Nielsen BookScan To Track Ebook Sales by the End of 2010?

   Posted by: Moses Siregar III   in Ebooks, Publishing

Nielsen offers a widely used service called BookScan that tracks book sales. Editors, book buyers, and other publishing professionals can use BookScan to look up book sales and decide if they want to work with or carry certain books or authors.

Alan Rinzler writes:

BookScan numbers are like an author’s credit rating

All book publishers (and some savvy authors) subscribe to Nielsen BookScan.  The very first thing an acquisitions editor does is check a published author’s Nielsen numbers, when considering a new submission.

I just found out today, after emailing with Dennis Halby at Nielsen, that Nielson is hoping to track ebook sales by the end of 2010 and that they are working diligently on this goal, though they do not have a confirmed date so this is still speculative information.

This would be big news for publishing, because it would make it possible for anyone to compare ebook sales to print sales. We could begin to see what percentage of sales for any given book or author are e-sales and how these percentages compare between different categories (for example, fiction vs non-fiction) or genres.

Here are a couple of older blog posts on this topic. Why We Need a BookScan for Ebooks, by Ryan Chapman (September 2009) and Will Kindle Crash Nielson BookScan by Steve Weber (May 2009).

Literary agent Kristin Nelson wrote a blog post called An ISBN that could Hurt, in which she warned self-publishing authors:

Here’s something to keep in mind though (besides the fact that self published books need solid marketing efforts to succeed). Self-published books (through Lulu or similar) are assigned an ISBN—a sales identifier for that work. And here’s where the ISBN could hurt you. Once a book has an ISBN, then sales of that book can be tracked on Bookscan. If the books sell thousands and thousands of copies, not a problem but if the book sells only 20 copies, this could potentially make the road to traditional publishing more difficult. Editors often check Bookscan when considering previously published writers. Book Buyers at the major chains are looking at these numbers as well.

If the sales record is strong, no big deal; if it’s not, those low sales could create a roadblock unless the writer is willing to change his/her name to start with a clean slate.

I’m putting this out there because I imagine a lot of writers contemplating this route might not have considered the potential ISBN trap.

This new development ought to be interesting to anyone who considers self-publishing, even if just with ebooks, and still wants to be careful about keeping their options open with traditional publishers. In the past, self-publishing an ebook was something that seemed relatively harmless because your sales were a relatively private affair. Amazon has its sales rankings, but that’s a complicated formula that gives constantly changing information and can’t be used to know actual book sales.

Boyd Morrison, for example, self-published an ebook in March of 2009 and successfully used those sales to interest the Pocket Books imprint of Simon and Schuster in acquiring the US rights to his work. He wrote recently on KindleBoards.com that he self-published only electronically to avoid the potential ISBN trap that Kristin Nelson wrote about.

Now it sounds like things have changed and someone in a situation like Boyd Morrison was previously in would need to consider whether or not he wants to self-publish any ebooks.

Of course, many “indie” authors aren’t interested in traditional publishing anyway. But many others are interesting in both publishing worlds, so for them this would be a new reality to consider.

This is also good news for indie authors who have good e-sales on their resumes, though it probably doesn’t make much difference for them since they can already report their e-sales (as Boyd Morrison did, and as Amanda Hocking has reported that she did when she contacted agents).

The most interesting thing about all of this to me is that transparency may be coming very soon to ebook sales.

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This entry was posted on Thursday, October 21st, 2010 at 1:29 pm and is filed under Ebooks, Publishing. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

8 comments so far


I’m curious how they plan to integrate with Amazon. Amazon does not use ISBNs for their ebooks – they use ASINs intead, an internally generated number. Since Amazon accounts for something like 70-75% of all ebook sales, *not* having Amazon on board would make any tracking worthless. But having them on board means accepting the ASIN as a second “book ID” standard – something that Bowker really doesn’t want to see.

October 21st, 2010 at 3:38 pm

I’m all in favor of transparency, because I’m trying to run a small business here and need real market research.

They’ll have to work something out eventually, but I agree with Kevin that Amazon would be the decider (or the stumbling block).
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  2. This Week in Publishing 10/22/10    Jul 24 2017 / 4pm:

    […] Siregar uncovered plans by Nielson to begin tracking e-book sales, perhaps as soon as the end of the year. And speaking of e-books, Jacob Lambert at the Millions has a thoughtful post about how […]

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