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Posts Tagged ‘Starbucks’

Yes, Starbucks Has Changed Ishmael Beah’s Life

Josh Getlin at the LA Times follows former child soldier Ishmael Beah around as he signs books in Manhattan, the author’s profile growing in leaps and bounds ever since Starbucks made his memoir A LONG WAY GONE its second book choice. “This all hit me out of the blue,” the modest, soft-spoken writer said to Getlin recently, riding a cab to his first appearance on the tour, in a New York cafe. “I didn’t even know Starbucks sold books. They chose mine, and it changed everything. I wasn’t really prepared.” So far, according to Starbucks, the book has sold 37,000 in its chain stores to date – which matches up with the Bookscan numbers published here last week.

There’s the usual surprise from publishing types like Ira Silverberg (Beah’s agent) and Sarah Crichton (his editor) and some further insight into how Crichton handled the memoir in the wake of the James Frey scandal. The publisher asked Beah to vouch for the accuracy of his book, with its sharp recall of details and conversations. Crichton was willing to take the leap after Beah assured her that he has a “photographic memory.” He reminded her that he had grown up in a culture with a long-standing oral tradition and had learned to tell stories from memory around a fire – and so editing continued. Beah’s book — and his message — are primed for huge national exposure. But will Americans really be able to grasp what he’s been through? “I’m like any other 26-year-old,” the author said with a laugh, minutes before his debut. “A 26-year-old with a Starbucks tour.”

Could Starbucks Trump B&N as Publishing Power Brokers?

So posits Crown editor & thriller writer Jason Pinter after comparing and contrasting the opening one-week sales of Chris Bohjalian‘s THE DOUBLE BIND – picked as Barnes & Noble‘s second store-wide pick – and Starbucks‘ sophomore choice, Ishmael Beah‘s A LONG WAY GONE. According to the March 4 edition of the New York Times bestseller list, Bohjalian’s THE DOUBLE BIND will debut at #3 on the hardcover fiction list, while Beah’s A LONG WAY GONE will come in at #2 on the hardcover non-fiction list, which is impressive enough.

Go a little deeper into the first-week Bookscan numbers (which account for anywhere from 50-70% of total sales) and things get really interesting. That’s because Bohjalian sold over 17,000 copies in his first week, while Beah’s book moved over 26,000 units – and of Beah’s total Bookscan-accounted sales, over 19,000 were from “other” stores. “I can only assume this means Starbucks,” said Pinter. “In fact, if this is correct, Beah sold more copies at Starbucks alone than Bohjalian sold in total.”

But before we anoint Starbucks as the true heir apparent to Oprah, Pinter cautions that “there’s a major difference between offering one book for sale and offering thousands.” (Ron would also point to Beah’s moving appearance on The Daily Show last week as another potential prime mover for sales, as Jon Stewart put the comedy on hold for five minutes and confessed the memoir “made my heart hurt.”) “At the same time,” Pinter concludes, “it’s very curious to see that Beah seems to be outpacing an author with a bestselling Oprah pedigree, primarily due to the efforts of one store. And that store being considerably more famous for their double venti half calf mocha lattechinos than their success pushing literature.”

Exact Sales Figures: The Needle/Haystack Conundrum

As part of its continuing coverage of the Clive Cussler/Philip Anschutz lawsuit (more on that below) the LA Times delves into one of the key points of the lawsuit – did Cussler grossly overinflate his sales figures – and fans back into the publishing industry’s general cluelessness vagueness of exact sales figures. Finding data about book sales got easier in 2001, writes Josh Getlin, when Nielsen BookScan, a New York-based firm, began compiling information that measured about 70% of the U.S. book market. Yet there is still confusion in the marketplace. BookScan records sales from major chain stores, a sampling of independent sellers, online firms like Amazon.com, plus Costco, Kmart, Target and Starbucks. But it does not track weekly sales from Wal-Mart, religious stores, gift shops, grocers, drugstores and other outlets.

Meanwhile, publishers routinely withhold full sales figures, saying the information is proprietary. The only people legally entitled to know those numbers are authors and their agents. “The publishing business has never gone out of its way to report actual sales numbers because it has no real interest in doing so,” said Albert Greco, a Fordham University economist who analyzes business trends in the book world. “It’s hard to know what’s real. If an author on TV talk says his book has sold 1 million copies, only a few people will know if that’s true.” Especially when announced print runs are about twice the number of actual books printed, the despair of returns at full price and the small number of readers as compared to other forms of media.

“Most books don’t have anywhere near the financial success of movies, even unsuccessful movies,” said Cathy Langer, chief buyer for the Tattered Cover Bookstore in Denver. “So if you look at sales figures, it’s not a pretty picture. And when you get so obsessed with numbers, you lose the wonder and creativity that’s basic to the book business.”

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