The Future of the Book

Free Beautiful Children: The Numbers

By posted at 9:40 am on March 3, 2008 11

Random House’s experiment allowing readers a limited time only free download of Charles Bock’s Beautiful Children is now over and the numbers are in. Random House publicist Jynne Martin tells The Millions that during the 72 hours that the site was up, it received just under 30,000 pageviews, 20,000 unique visitors, and just under 15,000 copies of the book were downloaded.

These stats are only for the Random House hosted site and don’t yet included the downloads from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Powells.

Of the numbers, Martin said, “We’re thrilled!”

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11 Responses to “Free Beautiful Children: The Numbers”

  1. Patrick Brown
    at 1:36 pm on March 3, 2008


    How do those numbers compare to average weekend sales figures for the actual, physical book? Any idea?

  2. Max
    at 1:43 pm on March 3, 2008

    It's tough to know for sure, obviously the numbers vary widely and publishers are notoriously tight-lipped about sales numbers, but Jynne Martin did also tell me this: "quite amazing considering most debut novels don't even sell 10,000 copies in their whole lifespan"

    Richard Ford's Lay of the Land, not considered a "big seller" compared to his earlier books, sold 51,000 in hardcover and 36,000 in paper. Those are Nielsen BookScan numbers which track about 70% of sales and were reported in a recent NYT piece on Ford.

    So, that's just a random recent comparison but it offers a little perspective.

  3. Anonymous
    at 3:06 pm on March 3, 2008

    My sources tell me Random House would consider 50,000ish copies sold over the life of the hardcover to be a success. This could be utter bushwa, given that I've only heard the darkest murmurs about the amount of advance money tied up in the book.

  4. Anonymous
    at 8:09 pm on March 3, 2008

    How do those numbers compare to average weekend sales figures for the actual, physical book? Any idea?

    A lot more. 15,000 copies in one week would be in the top ten on the Times list. Watch the list this week and see if it moves up or down from 38 and that should give you a sense of whether it worked or not.

  5. Anonymous
    at 11:03 pm on March 4, 2008

    Honestly, I very much doubt that one week will show the effect of this. The download event got this novel a ton of exposure and spread it's name. Along with all the other publicity — the features, the mostly positive and very positive reviews, the general discussion and buzz around this book and its merits or lack thereof — it seems more than possible that this will be a title people remember and check out, either in hardback or paper form.

    I don't think comparing a first novel's sales to the sales of Richard Ford's sequel to his pulitzer prize-winning novel is necessarily fair. I also don't think that judging this promotion in a week is particularly shrewd. Most successful books need to be passed from one person to another, or have a special air to them. This novel seems to have a chance at being one of those books.

  6. Max
    at 5:31 am on March 5, 2008

    Thanks for the input from all three anonymous commenters. I particularly agree with this sentiment: "I also don't think that judging this promotion in a week is particularly shrewd. Most successful books need to be passed from one person to another, or have a special air to them."

    For those still interested in the numbers involved here, USA Today offers a little more color: "Nielsen Book-Scan, which tracks about 70% of book sales, reports 12,000 sales as of Feb. 27. The publisher says the novel is in its seventh printing, with 50,000 copies in print."

    So it's possible that the number of books downloaded from the Random House site alone equaled or surpassed the total number of book sales thus far.

  7. Anonymous
    at 7:03 am on March 5, 2008

    yes, I saw that USA today article yesterday. So 12,000 by Feb 27th, a little over a month after publication which they said is perfectly solid sales for a new author no one has heard of.

    But with bock, he received a spread in the NY Times magazine followed the next week by NY times book review cover. So that means about 2500-3000 per week (with maybe a spike just after the cover to say 4,000? I guess this is what got it on the bestseller?).

    Interesting to see that all it takes is 4,000 sales in a week to get on the bestseller list. Then even though his book dropped off the list, he can forever more say it was a "bestseller." Always interesting to see the behind the scenes stuff. I'm surprised RH allowed that to be printed because it shows that the book isn't really selling like it should be.

  8. Anonymous
    at 8:11 am on March 5, 2008

    Most publishers have issues with the tracker numbers. Last month Riverhead made a point of saying how off the BookScan numbers were on Oscar Wao. I wouldn't make too big a deal about it.

  9. Anonymous
    at 10:05 am on March 5, 2008

    "Most publishers have issues with the tracker numbers."

    Not really. Many editors do, but then editors are often shocked at how their books are doing. Many, if not all marketing and sales people in the trade rely on bookscan.

  10. Anonymous
    at 10:09 am on March 5, 2008

    well, bookscan reportedly reflects about 70% of sales, and it includes borders, b&n, amazon and sales from major independent bookstores. so I think bookscan numbers are a pretty big deal – and at the very least, they are the only hard numbers available for publishers to rely on.

  11. Anonymous
    at 7:09 pm on March 8, 2008

    Parse it however you want, but If a literary first novel sells 16K books during a five week period and also has 15K free downloads of it, that book is doing very very well, my friends.

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