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.
There Are Really Only 2 Ways To Accurately Estimate Your Book Sales
BookScan vs. NovelRank vs. Others – Where Can I Find Real-time Sales Data For My Book?!
MORE CREATESPACE COMPLAINTS (Part III)
Amazon Backs Down! Settles Antitrust Lawsuit Filed By BookLocker
Don’t Give Amazon (or anyone else) the Power to Put You Out of Business!
AMAZON’S SWEAT SHOPS – Why Can’t Jeff Bezos Spend Some of His Billions on Air Conditioning for His Warehouse Employees?!
Does Amazon Remove Old Book Listings? No!
Amazon – Do They Draw The Line ANYWHERE?
ALERT!!! ONLY 2 WEEKS UNTIL THE WINTER, 2016 24-HOUR SHORT STORY CONTEST!
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Got questions about Print On Demand and Self-publishing? Ask Angela Hoy.
About The Author
Angela Hoy is the publisher of WritersWeekly.com, the author of 19 books, 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).
Angela has lived and traveled across the U.S. with her kids in an RV, settled in a river-side home in Bradenton, FL, and lived on a 52 ft Irwin sailboat. Angela now resides on a mountaintop in Northwest Georgia, where she plans to spend the rest of her days bird watching, gardening, hiking, and taking in all of the amazing sunrises.
WritersWeekly.com - the free marketing ezine for writers, which features new paying markets and freelance job listings every Wednesday.
BookLocker.com - According to attorney Mark Levine, author of The Fine Print, BookLocker is: "As close to perfection as you're going to find in the world of ebook and POD publishing. The ebook royalties are the highest I've ever seen, and the print royalties are better than average. BookLocker understands what new authors experience, and have put together a package that is the best in the business. You can't go wrong here. Plus, they're selective and won't publish any manuscript just because it's accompanied by a check. Also, the web site is well trafficked. If you can find a POD or epublisher with as much integrity and dedication to selling authors' books, but with lower POD publishing fees, please let me know."
Abuzz Press offers FAST and FREE book publication, but only accepts a small percentage of submissions, and only works with U.S. authors.
PubPreppers.com - "We Prep, You Publish!" Print and ebook design for authors who truly want to self-publish. Offers formatting and design services only, and then provides simple instructions for authors on where to sign up to have the print and ebook editions printed/listed/sold. Cut out the middle man. Keep 100% of what bookstores pay for your book!
Angela's POD Secrets Revealed Series can be found HERE.
Have a POD Book with another publisher? See if BookLocker can give you a better deal. (BookLocker offers "disgruntled author discounts" to those who want to move from other POD services.)
See BookLocker's publishing packages HERE.
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I worry more about something that matters more. Tracking sales is important, but of far more importance is getting paid for all sales. When an author or publisher prints and distributes books that’s not an issue. If I send a retailer a book, they’ll have to pay whether they actually sell it or not. There’s no room for cheating.
What does allow cheating is when someone else is doing the printing and distribution (Ingram/LSI) or the printing, distribution and retail sales (Amazon/Createspace). Of the two, I worry far more about Amazon since the entire process takes place in-house, making cheating all-too-easy. Digital books make cheating even easier, since they only exist briefly as file downloads.
It’s be all-too-easy for already secretive Amazon to sell a thousand Createspace POD or Kindle books but pay the author and publisher for only 800. How would those cheated know? Amazon owns both the machinery that makes the books and the store that sells them.
The author’s total sales are not the only numbers that Amazon fudges! I have not received full royalties on my book sales in 4 years. A title that costs $11.95 should produce more than FIFTEEN CENTS for a royalty paid at 30% of the price. I did write them several times about this issue and the answer was always the same – word for word. Where do I go from here?
Thanks very much, Angela; you’ve saved me a lot of stress. I had been considering using Amazon’s POD. but now there’s no way I’ll touch that resource with even a proverbial ten-foot pole.