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John Jackson Miller and other pop culture archaeologists interested in comics history.


Thursday, December 9, 2010

Amazon gives Bookscan data access to authors

by John Jackson Miller

BookScan, the A.C. Nielsen service that tracks book sales using point-of-purchase information in thousands of bookstores — plus online sales from Amazon — has now made its sales data available through Amazon. If you're the book's author, that is. As the Los Angeles Times also reports, Amazon has added a Sales Data tab to the dashboards of Amazon Author Central accounts, providing geographical breakdowns of sales.

Sample of Amazon's geographical breakdown for a title
As an Amazon author, I took a test drive. First of all, a main page aggregates all an authors' sales over a four-week period, allowing you to see which of your books sold the most copies. Maps show the geographical breakdowns of sales — only the continental United States is depicted.

In the drilldowns, there are per-title sales by week, with four-week tracks that can be viewed by title or format, such as paperback and hardcover. Amazon Ranking History is also included, showing a book's ranking at Amazon over time. (To see how far back the tracking went, I checked on one of my older books; the three major graphics provided appear here, minus identifying detail.)

Sample of Amazon's Bookscan four-week copy counts for a title
Graphic novels and trade paperbacks are included for tracking. The Times report says that "BookScan's sales tallies do not currently include sales of e-books, for the Kindle or other devices," Amazon says, but I was able to view the Ranking History for my own e-books across time. So while Kindle numbers aren't provided, you do see the tracking. The "all available" track goes back six months for Kindle items; a little more than a year on books.

BookScan combines sales reported by participating retailers, including Borders and Walden, Barnes & Noble,, Target, and Buy.Com. Some retailers do not participate, including Wal-Mart and Sam's Club. As such, it amounts to what Nielsen says is 75% of book sales in the United States. Diamond's sales through comics shops are not included.

Sample of Amazon's Rank History track for a title
Now, the trick with Amazon Author Central is that while it initially populates your list of titles based upon Amazon's records of author names, the search engine is not infallible; some of my own books are there, some not. It is up to the author to submit corrections to the list — a painless process, you just visit your book's page on Amazon and copy the item number. Those corrections are reviewed at Amazon, so you can't just create an account and track anybody's books.

The four-week track means it's more of a system designed to provide creators snapshots, as opposed to their own accounting system; you'd have to record the numbers every week. As yet, it's only a graphical interface; you can't pull down a table or Excel chart. Presumably that is a possibility for the future.

Still, this is a major innovation and one that will be very useful to many creators. Amazon gives an creator or author credit in its system not just to writers of graphic novels, but also to artists, so presumably, those creators would be eligible to apply for Amazon Author Central accounts as well.
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Anonymous said...

This was an intersting article but a bit confusing for a neophyte trying figure out the extent of the Graphic Novel Market. So you tell me if my assumptions are correct. Based upon this article the figures quoted for Diamond Comic Distributors would be part of Nielsen's 25% of US sales apart from the 75% they attribute to others. That's the first assumptiomn. Assumption 2 is that amonst the remaining 25% are Walmart the other retailers who are not including their stats with Amazon, correct?

John Jackson Miller said...

It's hard to really know the answer to this, because the universe of book sales can be drawn a lot of different ways, and Nielsen might or might not consider the non-returnable sales that publishers do to comics shops to be part of that universe.

My hunch is they look at Diamond's sales to comics shops as essentially identical to other direct sales that publishers make (like to libraries, or book clubs) and thus not part of the group they are tracking. Diamond's $150 million annually in graphic novel sales to comics shops is big, but I don't know how big it is in relation to the overall universe of all books. If this source is correct...

...and it is a $27 billion industry, the lack of Diamond data would mean less than 1% is missing from Bookscan overall.

A recent post on this topic is here, you may have seen it already:

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