Bookselling Data has been one of the biggest buzzwords over the course of the last few years. Some of the leading digital and traditional publishing companies have been speaking about some of the measures they employ at BEA, Digital Minds, CES, and Digital Book World. In essence, book data is the sales metrics, relaying who is buying your book, how many copies are being sold, and where they are buying it from. Indie authors enjoy unfettered access to most of this information via Kindle Direct Publishing, Kobo Writing Life, and Nook Press. Traditional publishers and authors find that even finding out how many books you have sold can often be an exercise in futility.
Traditional publishing companies often do not share metrics with the author and in many cases don’t have real time information to this sort of data themselves. Due to the pipeline of distribution companies, such as Ingram and the retail stores themselves, it is hard to get a sense of how many copies were sold. We have spoken with many authors who have had bestselling books, listed in the New York Times. When asked how many copies they have sold, or how much money they have made, they shrug their shoulders. Sure, you can gain access to Nielsen sales data on stores that participate in their reporting scheme, but the access costs a ton of money. It is not even a true indication on how many books are being sold at smaller retailers and internationally.
Indie authors on the other hand have way more access to their sales information. Kobo Writing Life is the most advanced self-publishing platform that gives authors the ability to see how many copies of your book has been sold and what cities/countries are buying them. This is useful when you are on a book tour and want to find out what cities are performing and what ones aren’t buying your book online. The data on sales is compiled every 24 hours, which is solid to gain insight on your overall metrics. Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing also gives you metrics on book sales, but does not give as much information as Kobo does. Nook Press only allows American authors to market their books, so is limited in scope.
Really, Self-Publishing dashboards give you a ton of book selling information that really keeps you informed on what is going on with your book. Traditional authors do not receive this kind of information due to many extenuating factors. Agents, distribution, retail, international, and many other factors make compiling this information take quite awhile and is a far cry from the immediate satisfaction of the self-publishing crowd.
As much data that is available to digital publishers and self-published authors, it is very general. Amazon, Kobo, B&N, Apple, and Google do not share their big data with anybody. No one really knows how many page views a book entry has had, the ratio of viewers and buyers, and how many people are clicking, even how many people type your book name into the search field. The big companies hoard all of this information for themselves and use it to play a game of one-upping each other for better search and a more intuitive buying experience and newsletters based on your searching habits.
When you visit any major online bookstore your privacy is wide open for whatever company your buying from to glean everything about you via cookies. They monitor every aspect of your experience while visiting the website and you basically sign your privacy away. Publishing companies need the real-time intelligence and data that these companies squirrel away. Every major company we talked to is deadlocked on what exactly they should do to negotiate terms or even approach Apple or Amazon. These two companies represent fortunes that eclipse most countries total GDP, bargaining with them over anything is hard.
When major publishers came together to fix the prices of ebooks to develop a standard of pricing, the European Commission and Justice Department smote them for collusion. The only thing the big six can do to have more bargaining power is to merge themselves and seriously takes years for the entire process to conclude. Penguin and Random House will form a super publishing company sometime this year and will account for 1/4 of all books printed. There are rumors of the other big six companies also merging, in order to compete.
Absolute Big Data and Sales Metrics on the whole, is simply not available to anyone. No matter who you are, how big you are, or how dynamic and savvy you are, you aren’t getting the information from the major online and offline retailers. In the rare instance you get some data, it is often very general and does not paint the entire picture. In the end, self-published authors have an easier time scoping out their sales data and analytics than the traditional ones.
Stay tuned for the next part of our feature that looks at some new digital start-ups that are seeking to bridge the gulf of big data and provide the metrics to publishers and authors alike for online and offline sales.
Michael Kozlowski is the Editor in Chief of Good e-Reader. He has been writing about audiobooks and e-readers for the past ten years. His articles have been picked up by major and local news sources and websites such as the CNET, Engadget, Huffington Post and Verge.