Is The Tor Boycott Working?

Jason Sanford says “Pups all bark, no bite as Tor boycott fails” —

My proof? Turns out the boycott has had no noticeable impact on the sales of Tor’s books, as determined by a sampling of Tor sales reported through Nielsen BookScan, a publishing industry sales-tracking system.

Grant first called for the Tor boycott on June 19, followed almost immediately by others affiliated with the Pup campaigns. To see if the boycott was effective, I examined BookScan numbers for a selection of Tor titles by different authors.

Sanford has published a colorful graph based on data sets about the sales of 10 well-known Tor books between May 24 and July 5 and draws the conclusion —

As you can see, there’s no significant drop in sales due to the boycott. Yes, some titles saw a slight drop but this was offset by other titles increasing their sales or titles keeping relatively steady sales. In all, the sales of these Tor titles demonstrated similar patterns to what they sold prior to the boycott starting….

Proof is looking at the actual sales numbers for Tor books. And the numbers I’ve examined show the boycott is failing miserably.

Guess the puppy boycott is truly all bark and no bite.

Earlier, as Sanford notes with a link, boycott leader Peter Grant claimed “The clearest possible proof that the Tor boycott is working . . .”

. . . is that out of nowhere, no less a personage than George R. R. Martin, author of the best-selling fantasy series since sliced bread (since spun off into the TV series ‘Game Of Thrones‘), has denounced the boycott and publicly begged his readers to buy Tor books.  He’s done so while being less than fully forthcoming about the reason for the boycott, those behind it, and the faux apology offered by the prime offender…..

EDITED TO ADD:  I note that Mr. Martin has mentioned Tor and/or the boycott in no less than three separate posts on his LiveJournal today.  To misquote Shakespeare, “Methinks the gentleman doth protest too much.”  As I said above, if you think he’s doing this entirely of his own volition, there’s that bridge I mentioned . . .

And when Vox Day inspected Sanford’s numbers he happily drew the opposite conclusion:

 

 

 

That’s not crazy, because Sanford’s sample actually lends itself to the opposite interpretation from the one he argues.

When I aggregated the sales for these 10 books from the week of June 21, the latest unaffected by the boycott (announced on June 19), and the sales from the week of July 5 (the latest reported by Sanford), that gave me 1,740 vs. 1,667 books. Therefore, the July 5 sales of these 10 books were 95.8% of what they were before immediately before the boycott.

This is, of course, an utterly arbitrary comparison and really proves nothing because book sales don’t happen in ratable numbers (unless you’re Brandon Sanderson, apparently). No one can legitimately claim to read in the tea leaves of these small fluctuations the success or failure of the boycott. More time and fuller data is needed for that.

149 thoughts on “Is The Tor Boycott Working?

  1. I notice that the only way Mr. Beale’s figure of 68% loss for Scalzi works is if he didn’t notice that the specific Bookscan numbers for each title were given in reverse chronological order.

    Sales of Lock In actually more than tripled from the first week to the last week of the data.

    . . . and having totaled up the numbers for all titles, it appears that Mr. Beale made the same error in the aggregate. Sales actually rose by not quite 7% from the week ending 5/24 to the week ending 7/5.

  2. Once again proving that the Pups can’t do the math. I’m seriously thinking of buying something from Tor on the 19th day of each month as long as they continue their so-called boycott.

  3. Jon F. Zeigler: Is that where Vox’s 68% really comes from? How funny.

    I eyeballed the one-week dip where Scalzi’s novel went from 74 to 39 and wondered if he’d just cherry-picked that. Although that only gave me a decrease of about 47%, I didn’t go on attempting to reconstruct where he got the percentage he used.

  4. This reminded me to buy the last two parts of Scalzi’s End of All Things.

    So, victory for VD!

  5. @Mike

    Yep. Divide 21 into 65 and you get close to 32%, for a 68% loss. It’s the only way I can see him getting such a specific figure out of the data. For the aggregate sales, divide 1560 into 1667 and you get about 93%, for a 7% loss.

    Quick and easy computation, and an easy error to make – if you’re in a huge hurry to claim a victory, and don’t take a moment to notice that the data are lined up backwards from what you might normally expect.

    (It is kind of odd that Mr. Sanford reported the data that way, I will admit.)

  6. Be reasonable; if VD can’t tell the difference between 20 and 53,900,000 then his chances of achieving anything more complex in the mathematical zone are, for all practical purposes, zero.

    In fact the concept of zero is probably too complicated for him as well…

  7. Grant’s cited argument is about as dumb as it gets. Martin uses his blog to promote his non-ASOIF books all the time and he recommends books by other writers there quite often.

  8. The fact that amazes me is there are actually non-puppies out there who are concerned about this boycott at all. They’re a very vocal niche group; even if all of them actually did buy Tor books before this and all of them actually followed through on not buying any anymore their impact would be negligible.

    And Beale should get a new hobby. His Scalzi envy is getting just absurd.

  9. @Lori Coulson

    I would do that only I have to buy everything Mary Robinette Kowal has available immediately. Its very important. (I can stop whenever I want!)

  10. Also, Peter Grant conveniently forgot to mention that the reason George R.R. Martin didn’t mention the boycott till now is that he’s been busy traveling and editing. He went to Hamburg; he went to Chicago to see the Grateful Dead; and he just finished and delivered the latest Wild Cards book. (And, one hopes, he’s been working on “Son of Kong” as well.)

    Hell, it says that in the very first sentence of the post Grant linked to.

    I really love the fact that these people have apparently spun up some telepathy out of nowhere and can now read Martin’s mind. “He’s begging people to buy Tor books!”

    No he isn’t, you idjit. From Martin’s post: “So if you would like to strike a blow for free speech and decency, and support all the good people at Tor, go ye forth and buy a book today… from the Cocteau, or Amazon, or anywhere… and let your voice be heard. You’ll get some damned good reading out of it too.”

    READING COMPREHENSION FAIL. But that’s par for the course, as these people (Grant, Beale the Galactic Zero [to borrow Adam-Troy Castro’s term]) apparently don’t share the same reality as the rest of us.

  11. @Meredith — those are on my to-be-bought list. I borrowed them all from the library (mmm-binge read-om-nom-nom) and have decided I’d read them all again, so now must have them!

  12. @Lori Coulson

    The prose style is so delightful. Her short stuff is good, too!

  13. the numbers really don’t matter. It’s the color of the lenses being used.

    Puppies count on the fact that most of their readership stops comprehending whatever they read as soon as they read something that confirms their biases.

    “TOR boycott succeeding in doing nothing at all” is, in their comprehension
    “TOR boycott succeeding”.

    Years from now some of them will still be trying to get that “fact” included in the Wiki entry….

  14. The Sanford numbers do show quite a drop in John c Wright though. Just think hour much they’d have dropped if he had called on people to boycott?

  15. Boycott’s are really long-term processes- for example, it took years for the South Africa boycott to have effect (though when it did it’s effect was so great that similar boycotts are outlawed in many places). So it’s really too soon to actually say what effect any boycott would have.

    That said, the attention span of the Puppies is short enough and the group is so much out on the fringes that I don’t really see a long term effect taking place.

  16. Bruce Baugh on July 11, 2015 at 3:41 pm said:

    Peace: Bookscan is very reliable, from all accounts, for the places it gets data from. The really hard part is working out what fraction of a book’s overall sales that represents. See the always-useful John Scalzi on the subject, with regard to his books.

    To place this fully in context – Bookscan sucks for ebooks, but is accurate for pbooks.

    In the specific case of Scalzi, his most recently released works is a novel serialised by Tor in the form of 4 ebooks (which will be collected together as a full novel and released NEXT month), which means that I’d kinda expect bookscan to show a drop in Scalzi’s numbers for june as his (unrecorded by bookscan) ebook sales of his new story cut into his (recorded by bookscan) hard copy sales of older books that’ll be tailing of in sales anyway by now.

    And to be entirely pedantic; The fluctuations in sales for books during periods prior to the boycott are larger than any of the increases or decreases seen since, and thus IF there is ANY effect it’s not statistically significant at this point in time and wouldn’t even really be visible to someone looking at the raw data – you’d have to take a lot of data about Tor’s books, crunch it into a some messy looking scatter graphs and then apply serious statistical tools to the results, so that anyone stating that the boycott either has or hasn’t had an effect should be able to show their p numbers. Even then it’d still be a load of codswallop, little better than looking at two points on a graph and drawing a line of best fit.

  17. Although it’s no longer Buy Tor day, could someone let me know how to contact Tor so I can let them know next time I happen to buy something of theirs (ongoing encouragement)? I can’t find the address on their site, but if it’s actually obvious I apologize for bothering you.

  18. I’ve come to suspect that a big part of the problem with the Puppies, Gamergate, and a lot of other reactionary groups is that they simply have no sense of scale beyond maybe a few dozen to a couple hundred, or somewhere in there. They haven’t developed the conceptual framework to recognize what vastly different scale someone like Scalzi or Card is operating on compared to Beale’s Baleful Boutique. They see screen after screen fill up in their favorite forum or reddit, and see how a few people can send a lot of tweets, and they Just Don’t Get how irrelevant all that is to the sales of an outfit like Tor (or Baen, really).

    And, of course, none of the scam artists and hatemongers they’re listening to has any interest in explaining their real place in the numerical scheme of things.

  19. What Fred Davis said. [That was easier to type than the comment I was going to make 🙂 ]

    However – I don’t think Jason Sandford’s argument is very strong. It does show that there isn’t any massive impact on Tor’s sales but that really just demonstrates that Grant/Beale’s fever dreams aren’t real. There could still be an impact at a more specific level. The books he looked at are either unlikely Puppy-buys (e.g. Scalzi) or things they probably would have bought already (Ender’s Game).
    The Architect of Aeons by John C. Wright is really the only key Puppy signal and the numbers are way too low to draw any kind of conclusion (and anyway Puppies may make an exception for Wright).

  20. Bruce

    I’ve characterised this as the: ‘1 2 3 many’ school of mathematics; it’s something which leads people who find multiplication tables too difficult, or too boring, to memorise, to assume that they just need a calculator. Unfortunately, they are completely clueless about whether they’ve punched the right button on their calculators.

    To do that they need to grasp orders of magnitude, which takes us back to multiplication tables. The calculator enables them to believe that they do indeed understand maths. This makes them suckers ripe for the taking, and they are indeed taken.

    In some ways, as a fine upstanding green capitalist, I realise that it’s nice to have such obvious fools in the market; on the other hand I look at the way they are being shafted by their erstwhile leaders and I feel some sympathy for them. That usually runs out around 15 seconds into the suckers trying to hurt other people, but it’s there…

  21. In general, whether the numbers showed Tor sales down x% or up y% would not actually say anything at all about the effectiveness of the boycott. If the numbers are up, it could be they’d be up 3x as much except that the boycott is so awesome. If the numbers are down, it could be that the boycott accounts for materially none of the drop, that the drop stems from other factors entirely.

    In specific, these sample numbers don’t mean anything either way. Seriously, the sales of a dozen titles across a handful of weeks on either side of the boycott tell nobody anything at all. The exercise was pointless and anyone trying to tell you otherwise is being foolish or dishonest.

    I mean that in the nicest possible way.

  22. “Of the dog … is them?” Sort of?

    Man, I’ve gotten sensitized to mangled Latin.

  23. The answer to “is the boycott working?” depends on what the GOAL of the boycott is.

    If the goal is to make Tor suffer so much, in terms of sales loss, revenue reduction, and negative public perception of Tor that the company agrees to do whatever VD tells it to do (such as firing several senior longtime employees and publicly reprimanding a top-selling Tor author for his internet comments about VD and/or the Puppies), then I would say not only is the boycott NOT working now, it will definitely never work.

    Those are enormous demands, after all, and they’re made on a flimsy basis, i.e. “a small special-interest group feels offended,” rather than “human rights are being violated.” So the boycott group would have to enormous, with a truly damaging fiscal impact effect on Tor, to bring about such results. Even at the highest credible estimates I’ve seen for their size and impact, the boycotters don’t come anywhere near being a big enough group to damage the finances of such a big publishing program to that extreme an extent.

    But the Puppies don’t even appear to be unified in terms of their boycott goals. As per the list of demands Grant posted in June, some want an additional apology from Tor, using talking points specified by the boycotters, and they want Tor to publicly reprimand of several senior Tor staffers and a top-selling Tor author… And, nope, that’s not working, either. Tor did what was legally necessary (issued a formal apology in June for Gallo’s comment), and had Gallo do the same, and Tor has absolutely nothing to gain by publicly embarrassing its senior staff and one of its most lucrative writers, and much to lose by doing so. By all appearances, the Puppies do not have the substantial numbers and impact it would take to alter that position.

    Nor is the boycotters’ impact at all likely to increase. They need to attract additional group members who (a) regularly buy Tor books and who (b) decide to stop buying any Tor books because (c) a specific special-interest group is offended by (d) a social media comment Tor’s art director made about them on her personal FB page in (e) May of 2015. That doesn’t seem like a scenario that’s going to attract people beyond those who are already engaged; and for their boycott to have a perceptible effect, they’d need to attract thousands of such people.

    But if the goal of the boycott is just to cost Tor sales, with no endgame or resolution in sight (and it seems very unlikely there ever will be any endgame or resolution), sure, they might be succeeding. If the goal is to cost Tor a -noticeable- and -damaging- amount of lost sales an revenue, on the other hand, that seems very unlikely–and, in any case, can only be measured over time.

  24. Laura, that’s all really well put. I’d add further that if the goal is to enhance the standing of the boycott organizers – Grant, Day – with their cliques it could be “successful” in that sense too.

  25. mrc on July 11, 2015 at 6:52 pm said:
    “Of the dog … is them?” Sort of?

    Man, I’ve gotten sensitized to mangled Latin.

    I was trying to make a play on a (in)famous turn of phrase.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Caedite_eos._Novit_enim_Dominus_qui_sunt_eius.

    Oh, I *got* that — It’s “Kill ’em all, let god sort them out,” more or less.

    It’s just that you replaced the verb “you kill” with a non-Latin word derived from the adjective *caninus* meaning “of the dog.”

    I guess I’m a bit of a pedant. Ungrammatical Latin has bugged me for ages, and recently Theodore Beale’s careless and nonsensical Latin has sensitized me to its misuse.

    (I’m not an expert; I had two semesters of college Latin, just enough to notice when something is awry without much fluency.)

  26. Bruce, I find that many gators do have a sense of scale, and that’s why they insist they number in the hundreds of thousands or even millions. Which is of course absurd, but hardly the most absurd thing they believe.

  27. Pups’ grasp of math isn’t demonstrated by VD getting his numbers wrong nearly so well as by Grant claiming Martin being so “desperate” as to comment on the boycott is a proof that it’s winning.

  28. MaxL: They grasp the general idea of bigness, but they don’t show any signs of realizing (for instance) how many times you can stack 1,000 up again and again within 3,400,000.

  29. @ Jim Henley
    Your argument above boils down to saying we can’t say anything either way and I don’t think that’s true in a relevant sense. Sure, there’s no controlled experiment but we do have an unknown number of people saying (in email to Grant) they won’t buy any Tor books. If Tor’s sales dropped significantly and there was no other plausible explanation for this such as longterm patterns like a seasonal dip, accounting for holidays (potential days of sales lost), accounting for parameters establishing Tor was operating as usual (number of books, promotional efforts) and there was the additional potential causative factor of the Tor boycott then in a real world not strictly scientific sense we could say the Tor boycott is probably the cause.

    The argument is less strong if the other factors aren’t considered, but again there’s a single event with a one directional effect and if the numbers go down sufficiently it’s unlikely to be coincidence.

    Still, Sanford didn’t compare current numbers to a sample of weekly sales from the last year, so his analysis in particular strikes me as pretty meaningless except in that it establishes there was no massive drop.

  30. A couple of weeks ago I bought 3 Tor books. I looked at a Baen book by a Larry C, and decided against it. Not because of Baen, but the author. And – I like *good* military SF.

    Just my own personal boycott.

  31. Can you add the ability to click the “Notify me of follow-up comments by email.” button to the edit? Please?

  32. There is a thing called the Ingroup Projection Model
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Am%C3%A9lie_Mummendey#Ingroup_Projection_Model

    Applied to the puppies I’d see it like this. The Puppies are the titular ingroup and as such they see themselves as being more essentially representative of the wider group (SF/F readers in general) than might be expected. It works with the political aspect of it as well – they see their conservative beliefs as being more representative of the wider group (Americans in general) than their actual numbers would suggest. Hence this repeated amassing of a huge battle fleet that reaches Earth only to be accidentally swallowed by a small dog.

    Anyway that is today’s theory. 🙂

  33. @vasha: If you look on Tor’s official website (torforge.com) at the top there is a header “About Us”. Mouse over it, and a drop down menu includes “Contact Us”. This link takes you to http://us.macmillan.com/torforge/about/contact
    …which, so far as I can tell, does not actually include an email address for general comments of this nature. It does have their snail mail address.

  34. Although it’s no longer Buy Tor day, could someone let me know how to contact Tor so I can let them know next time I happen to buy something of theirs

    I just tweeted @tordotcom and the appropriate author.

  35. I think at the scale both boycott and anti boycott were operating, it is going to be very difficult to identify a real effect either way. Any change will be buried in the usual noise

  36. Can you add the ability to click the “Notify me of follow-up comments by email.” button to the edit? Please?

    If you create an account at wordpress.com you should be able to subscribe to comments without commenting.

  37. Grant’s argument that Martin’s comments on the boycott prove it’s working rely on Martin being part of a more-or-less co-ordinated team*. Meanwhile his (and VDs related-but-not-identical) boycott group are all principled individuals who were offended by comments from Tor staff and came to ther own personal conclusion that his campaign was worth supporting.

    Which just goes to show that sometimes it’s not projection!

    * This is not a completely unreasonable suggestion as some of his work IS published by Tor. However I doubt that Tom Doherty got on the phone and said “Hey George, can you do me a favour; tell people to buy my books.”

  38. @mk41

    First you’d need to know the noise in that signal–the degree to which Tor’s sales fluctuate from week to week (or month to month, whatever time period is being measured) without known cause.

    Then if you saw a fluctuation in the signal that exceeded the noise, or that didn’t exceed the noise but was in one direction despite the noise to a statistically suspicious degree (not that I would expect the Pups to have any more idea than a real puppy what *that* consisted of, but in theory it could be done) you could propose the Tor boycott as the only known variable that might produce such an effect. Even then it would be hard to rule out some other cause; the real world is messy.

  39. The sad thing is this keeps the focus on Tor, which is now subject to scrutiny no other publishing house is getting. The real question is whether any publishers have been helped or hurt by the unpleasantness. Castila and Baen do huge business in eBooks, which wouldn’t show up, but spikes and crashes in their print titles could indicate changes in perceptions with their non-core base.

  40. Speaking of Teddy,

    on his blog he claimed that his son is the youngest published male author in the world. Looking into it, seems to check out.

    http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/books/news/boy-six-turned-stories-of-his-toys-adventures-into-novel-424732.html

    However… what he failed to mention is that he paid to have it done.

    http://accrispin.blogspot.com/2007/12/victoria-strauss-reeling-in-kids.html

    http://grumpyoldbookman.blogspot.com/2006/07/aultbea-publishing-update.html

  41. @alexvdl

    I thought it might be something like that. Option #2 was publishing the kid through Castalia House. Well done on the research!

  42. I have no idea why Beale is crowing about it now. That byline is November 2006, almost nine years ago.

    That does mean option #2 probably wouldn’t have been an option then, anyway.

Comments are closed.