Where to get book sales statistics?
January 25, 2005 5:06 PM   Subscribe

Is there any place online (or off) that will allow you to see the total number of books sold for a particular title? I happen to be interested in non-fiction titles, but a fiction list would be interesting too. Is this something book publishers make public? I'm primarily interested in a North American total and it would have to be granular enough to record sales of even a few thousand . . .
posted by jeremias to Computers & Internet (8 answers total)
While not precisely what you're looking for, JungleScan allows you to list, browse and track books in terms of their Amazon sales rank.
posted by killdevil at 6:29 PM on January 25, 2005

> To some degree, information about book sales is proprietary, loosely a trade secret. However, you can go to an author's website and ask directly about book sales, you can call the publisher's marketing department, and you can look for the needle in the haystack by reading Publishers Weekly and hoping it gets mentioned.

How many copies did my book sell?:

Q. What makes it more difficult for Amazon and B&N to post actual sales than these stupid ranks?

A. It wouldn't be more difficult, it would be less difficult. However, the entire book industry treats sales information as proprietary, something they can sell or bargain with. The Amazon and BN sales ranks and the Ingram distribution sales are the only free info out there.

posted by dhartung at 7:13 PM on January 25, 2005

The short answer is, in fact, no. This is primarily because the numbers of books sold is a bit of a trade secret, and also because it obscures the fact that many titles sell very few books. You'd also think these numbers would be easier to come by because you see them on book covers all the time "30,000 copies sold!" but usually it's a number known only to the publisher and the author, and often the author is the one looking for ways to verify the number of sold copies. I answered this question for Google Answers a few years back, please have my answer for free.
posted by jessamyn at 7:17 PM on January 25, 2005

Nope. Books do not generally have a UPC code so they can't be scanned as easily as other products. The bar codes on the backs do not work with all scanners (which is why on mass markets there are 2 bar codes- on for UPC scanners and one for bookstores- I can't remember the difference between the 2 right now). Publishers, for the most part, only know what was "purchased" from their stocks/ print-runs by bookstores, box stores, Amazon, etc. but this isn't actually sales- it's orders. Once returns come back, publishers have a better idea what most of the market sold, but they can not account for every title. If they're lucky/ big enough they'll get reports on the Point of Sale (POS) systems that individual retailers have. There's no soundscan for books (well there is actually, it's called Bookscan, but not everyone in the industry is ready to use it and B&N and Borders have already spent a lot of money installing their own POS). Amazon sales ranks are based on an algorithm that doesn't mean much unless the book is in the top hundred or so for days or weeks. Likewise all the best-seller lists that you see are based on a semi-scientific sampling of bookstore in whatever area the publisher of said best-seller is from. So the NYT list only really captures what's selling in NY and not the whole country. The only best-selling lists that reflect a non-regional list are the USA Today best-seller list and the Publisher's Weekly list (there are more but right now I can't think of them). If you looking to do some research for comparison titles for a proposal or for some academic research you'll need to do what every editor I know does when it's time to present comp titles- call editors at other houses and hope they'll pick up the phones and be nice enough to answer honestly.
posted by rodz at 7:26 PM on January 25, 2005

At glasshaus we had a subscription to Bookscan. Good management reports etc .. dunno how much it costs though.
posted by Pericles at 1:11 AM on January 26, 2005

< nope. books do not generally have a upc code>>

??? Of course they do. Been to Barnes & Noble lately? It's all about the scanner.
posted by scratch at 7:09 AM on January 26, 2005

No, scratch, rodz is right. Mass market paperbacks sold in grocery stores and wherever have UPCs, a 12-digit code, so they work with the UPC scanners in those venues. Trade paperbacks and hardcovers usually have EANs, a European Article Number, a 13-digit code.

Barnes & Noble, et al, uses an EAN scanner. (Mass market paperbacks usually have an EAN on the inside cover for bookstore scanners.)
posted by Zed_Lopez at 11:31 AM on January 26, 2005

Zed_Lopez: EAN! Thanks. I couldn't remember what the book's bar code was called last night.
Barnes and Noble and Borders also put their own stickers on books for inventory purposes more than for sales, especially in the academic market.
If Bookspan ever becomes an industry standard, it would make so much more sense. Which reminds me- Jeremias, you could also check out the big seasonal issues of Publisher's Weekly or some of the publisher's online catalogs for announced printings as a gauge, but keep in mind publisher's don't actually print their announces first prints and that doesn't take into account the 20- 60 percent return rates from booksellers. Again I'm not sure what you're looking for, but that might help.
posted by rodz at 6:07 PM on January 26, 2005

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