How many copies a book has sold?
January 21, 2006 1:51 PM   Subscribe

How can you find out how many copies a book (published, say, in the last five years) has sold? Not necessarily a best-seller, either.
posted by gottabefunky to Media & Arts (4 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Sales numbers for individual titles are not made available, so you'd have to request them from the publisher, but since that information is priveleged, you're not likely to get real numbers out of them.

Even if it were, there are two sales numbers that can be used: one is the number of books that are bought by stores through distributors and the other is the number of books actually sold to consumers (point of sale, tracked by BookScan). Publishers, in the interest of looking good, are more than likely going to supply the first number, since it's going to be artifically inflated and thus make the book seem more popular than it actually is.

If you notice, no book bestseller lists (even in industry publications like Publisher's Weekly) list number next to them, unlike box office figures for top movies. Also, the fact that different lists have different titles is a pretty good indication that they are not a direct analog of actual sales.

Some people have tried to extrapolate sales data from Amazon rankings, but that's at best a relative of only one part of the market.
posted by camcgee at 2:16 PM on January 21, 2006

A good partial answer is here: Google Answers: Book Sales Statistics

In short, it looks like camcgee is right, that there is no easily-available single source. The link above will give you some free and fee-based sources to try and put together an estimate.
posted by bevedog at 4:16 PM on January 21, 2006

... And the Point of Sale on Bookscan (if you can get the numbers) only covers the major chains and not all the independents or books sold through other avenues- similar to soundscan but the bar code isn't processed the same way as UPC codes). Amazon sales data won't help you. I've processed enough info from Amazon and general books sales to know that Amazon rankings have no relative value to anything except how popular a book is on Amazon. Most best-seller lists are for the individual services best-seller list and are still very local to the paper publishing those lists, so the NYT best-seller list really focuses on NYC. Publisher's Weekly focuses on bookstores that report to Publishers Weekly (and right now I'm having a hard time remembering exactly who that is). This question has been asked in another form on Ask Mefi previously and a few other entries in writing deal with the subject, but since I couldn't quickly find the answer either-
Call up the publisher and ask for an assistant. They might be willing to look up the sales and provide an answer. It's not that others might be more guarded, but that they just don't know. It's a hard question to answer even for people in the industry. Editors won't even share this information with other editors most times. Oh and be honest about why you're asking, if it sounds honest and there's a real reason to find out book sales someone might be willing to help you.
posted by rodz at 4:55 PM on January 22, 2006

On the off chance that the OP is still watching, there is a new development:

Nielsen Bookscan and The Book Standard have just launched the Book Sales Research Service. Here's the gist: Access to "weekly and year-to-date sales figures for any edition of any book, from January 2004 to the present," broken down by regional sales and by retailers. And, instead of paying for a full-on subscription to Bookscan, you can get that info for just $85 an ISBN ($600 for ten, with additional discounts the more you want to see).

Of course, since it's a one-time deal, you actually shouldn't stop checking your Amazon sales rank, unless you really feel like paying $85 over and over to find out how well you did every week. But for nonfiction writers who want their proposals to demonstrate the market that will exist for their books, knowing how well the existing coverage of the subject has sold could be a worthwhile expense.
posted by camcgee at 1:50 PM on February 22, 2006

« Older Web Developer plugin for Safari?   |   yummy coffee Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.