Trunk Debunked: Online Is Not Where ‘More than 85%’ of Books Are Sold

Expert publishing blog opinions are solely those of the blogger and not necessarily endorsed by DBW.

Last week I published a blog post that received a mix of cheers and jeers titled I Don’t Buy Penelope Trunk’s Story. A straightforward headline because, frankly, I don’t buy Penelope Trunk’s story about how she left her publisher with her advance because they were incompetent at online marketing.

I went on to point out a few of her assertions that seemed odd to me and did some armchair reasoning as to why they were unlikely to be true. Some commenters on cheered me on, while others said my armchair reasoning was flawed.

Now, only a week after her post, we have the first bit of evidence that Penelope Trunk’s rant is not to be trusted. At one point, she writes, “More than 85% of books sales are online, mostly at Amazon.”

According to the latest numbers from BookStats, a joint report from the Association of American Publishers and the Book Industry Study Group, publishers derived 18.5% of book sales through online retailers. That’s a far cry from 85%. You could guess that perhaps Trunk transposed the numbers and somehow turned 18.5% into 85%, but that would mean she knew the numbers in BookStats over a week before almost anyone else did, which seems far-fetched. And which is worse: Getting a known number so incredibly wrong or making one up off the top of your head (which is what I’d guess she did)?

Either way, first, don’t trust a book statistic that you can’t verify from a reliable source (even WSJ sometimes gets it wrong) and, second, at least one hole has been solidly poked in Trunk’s tall tale.

Lie detector image via Shutterstock

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