I learned an interesting lesson today about how the publishing industry reports their sales and I want to share it with you. It will give you an inside view of publishing that I rather wish I didn't have.
Update: The AAP is now holding the monthly stats until after 3 months have passed so the figures are far more accurate now.
The short version of the lesson is this: the sales stats released each month are accurate only at the time of release. By the time that a month has passed the numbers will be wrong.
The Long Version
The May 2011 sales stats were released today by the AAP, and as usual I tried to do a month to month analysis. My figures for sales in January through April didn't quite add up to what other blogs were reporting. I asked someone at the AAP for assistance because the ebook sales figures in the old press releases didn't seem to add up right.
Let me pass along what I was told.
The AAP publishes numbers each month which are then revised in the weeks and months after the press release goes out. The figures change because publishers send in updated sales data for a given month for a number of reasons: late returns, unreported sales, sales originally reported in the wrong categories, etc. Today's numbers are going to change over the next few weeks.
You know, if Al Capone had gotten into publishing I don't think the IRS would ever have caught him.
What this means is that all of my analysis is now bunk. The numbers I was using were very likely wrong fairly soon after they were committed to paper. It also means that all the news articles based on the monthly AAP figures - everyone's articles - are all wrong. They were based on fiction. No one really knows what the sales figures are until months and months later.
I'm not sure which bother me more. The fact that i passed along bad data or the fact that everyone has passed along bad data and will continue to pass along bad data.
In the future, when i hear about spectacular sales, I plan to take them with a grain of salt.