While stuck on the bus (again) this morning on my way in to work, I was thinking about publishing, and royalties, and authors, and all the things I think about each day as a literary agent. When I finally got to my office, half an hour late for my 9:30 meeting and after over 2 hours of commuting fun, I found this article by Laura Munson who I’ve blogged about before Rejection inspiration when I shared her amazing journey to published, and now bestselling, author. She brings up in a sometimes crass but humorous way questions that many authors have about obtaining sales figures after their book is published. As she puts it: “Any businessperson should be able to see sales reports to judge how to proceed in peddling what she’s peddling, shouldn’t she?” Since publishers still (for now) only report earnings on average twice a year, and usually several months after the statement period closes, and they don’t include any sort of breakdown on where books are selling, how are authors supposed to help tap into new markets or take advantage of popular markets? It seems a basic almost obvious question, and one that doesn’t have a great answer in the publishing model.
In the past, if you had several thousand dollars a year to spend on Bookscan, a database that tracks actual book sales that has been around almost 10 years, or had an agent or editor with access and willing to share numbers, you could access real sales information by location, but it still didn’t track all accounts, only the major retailers (B&N, Amazon, Target etc.). Independent bookstores, for examples, and libraries, don’t report sales to Bookscan. Presumably publishers do have access to more accurate and specific sales data, but they don’t generally share it with authors or agents. I recall hearing that Random House has a “policy” not to share numbers with authors in between royalty statements. It’s really tough to get answers about where a particular title is selling, and that can be confusing and frustrating for an author, especially a first time author, who is trying to figure out where to focus their marketing and publicity efforts.
The Amazon service which Munson describes, which is pretty cool for authors, especially since it’s free (I wonder what kind of deal Amazon and Bookscan worked out to be able to do this!), offers authors data derived from Bookscan (you can have increased access for a fee). It includes sales figures, updated each week, as well as geographic data, which, as Amazon describes on their website, “can help you plan and measure the effects of your next book tour”. It still doesn’t give you information on which retailers are selling in which quantities, but it’s more than authors ever knew before.
In this highly competitive and difficult market, any advantage you have in learning more about how and where your books are selling is a good thing. It makes me wonder what authors are doing with this information since this program began, and how many are taking advantage of it. If you are a published author, or if you aren’t but can imagine being one someday, what are you doing or what would you do with this sales feedback? Munson talks about considering events in places where her book isn’t selling. Can you think of cool ways to take advantage of this previously proprietary sales data?