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Summary:

It is surprisingly hard for an author to know how many copies his or her book is selling. Now Simon & Schuster (NYSE: CBS) is giving its aut…

Stacks of books in the British Library, London
photo: Steve Cadman

It is surprisingly hard for an author to know how many copies his or her book is selling. Now Simon & Schuster (NYSE: CBS) is giving its authors real-time access to their sales information for the first time, and Random House and Hachette Book Group just announced they will do the same.

The New York Times (NYSE: NYT) describes these publishers’ efforts as a move to “challenge Amazon (NSDQ: AMZN) and its continued efforts to woo authors,” but I think the end result is that Amazon will be forced to start providing authors with more e-book sales data.

Yesterday Simon & Schuster launched its Author Portal, which includes “My Sales,” a feature that provides the most recent and life-to-date sales information for all active print, audio and electronic editions of their Simon & Schuster titles, broken down by the type of store where the book was sold (online bookseller, mass merchant like Wal-Mart (NYSE: WMT), etc. but not by individual store).

Today the New York Times reports that Random House and Hachette are following suit. Hachette will launch its author portal sometime in 2012 and Random House has not yet set a date, but they will probably work a little faster now that Simon & Schuster’s Author Portal is up and running.

Amazon currently offers authors who sign up for its “Author Central” site a limited amount of sales data from Nielsen BookScan, which tracks books’ print sales. Authors can see the past four weeks of their BookScan sales through Author Central. Nielsen BookScan is generally believed to cover around 75 percent of print book sales, though that figure might be higher or lower depending on the type of book; it doesn’t include sales to Wal-Mart or Sam’s Club, which tend to sell very large numbers of the books they carry. (Amazon also displays titles’ sales ranks, which shows how popular they are in comparison to other titles but doesn’t provide any real data.)

BookScan does not yet report e-book sales. Amazon, of course, knows how many e-books are sold through the Kindle Store, but it has been less than forthcoming with that information. (It’s not just Amazon; Barnes & Noble (NYSE: BKS) doesn’t report print or e-book sales directly to authors either.) They report to publishers how many e-books their authors have sold, but authors can’t get that information directly unless they ask their publishers (or self-publish their books through Amazon).

Now, since the publishers are going to give their authors e-book sales data, I would not be surprised if Amazon also starts telling authors how many e-books they’ve sold through the Kindle Store. That would require a new level of openness from Amazon. It’s one thing to provide your authors with print sales data from a third party; it’s another thing to open up your own sales data to authors directly across the board. Let’s see if they actually do it. But publishers are going to have to get their author portals up and running first.

  1. Laura, not sure where you’re getting your information but Amazon does in fact report ebook sales directly to authors who publish through their kdp platform.

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    1. Laura Hazard Owen Thursday, October 20, 2011

      Hi Vic, I do mention that above: “They report to publishers how many e-books their authors have sold, but authors can’t get that information directly unless they ask their publishers (or self-publish their books).”

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      1. Laura Hazard Owen Thursday, October 20, 2011

        FYI in the post I just added “via the Kindle platform” to make it more clear.

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  2. Hi The reason retailers like Amazon and Barnes and Noble report sales to the publisher and not the author is because that’s who their contract agreement is with.  They buy the books from the publisher, not the author, so of course they have to tell them how many copies/downloads they have sold, so they can pay the right amount of money.  The author gets all that information on their regular royalty statement from the publishers, so they are able to see from that exactly how many copies of each edition have been sold, and at what price.  However most publishers don’t break that down by individual retailer, for print or e.  The big difference a portal will make is that the author doesn’t have to wait months for the statement.

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  3. This has prompted me to blog (at http://www.dandeliondigital.wordpress.com) about the problem that we don’t have any industry-wide sales data for ebook sales, of the kind that we do for printed books.  If only we could compare sales of different titles from different publishers, and create best-seller lists etc, for ebooks too.

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    1. Laura Hazard Owen Friday, October 21, 2011

      This is great background, Katy, thanks.

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