The Asshattery of Statistics



The Asshattery of Statistics


As we exit this age of government-mandated restrictions, statistically justified lockdowns, conspiracy theories, Public Health Officials' consistently erroneous modeling, expressions like, "Follow the science," The Great Resignation, Quiet Quitting, Quiet Firing - and in general, entering the new post-pandemic world - it is more important than ever that we understand the difference between statistics, facts, and data.


Statistics is the discipline that concerns itself with the collection, organization, analysis, interpretation, and presentation of data.


In short, statistics and facts are not synonymous. 


Statistics are the interpretation and presentation of facts, biased by one's agenda. As such, statistics can be synonymous with half-truths - dangerous.


The Penguin Random House - Simon & Schuster Antitrust Trial dropped a bomb - a revelation unseen, unimagined, and unheard of before. 


The fact is that 50% of over 58,000 titles sell less than a dozen copies. Allow me to repeat: less-than-12 copies. That's 29,000 books that never sell more than a dozen copies.


It's a shocking statement. If true, the publishing industry - or maybe more specifically, the big traditional publishers - are in a world of trouble.


But is it true? Is it a fact? Or are these the stats, an interpretation of the facts?


These publishing statistics aren't often what you believe. This "dozen-copy" belongs among the ranks of 

"98% of books sell less than 5,000 copies," 

"90% sell less than 2,000," 

"most books sell less than 99 copies," 

"the average indie author never sells more than 1,000 copies," etc.


We need to ask, what do "out-of-print," and "in-print," and "book," and "title" mean?


One novel, one book - ONE title - can exist, technically, in 4 official ISBN's: hardcover, paperback, ebook, and audiobook. Should this be counted as a single title, or four? Do these titles only sell a dozen each? Shouldn't we count this novel as selling 48?


Publishers don't count out-of-print books within these stats. But what are out-of-print books?


Traditionally books go out of print when people stop buying them (thus having no inventory). But today, in this modern digital age, many books exist as print-on-demand in which a physical copy doesn't exist until someone purchases it. There is no inventory for these books.


Print-on-demand books never go "out-of-print" and can technically stay "in-print" forever.


Throw into this chaos creative accounting ebooks and audiobooks, which some titles only exist as. Do these count? How do you count them? How do they go out of print? Can they go out of print?


As a small publisher, out of our current 19 titles, only 2 haven't broken the dozen copy sale yet (but they're new). That's about 10%. If we were to count ebooks and print-on-demand as separate titles (after all, they each have their own ISBN's), we can add 38 titles, bringing us up to 57 published titles. And in some cases, with different electronic distributors, even these POD titles carry different ISBN's from one another, bringing the number even higher, likely closer to 76. But to say Broken Keys Publishing & Press has 76 titles in its catalog would be pretentious at best and dishonest at worst. 


But what does all this mean? Should we interpret this information to mean the small publisher is more successful than the traditional big publishers? I'm not sure.


Conservative authorities claim this severe drop in numbers is because publishing has become too "woke." Self-publishing pundits proselytize the downfall of the big traditional publishers. Or are the big traditional publishers using an outdated system, broken and archaic?

Are these 'facts' being interpreted to present a particular agenda, manipulated to a certain constructed conclusion? And if so, to what end?


The real question should be, why are they fabricating this number? What is it that we are to believe when 50% of 58,000 titles sell less than a dozen copies? Are we supposed to presume these stats represent the entire publishing industry and lose hope? Give up? Quench the rise of the indie author? (Maybe). But - as a small publisher, the evidence doesn't match up.


Or are we supposed to believe the big traditional publishers are in serious trouble, feel pity and allow them to...who knows what. Or are we to giggle with glee, hoping the day of the big traditional publisher is over? I should hope not.


Ultimately, I don't believe these statistics mean very much at all. The only real piece of information we can extrapolate from this is that the big traditional publishers are more than willing to manipulate, twist the facts, and lie. But to what end? 

Don't know. Don't care.


One thing is clear. They are threatened by something. 

The publishing landscape is changing. 

It has been for years, alongside printing technology. 

Could this be a prime example of, if you're not riding the wave of change you're under it?


These are the questions we, as writers, poets, authors, publishers, big and small, electronic distributors, and bookstores should be asking. It matters, because one way or the other, it will affect us all.


Michel Weatherall


A native of Ottawa, Michel Weatherall grew up living in Europe and Germany and has since travelled extensively.

 Having over 30 years experience in the print/publishing industry, the transition to self-publishing was a natural step with his publication company, Broken Keys Publishing & Press. (

 Other work (the poems “Sun & Moon,” "Purgation," "This Burden I Bear," “Eleven's Silent Promise," "The Corridor," "Purgation ",the sci-fi short story “Rupture,” and horror short story "Running Water," and the essays "The Doctrine of Fear," "A Changing and Treacherous Landscape," and "Ebook Revolution?") have all appeared in Ariel Chart's online journey.


The poem "Jacob's Darkness" has appeared in the Indian Periodical.

Weatherall's theological essay, “The Voice of Sophia” has been published in American theologian Thomas Jay Oord's "The Uncontrolling Love of God: An Open and Relational Account of Providence" (2015)


Weatherall's current books in print are,

·         The Symbiot 30th Anniversary, The Nadia Edition 

·         Necropolis

·         The Refuse Chronicles

·         Ngaro's Sojourney

·         A Dark Corner of My Soul (poetry)

 Honours and Awards include

·         Winner of the 2023 Faces of Ottawa Awards for Best Printer

·         Winner of the 2020 - 2021 Faces of Ottawa Awards for Best Author

·         Winner of the 2020-2022 Faces of Ottawa Awards for Best Publisher (Broken Keys Publishing & Press) 

·         Winner of the 2021 CPACT-NCR Best Publisher Award

·         Winner of the Faces of Ottawa 2023 Book of the Year Award (Ghosts and Other Chthonic Macabres)

·         Winner of the Faces of Ottawa 2022 Book of the Year Award (Love & Catastrophē Poetrē)

·         Winner of the Faces of Ottawa 2021 Book of the Year Award (Thin Places: The Ottawan Anthology)

·         2021 Best of the Net Award Nominee (for Poetry: Purgation)

·         2020-21 Parliamentary Poet Laureate Nominee

·         2020 Best of the Net Award Nominee (Poetry: This Burden I Bear)

·         2019 Pushcart Prize Nominee (for Poetry)

·         2019 FEBE Award Nominee for Creative Arts

·         2019 CPACT Awards Nominee for Entertainment Excellence (Arts)

·         2019 CPACT Awards Nominee for Small Business Excellence (Broken Keys Publishing)

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