LETTER REGARDING: Is Amazon REALLY Giving Authors Accurate Sales Numbers?? Read This!

LETTER REGARDING: Is Amazon REALLY Giving Authors Accurate Sales Numbers?? Read This!

Hi Angela,

I read with interest your piece on the Amazon/BookScan numbers, and I can appreciate how much trouble the inaccurate and misleading data can make for publishers.

What I think can be even more worrisome: are all the CreateSpace sales reported?  Do all royalties come through?  The big problem is that there is no way to tell, because we cannot audit.  My lack of trust is built on several items:

(1)  As far as I can tell, it is impossible for individual authors to audit their sales.  We are entirely dependent on what Amazon tells us. (Several years ago, I did get an end-of-year correction and an additional royalty, meaning that they did an audit that year.  But nothing like that has happened in years.  And I know of no system that does not make mistakes.)

(2)  From what everyone reports, working at Amazon is extremely high pressure.  I have to imagine that this pressure is worse for the people working with the printed books as opposed to the electronic books (higher variable cost for printed books).  The temptation to move money that should belong to authors into Amazon’s pockets has to be severe, either through carrots (bonuses for good numbers) or through sticks (if the bottom line isn’t better, you lose your job).  If you have this sort of culture, someone will cheat.  That’s just what happens, especially given (1).

(3) I can think of several ways for Amazon to manipulate their numbers, from playing around with returns and distribution channels to simply not reporting all the sales.  Some of them are legal; others really aren’t, but they might be difficult to detect without a thorough audit.  But if I can think of them, so can others.

(4) Some of my own purchases of my own books did not result in royalties.  These were copies that I ordered to test the system just as a book was published, so it was impossible for them to be returns.  If my own orders don’t result in royalties, how can I trust anything else?

(5) Many times the ranking changes, indicating sales, without corresponding royalties.  When I ask Amazon, they usually tell me that I don’t know how rankings work and that it could be a spurious fluctuation.  OK, I don’t know their formula, but I’m an statistician and I know how the formula should work. Now, these could be returns or used book sales (or a messed-up formula), but it happens a lot.  By a lot, I mean nearly every month.

When I write to Amazon about these things, even regarding my own purchases, it is hard to get anything beyond a canned response.  Now, I don’t hate them.  My books have generally looked fine, and thanks to them I’ve earned thousands of dollars that I might not have received otherwise.  And they are the great whale while I have about as much influence as a piece of krill, so I’ve stopped arguing.  But I do find them to be extremely frustrating.  And I wish we had a better way to audit.

Thanks for letting me vent!

-Name not published on request

ONLINE COMMENTS REGARDING: Is Amazon REALLY Giving Authors Accurate Sales Numbers?? Read This!

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?

– Julie Scott

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.

– Nancy Oren

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.

– Michael W. Perry


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2 Responses to "LETTER REGARDING: Is Amazon REALLY Giving Authors Accurate Sales Numbers?? Read This!"

  1. Pingback: LETTERS and COMMENTS For 01/28/2016 | WritersWeekly.com

  2. Teresa Sadowski  January 22, 2016 at 8:12 am

    There was definitely a glitch of some type around the end of this year. Amazon had trouble updating our site numbers for about 24 hours. Today checking numbers I also had to question. I don’t sell many books so it is pretty easy to assume one has sold based on the sales rank and author rank. On Jan 12 I had a large spike on my seller and author rank graphs. In the past that has usually ment a book has sold. Today (Friday) when the weekly update was reported, no copies were sold. Perhaps I don’t understand the whole process but I do understand why many people are questioning.