Amazon gives Nielsen BookScan to authors


This article was originally on a blog post platform and may be missing photos, graphics or links. See About archive blog posts.

In a move to provide authors with a service their publishers have not, Amazon is making current Nielsen BookScan sales data available to authors on its site, the company announced Thursday. Authors typically wait six months or more to receive royalty statements from publishers, which contain book-sales information.

Authors with books for sale on Amazon who have signed up to use Author Central, the site’s free author portal, will be able to see the book-sales information starting Thursday morning.


The data, provided by Nielsen BookScan, include nationwide sales information from Barnes & Noble, Target and other big-box brick-and-mortar retailers, from and from some independent booksellers. Nielsen estimates that BookScan captures 75% of print book sales in the U.S. retail market.

BookScan’s sales tallies do not currently include sales of e-books, for the Kindle or other devices.

Authors who use Amazon’s Author Central will see a geographic sales map of books sold during a four-week window, with a lag of about a week. Early Thursday, the sales figures displayed included Nov. 1 to 28; later Thursday, Amazon expects a new week to load, so the information will span Nov. 8 through Dec. 5.

This is the closest thing to real-time aggregate sales data available to publishers, and it hasn’t been cheap. Nielsen’s BookScan, now a decade old, began to find widespread enrollment with major publishers in 2004, when fees ran $100,000 and more per year.

It would have been far beyond the reach of most individual authors, if it had been available to them.

In recent years, individual authors have increasingly been asked to take part in the marketing and promotion of their own books. Publishers have faced budget cutbacks, and the Internet has provided authors with more ways of reaching readers -- and potential book buyers. Amazon sees the Nielsen BookScan data as a tool to that end. ‘The geographic view of print sales will help authors identify trends to help their promotion efforts and enables authors to develop more effective methods for reaching the widest possible audience,’ Amazon’s Kinley Campbell wrote in an e-mail. Just in time for Christmas, Amazon may be turning authors into an army of booksellers.


Many authors have been devoted to checking their public Amazon sales rankings, which show how their books are selling in comparison with others on their site. The new features being rolled out by Amazon on Thursday include graphs that show the change in sales rankings over time.

But Nielsen BookScan’s numbers add hard data to the rankings. Authors will now be able to see how many sales make a difference in pushing up their rankings. They also will be able to see the effects of their outreach.

Of course, major bestselling authors don’t need to track sales at such a granular level. And some authors may not want to. Traditionally, authors wrote, and publishers took care of marketing and sales.

So getting sales data to authors never seemed much of a priority. Traditionally, publishers’ royalty statements -- which include sales tallies and numbers of returns -- were printed quarterly and often mailed to agents before being mailed to authors. If those statements were for a previous quarter, it could easily be more than six months before authors saw actual sales numbers for their books.

By making Nielsen BookScan numbers available to authors, Amazon may be launching a new era in authors’ participation in selling their own books.

-- Carolyn Kellogg