Q4U: Bookscan Numbers on Amazon

The Internet lit up yesterday with the new development over at Amazon—the fact that they’re now giving authors their sales information from Bookscan. If you’re an author with an account at Amazon’s Author Central (if you have a book on Amazon, you’d better have an Author Central page!) then you can now access your sales reports by region and by time period.

The numbers Amazon is reporting are from Bookscan, which is an admittedly incomplete picture of your sales since Bookscan doesn’t report on the entire market. From Amazon: “BookScan combines sales reported by participating retailers, including Borders and Walden, Barnes & Noble, Amazon.com, Target, and Buy.com. Some retailers do not participate, including Wal-mart and Sam’s Club. These data do not include Kindle or other eBook sales, used books sales, wholesale purchases, or sales to libraries.” Many Christian retailers are also not reported on Bookscan.

Nevertheless, this is revolutionary because it’s the first time authors have had access to their own sales numbers without going through the publisher or having a subscription to Bookscan, which authors can do for a reasonable price through some writers’ organizations. But now the numbers are just a click away, and they’re free.

I think access to information is a good thing. Understanding reality and hard numbers can help authors make better decisions about their promotional efforts, and how to spend their time. It can also help you keep a realistic picture in your mind of how your books are selling, and perhaps decrease unreasonable expectations.

However. Call me crazy but it seems to me most writers have enough to obsess over already—and enough things distracting them from the work of actually sitting down to write. How many writers will use this information wisely, and how many will find it to be just one more reason to stress out?

Q4U: Do you think having access to Bookscan sales numbers will help you, hurt you, or perhaps a little of both? How do you think you’ll use this new feature?

Here are a few articles in case you haven’t seen them yet:
LA Times – the report
LA Times – authors respond
CBS Business Network.

Have a good weekend!

Image from LA Times.

© 2010 Rachelle Gardner, Literary Agent

Rachelle Gardner

Literary agent at Gardner Literary. Coffee & wine enthusiast (not at the same time) and dark chocolate connoisseur. I've worked in publishing since 1995 and I love talking about books!


  1. fontanna czekoladowa on December 29, 2011 at 11:03 PM


    […]check below, are some totally unrelated websites to ours, however, they are most trustworthy sources that we use[…]……

  2. Dave Cullen on December 14, 2010 at 12:39 AM

    >I'm ecstatic about the numbers. (And tickled that you and I got quoted back to back in the Christian Science Monitor.)

    This is decades over-due. I'm still trying to figure out why the publishers never did this.

    It would be nice if we could inch that 75% coverage figure closer to 100–like every other pop culture industry. Perhaps author interest will nudge some holdouts to play ball.

    Of course authors will obsess about the numbers sometimes, but every single author I know has already obsessed over our Amazon rankings, so much better to spend that time with real numbers that are much more reliable.

    And this only updates once a week, instead of hourly.

    I think all the cautionary notes I'm hearing are odd, and I have to say, Luddite. Information is good. This is the most basic data that no product manager could imagine working without. And yes, we're all product managers of our own books, whether we want to our not. (Either we are, or no one is.)

    I strongly disagree with the sentiment by one commenter that we can't do anything about our sales anyway. Of course we can. We can't dictate sales, and what we can do is often slow, but it's cumulative. We can have a huge impact over time–especially over a career.

  3. Julie Weathers on December 13, 2010 at 11:40 AM

    >I'm still in the obsessing about query letters, synopses and outlines stage. Thankfully, I have stopped obsessing about revisions.

    I think if I had a book out and I read reviews and book sales daily it would be too discouraging to want to write more. I'm sure I'm missing a great opportunity, but I can't write well when I have something negative clawing at my brain.

  4. Elizabeth O. Dulemba on December 12, 2010 at 8:40 AM

    >Not only is this a great tool, I think it is SO smart for Amazon to offer it to authors. They just turned a few minds into happy followers rather than skeptical dragon slayers.

  5. kathy taylor on December 10, 2010 at 7:46 PM

    >Was very excited to learn this yesterday. My publisher directed me there. Thanks.

  6. Karen Carr on December 10, 2010 at 7:23 PM

    >When can I have access to other people's bookscan numbers, that's what I really want to know!

  7. Christina Katz on December 10, 2010 at 3:08 PM

    >Okay, I take it back. This is amazing information. I think the implications are big — and it's all good news for authors, agents, and publishers. But I'll have to say more later, because as you so wisely pointed out, Rachelle, this could become a huge time suck. The long and the short of what I think is that this will be an incredibly helpful tool, not necessarily during book-writing times (that's where I'm at right now) but it during book promotion times (which I'm always doing but never more than when a book is just out). Thanks so much for bringing it to my attention. Happy holidays!

  8. Christina Katz on December 10, 2010 at 2:46 PM

    >If I told you my reaction was, "Oh no," would that answer your question?

    Signed a very busy author who does not need anymore online distractions.

  9. Eileen on December 10, 2010 at 1:31 PM

    >I've been fortunate as my editor had always been happy to share numbers with me in between royalty statements. However I like having my own access. This is my career and I like to have information to assist me in making decisions. To me it is no different than running a restaurant and wanting to reading the customer feedback cards or see the sales receipts at the end of the day.

  10. T. Anne on December 10, 2010 at 1:28 PM

    >Knowledge is power. That being said, I would love the breakdown of sales. Of course I'd obsess over the numbers, but only because I'm passionate about my craft and passion breeds obsession.

  11. Katie Ganshert on December 10, 2010 at 1:20 PM

    >Wendy! LOL! It's a serious condition. Attached hearts.

  12. Katherine Hyde on December 10, 2010 at 1:09 PM

    >I'm glad it's there. It's somewhat useful, and I think I can keep from checking it obsessively. But for those who are tempted to be obsessive, it's certainly taking the temptation to another level.

  13. Bill Peschel on December 10, 2010 at 12:56 PM

    >If writers are expected to pull most of the marketing weight, then we need to educate ourselves about sales, even if, in the end, we learn that we should ignore it.

    So, yes, I checked my figures, and have no idea if my book, "Writers Gone Wild," is doing well or not. But I want to find out …

  14. Bill Peschel on December 10, 2010 at 12:56 PM

    >If writers are expected to pull most of the marketing weight, then we need to educate ourselves about sales, even if, in the end, we learn that we should ignore it.

    So, yes, I checked my figures, and have no idea if my book, "Writers Gone Wild," is doing well or not. But I want to find out …

  15. Jean Ann Williams on December 10, 2010 at 11:53 AM

    >Keeping up with sales is part of the business of writing, but like anything other than writing, spread it out with other tasks. Depending on your nature, less may be best.

    Thanks, Rachelle, for more great info.

  16. Rachelle on December 10, 2010 at 11:41 AM

    >Katdish: I changed the wording in the post to reflect the fact that Amazon sales of printed books are included in Bookscan reports, but sales of electronic editions are not. Thanks!

  17. Janice Hardy on December 10, 2010 at 11:19 AM

    >I get weekly Bookscan sales reports from my agent already, and they have made me crazy and stressed me out at times. I like knowing the numbers to get a sense of how the industry works a and how my book is doing, but blank numbers with no context can be rough. The first time I saw my release week figures and had no idea if they were good or bad. And for the first few months, every time the numbers dropped I'd panic.

    Eventually I figured out there's a cycle to sales, and they go up and down, and since I can't do anything about them, there's no use stressing over them. But there are days when I wonder if getting them is a good idea. If you worry easily, it might not be a good thing to know. I can be very stressful.

  18. nightwriter on December 10, 2010 at 11:14 AM

    >I think that's GREAT news for an author! We need more control and power over our careers and this will tell us like it is without playing guessing games. I think authors need to be educated and smart about their sales, and not be left in the dark. Bravo!

  19. katdish on December 10, 2010 at 11:03 AM

    >Wait…are you SURE those figures don't include Amazon's sales? I must have read their explanation incorrectly.

  20. Linda Jackson on December 10, 2010 at 9:48 AM

    >This is very helpful info if you are doing your own marketing. It would have helped me a great deal several years ago when I was on an aggressive marketing campaign directed toward middle schools. I called Ingram and asked if they could give me a clue as to who was buying my books so that I could know what was working and what was not. They would not give me this info.

    I just got this email from Amazon this morning, and it has already helped me. A "library set" of my book was purchased just last week, and I assumed it was from one of the schools that I had marketed to recently. But it wasn't. It was from a totally different geographic region where I have NEVER marketed the book. Now I know to follow-up with that area and ensure that word about my book spreads. So, yes, authors could definitely benefit from this info.

  21. Catherine West on December 10, 2010 at 9:48 AM

    >Well, knowing my personality, I'll probably be using this feature, but I think I'll need a support group to go along with it.
    I admire those folks who can say the numbers don't matter. I guess it all goes back to the age old question of why are we doing this…or who are we doing this for?
    But I'm not getting on that merry-go-round here!
    Have a great weekend, Rachelle!

  22. Sharon Bially on December 10, 2010 at 9:46 AM

    >I think it's wonderful. In this day and age, authors need to think like entrepreneurs. Publishing is a business and writing is a job, so the same realities need to apply as in other fields, and includes numbers. Of course, it's up to each author to decide when and how often to check, and to manage the potential"obsession" in a constructive way.

  23. Keli Gwyn on December 10, 2010 at 9:32 AM

    >Wow! I see potential in this. Knowing where a book is selling well could help an author determine where to focus her promotion efforts. However, said author would have to use the information wisely and not let it become a source of discouragement or distraction. I've heard viewing sales rankings and such can become addicting.

  24. Tim A Martin on December 10, 2010 at 9:00 AM

    >I think it has to be a big help. Especially since most authors are expected to do their own marketing. I think as you mentioned, it'll only help authors direct their attention more efficiently.

  25. Kathryn Magendie on December 10, 2010 at 8:43 AM

    >I stopped looking for reviews, and I stopped looking at my rankings/reviews on Amazon more than a year ago, and it was the best decision, for me, that I have made. I felt as if a weight lifted from my shoulders, and I quit waking up feeling anxious about those things.

    So, I won't be looking at these numbers, either.

    It's just too easy to become obsessed about these things.

  26. BK on December 10, 2010 at 8:21 AM

    >Yes, I can see how it can become something new to obsess over. On the other hand, it seems like authors have so little access to anything useful that ANY data, even if incomplete, is better than none.

    I particularly like the idea of the regional breakdown.

  27. Richard Mabry on December 10, 2010 at 8:15 AM

    >I checked out the feature out of curiosity, but doubt that I'll go back to it on a regular basis. Maybe if I have a specific question or wonder whether an ad campaign or something similar had any effect. As you pointed out, the numbers are an incomplete reflection of sales. The only accurate numbers come when the royalty statement arrives.

  28. Heather Sunseri on December 10, 2010 at 8:07 AM

    >Thanks Katie and Wendy for the laugh this morning. Oh, dear…

    Back to Rachelle's question… I'm a numbers person, so I'm excited to have that kind of information available. I think writers should see it like an investment portfolio, though. Most investment advisors will tell clients that they shouldn't look at their portfolio every day, every week or even every month in many cases. I think authors will probably need to limit how often they obsess over, I mean study, their sales numbers.

  29. Wendy Paine Miller on December 10, 2010 at 7:53 AM

    >I like Sharon's comparison. And Katie, having an attached heart is a good thing. Sorry, couldn't resist. 😉

    I'm about to click on some of the articles, but I'm 50/50 on this. I love learning ways I can improve on things but sometimes this influx of information starts to feel Big Brotherish and time consuming.

    I've found it invaluable to focus on things that impact legitimate improvement, like my writing and developing online connections.

    Jury is out for me.

    Hope you have a good weekend too, Rachelle.

    ~ Wendy

  30. Timothy Fish on December 10, 2010 at 7:49 AM

    >That is just downright cool! I don't know if it'll help me or not, but it's kinda fascinating to me that I can see that I've sold books in Maine. I've never been to Maine.

  31. Sharon A. Lavy on December 10, 2010 at 7:15 AM

    >It sounds like a dieter getting on the scales. Once a week but not more. Maybe not that often if you know you are obsessed.

  32. Wendy Shang on December 10, 2010 at 6:07 AM

    >I just got the e-mail from Amazon about this – and deleted it. It's just too much to obsess over. If I ever think I have the resources (and mental discipline) to use the information meaningfully, I might look, but for now I'm shooting for out of sight, out of mind.

  33. Katie Ganshert on December 10, 2010 at 5:58 AM

    >I think they would officially give me a heart attach.

  34. Erastes on December 10, 2010 at 4:20 AM

    >I cured myself of obsessing about sales on Amazon – and it only took several years! 😀 I won't be allowing myself to get sucked back in – after all, i get sales numbers from the publishers!

  35. pathunstrom on December 10, 2010 at 4:00 AM

    >I haven't really determined where I stand on the 'numbers', as I feel I do use my numbers effectively in an effort to expand my marketing reach. But I can see how things like this will actually hurt some people as they stress over the regular updates.

    This is a very nice service from Amazon, though.