Everybody hypes

I was talking to a publisher at a small press book party not too long ago, and I asked him about the print run of the guest of honor’s book. The publisher looked at me sheepishly and said, “Officially, 40,000. In reality, 10,000.”

He went on to explain that this was how the business works, as far as he could tell: everybody lies, and everybody knows it. If you announce in Publisher’s Weekly that you’ve got a first run of 40,000, everyone does the mental calculation and says, “Ah, a 10,000 run.” If, however, you announce that your first run is 10,000, they assume you’ve made a couple of copies at the local print shop and you’re standing out on a streetcorner somewhere trying to sell them.

I have no idea how true or how pervasive this is — I’ve been putting out books for twelve years, and my own publishers have never let me in on this little secret, nor, as far as I can tell, have they ever tried to mislead anyone about my own miniscule print runs.

Which leads me to blog stats.

I’m not fixated on numbers, but since the blog just had its first birthday, and a happy bouncing boy it is, I was curious how the traffic was looking these days.

My ISP gives me the different numbers for visitors, page views, hits and so on, but it doesn’t make any differentiation for “unique” visitors, something I’ve seen other bloggers refer to. I’m guessing that some web stats programs log visitors’ IP addresses, but even at that, wouldn’t everyone on a dial up connection count as a new visitor each time they came to the site, since dial up users are assigned a different, temporary IP address every time they log on? And since there are still a whole lot of people using dial up accounts, doesn’t that mean that these numbers are always wildly inflated, no matter what?

So having said all that: for January, 2003, this site had 450,723 visitors and 662,769 pageviews. (I ignore “hits,” given that a single visitor to a single page can generate a couple dozen.) In February, 2002, those numbers were, respectively: 138,070 and 314,079.

As I say, everybody hypes. I don’t know what these numbers mean. For all I know, I’ve only got two readers, who have simply grown much more enthusiastic over the past year and now visit this site 225,361.5 times a month apiece. But however many of you there are, I am grateful that you keep coming back, particularly given the sometimes sporadic quantity and quality of the postings here. Which leads me to another point: if you haven’t done so already, please go to the links page and work your way through the blogroll. You’ll find a lot of people who put a lot more time into their blogs than I put into this one.

Update — one of my two readers elaborates on the blog numbers game:

I’m sure you’ll get a lot of opinions on this, but the only correct one is this : There is no such thing as an accurate “Number of unique visitors” stat, unless the host can account for what person is attending what IP address (I can do this for my site, because I know my mom’s IP address, and that pretty much takes care of it.) For instance, I generate hits on your blog from 6 different IPs. One of those IPs is shared with hundreds of thousands of T-Mobile customers. The other is shared with the 300 people at my work. The other four are static. And I don’t even demonstrate the headache of dynamic IP, which is the biggest problem.

Here’s a quote from the documentation for Analog, an excellent logfile analysis tool:

“You can’t tell how many visitors you’ve had. You can guess by looking at the number of distinct hosts that have requested things from you. Indeed this is what many programs mean when they report “visitors”. But this is not always a good estimate for three reasons. First, if users get your pages from a local cache server, you will never know about it. Secondly, sometimes many users appear to connect from the same host: either users from the same company or ISP, or users using the same cache server. Finally, sometimes one user appears to connect from many different hosts. AOL now allocates users a different hostname for every request. So if your home page has 10 graphics on, and an AOL user visits it, most programs will count that as 11 different visitors!”

So. It’s hopeless. If most of your fans are corporate proles all working for the same corporations behind the same firewalls, then your number of unique visitors will be much higher than your number of distinct hosts. If most of your fans are on dynamic IP, using AOL, or move from machine to machine a lot, then it goes the other way. Most people, I’m assuming, just hope there’s a good balance between the two and call it even.

Oh, and I generate significantly less than 225,361.5 pageviews per month, so the other guy must be clicking really hard to pick up the slack.

I suspected as much, which is why I’m not as fixated on the subject as some bloggers seem to be…