comments on Office, I agree with you completely. I've noticed a big drop-off between the big series bestsellers and the next tier. Also some series seem to have run their natural life course. Certain Apps--like Excel and Access appear very healthy. We've had good success with combining apps with soft skills. Those titles won't make the bulk units to show up on the bestseller list, but have a longer life-cycle and do quite well.

And I really wish I could figure out a way to publish an Ebay book!

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