Volume I, Issue 4 -- November, 2000
Looking for Geoff Dyer on the Internet
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4. Interest in Dyer's BooksGeoff Dyer is a fairly successful author: he has published eight works to date (an achievement in and of itself). His books are reviewed (i.e. brought to public attention) and there has been considerable critical acclaim for them. He has won a Somerset Maugham Award and been on several shortlists for other literary honours. Dyer is, in fact, also a good writer.
Is he a popular writer ? Despite a reasonable amount of information by and about him that is available on the Internet, and despite some publishing success, it would seem not. His book-sale figures presumably are not absolutely dismal (he keeps getting published, after all), but a check of the popularity of his titles at Amazon.com, Barnes & Noble.com and Amazon.co.uk suggests he is not a particularly popular author.
Amazon -- and now Barnes & Noble -- (in)famously "rank" all the books on their sites by how well they sell, updating the top 100 frequently during the day (the top 10,000 or top 1,000,000 are updated less frequently). The sales rank does give a vague sense of how well a book is doing: neither Amazon nor Barnes & Noble gives sales figures for individual titles, so it is impossible to correlate them with sales ranks, but a spot in the top 100 would seem to indicate that the books are almost literally flying off the shelves. Casual observation by the complete review Quarterly suggest that, at Amazon.com, a position in the top 1000 indicates fairly brisk daily sales, a position in the top 10,000 decent daily sales, a position in the top 50,000 probably only single digit daily sales, a position in the top 250,000 at best a few copies per week, and anything outside the top 250,000 basically no sales whatsoever. (Note that this is just the complete review Quarterly's sense of sales figures at Amazon.com (in the fall of 2000), that this sense is not based on any actual sales data, and that the complete review Quarterly may be completely mistaken: actual sales might be much higher or much lower.) Note also that Amazon is only one book-selling outlet, representing only a fraction of total book-sales. As for the British branch, Amazon.co.uk, sales there are far smaller than at Amazon.com: the book that is ranked 5000th at Amazon.co.uk probably only has a fraction of the sales of the 5000th ranked title at Amazon.com. Barnes & Noble.com sales are also considerably smaller than those at Amazon.com.
The complete review Quarterly surveyed the sales rank of all available Geoff Dyer titles at Amazon.com, bn.com (Barnes & Noble), and Amazon.co.uk on September 5, 2000. The results were fairly disappointing, but in line with the absence of interest for information about Dyer generally on the Internet.
Sales Rank of Geoff Dyer's Books on the Internet Title Amazon.com
B & N.com
Ways of Telling o.o.p. o.o.p. o.o.p. The Colour of Memory 1,168,458¹ n.a 32,110² But Beautiful - cloth 95,190 394,239 n.a. But Beautiful - pbk 64,549 141,771 29,861 The Search o.o.p. o.o.p. o.o.p. The Missing of the Somme o.o.p. o.o.p. o.o.p. Out of Sheer Rage - cloth 40,185 215,006 n.a. Out of Sheer Rage - pbk 68,864 275,208 8684² Paris Trance - cloth 115,323 487,470 n.a. Paris Trance - pbk 229,217 32,431 19,892 Anglo-English Attitudes n.a. n.a. 24,729
¹: On order/not yet published
²: Temporarily out of stock
- o.o.p.: out of print
- n.a.: not applicable (no such edition exists, or it is also out of print)
- Highlighted titles link to the complete review's reviews of these titles.
- Highlighted sales rank figures link to Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk page on these titles (allowing you to compare the current sales rank with the reported ones).
It should be remembered that the correlation between sales rank and actual sales figures is unclear (and the complete review Quarterly suspects that there may, in fact, be little difference in the total number of books sold for a book ranked 60,000th and one ranked 230,000th at Amazon.com). In the UK there seems to be some interest in all of Dyer's books that are available, but none are doing exceptionally well.
Three of the titles are, in fact, completely out of print, while one more (The Colour of Memory) is listed at both Amazon sites but apparently not available. Sales of all Dyer titles at Barnes & Noble, except for the paperback of Paris Trance, seem negligible. But Beautiful seems to be a long-time slow but steady seller, and Out of Sheer Rage appears to continue to be selling fairly well (even though it is listed as being temporarily out of stock at Amazon.co.uk). Despite being reviewed fairly extensively in the US, Paris Trance seems to have been a flop in terms of sales in America (although it made a vaguely decent showing at Barnes & Noble).
These figures only reflect Internet sales (and, in fact, only those at three Internet outlets), and it is possible that Dyer is the type of author who does much better in traditional retail outlets. However, Dyer would appear to appeal to the same demographics that dominate Internet use (i.e. generally a younger audience) -- and, as an author who publishes fairly extensively on the Internet (at sites such as FEED and Contentville), would seem likely to attract more Internet-users than the average author. For whatever reason, Dyer has not been able to achieve noteworthy Internet sales.
An Internet presence can clearly help promote sales of an author's work. In an article at Slashdot Jon Katz reports how excerpting his book at that site improved the Amazon.com sales rank of his title (Running to the Mountain) greatly. (Note, however, that as of September, 2000, Katz's book languishes far down the list with a Dyer-like sales rank of 73,843.)
Possibly Dyer's books have also enjoyed considerably greater popularity at other times, perhaps racking up impressive sales figures around the time of the publication of each title. However, no such blips of increased interest have been noted in the popularity of the Geoff Dyer pages at the complete review. Despite the extensive coverage at the complete review, the complete review's Geoff Dyer reviews also do not enjoy great popularity (relatively speaking). Only once has a Dyer title made the "bestseller list" of most popular reviews (Out of Sheer Rage hit number 11 in July, 1999 (when there were only 172 titles under review)). Recent placings of Dyer titles have been considerably poorer:
Rank of Geoff Dyer reviews Title May, 2000
Ways of Telling 316 326 343 311 326 The Colour of Memory 208 289 352 272 310 But Beautiful 192 263 189 139 176 Out of Sheer Rage 197 254 245 248 163 Paris Trance 210 194 257 200 266 Anglo-English Attitudes 298 332 313 315 335
Note: The numbers in brackets under each month indicate the total number of books under review at the end of that month -- i.e. in July Ways of Telling was the 343rd most popular review, out of a total of 438 reviews.
Given how easy it is to find these reviews, as well as the complete review's Geoff Dyer page (which has links to all the reviews), it remains baffling why these pages do not enjoy greater popularity. The inescapable conclusion is that few people are interested in Geoff Dyer and his work, or at least that they feel they do not need to find information about him and his books on the Internet.
Geoff Dyer is a very talented author, and his books are held in high regard by the complete review. He seems exactly the sort of author that should benefit by a web-presence. His work is not heavily publicized, but is relatively well known and critically acclaimed -- the type of author whose name one comes across and would like to learn more about. The empirical evidence suggests that these assumptions are all incorrect.
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ConclusionGeoff Dyer publishes on the Internet. Geoff Dyer's books are available on the Internet (a few of them, anyway). Information about Geoff Dyer is available on the Internet (mainly at the complete review). No one seems to care.
The Internet is still in its infancy. The possibilities of what can be done on it are still limited -- and little of what is possible is being done. It is a sad state of affairs when the complete review's meagre Geoff Dyer page is the most prominent and comprehensive information-site about the author available on the so-called World Wide Web. This, however, is a situation that will surely change.
Sadder still is that no one seems interested in what little information is available -- a situation that may not change. The reach of the Internet is still somewhat limited, though presumably a large percentage of those who are likely readers of Geoff Dyer's work are able to gain access to the Internet. The World Wide Web is, however, huge, with literally billions of pages, many of which are competing for attention. Pages devoted to Geoff Dyer and his work do not seem a priority. The complete review's Geoff Dyer page and the individual reviews do receive several hundred page views monthly, but even among the complete review's quirky and limited selection of authors and reviews they consistently rank among the less popular pages.
Possibly the reason lies with Mr. Dyer and his work which, despite critical acclaim and some devoted fans, may simply not appeal to a larger audience. However, one must also conclude that the Internet, at least at this stage, does not provide an ideal forum and marketing opportunity for most authors. Dyer's work is fairly widely reviewed and publicized, and he publishes many smaller articles, on and off the Internet, keeping his name in circulation. Interest in him and his work is bound to be greater than in the many practically anonymous toilers who also seek to spread the word about themselves and their work on the Internet.
If Dyer can't achieve success (in terms of people actively seeking out information about him and his works on the Internet) then who can ? Is it really only an elite class of mass-marketed names -- Stephen King, Harry Potter, and a few dozen others -- that will grab the lion's share of attention ? Possibly the pie will ultimately be so large that the crumbs left over will, themselves, amount to substantial interest; for now, however, the situation looks much less promising than what most people seem to have hoped for.
Certainly, there is not enough evidence currently available to reach conclusive a judgement. Popularity of pages devoted to specific authors and works at the complete review may or may not be indicative of actual interest in these authors and works. The review of John Irving's A Prayer for Owen Meany bafflingly (though perhaps understandably) continues to be the most accessed review at the complete review, while other authors with author pages (John Irving does not have one at the complete review) and with numerous titles under review are almost completely ignored. (Hilary Mantel, six of whose works are under review, is the most prominent example, arousing considerably less interest than even Geoff Dyer and his work).
With a few hundred books under review the complete review provides information about only the tiniest fraction of titles available. It does, however, attract a significant number of users -- and they are fairly consistent in which titles they want information about and which they ignore. Geoff Dyer remains near the bottom of the large mid-list here. For now the complete review -- and the Internet generally -- seem to have done little to widen his audience or increase sales of his titles. And if it hasn't worked for an author of the likes of Dyer then one wonders how it will work for obscurer authors.
Links:Geoff Dyer at the complete review:
Other Geoff Dyer links:
- The complete review's Geoff Dyer page
- Anglo-English Attitudes
- But Beautiful
- The Colour of Memory
- Out of Sheer Rage
- Paris Trance
- Ways of Telling
- A Geoff Dyer feature at Pure Fiction
- Dyer piece on Reader's Block, from L.A.Weekly
- Dyer essay, Burning to meet the Man, at FEED
- Salon's The Worst Books of 1998 (one of which is Out of Sheer Rage)
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