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The Asshattery of Statistics

Updated: Sep 17, 2022


As we exit this age of government mandated restrictions, statistically justified lockdowns, conspiracy theories, Public Health Officials' consistently erroneous modelling, expressions like, "Follow the science," The Great Resignation, Quiet Quitting, Quiet Firing - and in general, entering the new post-pandemic world - it is more important than ever that we understand the difference between statistics, facts, and data.


Statistics is the discipline that concerns itself with the collection, organization, analysis, interpretation, and presentation of data.


In short, statistics and facts are not synonymous.


Statistics are the interpretation and presentation of facts, biased by one's agenda. As such, statistics can be synonymous with half-truths - dangerous.


The Penguin Random House - Simon & Schuster Antitrust Trial dropped a bomb - a

revelation unseen, unimagined, and unheard of before.


The fact that 50% of over 58,000 titles sell less than a dozen copies. Allow me to repeat: less-than-12-copies. That's 29,000 books that never sell more than a dozen copies.


It's a shocking statement. If true, the publishing industry - or maybe more specifically, the big traditional publishers - are in a world of trouble.


But is it true? Is it a fact? Or are these the stats? An interpretation of the facts?


These publishing statistics aren't often what you believe. This "dozen-copy" belongs among the ranks of

"98% of books sell less than 5,000 copies,"

"90% sell less than 2,000,"

"most books sell less than 99 copies,"

"the average indie-author never sells more than 1,000 copies," etc.


We need to ask, what does "out-of-print," and "in-print," and "book," or "title" mean?


One novel, one book - ONE title - can exist, technically, in 4 official ISBN's: hardcover, paperback, ebook, and audiobook. Should this be counted as a single title, or four? Do these titles only sell a dozen each? Shouldn't we count this novel as selling 48?


Publishers don't count out-of-print books within these stats. But what are out-of-print books?


Traditionally books go out-of-print when people stop buying them (thus having no inventory). But today, in this modern digital age, many books exist as print-on-demand in which a physical copy doesn't exist until someone purchases it. There are no inventory for these books.


Print-on-demand books never go "out-of-print" and can technically stay "in-print" forever.


Throw into this counting chaos, ebooks and audiobooks, which some titles only exist as. Do these count? How do you count them? How do they go out-of-print? Can they?


As a small publisher, out of our current 17 titles, only 2 haven't broken the dozen copy sale (yet - but they're new). That's 12%. If we were to count ebooks and print-on-demand as separate titles (after all, they each have their own ISBN's), we can add 30 titles, bringing us up to 47 published titles. And in some cases, with different electronic distributors, even these POD titles carry different ISBN's from one another, bringing the number even higher, likely closer to 50. But to say Broken Keys Publishing & Press has 50 titles in its catalogue would be pretentious at best and dishonest at worst.


But what does all this mean?


Conservative authorities claim this severe drop in numbers is because publishing has become too "woke." Self-publishing pundits proselytize the downfall of the big traditional publishers. Or are the big traditional publishers using an outdated system, broken and archaic?

Are these 'facts' being interpreted to present a particular agenda? Manipulated to a certain constructed conclusion? And if so, to what end?


The real question should be, why are they fabricating this number? What is it that we are to believe when 50% of 58,000 titles sell less than a dozen copies? Are we supposed to presume these stats represent the entire publishing industry and lose hope? Give up? Quench the rise of the indie-author? (Maybe). But - as a small publisher, the evidence doesn't match up.


Or are we supposed to believe the big traditional publishers are in serious trouble, feel pity and allow them to...who knows what. Or are we to giggle with glee, hoping the day of the big traditional publisher is over?


Ultimately, I don't believe these statistics mean very much at all. The only real piece of information we can extrapolate from this is that the big traditional publishers are more than willing to manipulate, twist the facts, and lie. To what end?

Don't know. Don't care.


But one thing is clear. They are threatened by something. The publishing landscape is changing and has been for years, alongside printing technology. Could this be a prime example of, if you're not riding the wave of change you're under it?


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