Tuesday, March 14, 2006

PTC #5

5. Real Sales Numbers: How many books really did sell last week? How many copies of each book on the best sellers lists (and the midlist as well)? Which venues are selling (online vs main stores vs independents).

If I were a publisher, I could tell you this. Unfortunately I'm not, and I have no access to reliable information to answer these questions.

It's frustrating. As we all know, bestseller lists can be artificially manipulated and therefore are not dependable. Online bookseller sales often represent only a very small fraction of an author's sales (in my case, less than 1%), so their rankings are essentially useless. Publishers aren't volunteering a lot of information and I doubt they're going to start. If you want to know how well one of your books (or anyone else's) is selling, you have to wait six months to two years for a royalty statement.

Or maybe not. Guess what. I got a bit of decent info by doing some digging. :)

I contacted Susan Pavliscak, Sales Manager for Nielsen BookScan, and asked her if her company could offer any services to authors and other independent publishing professionals. I whined all over the poor woman while I explained how for example there is no source of information for authors to access to even verify their sales figures as reported by publishers.

Here is her response:

"Nielsen BookScan collects data from a panel of reporting retailers...This data is combined with some weighted figures and made available through a proprietary website and by subscription to the book industry. Please note that Nielsen BookScan does not capture sales from Wal*Mart, Sam's Club, food and drug outlets or specialty stores. Because of this, the data is not appropriate for calculating royalties.

At present we have no product suitable for individual use. However, our sister company The Book Standard began offering a service to individuals."

So I wandered over to The Book Standard and checked out the services they offer. For $85.00, TBS will look up and provide weekly and year-to-date sales figures for any edition of any book from January 2004 to present (the more title reports you buy, the cheaper it gets, up to ten books for $600.00.)

TBS further describes their reports: "Each separate look-up contains the total sales for the given week, which are broken down into: units sold in retail stores and discount/other stores; sales in eight different geographic regions; and a city/suburb breakdown. Each look-up also has the current year-to-date sales of the book." and offers a sample report in .pdf format here.

I know it's not a complete solution to the numbers problem, but it's not a bad deal for the author looking to track sales on their most recent novels (like other veterans out there, I'm SOL on all my books published before 2004, which is about one third of my backlist.)

Question for you guys: if I buy one of these for one of my books, would you all be interested in seeing it?

Related links:

Marina Krakovsky's article Making Books explains how "totting up book sales is not as simple as one, two, three."

2 Blowhards' post on Bestseller Lists (written before BookScan.)

Nielsen BookScan sites for the USA, UK, and Australia.


  1. You should only buy it for your books if YOU value the idea. If you're willing to share, I'm interested in seeing it.

    Thanks for checking into this. It looks potentially useful for providing data during that long stretch between royalty statements. Regional information should be useful for gauging the impact of marketing efforts, book tours, or drive-by work.

  2. Anonymous11:30 AM

    Question for you guys: if I buy one of these for one of my books, would you all be interested in seeing it?

    Yes, that would be interesting but, hum, what Jean said, too :)

    I can't help but find it pretty expensive. I guess I just don't realise the interest-price ratio.


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