I received the following email from one of our authors:
I know you do not have a high opinion of Amazon. However, their Author Central service shows that 31 copies of my book were sold the week of June 8, 2015. I understand that it takes a long time for sales made through Ingram to get back to you, and to show up on my publisher sales report. But it seems that sales made in June should be reflected in my sales by now. Is there a way to investigate this with Ingram? I have attached a screen shot of the Author Center report from Amazon.
On special request, at BookLocker.com, we can obtain a specific Ingram report from our printer (the largest POD printer in the world) that shows how many copies of a book they have printed, as well as who ordered the book. The report arrives in spreadsheet format, and will show the date of the sale, the quantity, and who ordered it (the publisher, Amazon, Barnes and Noble, the name of a brick and mortar bookstore, etc.). This report shows ALL copies printed, including the print proof we provided to the author to check just before the book went up for sale.
I requested a report on this title from our printer and it showed zero copies printed and sold in June, 2015. Did I believe the printer? Yes. Why? Because we have audited their reports many times over the past 16 years, and have never found even one missing sale.
Did I believe Amazon? Heck no because the sales numbers on their site are not always accurate. Amazon’s sales numbers are provided by BookScan (according to the statement by Amazon in the Author Central accounts) and there is plenty of talk online about BookScan’s inaccurate reporting. The problem could be Amazon’s error as well. And, we’ve previously seen these types of inaccuracies first-hand. The sales numbers featured on Amazon can run high or low. For one author I read about online, BookScan’s low figure (allegedly) resulted in her missing out on a traditional publishing contract because the publisher was using BookScan to see authors’ past sales for other books. The accusation in that article was that BookScan’s numbers were off by 100%.
Of course, again, it could be that Amazon’s site is simply not posting BookScan’s data correctly. If that’s the case, why hasn’t somebody fixed it by now?
BookScan does not query every bookseller, retailer, or even publisher to obtain their data. (We have published more than 6,000 titles and I don’t recall them ever contacting us for sales info.) So, their reporting is not 100% accurate, and never will be unless they start obtaining info. from every retailer and every publisher. That, of course, is unrealistic.
On Amazon, on the author’s “Author Central” page, it says “Total Sales” and “BookScan Weekly Sales.” It does not say “Estimated Sales.” There is nowhere to click to see what those “Total Sales” are comprised of. The “what’s this?” link on the page leads to this statement: “It is likely that not all your books’ sales are reflected here; BookScan estimates they report 75% of all retail print book sales.” That leads authors to believe there could be even MORE sales than what Amazon is showing, not less. But, in this author’s case (and others), the “total sales” reporting had the opposite problem. Phantom sales appeared. Sales that never occurred!
Authors who see this on Amazon.com naturally assume those numbers are real, and even underestimated. And, where’s the first place they’re likely to send a complaint? To their publisher!
Amazon’s site has many other errors as well, including showing some books available with 2-3 week delivery when Amazon knows that book can be printed and shipped to the customer immediately by our printer. In fact, over the years, Amazon has sent orders to our printer automatically, and those orders were shipped to Amazon’s customers directly by the printer, and very quickly, even using an Amazon.com return address label. Our printer has done this for numerous other publishers as well and their pages on Amazon also reflected incorrect availability. Amazon’s site has so many errors that, when something shows up incorrectly, we almost always assume it’s Amazon’s fault…not the printer’s, and not Ingram’s.
After I sent the report to the author, she contacted Amazon, and then sent us their response. Notice she says Amazon reported the exact same number of copies sold of another one of her books, by a completely different publisher, during the same week.
Below is Amazon’s response to my request for details on the sales report. I understand it is a template explanation and not an answer at all. I understand that 31 books were not really sold. I have another book that was published by (a traditional publisher), my first, before I understood anything about book publishing. Amazon sales show that 31 copies of that book also sold in the same week. It might be that they just duplicated the sales on both books or, possibly, none of either book sold that week.
Here is Amazon’s response (with our comments in bold):
I’m so sorry for the trouble with the discrepancy in the sales report of your book provided by your publisher and Sales Info tab in Author Central, and I hope I can help.
(NOTE: None of the sales numbers or reports featured on Amazon were provided by her “publisher!”)
Please allow me to explain in this regard. Nielsen BookScan data for print book sales is updated every week for the most recent week’s sales, while sales on Amazon.com and other retailers may not be reported to your publisher or distributor immediately. Sales which occur on Amazon.com are not immediately reported to your publisher and can take up to 30 days after the unit has sold.
(First, Bookscan’s sales reports are not entirely accurate. Second, the author contacted Amazon MONTHS after the “sales” – transactions that did not actually occur at all – were reported by Amazon.)
Due to the difference in time periods, sales volumes in Author Central may not match reports you receive from your publisher or distributor.
The main cause for the difference between Author Central’s sales information and publisher’s royalties report is the timing of when the data is reported…..
Blah blah blah! Again, this is bogus because those sales DID NOT OCCUR AT ALL. They were phantom sales produced by some error in BookScan’s or Amazon’s database. Not only did Amazon not order copies that month, but no other bookseller did, either!
I won’t include the rest of Amazon’s response because it is inaccurate, and just keeps talking about timing of sales reporting. This isn’t the first time this has happened, either.
Amazon needs to clean up their act, and their website. Featuring inaccurate information that leads to false accusations by authors toward their publishers is a problem for EVERYONE. It not only harms reputations, but it creates wasted time for everyone – the author, the publisher, AND Amazon alike. And, other errors on their site, like “2-3 week delivery” can also result in lost sales – for the author, the publisher, AND Amazon.
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About The Author
Angela Hoy is the publisher of WritersWeekly.com, and the co-owner of BookLocker.com (one of the original POD publishers that still gets books to market in less than a month), PubPreppers.com (print and ebook design for authors who truly want to self-publish), and Abuzz Press (the publishing co-op that charges no setup fees).
WritersWeekly.com - the free marketing ezine for writers, which features new paying markets and freelance job listings every Wednesday.
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