Yesterday Digital Book World unveiled a new project. For the first time ever there was a single best seller list for ebooks which tried to reflect the relative standings of all the major US ebookstores. The new list is based on a system developed by Dan Lubart at his startup company Iobyte’s eBook MarketView service.
I don’t like the new list for a couple reasons, mostly because I don’t trust the data sources (Amazon’s fiddled with their rankings before). But it turns out that I missed a huge problem with the list. It turns out that Lubart isn’t just the founder of IoByte; he is also currently a senior VP at HarperCollins for Sales Analytics.
Conflict of Interest, much?
I missed that detail yesterday because DBW didn’t disclose it anywhere. It’s not mentioned in his post on the DBW blog (where it should have been at least mentioned as a footnote), nor is it listed in his author bio. The only person who noticed and made a big deal about it was Len Feldman. He noticed an offhand reference to this detail in Mike Shatzkin’s writeup of the story.
As shocking as it may be, you can confirm the info on Dan’s LinkedIn page (he’s worked for HC since October of last year). So what we have here is a best seller list which uses a secret algorithm based on the work of someone who didn’t tell us that he worked for a Big 6 publisher. Yeah, I must say that I am filled to the brim with confidence.
And I can’t help but feel that he was being deliberately deceptive. This detail was left out of DBW’s own press release, and even though Dan has a fairly detailed author’s bio on DBW, there was no mention of HarperCollins either. That failure to disclose renders all of Dan’s other posts on the DBW blog suspect.
It also raises questions about why so few self-pubbed ebooks made it on to the list. As one reader reminded me on Twitter, Mike Shatzkin made a big deal yesterday about this very absence:
First of all, there is a striking lack of self-published material represented. There is not one self-published ebook in the overall Top 25 and only two appear at all, both on the lowest price band (from zero to $2.99).
Given that 4 Smashwords titles made the NYT list in a single week, it doesn’t really make sense that none would show up on the DBW ovarall list. How do we know that there isn’t some weighting against self-published ebooks? What else do you think they’re concealing from us?
Whoops. I hate it when news changes while I’m still working on a blog post, but apparently Dan’s bio has now been updated to reflect his current job at HC. That detail wasn’t there this morning nor was it there when I read up on Dan yesterday.
I still don’t trust the numbers. And the quiet way that DBW is adding a mention of HC after the fact (and after I asked the editor for a comment) doesn’t reassure me either.
Can you give me a compelling argument which would prove he wasn’t biased in the favor of his employer?