The Publishers Weekly Twitter account links to a “Book Patrol Infographic” purporting to show “The Bestselling Sci-Fi Books of All Time.” A better title for it would have been “Some Miscellaneous Science Fiction and Fantasy Novels, Decorated With a Bunch of Numbers We Pulled Out of Our Hat.”
It notes that Philip K. Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? is “by far PKD’s bestseller” (which is probably true) and then asserts that it has sold 32,500 copies, which is absurd. Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? was initially a Doubleday hardcover in 1968, and was reprinted as Signet mass-market paperback in 1969. Based on what we know about the distribution of midlist SF paperbacks then, it almost certainly sold more copies than that in its first year alone, quite possibly by thousands of copies. Thirteen years later, of course, it was the basis for the movie Blade Runner, and was reissued all over the world in a variety of tie-in editions, some with the original title and some retitled with the name of the movie. It has quite possibly sold over a million copies. If it’s sold less than half a million, I will—to quote Princeton Election Consortium poll-aggregator Sam Wang—eat a bug.
It says that Robert A. Heinlein’s Hugo-winning 1966 novel The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress has sold “well over 1,500 copies…to date.” In other news, the Empire State Building is “well over” ten feet tall. We’ve sold way more copies than that, and we’re not even its first publisher.
It notes that Jules Verne’s Twenty Thousand League Under the Sea has been “translated into 147 languages” and that it has sold “over 10,000 copies”. Ten thousand copies would be about 68 per language. Do you suppose it might actually have sold a few more than that? Did they put this “infographic” together in their sleep?
Book Patrol subtitles itself “a haven for book culture.” Call me pedantic, but it seems to me that people who care about “havens” for any kind of “culture” ought to also care about facts, and getting them right. The most cursory knowledge of the history of book publishing—for instance, knowledge of the quantities in which mass-market paperbacks were distributed in the 1960s—would tell you that some of these figures are absurd. Shame on Book Patrol for polluting the world with ahistorical baloney, and shame on Publishers Weekly for promoting it.
UPDATE: Shame on the New Yorker’s blog for doing the same thing.