mandyhubbard (mandyhubbard) wrote,

Amazon Strikes Again!

This morning, the publishing world is in a frenzy over the fact that Amazon's Author Central now allows authors to see their own Nielsen Bookscan data for the last 4 weeks. Essentially, that means you can see how many copies of your book were sold in a single week.  The LA TIMES has an article on it.

Of course, the jokes abound. Authors are notoriously obsessed with amazon rankings, which is, I've discovered, quite irrelevant to the overall picture. The only useful thing it tells you is whether or not someone recently bought your book on amazon.

Bookscan data captures a larger picture, but not, by any means, all of it. It is *NOT* a number to hang your hat on. Bookscan themselves report that they capture only 75% of the market (Walmart and Samsclub are most definitely excluded, as are various other retail outlets).

Here's the one thing people seem to get confused about:

Bookscan captures point-of-sale data to consumers. Sally walks into Borders, buys your book, it is captured by Bookscan.

ROYALTY STATEMENTS capture something else entirely-- they capture books "sold" by your publisher to stores- -the chains, target, amazon, etc. Your publisher prints 30,000 books and ships 20,000. You get a statement saying you sold 20,000 copies. Did you really SELL 20,000 copies in that royalty period?  Not exactly.

This is where writer's get themselves into trouble-- a lot of data without a lot of framework. 

Wwriter's see their bookscan data and think, LOOK at that! Bookscan says I sold 5,000 copies in the first 6 months on sale. I have no idae if that is good. But that's what they say.

A royalty statement makes its way to your mail box, and this statement covers a 6 month period. But becuase the system is archaic, that period ended 3 months ago--  yeah, it takes them that long to print 'em up and mail em out.

Your royalty statement? Says you sold 20,000 copies in that same period.

Your little brain does some math and-- GASP! Bookscan only captured 25% of your sales! 

Yeah, not really. Chances are, they captured at least half, possibly closer to their purported number of 75%. Let's roll with it and pretend it's somewhere in the middle-- 65%.

Remember-- this is ALL FOR ILLUSTRATIVE PURPOSES! I'm making this up and it will bear no semblance on YOUR reality, becuase there's just no way to know for certain.

Bookscan says 5,000 copies. If you consider that to be 65%, your # of books sold to real live people would be 7,692 copies.

That probably means, at the time they printed your royalty statement, the other 12,000+ copies where sitting in stores all across the country. Consumers hand't bought them yet, but you get credit for those sales on a royalty statement, becuase the STORES bought them.
Now, let's say on your next statement, which then covers the 6-12 months post-release period,  there were 2,000 returns and 4,000 sales, for a net increase of 2,000 copies. So your royalty statement now says you've "sold" 22,000 copies.

Bookscan has been recording sales too. They say in this second 6 month perirod, you sold  another 5,000 books. Not too shabby for 6-12 months post-release, if you're not a big lead title. Bookscan's total sales now show at 10,000 copies. If we use the same random percent of 65%, it means that consumers have purchased 15,384 copies-- so now, if 22,000 copies were shipped, that means there are 6,000+ books left on store bookscelves nationwide.

Remember, these numbers are all for illustrative purposes-- no one knows for sure how accurate bookscan's 75% number is-- and if you ask me they're likely to inflate it a bit, hence the reason I consider it to be a bit lower.

Basic things to remember:
-The % bookscan "captures" compared to the # on your royalty statement will likely get closer and closer the longer you are post-release. That's because your pub probably isn't shipping massive amounts of books any more-- the books are already sitting on shelves now.

-Despite the flawed nature of the beast, publishers still rely on it quite a bit ,and may use those #s to decide whether or not to publish your next book, or what size of an advance to give you. If your bookscan numbers are far off of your royalty statements, make sure your agent uses that to equip her for battle-- she may be able to validate a higher advance with a bigger picture of the numbers than what bookcan has.

-Unlike the full service bookscan, Amazon does not keep running total. You can figure out the last few weeks trends, but you have no idea what the overall # is. So if you want that, dear authors, i suggest you pop open a spreadsheet and start recording the numbers on said sheet.

-At the end of the day, remember: you can't control whether people buy your book.


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