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WSJ To Run E-Book Bestseller Lists Powered By Nielsen BookScan

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With e-books now making up about 20 percent of sales for many big publishers, it’s essential for bestseller lists to include them in order to give an accurate picture of what is selling. The Wall Street Journal will start running e-book bestseller lists starting this weekend, following a move by the New York Times (NYSE: NYT) earlier this year and USA Today in 2009. But there is something unique about the WSJ‘s e-book lists: They are powered by Nielsen BookScan, which has not publicly tracked e-book sales until now.

Nielsen BookScan tracks print book sales, and is believed to cover about 75 percent of hardcover and paperback sales. The company had said earlier this year that it would begin tracking e-book sales at some point. “As consumers and booksellers continue to embrace the potential of e-books, we are very happy to be working with The Wall Street Journal (NSDQ: NWS) to produce the most accurate best-seller charts available,” Jonathan Stolper, BookScan VP and general manager, said in a statement. “These new charts uniquely reflect what people are really buying and reading and will most definitely advance the industry’s understanding of e-book best sellers.”

The WSJ is running four lists, the AP says: “Combined e-book and physical sales for fiction and nonfiction, and e-sales only for fiction and nonfiction. Eligible releases will include self-published books, children’s books and ‘perennials,’ older works that continue to sell strongly.”

The NYT runs the same four types of lists (combined print + e-book fiction and nonfiction, e-book only fiction and nonfiction) but it doesn’t work with Nielsen BookScan. Rather, the Times uses a company called RoyaltyShare to verify the e-book sales data it receives from e-book vendors against sales reports provided by publishers. (In an article for Publishing Trends earlier this year, I explored the process of creating bestseller lists at the NYT and other newspapers in more detail.) It is unclear exactly how Nielsen will be tracking e-book sales, but it may do it the same way it tracks print-book sales: By collecting point-of-sale data from retailers like Barnes & Noble (NYSE: BKS) and Amazon (NSDQ: AMZN). Until now, it’s only tracked retailers that sell print books, but for e-books it will also track data from Apple (NSDQ: AAPL) and Google (NSDQ: GOOG), in addition to Kindle and Nook.

The NYT and WSJ lists will both be tracking point-of-sales data for e-books, but since the NYT also verifies that data with publishers (and doesn’t use BookScan) it will be interesting to see if the lists differ at all. At any rate, since hitting a bestseller list can result in lots of added publicity (and even more sales) for a title, increased attention to e-book sales may help the books that are already selling well perform even better.

One last note: Book publishing industry professionals can pay for BookScan access that lets them see how many copies a print book has sold, but BookScan is not yet rolling out e-book sales data for that system. The AP notes that “the industry, and the public, will have to wait before seeing actual Nielsen numbers under the new system. The lists will feature only rankings, not copies sold. And the data will be available exclusively to the Journal.”