Simon Willison’s Weblog


19 items tagged “books”


No, Most Books Don’t Sell Only a Dozen Copies. I linked to a story the other day about book sales claiming "90 percent of them sold fewer than 2,000 copies and 50 percent sold less than a dozen copies", based on numbers released in the Penguin antitrust lawsuit. It turns out those numbers were interpreted incorrectly.

In this piece from September 2022 Lincoln Michel addresses this and other common misconceptions about book statistics.

Understanding these numbers requires understanding a whole lot of intricacies about how publishing actually works. Here's one illustrative snippet:

"Take the statistic that most published books only sell 99 copies. This seems shocking on its face. But if you dig into it, you’ll notice it was counting one year’s sales of all books that were in BookScan’s system. That’s quite different statistic than saying most books don’t sell 100 copies in total! A book could easily be a bestseller in, say, 1960 and sell only a trickle of copies today."

The top comment on the post comes from Kristen McLean of NPD BookScan, the organization who's numbers were misrepresented is the trial. She wasn't certain how the numbers had been sliced to get that 90% result, but in her own analysis of "frontlist sales for the top 10 publishers by unit volume in the U.S. Trade market" she found that 14.7% sold less than 12 copies and the 51.4% spot was for books selling less than a thousand. # 25th April 2024, 3:41 am

No one buys books (via) Fascinating insights into the book publishing industry gathered by Elle Griffin from details that came out during the Penguin vs. DOJ antitrust lawsuit.

Publishing turns out to be similar to VC investing: a tiny percentage of books are hits that cover the costs for the vast majority that didn't sell well. The DOJ found that, of 58,000 books published in a year, "90 percent of them sold fewer than 2,000 copies and 50 percent sold less than a dozen copies."

UPDATE: This story is inaccurate: those statistics were grossly misinterpreted during the trial. See this post for updated information.

Here's an even better debunking: Yes, People Do Buy Books (subtitle: "Despite viral claims, Americans buy over a billion books a year"). # 22nd April 2024, 9:55 pm


goodreads-to-sqlite (via) This is so cool! Tobias Kunze built a Python CLI tool to import your Goodreads data into a SQLite database, inspired by github-to-sqlite and my various other Dogsheep tools. It’s the first Dogsheep style tool I’ve seen that wasn’t built by me—and Tobias’ write-up includes some neat examples of queries you can run against your Goodreads data. I’ve now started using Goodreads and I’m importing my books into my own private Dogsheep Datasette instance. # 14th October 2019, 4:07 am


Good travel book for recently retired man?

The new Atlas Obscura coffee table book is worth a look.

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Lovecraft-inspired fiction and cookbooks (unrelated!)

Have you considered the Laundry Files series by Charles Stross? They are novels about a secret UK government department which fights off lovecraftian threats while suffering through the typical burucracry you would expect from the UK government.

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What are the best books/tutorials to begin learning about memcached?

There isn’t really enough of memcached to justify a whole book—it’s a pretty straight-forward API.

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What are some good book discovery and recommendation sites?

I really like—here’s an example profile:

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Dive Into HTML 5. Mark Pilgrim’s free online book on HTML 5—currently just one chapter on canvas (which neatly illustrates the coordinate system using a diagram rendered using canvas itself) but certain to become an invaluable resource for anyone looking to take advantage of HTML 5. # 20th August 2009, 2:40 pm

Ask MetaFilter’s best introductory books. Part of Phil Gyford’s ongoing quest to “learn about everything”, a list of the best introductory books to a wide range of topics collated from a thread on Ask MetaFilter. # 12th May 2009, 11:23 am

Almost Perfect (via) W. E. Peterson’s book on the rise and fall of WordPerfect Corporation, originally published in 1994 and now available for free online. # 5th April 2009, 7:30 pm

Introduction to Information Retrieval (via) This looks excellent—a modern guide to implementing search engines written by some of the engineers behind Yahoo! Search. The full text is available online, but it looks like it’s well worth investing in the dead tree edition. # 9th February 2009, 8:54 pm


JavaScript: The Good Parts. Douglas Crockford’s soon-to-be-published book on the subset of JavaScript that he recommends. Promises to be “short, but dense”—if it’s half as good as his JavaScript lectures this is going to be a must-have. # 19th April 2008, 4:38 pm

The Principles Of Project Management (via) Meri’s book has been published by SitePoint. # 26th March 2008, 12:12 pm

The Art & Science of JavaScript. The JavaScript book I contributed to is now shipping! My chapter describes how to build a Flickr / Google Maps mashup entirely using client-side code (via JSON-P). # 12th January 2008, 7:05 pm


“The Definitive Guide to Django” is now shipping from Amazon. The book looks absolutely fantastic (bias disclosure: I contributed the newforms chapter)—huge congratulations to Adrian and Jacob. # 11th December 2007, 9:12 pm

Professional Python Frameworks: Web 2.0 Programming with Django and Turbogears. Apparently published by Wrox in October 2007, beating the “official” Django book by just over a month. Has anyone seen this on bookshelves yet? # 16th November 2007, 9:16 pm

Roy Orbison in Cling-film, the novel. If you missed the original internet meme you might be a bit baffled by this one, but I picked up a copy of the novel today and it completely lives up to the standard set by the short stories. # 17th October 2007, 3:58 pm

The Art & Science of JavaScript. My first author credit: I’m contributing a chapter to SitePoint’s next JavaScript tome. # 15th October 2007, 10:35 pm

Programming Erlang. A book on Erlang from the creator of the language himself, out in July but available to buy now as a beta PDF. # 3rd March 2007, 8:49 am