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. Castila and Baen do huge business in eBooks

    I know Baen does huge business in ebooks, but I have my doubts that Castalia does “huge” anything.

  2. @ Cat
    That’s exactly what I was saying. Except I was more precise about the latter part. I just rechecked, I didn’t slip into statistics jargon, so what caused you to explain my point back to me?

  3. @mk41

    I thought she was just agreeing with you and thinking out loud about methodology.

  4. Speaking of Teddy,

    on his blog he claimed that his son is the youngest published male author in the world.

    Does that mean he got beaten by a girl?

  5. @mk41

    I guess I looked at “If Tor’s sales dropped significantly and there was no other plausible explanation” and didn’t realize that by “significantly” you meant “noticeably outside the usual bounds of variation.” In other words I didn’t realize you were using the word in a strict statistics sense rather than in the more general english sense of “noticeably.”

    My bad. I guess we do agree.

  6. @ Kurt Busiek I know Baen does huge business in ebooks, but I have my doubts that Castalia does “huge” anything.

    Yeah, I was also wondering what is the basis for Snickers’ claim that Castalia does a “huge” ebook business. I don’t see anything to support that, in the size of their list (which is very small) or in the writers and titles on their list (no household names or bestsellers), or in their visible ebook sales rankings, or in the statements made about earnings in a media interview by the Finnish co-publisher about Castalia’s income.

  7. alexvdl on July 12, 2015 at 7:39 am said:
    on his blog he claimed that his son is the youngest published male author in the world. Looking into it, seems to check out…
    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

    That is fascinating – I wonder if this was market research for setting up his own vanity publishing outfit reputable publishing company?

  8. The purpose of my analysis was to see if there was a drop off in sales across all (or even most) titles, which is what you’re expect if the boycott was successful. The numbers don’t show that. But it sounds like only a few more weeks of sales data will convince people. I’ll try to provide that later this month.

    In case anyone is interested, here’s a wonkish follow-up to my original analysis, which digs into the average of Tor’s sales. So far a sampling of Tor’s novels shows their sales have not dropped below what their average weekly sales were before the boycott began. http://www.jasonsanford.com/blog/2015/7/why-tors-sales-averages-confirm-the-boycott-is-failing

  9. For those who are curious as to how Christopher Beale might at one point have been the youngest published author in the world, or the UK, or Europe, or somewhere, take a look at this article: http://accrispin.blogspot.hk/2007/12/victoria-strauss-reeling-in-kids.html

    It’s an old article (from 2007) but Aultbea Publishing is (was?) a vanity press operation – Vox would’ve paid them the going rate (quoted as 10,000 British pounds in the article, which is steep but hardly beyond the means of a trust fund kid) to get his lad published.

  10. @Jason Sanford

    I doubt your analysis will be helpful in the short term. Since the announcement of the boycott, there have been several ‘anti-boycott’ efforts targeted at getting consumers to specifically buy TOR books, which artificially inflated their sales at the same time that the boycott was artificially deflated their sales. Logically, a concerted effort to get consumers to sacrifice their money in an effort to purchase something that would not be part of their normal purchasing pattern will burn itself out long before one that requires them to do nothing more than not spend their money will. However, those efforts to get people to ‘buy TOR’ are relatively recent, which means that any objective effort to determine the effects of the right wing boycott of TOR is pointless until that period of time has passed.

  11. @Jason Sanford

    In addition, you said this in the text of the article itself:

    “In addition, the book which dropped the most during the two week boycott was Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card, a strange title for the boycott to focus on since the author’s politics are in line with many of the people calling for the boycott.”

    I would argue that it stands to reason that the Ender’s Game series of books is the most likely to be hardest hit by the boycott, simply because the Ender’s Game series is the one TOR series that most right wing readers are likely to buy, simply because of the fame of the series and the well-publicized views of the author. It’s not a matter of the boycott ‘focusing’ on that particular series. It’s just that that’s the series that beforehand, they were the most inclined to purchase.

  12. I think a more likely explanation is that all this is just noise. Even if you tracked the sales data of all Tor books for a year, would you feel confident in predicting the sales of ten particular books in a two week period, such that you could detect the influence of a boycott or anti-boycott? And when the only data you have is the four-week period before that for those ten books? If there was an order of magnitude change, I’d think yeah, something may be up there. if not…

  13. The problem with analysis on this is that the Puppy-driven boycott and the “But Tor” response are simply unlikely to be large enough to notice. Even assuming that Grant’s wildly optimistic claim that the boycott will cost Tor $100,000, that’s trivial to a company like Tor. Tor garners revenue of $100 million per year. $100,000 is one tenth of one-percent of that. That’s a rounding error. It is likely that Tor’s sales are more heavily affected by how much it rains during the summer than the Puppy boycott.

    This doesn’t even get into the fact that Grant’s estimate was based on retail numbers, of which Tor only earns a fraction, meaning that the Puppy boycott affects Tor’s bottom line even less than he assumed at his most optimistic. This also doesn’t get into the fact that Grant’s estimate almost certainly overstates the number of participants and their usual Tor-related purchasing habits by a substantial amount.

  14. The Christopher Beale thing is pretty hilarious. I haven’t been to Day’s site, is he currently bragging on that? I guess it’s more up to date than mediocre dance hits from the 90s…

    The article reads like a straight up press release. Slow news day, maybe.

  15. @Ray

    I wouldn’t feel particularly confident in assessing the effects of the boycott from an outsider’s perspective at all, just because I don’t have TOR’s financials in front of me, don’t know what their expectations from MacMillan are, don’t know what the normal bleed off rate for backlist books are, etc. The only people who can really make those determinations are within the publishing house itself. I think you’re right in that all of this is probably just noise, because all we are reading is a bunch of educated guesses from people. No one has the concrete data and it’s still too early to make any sort of call.

  16. My daughter published her first book — Zac Efron: Me and You — on her tenth birthday. Her second — Miley Cyrus: Me and You — followed four months later and spent six months on the UK children’s bestseller list. Did she write them? Shame on you: nobody asked Tom Clancy that question*. Was she paid? Certainly: £1 a word for the use of her name. They would not have been published had I not noted her obsession (and that of her friends) with High School Musical and Hannah Montana. Can I claim a record for the youngest bestselling author?

    * well, they did. I can say that she wrote exactly as much of the books appearing under her name as many adult authors did of theirs.

  17. Malcolm Edwards:

    Wow your daughter is prolific! Have these been a good gig for you/her?

  18. I delivered a petition to (a committee of) The House of Lords at the age of ten, and not only did I have final approval of the wording I made some changes. It’s my only appearance in Hansard.

  19. How old was VD’s son when VD paid to have his book published at a vanity press? Because “The Young Visiters” by Daisy Ashford was written when she was 9, and went through multiple printings at a legitimate publisher, as well as being turned into a play. I own a copy; it’s delightful. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Young_Visiters

  20. alexvdl:

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

    That’s because he didn’t:

    It had not happened with Christopher Beale’s book, she said. “The family is not paying for this book to be published.”

    Here are some towels for the all the rest of you gloaters to wipe the egg off your collective faces.

  21. Why should we trust the word of a publisher that engaged in the shady practice of taking money from authors to publish their books? Aultbea was apparently dissolved as a corporation only months after your link.

    I’d suggest that any claims one of its directors made in the press to get publicity — such as the claim the Beale son’s book wasn’t a vanity item — should be viewed with a strong dose of skepticism.

  22. Well good on VD for getting a vanity press to publish his son’s book without paying. Presumably he convinced them the publicity would be a suitable return.

    Also good on him for getting it out there before the company went bankrupt.

  23. Why should we trust the word of a publisher that engaged in the shady practice of taking money from authors to publish their books

    This…despite the fact that the same person also confirmed that the company took money from some authors…this one statement you’re inclined to disbelieve.

    Yup, no confirmation bias here.

  24. Yup, no confirmation bias here.

    Shady vanity presses: they always end up confirming your bias. Hence the bias.

    This is also true for Theodore Beale.

  25. … despite the fact that the same person also confirmed that the company took money from some authors…this one statement you’re inclined to disbelieve.

    I didn’t need the company to confirm that it was engaging in vanity publishing. That fact is well-established by multiple sources. Before it folded, Aultbea was engaging in the classic scam of telling parents their kid was a talented prodigy to get them to fork over lots of money to support the tyke’s “career.”

    Can we assume your only proof that Beale didn’t pay for his child’s book to be published is the word of the publisher?

  26. So the “novel” that VD’s kid wrote could have been up to five times longer, and still fit in the Hugo award short story category length? Really?

  27. The article at Parity Bit’s link is a fairly hilarious example of a glorified press release masquerading as bad journalism. The phrase “trying too hard” popped into my head a number of times.

  28. Parity Bit on July 13, 2015 at 2:30 pm said:
    This…despite the fact that the same person also confirmed that the company took money from some authors…this one statement you’re inclined to disbelieve.
    Yup, no confirmation bias here.

    That isn’t an example of confirmation bias. What had been previously established was that statements by the company are not trustworthy (both in the general sense of it being wise not to take PR at face value and more specifically in terms of this specific company). The statement by the company that people are taking as truthful has been confirmed independently. So this is not a case of people picking and choosing on a whim what to believe or on the basis of what conforms with their bias but rather it is treating all the statements by the company as being untrustworthy (i.e. having little evidential value) and relying instead on evidence from elsewhere.

  29. Mike:

    “showing that he used his weekly magazine All the Year Round to publish three articles of dubious quality by his then teenage sons, Frank and Sydney.”

    If that’s not a sitcom, I don’t know what is.

  30. @Will R: I LOLed.

    @All: Near as I can tell, “Here’s an obviously untrustworthy link to refute the claim that TB paid a vanity publisher” was Parity Bit’s very first appearance under that name here at file770. Am I mistaken? And if not, how likely is it that we’re talking to a sock?

  31. Can we assume your only proof that Beale didn’t pay for his child’s book to be published is the word of the publisher?

    No, but I don’t expect you to believe any source, no matter what.

    Tell you what…write to Day/Beale and ask him yourself. But before you do, ask yourself if you will accept as true whatever answer he gives.

  32. Am I mistaken?

    No, you are not. But we all have to start somewhere.

    And if not, how likely is it that we’re talking to a sock?

    Not likely at all. But just as I cannot prove the negative that Day/Beale did not pay for the publishing of his son’s book, neither can I prove the negative that I am not a sockpuppet of anyone else.

    I do find it amusing, however, that the only proof in the affirmative offered so far is the fact that publishers (and this one in particular) occasionally lie. Can anyone offer better evidence — a cancelled check, a quote from a former employee affirming the fact, an admission by Day/Beale — anything at all other than ‘this publisher sometimes lies’? Without something better than that, I’m afraid the case is astonishingly weak.

  33. No, but I don’t expect you to believe any source, no matter what.

    So you have additional proof, but you’re not going to provide it because we wouldn’t believe it anyway?

    That’s totally convincing, dude. I’m sold!

  34. rcade: Why should we trust the word of a publisher that engaged in the shady practice of taking money from authors to publish their books?

    Especially since the wording lends itself to weaseling, which, of course, is a Beale speciality…

    “It had not happened with Christopher Beale’s book, she said. “The family is not paying for this book to be published.” …

    – “… I did it as a favor for his dad to swing some business my way.”
    – “… a trust fund is paying for the book to be published.”
    – “… his dad alone is paying for the book to be published.”

  35. Parity Bit on July 13, 2015 at 6:31 pm said:
    Not likely at all. But just as I cannot prove the negative that Day/Beale did not pay for the publishing of his son’s book, neither can I prove the negative that I am not a sockpuppet of anyone else.

    I think ‘proof’ is a tad ambitious for a comment section of a blog. ‘Trustworthy evidence’ is a more reasonable standard. Can you offer trustworthy evidence that Day/Beale did not pay for the publishing of his son’s book? In theory you can – for example if you had evidence that the publisher was not a vanity publisher or evidence that Beale doesn’t have access to that kind of money. Practically you can’t because, as it happens, the evidence currently points to Beale having paid for it. Asking Beale isn’t an option as he himself has claimed to be a sociopath 🙂

    Is it possible to offer trustworthy evidence that you are not a sockpuppet? Again in theory this is possible – an independent history of commenting on other blogs with the same handle for example, particularly if it is a history of substantive comments that operate independently of somebody else’s. Note I’m not asking for that – I don’t have a problem with sock-puppets per-se, so long as they aren’t being used for dishonest purposes (in which case they are just anonymous postings really). I, myself was once a sock-puppet who broke the shackles of footwear and set off independently onto the great wide blogosphere. Sort of like Age of Ulton – but with socks.

  36. @Camestros

    I thought VD’s claim was that he was the opposite of a sociopath because he’s unusually empathetic? (No, really. Its okay if you need to take a moment to stop laughing.)

  37. @meredith
    I don’t think he’s a sociopath, not because he doesn’t lack empathy (he does lack empathy), but
    a. he’d be better at manipulating people. Actual intelligent people instead of the nitwits on Vox Popoli. He desperately wants to be manipulative but he sucks at it.
    b. he wouldn’t care what others think about him.
    c. he isn’t actually attuned to others’ emotions, desires, and insecurities. For instance, when he went after my friend, he only did so because she didn’t know what he was talking about and in his insane moon logic, that proves I was who he thought I was, or something. He didn’t go straight for the jugular.

    I’m no psychologist, but he’s more narcissistic than sociopathic as far as I can tell.

  38. Meredith on July 13, 2015 at 8:04 pm said:

    I thought VD’s claim was that he was the opposite of a sociopath because he’s unusually empathetic?

    I shan’t link to it but in a post he wrote on July 5 this year on Sociopaths he said “This is why I find the Clueless of the SF world to be so mind-bogglingly stupid. While they correctly recognize me as a Sociopath who is dangerous to the system, they don’t understand that I am the proverbial Good Sociopath.” [he then suggests that we have all been duped by an actual evil sociopath who isn’t him – I’m guessing the name rhymes with Zcalsi].

    I’m not a psychologist and if I was I wouldn’t support remote diagnosis via blog posts but even so my diagnosis would ‘watched Sherlock too many times recently and has decided that would be a really cool role model’. If he starts wearing a big coat and hanging out on roof tops then his symptoms have grown worse.

    Also: who on earth has proverbs about good sociopaths?

  39. @Camestros

    Huh. He’s changed his mind since April then. I’d say consistency isn’t his strong point, but he’s been very consistent in Blaming Scalzi for Everything.

    My feeling when I see anyone declare sociopathy is roughly along the lines of “wathed too much Sherlock, then”. Which also showed a frankly terrible understanding of the original character on the part of the script writers, but what can you do…

    ETA: Maybe his bible has a very peculiar type setting error for the Good Samaritan?

  40. McJulie on July 13, 2015 at 6:58 pm said:

    This article from 2014 identifies the youngest male author as Adauto Kovalski da Silva, age five.

    The Guinness website also lists da Silva as the current record holder for male published author.

  41. While they correctly recognize me as a Sociopath

    If he’s going to go around self-identifying as a sociopath, he ought to know that one of the most notable distinguishing characteristics of sociopaths is that they lie. A lot. Without remorse, and often compulsively. Which turns his fave saying “SJWs always lie” a bit odd — does it really mean “Sociopathic Justice Warriors” and does he consider himself to be one?        

  42. So you have additional proof, but you’re not going to provide it because we wouldn’t believe it anyway?

    No, I’m saying that you wouldn’t believe second-hand (or third-hand, or fourth-hand, etc) proof, so go straight to the source and get it first-hand. If you won’t believe that, then why would you believe any one else downstream who he may have told?

  43. @Parity Bit

    See the comment directly above your own for why anything coming out of VD’s mouth is suspect.

  44. Parity Bit on July 13, 2015 at 9:33 pm said:

    No, I’m saying that you wouldn’t believe second-hand (or third-hand, or fourth-hand, etc) proof, so go straight to the source and get it first-hand.

    hmm so we should ask the guy who either is a sociopath or who is lying about being a sociopath?

    Or, on the other hand, we can simply stick with the assumption that a book published by a vanity publisher was vanity published.

  45. McJulie on July 13, 2015 at 9:19 pm said:

    While they correctly recognize me as a Sociopath

    If he’s going to go around self-identifying as a sociopath, he ought to know that one of the most notable distinguishing characteristics of sociopaths is that they lie.

    Indeed 🙂 but he is a good sociopath so he only tells good lies? 🙂

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