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Graphic Content: When Bad Charts Happen To Good People, Amazon Edition…

March 31st, 2011 · 11 Comments
Fun With Data · Graphic Content

A friend of mine sent me the following chart with a request for explanation:

Note to chart makers: if your charts require explanation, you’re doing it wrong.

In case you’re curious, the problem here is generally one of consistency. First, the bars themselves aren’t even all representing comparable entities- the last bar is presumably a “total” category but isn’t explicitly labeled as such, and the other bars can’t decide whether they want to represent one or multiple companies at a time. (I can, however, see that the Best Buy and Barnes & Noble/Borders numbers are just carried over to the last bar from their individual bars, which, if nothing else, makes me wonder why they needed to be in separate bars in the first place.) If the rightmost bar is in fact a total category, I would like to know where Amazon’s existing sales are in that bar, since they seem to have disappeared into thin air rather than being carried over from the Amazon bar. To be fair, I can’t really tell whether the Amazon bar should be carried over or not, since I don’t know precisely what “Media” and “EGM” are supposed to represent. Do these fall under the “Books & Consumer Electronics” category or not? Inquiring minds want to know. On that note, why is the Amazon bar broken up by…whatever this designation is rather than by company like the other bars? And what are the percentages supposed to be- are they growth rates? (If so, over what period? And why doesn’t Amazon get to grow?) Percent of a mythical total? (If this is the case, I would particularly like to know how the 667% figure was arrived at.)

Mind you, none of this even mentions my personal pet peeve of asterisks and footnotes that don’t go anywhere. In this case, I am going to be left forever wondering what details (1) and (2) are supposed to provide. Maybe they would have been the key to understanding this mess and now I will never reach enlightenment.

In any case, the bottom line is this: friends don’t let friends make bad charts. If you know someone you you think may have a problem, let me know and we can stage an intervention or something.

P.S. If you really want to read the article after all of this, you can find it here.

P.P.S. I figured it was a good time to remind you of this:

Tags: Fun With Data · Graphic Content

11 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Daniel // Mar 31, 2011 at 5:23 pm

    AMEN!! I volunteer for the intervention… There is something worse than a bad chart… the chart makers that do not know they are misleading! And even worse, when they are misleading on purpose!

  • 2 Connor Barclay // Mar 31, 2011 at 5:32 pm

    First, this chart is ridiculous.

    Second, the percentages seem to be the Net Sales of each bar relative to Amazon’s Net Sales. For consistency, they should have put 100% on the Amazon bar.

    I can’t believe this came out of Morgan Stanley Research… that’s embarrassing!

  • 3 Eric // Mar 31, 2011 at 6:36 pm

    This chart is beyond bad… did someone *pay* for its production?

  • 4 Melissa A // Mar 31, 2011 at 6:40 pm

    Serious need of a secondary axis here if they truly feel that reporting it in this type of graph is the best way.

    There is so little inconsistency I don’t think one could fix what is here. Redo the chart with each supplier, possible different colors of bars for the different types of goods and then a secondary axis showing the percentage of total goods for each supplier.

    Of course I am trying to interpret a chart that has very little value or meaning in its present state.

  • 5 Eat The Babies! // Apr 1, 2011 at 1:20 pm

    Hmm… I mean, it could have been done better, but I got the point of this chart right away.

    Borders, Barnes & Noble and Best Buy are all about to die and their market share will die with them. Amazon is not about to die. Who else is going to capture that market share?

    Answer: Amazon.

    That’s the point, am I wrong? They just want to show big growth potential.

  • 6 Krzysztof Wiszniewski // Apr 1, 2011 at 5:24 pm

    Stupid though I am, I think I can decipher this.

    As I see it, the chart compares Amazon to its closest competitors and the total market for books and consumuer electronics.

    The percentages show market share relative to Amazon: thus B&N/Borders have sales equivalent to 38% of Amazon’s, Best Buy has 60% more, while the total market is over six times as big in sales terms as Amazon’s share of it.

    The reason why Amazon wasn’t included in the total market bar could be that it is the market MINUS Amazon, that is: the sales of all its competitors combined, thus showing the potential size of the market that Amazon could still wrest from its competitors.

    The Media/EGM split is perplexing, as I’ve not been able to find any convincing decryption of the abbreviation. My top guess would be something along the lines of Electonics/Games/Music, but then wouldn’t the latter two be classifed as media?

    In any case, the chart is utterly atrocious.

  • 7 FT Alphaville » Further reading // Apr 5, 2011 at 3:12 am

    […] – When bad charts happen to good people. […]

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