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Opinion: Author Access to Amazon Sales Data Worrisome

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Dec 13 – Dec 20, 2010 Edition Opinion:
Author Access to Amazon Sales Data Worrisome

SEATTLE/AUTHORLINK NEWS/December 13, 2010—Amazon’s announcement on Friday that it would give authors free access to Nielsen BookScan’s weekly sales figures for their print books, is being met with skepticism from publishers, agents, and authors.

Only about 75% or less of print book sales are reported by Bookscan and only in the US market. Sales reported depend on which retailers participate in Nielsen BookScan. Even Amazon admits that the sales report is “meant to allow you to identify sales trends, but is not meant to replace reports you receive from your publisher.”

Furthermore, Bookscan does not include eBook sales, though writers who publish through Amazon’s Digital Text Platform can see their sales reports. (Editor’s Note: Certain types of Amazon publishing programs lock authors into exclusive contracts, meaning they can’t sell their books anywhere else. Writers should be aware).

The move is likely to be more of a hindrance than a help for writers trying to get accurate information about sales. First, the sales data covers only the most recent week’s sales. Those who want to see more sales information can, for a nice little fee, pony up to Nielsen for a look at a total month. It’s likely that not all of one’s print book sales will be reflected in these features. And payment from publishers will vary widely from the weekly reports due to variances in Amazon’s reporting and payment schedules with publishers.

A number of publishers and agents aren’t happy about the program. Agent Elana Roth wrote on Twitter: “Basically, authors, we’re terrified that giving you BookScan is going to make us crazier than we already are.” YA author Christine Johnson wrote: “Amazon gives authors access to Bookscan numbers. In other news, thousands of authors go on automatic suicide watch.”

Publisher royalty reports are a nightmare to begin with—requiring detailed and time-consuming accounting. Trying to explain to an author why a sales report doesn’t square with the publisher’s report and the payment period will only complicate the publisher’s job even more, leaving less time to focus on marketing books.

Micro reports showing short periods of no more than a week aren’t accurate in predicting overall trends. It’s like trying, blindfolded, to identify an Elephant by merely feeling the end of its tail.

Authorlink believes the move will only succeed in depressing and confusing authors and will cause distrust of publishers and agents who are already mired in one of the most complicated businesses in today’s marketplace and working overtime to serve their authors.