Sunday, March 1, 2009

Definitions for the Perplexed: Bookscan

Is wrong information better than no information?

For many publishers, the answer is yes.

Bookscan is a service that started in 2001, and gathers information from bookstores about what books are sold every week. Not all bookstores report to Bookscan. They have about 13,000 retailers reporting to them from across the country, and then they use the figures from each one to extrapolate about the retailers in each area from whom they don't have sales numbers.

So the sales numbers Bookscan reports are a guess. But on top of that, Bookscan is also only recording the sales of books in bookstores... which does not include any sales direct from the publisher, through school or library accounts, through bookclubs, etc etc etc.

A particular book's Bookscan sales number can often be half what the book's true sales numbers are-- and are sometimes more like a third or even a sixth! Bookscan is not terribly reliable.

Publishers know this, but at the same time, they have no other way to find out how the books at other publishers have sold. So in this case, incomplete information (and who knows how incomplete) is better than no information, at least to a publisher's mind.


"Wow, that's... boring," you say. "What exactly does this have to do with me?"

Well, I'll tell you. When an editor is getting ready to make an offer to you, she'll look up your past published books' Bookscan numbers, and she'll base that offer on those numbers. Modest numbers = modest offer.

Unless. Unless you've included in your past publishing information the real numbers from your royalty statements. Your publisher's numbers are always going to be higher than Bookscan numbers.

So keep track of your sales, huh? And let the acquiring editor know how your books have really done, because she'd rather raise confidence at the publisher with your past sales, and she'd rather pay you more if she can justify it.

And agents? I'm talking to you, too.

8 comments:

Jan Jones said...

Ooh - useful, useful, useful!

And NONE of these posts are boring.

Kim Kasch said...

Wonderful tidbit of information here - I can only hope that I'll need it one day. As yet, no books pubbed :( but working on it and hopeful :)

christine tripp said...

I think that is VERY interesting and great to know. I don't know if there is a similar tracking available to Canadian Publishers or not, anyone?
From the looks of the sites top 10 this month in Children's, Publishers will be beating down Stephenie Meyer's door looking for her next book, wow!

Wendy said...

Another annoying thing about Bookscan is that the media love to use Bookscan numbers when they do stories about books and publishing.

More than once I've seen this scenario: Author writes book. Let's say, for the purpose of example, that it's about talking cats. The book comes out, and subsequently author is thrilled to find out that a major news publication will mention her book in a trend piece on talking cat books. Sounds like great publicity, right?

Except then the article comes out and the reporter has cited Bookscan numbers to make a point about the talking cat trend. And often the point being made is a negative one—-i.e., that the trend is waning, that it doesn't really sell books, or even that the author's book hasn't done as well as other books like it.

If the author is lucky, the article might also have a quote from her publisher stating that Bookscan stats reflect only part of the market.

Anyway, that's another way Bookscan can kind of screw over authors. And publicists. And anyone else who is trying to read up on publishing trends and get a sense of what's selling.

Sarah Laurenson said...

Very good to know! I'm really enjoying all of these posts.

Jo said...

Good to know as a published author I can mention the sales figures reported to me by my publisher. Those Bookscan figures can be dire.

Rick said...

Wicked interesting, thanks as always!

Anonymous said...

Thank you so much for all these definitions!