Genre Grapevine for 11/13/2019

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ChiZine Update, Including Their BookScan Sales Numbers

A lot has happened since my report last week on the allegations surrounding ChiZine Publications and why the genre’s wall of silence must end.  

First, Sandra Kasturi and Brett Savory released a statement that they had “made the difficult decision to step down, effective immediately, from all publishing-related duties at ChiZine Publications.” The post named Christie Harkin as interim publisher and said a bookkeeper and accountant will handle financial matters while a separate person will oversee royalty statements and help determine which remaining payments are owed.

However, the statement was notable in not including an apology or even acknowledging the hostile work and social environments created by ChiZine. This disturbs me deeply, especially since more details are still coming out about horrific behavior at ChiZine.

Perhaps the biggest new revelation came from former managing editor Kelsi Morris, who described the continual sexual harassment and other issues she was subjected to by various people in the ChiZine social circle. Morris’s account is painful to read but adds a deeper understanding that what happened with ChiZine wasn’t limited to a few people.

That’s why it matters there was no apology from Sandra and Brett. Because to me, if the same people are still involved in ChiZine, nothing will change. If what we’re seeing is a shuffling of the deck chairs on the Titanic, nothing will change. If what we’re seeing is an attempt to let this controversy die down so ChiZine can resume doing what it has always done, nothing will change.

Understand this: ChiZine cannot exist without the support of the larger writing and literary community. As I mentioned in my original report, evidently between 50% and 60% of ChiZine's operating budget came from grants (a point supported by Michael Matheson in their deep dive into ChiZine’s finances).

The assumption is supported by a look at ChiZine’s book sales as reported by Nielsen BookScan, a book industry data provider (PDF download). These BookScan numbers were pulled on November 12.

As these numbers show, of 144 book titles published by ChiZine going back to 2008, only 20 titles or just under 14% generated total sales in BookScan of more than 500 copies. And many of these titles with 500 or more sales in BookScan were published years ago. 

Of the 50 books published by ChiZine since the start of 2016, BookScan tracks only two titles having more than 500 copies sold. 

Before I discuss what these sales numbers mean, let me give a few caveats. BookScan only reports some of the print trade sales in the United States and does not report e-book sales or how many books are lent by libraries. I’ve even seen estimates that BookScan only represents about 60% of actual physical book sales in the U.S.A.

But all that said, BookScan does give a good general idea of how book titles are selling. Many small presses have a much higher percentage of titles in BookScan with greater than 500 copies in sales. In fact, BookScan reported sales of 500 copies for a title isn’t really that good. A number of small presses would have individual titles with much higher numbers.

And please note these low BookScan sales numbers are in no way a reflection on any of the authors involved. In fact, these low numbers back up the statements shared with me that ChiZine had major issues with the marketing and promotion of their books

So again, what do these BookScan numbers mean? The numbers suggest that ChiZine could not exist as a publishing company if they had to rely solely on income generated by the sales of their books. This is what I meant when I said the larger genre and literary communities holds the fate of ChiZine in their hands. 

If ChiZine does not receive any more supporting grants, I don’t see how they can continue. And it appears granting organizations are starting to notice what is going on, with the Ontario Arts Council removing ChiZine as a recommending publisher for writer grants.

So in many ways, the fate of ChiZine is up to the genre and literary communities. If the changes at ChiZine are accepted by people as sufficient for all that happened, and if grant support is once again given to ChiZine, then nothing will really change.

But if the genre and literary communities say no more and don’t give ChiZine any more grant support, then perhaps we’ll see some true change.

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