Nielsen bookscan numbers: Amazon's early Christmas gift to authors

But is the knowledge that comes from Nielsen bookscan numbers more likely to harm or help?

Mary Knox Merrill/CSM staff/file
Access to Nielsen Bookscan numbers allows authors to know more precisely how many readers are buying their books and where.

Knowledge may be power, but the latest news from reminds us that a little knowledge is also a dangerous thing. The company announced it would give authors free access to Nielsen Bookscan numbers, letting them see how many books they are selling and where.

Such data had previously been expensive and hard for authors to acquire, even from agents and editors, wrote Techcrunch in a story headlined “The Walls of
Jericho Have Fallen.” Of course, what they’re learning now isn’t always good news.

“Hear that? That’s the sound of thousands of authors’ hearts stopping mid-keystroke as they open up their Bookscan numbers and keel over dead of disappointment,” the TechCrunch story began. Or as The L.A. Times headline puts it: "Get the Xanax Ready."

The caveats: Amazon noted that Bookscan doesn’t include digital book sales and only captures an estimated 75 percent of all print retail sales. (The numbers doesn’t include Wal-Mart, Sam’s Club, libraries, or sales to certain wholesalers, according to the Amazon site.

Still, the news blew around in a whirlwind of angst, interest, and even wry humor.

“Every time an author uses the Amazon Bookscan feature, a box of Kleenex is charged to your card & sent to your house,” quipped urban fantasy writer Anton Strout on Twitter.

Writer Dave Cullen, author of the well-regarded book “Columbine,” wrote on Twitter that he was shocked to see on Bookscan that it was selling nearly 1,000 copies a week.

(Good or bad shock? He didn’t say.)

Denver-based literary agent Rachelle Gardner summarized the pros and cons nicely on her blog: “I think access to information is a good thing. Understanding reality and hard numbers can help authors make better decisions about their promotional efforts, and how to spend their time. It can also help you keep a realistic picture in your mind of how your books are selling, and perhaps decrease unreasonable expectations,” Gardner wrote.

“However. Call me crazy but it seems to me most writers have enough to obsess over already – and enough things distracting them from the work of actually sitting down to write. How many writers will use this information wisely, and how many will find it to be just one more reason to stress out?” she wondered.

Perhaps there’s one way, at least, to balance out the obsessiveness: What if authors just switched over to Bookscan the time they once spent checking
their rankings?

Rebekah Denn blogs at

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