Fake news and misleading stats…

Hmm…LinkedIn? Now that Microsoft owns them, you have to wonder what they’re using that website for beyond ads. They’re certainly discouraging discussion groups, my favorite feature, but for what reason? Maybe they realize they can’t compete with Google or Facebook—the former makes a major portion of its profit from ads, although Google+ is weak compared to both in discussions, and the latter is trying to catch up with the ads but lights up with discussions.

They all have fake news. Should we also call misleading stats that appear on all of these fake news? Stats are rarely “clean.” First, authors of articles using them often leave out the hypotheses and description of how the dataset was collected and processed. Second, they often jump to conclusions based on biased sampling techniques. Third, the author of the article can choose, and often does, only those stats that support her or his opinion. It’s all a bit like the Bible: you can find stuff there that will support any position if you look for it.

Yep, many articles quoting stats are fake news if not downright lies. Here’s a recent example that occurred on LinkedIn. The author of a post was probably an innocent victim, but she provided a link to an article about a Nielsen report that gives stats showing ebooks are in decline. Do you follow links like this? It can be dangerous because the link might allow a virus or other malware to invade your laptop or smart phone. Your best bet is to go to the original site if it looks OK and read the article. That said, I read the entire Nielsen report.

But more on Microsoft’s LinkedIn for a moment. I’ve never found much use for it. I have a lot of connections. A lot of them are good people who seem to think I’m someone useful to connect with. Me, the introverted fiction writer? The shy fellow who will never do blog radio and is uncomfortable at any event where I have to appear in person and participate in one-on-one conversations? (I taught large lecture classes at one time, but there is a certain anonymity in that situation that made them easier for me. First days were scary in any class, though—and I was the professor!)

As a writer, I get emails about job offers in my area, but I’m a full-time fiction writer, regular blogger and reviewer, and have more virtual friends on social media than real ones—I’m not interested in traditional writing jobs in the corporate world. Because I have a website, website gurus who see me on LinkedIn often offer me all kinds of services that will make my website the greatest one around. I blow them off with a knee-jerk reaction because I’m quite satisfied with the website help that Monkey C Media gives me—led by Jeniffer Thompson who understands authors and their needs, they have been a tremendous help. I could make the same comments about PR and marketing people who promise to make a book into a bestseller. They’re easy to ignore when the offers are clearly form emails, or they haven’t bothered to check that I have more than one book. (That leads to a pet peeve—most of these places will not push a series!)

I use LinkedIn exclusively for the discussion groups about publishing and the writing business. For me, it’s a complement to Goodreads, which I love because I’m an avid reader and was one for a long time before I started publishing my own stuff. Goodreads is about reading, and I relate to the readers in the discussion groups there. LinkedIn has discussion groups more focused on the business end.

So, I was led to that Nielsen report because there was a link to it in a post on LinkedIn. So much for LinkedIn. What about the report? After reading it, my immediate comment in that discussion thread was that the Nielsen stats were misleading. Better said, Nielsen made lies by omission. They only considered traditional publishers. I’ll admit that I don’t have stats on indie ebooks. Maybe Amazon or Smashwords does (the latter is probably all indie, but I’m not sure). When you read the full article you realize that the statement “ebook sales are in decline and print sales are up” should have the qualifier “for traditional publishing.” They do make the statement that readers want quality at a fair price. For the sake of argument, let’s assume that traditionally published books are good quality. The implication then is that the ebooks aren’t offered at a fair price.

But we’re really talking about what the market will bear, aren’t we? When a traditionally published ebook is priced above $10 and only a few dollars below or the same as the print version, readers might opt for the print version, thus driving up its sales, or skip the book altogether and buy an indie ebook in the same genre. Traditional publishers are biasing these stats by overpricing their ebooks. Many readers, especially avid readers like me, won’t pay more than $10 for an ebook (I generally won’t pay more than $5, in fact). Quality per cost for traditionally published ebooks is low.

That’s even more true when we consider that many traditional publishers release the print versions first, generally hard-bounds—I’ve seen retail prices above $20 (what a bookstore often charges)—followed by paperback versions for those ubiquitous drugstore and airport stands (indies can make paperbacks now on Amazon, but I doubt they’ll make those stands), and finally the ebook versions. The ebook versions, being an afterthought for squeezing as much as possible out of the market, are often poor quality too, much worse than the average indie—bad editing (why, I don’t know), bad formatting, and bad cover art. All that minimizes that quality per cost ratio for the traditionally published ebook.

Without the stats, I can only say that I believe that indie ebooks aren’t in a decline—they’re holding their own because readers want quality at a reasonable cost. Indie is a good choice for that. Does that mean that an avid reader should avoid traditionally published ebooks? Same question for writers. The answer: No! There are many kinds of traditional publishers. The Big Five, those huge publishing conglomerates, tend to gouge more on price and present readers with a low-quality ebook product. Small presses and imprints are much better (until they’re swallowed up by the Big Five, of course). Everything from complete DIY to more traditional small presses and imprints can serve a writer well, and the products of these enterprises offer good quality for a reasonable price to avid readers.

The lesson here is that stats can be misleading. Whether they’re fake news or not is debatable. My take is that, if it a stat report misleads the reader of the report, it becomes fake news for that reader. Be careful. Be watchful. Be smart.


Did you know the complete “Detectives Chen and Castilblanco Series” is now available on Smashwords in all ebook formats and at all its affiliated retailers (Apple, B&N, Kobo, and so forth) and lenders (Overdrive, for example). The first book in the series is on sale at Smashwords until March 1. Of course, the entire series is also available on Amazon in .mobi (Kindle) format.

In libris libertas!

2 Responses to “Fake news and misleading stats…”

  1. Scott Dyson Says:

    One of my conservative Trump-supporter friends linked to an article done by Prager University (whatever that is — a right wing school or a think tank, I guess — he’s always posting their stuff) that talked about ten examples of fake news by the “liberal media.” All were tweets. The big problem with them seemed to be that the initial tweet gets spread around like wildfire, then the corrective tweets only get a tenth, if that, of that number in retweeting.

    Most of the examples of “fake news” were not exactly fake. They were, for the most part, generalizations or exaggerations of something that really happened. (Like putting Betsy DeVos’ comment about protecting from grizzly bears into context, or allowing mentally disabled to get guns due to the removal of a regulation. The follow-up tweets were not shared nearly as much as the initial ones.)

    I think there’s a difference between saying that some mentally ill people will have access to guns and then finding out that it’s only a small fraction of all mentally ill people, namely, those who (IIRC) have some sort of memory degradation due to old age, who will now be allowed to buy guns, and saying that Sweden had major terror attacks on Saturday night, or there was a massacre at Bowling Green. One is reporting on something that’s happened, perhaps prematurely before a full understanding of the actual event or order, and the other is just making stuff up. The latter seems far more dangerous.

  2. Steven M. Moore Says:

    Hi Scott,
    The Times today (2/25) had an interesting article listing all the fake news spewing out of Trump’s mouth. He’s like your friend, reading stuff that’s fake and then repeating it on Twitter–no one checks it.
    The attack on the news media is the prime indicator that Trump and his cronies are fascists. Even McCain and some other GOP members of Congress lamented Trump’s declaration that the fake news media is the enemy of America (“fake” is unnecessary here because Trump considers any news he thinks sheds a negative light on his fascism is “fake”).
    The Times and other news outlets were banned from a recent press conference. The spin? They weren’t really banned because they weren’t invited. C’mon, Mr. Trump!
    PS. When this admin takes control of the internet (any day now), blogs like this one will be outlawed.