So, What is Bookscan, Anyway?

When I set up my author page on Amazon, I discovered that one tool I can now use is NPD Bookscan. Bookscan is an arm of the Neilsen corporation, the same people who used to do television rating (I guess they still do). They provide a similar service for publishers, etc, tracking the sales of books.

In 2010, Amazon started making that information available to writers. Finally, I understand what all those writers are talking about on their blogs! The mysteries stand revealed, arcane no more!

Or… Maybe not.

Bookscan collects data on several “sales tracks.” Various Point of Sale systems interact gracefully with it – including most of the large chain bookstores (and Amazon), but smaller independent bookstores that use a proprietary, homegrown point of sale system, don’t have the staff, time or inclination to add another layer of work just to report. So those sales aren’t counted.

Sales from larger chain brick and mortal stores, and online sales (such as Amazon) are counted, however. It appears ebooks are not.

This article from the Independent Book Publishers Association lists several other areas that do not feed into Bookscan numbers.

  • Wholesale purchases
  • Publishers purchases
  • Purchases by libraries in many cases
  • Conference and bookfair purchases
  • Purchases by nonprofits
  • Purchases of books by “non-book” stores; examples include How-to books that might sell in a nursery, a hardware store or a craft shop.

And apparently WalMart does not report to NDP Bookscan either.

According to Author Central, NDP Bookscan does not report Kindle sales.

In 2015, John Scalzi had some comments to make about Bookscan. Largely, he pointed out the gaps in the data. At that time, Bookscan did not include audiobooks. (I don’t know if they do now, but I doubt it.) When he compared Bookscan data to his publisher’s data, Bookscan was only counting about 2/3 of his sales. They may be improving, or there may be other tools out there for tracking things like audiobooks and e-books.

Amazon’s Author Central provides a nice geographical (national) map, color coded by sales, as well as your “sales ranking” in Amazon. The lower that number is, the better. I was thrilled that Aluminum Leaves broke the 1 million ranking its first week. There were only 998,709 items that sold better than it did!

There is a downside to Amazon’s numbers though, and that is the categories that are sliced and diced so finely as to have nearly zero meaning. Ranking within SFF is reasonable; ranking within Urban Fantasy is also reasonable; I swear, though, sometimes I think they create categories like Books with a Brown Cover Sold on Saturday. Not useful. The categories of SFF and Urban Fantasy/Paranormal (while a stretch) tell me the book is finding its way to the right audience. The risk with Magic Realism, which is a category I’m well-ranked in, is that it may not be the right audience, which will create disappointment. On the other hand, who knows what Amazon thinks “Magic Realism” is? Those just might be fantasy readers who are happy with what they’re getting.

Neither Amazon nor Bookscan is counting my consignment books, which is mainly what I’m selling right now.

When I first looked at Bookscan, I didn’t check my categories carefully. I thought I’d sold 47 copies of Aluminum Leaves. Not so. That figure was an aggregate author figure and when I broke it out by book, most of those sales were for Strange California, in which I have a story. Tellingly, I know of a handful of Aluminum Leaves Kindle sales that do not show, and at least one bookstore order (from a local independent bookstore) that doesn’t show either, so I can see firsthand the gaps in these systems.

I think it’s interesting to watch, and perhaps compare with my royalty statements, which should show book sale as part of the formula.

This is all interesting. It can also be disappointing, if I let it. I want people to read the book. I want them to enjoy the book. And right now, I’m enjoying poking around at this array of data and stuff that I’ve heard people talk about and never seen before. So far, it’s fun and kind of weird.

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2 Responses to So, What is Bookscan, Anyway?

  1. Terry Connelly says:

    Wow! This is interesting information especially since it was touted at a recent conference.

  2. Marion says:

    I can see how it is worthwhile when you have conventional publisher and relatively big numbers… and national sales. Meanwhile, writers will have to find other ways to track sales. The good thing about consignment is by virtue of the contract, which specifies the number of books you consign, you know how many have sold and how many come back
    to you.

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