A Book Launch in the Time of COVID-19 and Cyberwar
The launch for Weird World War III was no exception to that rule.
Below are the BookScan US trade paperback sales as reported by Amazon for the period of October 1st through October 11th by geography. BookScan compiles point-of-sales data from ~10,000 retailers throughout the US, including Barnes & Noble, Amazon.com, Target, and Buy.Com. Retailers such as Wal-Mart and Sam’s Club do not participate. As such, BookScan estimates that this point-of-sales data represent about 75% of all brick-and-mortar and online retail print book sales in the US. It does not include ebook sales, sales outside the US, sales to libraries, or used book sales.
How did Weird World War III do in the first week? Well, based on a cursory scan of this data, underwhelming. According to BookScan, Weird World War III had 110 retail print sales in the first week. That said, this data doesn’t tell the entire story. There are some mitigating factors at play, because based on Amazon rankings and my own anecdotal data, the book is doing a lot better than this, and it will likely become apparent in the data in the next week or so.
The following mitigating factors go a long way in contextualizing Weird World War III‘s US retail print unit sales figures in the first week:
- Partial Period: Weird World War III didn’t go on sale until October 6th, so the first week’s data does not reflect a full sales cycle
- Shipping Delays: Several factors led to a printing shortage, which resulted in shipping delays for Weird World War III:
- Demand Surging for Print Books: The demand for print books during the global pandemic is surging with unit sales up 5% year-over-year, and sales accelerating 12% in the 10-week period from June to mid-August. In most times, this would be wonderful news for publishers. But in the time of COVID-19, it has conspired with other factors to result in a massive printing backlog.
- Publishers Delayed Spring and Summer Launches: At the same time, many publishers gambled by delaying their spring and summer releases, wagering that the pandemic would wane in the fall. According to the New York Times, “[b]ooks that were bumped from spring and early summer are landing all at once, colliding with long-planned fall releases and making this one of the most crowded fall publishing seasons ever.”
- Accelerating Demand Stalled against Diminished Printing Capacity: While US print book demand is surging and publishers pushed publication dates into the fall, the COVID-19 demand shock in the spring put the two largest US printing copies under severe financial distress, with one having declared bankruptcy in April and the other preparing itself for sale.
- Impact on Weird World War III: It’s against this backdrop of surging demand and limited printing capacity that Weird World War III launched. Most copies of Weird World War III didn’t make it into stores until late in the first week. Some copies have still not arrived at some retailers. If you have nothing to sell in stores, you won’t sell anything in stores.
- Data Lags: In the first week, Weird World War III sold 41 copies at Between Books, an independent book store in Delaware. This data was not uploaded into the BookScan system early enough to make this week’s BookScan report, but the store’s proprietor, Greg Schauer, uploaded the data for the next period. In other words, Greg’s sales alone are equivalent to 37% of BookScan’s estimated US sales in the first week.
- Limited Sales Inventory: During the first week of launch, I did some channel checks, visiting two Barnes & Noble stores on the East Coast in Delaware and two Barnes & Noble stores on the West Coast in Northern California. In all four cases, Barnes & Noble had only ordered one copy of my book. In half of the cases, the book wasn’t in stock because someone had already purchased it. In the other two cases, I signed the stores’ only copies. Now it makes sense for Barnes & Noble to have ordered a limited number of in-store copies. The pandemic has dramatically reduced foot traffic in book stores, so most booksellers have an incentive to only purchase a large number of copies on sure bets and limit the number of copies on speculative bets on a new and unknown editor like me. The problem is, however, that sales in these stores was artificially ceilinged in the first week at one copy per store. So even if in-store copies at Barnes & Noble sold like wildfire, you’d only sell just over 600 books. Additionally, once you sell that one book per store, you lose the spontaneity of book discovery–a customer who had no idea your book existed, but discovers it on a shelf and buys it.
- Cyberattack: As I noted earlier, I visited two Barnes & Noble stores in Delaware. What I didn’t say is that I visited them on on Sunday, October 10th. In both stores, the staff could tell me how many copies of my book Barnes & Noble had ordered, but not how many were currently in inventory. According to these booksellers, their systems were acting up. I thought it odd, but shrugged it off. Then on October 14th, I got an email from Barnes & Noble indicating the company had been a victim of a cyberattack…on October 10th. As Dana Carvey’s Saturday Night Live character, the Church Lady, would say, “Well, isn’t that special.” Suffice it to say, there’s a high probability that Barnes & Noble’s reported BookScan data this past week might not have been of the highest quality. In fact, I believe the vast majority of my BookScan numbers were attributable to Amazon online sales. I expect these sales to diversify in the next BookScan report as more physical copies of Weird World War III make their way into bookstores and, ultimately, into customer’s hands.
Regardless of all these hurdles, I still think Weird World War III is doing exceptionally well given its Amazon paperback and ebook rankings. After all, Weird World War III is not the only book impacted by a cyberattack on the largest US book retailer, a surging demand for print books, a spike in new book launches in the fall, and a printing shortage.
I expect more robust numbers next week. Or so all the leading indicators tell me so. More books arrived in stores, 41 unit sales are already accounted for, and the biggest spike in Weird World War III‘s Amazon ranking happened on October 13th when it was featured on Instapundit–well after October 11th, the last day of this BookScan reporting period. I also will have done several more podcasts and radio shows, and expect a few more venues to do reviews of the anthology by the time BookScan’s update next week.
And if you are reading this and haven’t purchased a copy yet, please do. All you need do is click one of the links below. If you have purchased a copy, thank you so much. If you don’t mind doing a quick Amazon review, I would be even more grateful.