How to find out how many copies of a book have been sold— is it really possible?
We’re currently living in an era where we can track almost everything. Strap on a sleek, nifty device on your wrist, and it can monitor your vitals like blood oxygen levels, sleep patterns, calories burned, and heart rate.
We even have statistics for even the most mundane of things, such as population and the average number of toilet paper rolls a family uses per year (it’s 409 rolls!).
But alas, with all this technology at our fingertips, we still don’t have the capability to accurately track the sales of one of the most common items in the world— books.
Yes, you’ve read that right. We can track toilet paper usage, but we can’t track book sales.
It’s not to say that we CAN’T. It’s just that there’s currently no way for us to obtain the EXACT sales figures.
But it’s not the end of the world, though. While we can’t get the precise number, we can always approximate. There are a number of tools available to help us with this task.
And it’s these tools that we’re going to explore in this post.
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How to find out how many copies of a book have been sold – is it possible?
Of course, it’s possible. That’s how bestsellers become bestsellers in the first place. Publishers can track sales and so on.
But what if you’re a fully independent author who wants to track your book sales by yourself? Or perhaps you’re just an average Joe who’s curious about how a book is faring in the market? Is there a way for you to find out how many copies of a book have been sold on your own?
The answer is yes, but it’s not something you can simply Google. As we’ve mentioned, there are various methods and tools you can use, but you’ll need to put in a little elbow grease for them to work effectively.
Methods on how to find out how many copies of a book have been sold
Call the publisher or the author directly
Tracking book sales becomes difficult when you aren’t your own publisher (i.e., when you aren’t independently published).
This is due to the fact that traditional publishers don’t usually send royalty reports to their authors very often. At most, you might receive reports twice a year on average. And even then, these reports can be a few months behind on what the actual book sales are.
But still, it’s worth giving them a call. You can either contact your publisher directly or call the sales department of the publishing house from which you need sales information from.
Try to ask if you can get a quote regarding the number of copies sent from their warehouses to bookstores and wholesalers. You can obtain a rough estimate of the total sales from this quoted figure.
But remember that this does not reflect the actual number of sales. Some of the books that are sent out to booksellers will remain unsold for a while. However, it does provide a clear picture of how in-demand the book is among bookstores. The more books a seller has ordered, the more demand there is likely to be for the book. More demand = more book sales.
Take note of a book’s sales ranking changes
Online book retailers like Barnes & Noble and Amazon often have sales ranking lists. These enable you to see a book’s sales rank relative to other titles under the same genre.
You won’t be able to see actual sales figures, but at least you’ll be able to gauge how popular a particular volume is in relation to other similar books.
There are a number of online tracking tools you can use for this purpose. You can use your regular spreadsheet software like Microsoft Excel or Google Sheets if you want to track these rankings by yourself. Or you can save yourself the trouble and use online tracking services like Booktelligence (formerly NovelRank).
How many copies of a book are stored away in libraries and archives?
To answer this type of question, use WorldCat. WorldCat is the world’s largest library catalog. It’s basically a massive database of books from libraries all over the globe. As of this writing, it has 540 million records from 71,000 libraries.
Sure, WorldCat doesn’t directly tell you how many copies a particular book has sold. The information can still hold value if you want to gauge how extensively a book has been distributed. When numerous libraries carry the book, we can assume that the book has enjoyed (or continues to enjoy) a broad readership and has generally been well-received.
One thing to keep in mind though is that WorldCat only tracks books that are available in public libraries. Private libraries (i.e. libraries that are owned by collectors and private individuals) are not tracked.
Use Amazon Book Sales Calculators
Try searching for “Amazon Book Sales Calculators,” on Google and you’ll likely find a dozen results for this type of tool.
There’s really no way to determine exactly how many copies of a book have been sold on Amazon without access to sales figures, but it’s possible to estimate it based on its current bestseller rank.
The Amazon Best Seller rank is constantly updated (once per hour), making it a great way to estimate sales with reasonable accuracy. However, this does not take into account copies that were sold outside of the Amazon platform, given away for free in promotions, or distributed through other methods.
Book Sales calculators work by taking into account a book’s Amazon Best Seller rank, and then comparing it with the rank of similar titles in its genre.
For example, consider a fictional book called “How to Train Your Kitten” in the Pets genre. The top book in this genre has a rank of 3,000 in the overall Amazon book ranking, while our fictional book has a different rank. By analyzing ranking differences and other books’ performance in the same genre, calculators can estimate sales figures for our fictional book.
Use Nielsen BookScan
If there’s one industry-standard tool used to determine how many copies of a book have been sold, it’s probably NPD BookScan. It’s one of the best options if you want to track book sales by ISBN. Almost all retail outlets that stock books report to BookScan. Many popular bestseller lists like The New York Times Best Seller list are based on data gathered from BookScan.
BookScan was first launched in 2001 by Nielsen. If the name sounds familiar to you, it’s probably because Nielsen is best known for tracking TV ratings (also known as Nielsen ratings). BookScan relies on retailers like Amazon and Barnes & Noble voluntarily reporting their sales numbers to their service. Before BookScan was introduced, the only way to determine the sales numbers of a book was to directly contact publishers. And even then, some publishers rarely release this kind of information to the public.
But the thing is, NPD BookScan isn’t free. You have to pay to subscribe to the service and to obtain the sales data that you want. It can be pricey (since the subscription isn’t really meant for individual customers), but it’s your best bet if you’re looking for time-sensitive information and data about consumer purchases.
So, how do you go about getting a subscription to BookScan? Well, you can pay up. A single annual subscription to BookScan will cost you a whopping $2,500(!).
If you have access to a university library or a large publishing house in your area, try asking them for a report on a specific title. They might have a BookScan subscription and could provide the information for free or a small price.
How to find out how many copies of a book have been sold through BookScan?
Yes, we know $2,500 is a lot of money, but there’s actually a way for you to access BookScan information without paying a single cent.
This is only possible if you’re on Amazon Author Central. It is a free service provided by Amazon that allows published authors to collate all of their books with ISBNs under one platform. It enables them to take control of their Author profile on Amazon, Audible, as well as Kindle.
Amazon provides authors on their Author Central platform with free access to NPD BookScan data.
Once you’re on Author Central, you can track data and monitor your book’s sales performance using the provided BookScan information. This is an excellent resource for authors who want to keep tabs on their sales figures without having to invest in a costly BookScan subscription.
What BookScan can and cannot track
Here’s the catch: BookScan primarily tracks trade print book sales in the United States. The service claims to capture up to 85 percent of all print book retail sales in the country. Every week, it tracks titles by their ISBN numbers through thousands and thousands of retail outlets in the US like Amazon, Borders, Barnes & Noble, and Books-A-Million. Sales from large stores like Costco, K-Mart, and Target are counted too. However, some sources dispute this, suggesting that BookScan captures only 45 to 60 percent.
Regardless of the exact percentage, BookScan remains your best chance at obtaining the most accurate data for book sales, particularly if you’re writing for the US market.
But BookScan does not include sales from every source. There are lots of things that BookScan does not track, which includes:
What BookScan does not track:
- Sales of ebooks
- Direct sales by authors and publishers
- Book sales made outside of the US
- Sales made to libraries
- Sales at independent bookstores and sellers that opt not to report their sales to BookScan
It also doesn’t include sales made before 2001, which was the year when BookScan was first launched.
How to access NPD BookScan sales data through Amazon Author Central
So, how do we access this treasure trove of sales data through the Amazon Author Central hub? Thankfully, it’s a no-brainer. Follow the steps below to access the data.
Step 1: You need to have your own Amazon Author Central profile first. Simply follow the steps on the Amazon Author Central sign-up page, and you’re good to go.
Once you’ve had your profile set up and your books connected to your account, it’s time to proceed to the next step.
Step 2: Log into your account if you haven’t already, then click on the “Books” tab located at the top of the page.
Step 3: Check to see if your books are really associated with your account. For books that are also published as an audiobook or as an ebook on Kindle, check to see that all formats are all in one page.
Step 4: Are the products on different pages? If yes, you need to contact Amazon first to have them placed on one page.
Simply use the “Contact Us” link on your Dashboard and let them know that you want to have all versions of your book (paperbacks, Kindle ebooks, audiobooks) displayed on a single page.
Step 5: Once you have all of your book data consolidated in one place, add them to your Amazon Author Central Page.
It takes about a week or so for the book sales data to update. But once it’s up on your profile, you can easily check your book sales rank, even without refreshing the page!
Step 6: On your main dashboard, there should be a “Sales Info” tab near the top of the page. Select this tab and click on “NPD BookScan.”
Step 7: On the drop down menu for “All Books” select the book that you want to gather sales data for.
How to find out how many copies of a book have been sold – why does book sales count matter?
Did you know that some publishers place a huge emphasis on book sales rankings and BookScan numbers? These metrics matter because literary agents and publishers use them to determine your potential as an author.
If you’re working with a new publisher or agent, for example, it’s highly likely that one of the first things they will do is look into how many books you have sold. It can ultimately determine the amount of support and resources that publishers are willing to invest in your writing career. Because even if you’re a particularly talented writer, if no one is buying your work, then it would be a risk to take you on.
Low BookScan numbers not only impact projections for future sales but can also affect the amount you’ll receive for advances. Book advances are based on projected sales in the year after a book’s release. So, low projected sales can mean that you may receive a lower book advance.
Why do you need to know how many copies a book has sold?
There are many benefits to knowing how many copies a book has sold. Here are some of the major ones:
Help you gauge your book’s value and impact
Ever wondered how much money your book has made during the course of its lifetime?
Tracking sales over a long period can provide you with this information. Because it’s always a nice thing to see how far you’ve come. This insight gives you motivation to sell more, to improve your marketing strategies, and to write better books that people will want to buy.
Reveal sales trends
What time of the year do you sell the most copies of your book? When are sales at their lowest? As you track your book, you’ll undoubtedly notice sales trends that can help you schedule promotions and sales at more appropriate times. It can also help you fine-tune your book promotion efforts.
Assist in setting and achieving goals
When you track something, it’s easier to set goals. Let’s say for example that you want to sell an X amount of books by some specific date. By tracking your book sales, you’ll be able to motivate yourself to work towards that goal and monitor your progress to see if you are successful in achieving it.
To wrap it up, figuring out how many copies of a book have been sold is not really the straightforward process that everyone thought it is. To obtain the most accurate results, you’ll likely need to employ a combination of the methods we’ve outlined above.