By Mylena Vazquez
The book publishing process has always been notoriously complex and difficult for the layperson to understand. But plenty of us want to or are already in the process of writing a book—one we hope will be wildly successful. After the important initial barriers have been overcome—when the book has been written, you’ve signed a contract, and your book has hit the shelves—you’d probably think that the next step, sales, is easy for an author to track and understand… Think again!
Manufacturer Sales Data
The easiest point of contact for sales data on your book is the publisher. As the manufacturer, they know exactly to whom they sell their books, and have a clear idea of the sales chain. And in many cases, the manufacturer also serves as the distributor. Simon & Schuster, for example, distributes not just its own books, but also provides distribution, among other services, to smaller independent publishers who might not have the means to do so themselves. They have a wide array of internal data available to them, but this sales data does not even begin to paint the entire picture. Manufacturer sales data (also known as “billed” or “shipment” sales data), though easiest to access, contains a lot of noise, since it is data that is being requested and received from third parties.
Intermediary Sales Data
The publishing world is interesting in that the publisher rarely serves as one of the retailers but is usually the distributor as well as the manufacturer. What’s more, publishing wholesalers have become more and more scarce due to the unfortunate decline in popularity of independent bookstores. In fact, at this point, there are just two publishing wholesalers—Ingram Content Group and Bookazine—both of which are family businesses. Wholesalers do not have exclusive rights and do not have to report sales data to the publisher, but will often be willing to offer sales data on how much they sold to retailers, bookstores, etc. While this does not give you actual consumer takeaway sales data, it will provide yet another piece of the puzzle in terms of understanding the demand for your book from bookstores and other retailers. And, as a rule, when retail sales data is not available, intermediary sales data (also known as “depletion” or “replenishment” data) is preferred. However, as mentioned before, the wholesale business is not flourishing in the publishing world; instead, it is common practice for the manufacturer/publisher to sell directly to retailers like Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Target, etc.
Retail Sales Data
In book publishing, the manufacturer has a greater degree of proximity to the customer in the sense that they control not just the manufacturing but the distribution. The closer the sales data is to the consumer, the more accurate it will be and the less noise it will have. However, they still do not sell directly to the consumer, so they must rely on their partners to provide them with retail sales data (also known as “point-of-sale” or “consumer takeaway” sales data). This is a complex system as well, however. It relies on the manufacturer piecing together information from various different retailers to form a picture of consumer behavior. However, there are inevitably going to be holes in this data, especially since retailers are under no obligation to report their sales to the manufacturer. Though retail sales data is not exactly representative of the entire market, it is still the most desirable type of sales data you can have.
What to do?
There is some hope, however! Nielsen provides the main tracking mechanism for point-of-sale data. It should be noted that trying to track this through Nielsen yourself is a futile attempt—it is incredibly expensive. However, publishers will undoubtedly have access to this information, as they are just as interested as you in the sales performance of your book.
Of course, as the book’s author, you can gather all of this sales data and still not answer the most important question to a writer—how many customers are actually reading your book? That we may never be able to know for sure.
What is your biggest tip for authors trying to track their book’s sales data?