October 20, 2011

It’s war: Three big publishers announce plans to share sales info with authors … just like Amazon


A Monday article in the New York Times by David Streitfeld about the threat Amazon‘s publishing company poses to the industry seems to have been the spark that finally ignited animated discussion, analysis, and maybe fear across the industry this week — and two days later, some dramatic reactions, as publisher after publisher announced on Wednesday that they were going to offer their authors access to live sales data, one of Amazon’s most talked-about offerings to authors.

As Julie Bosman reports in another Times report, the announcements came from Simon & Schuster, Random House, and the Hachette Book Group — S&S “announced the creation of an author portal, a Web site where authors and illustrators can check sales of their books, broken down by type of merchant and book format, including digital.” Random and Hachette announced they were underway with something similar that would be available soon. Random said its portal would also offer “marketing tools and related information,” while S&S’s portal “also features links to publishing news and instructional tips on using social media, blogs and videos to promote their books.”

As Bosman explains,

The new services may help publishers strengthen their relationships with authors who have expressed frustration at the difficulty of getting up-to-date sales information. In the absence of data from their publishers, many writers turn to Amazon, which last year began giving them access to data from Nielsen BookScan, which tracks about 75 percent of print sales. This has helped forge stronger ties between Amazon and authors at a time when publishers are already feeling competitive pressure from Amazon’s plans to accelerate its own book publishing program.

[Sidenote from a publisher: That’s the first time I’ve seen BookScan’s numbers referred to as being 75% accurate. For the last year or so, most journalists cited it as being 70% accurate. For the year or two before that, it was cited as 60% accurate. In fact, journalists and Nielsen executives are the only ones firm on those numbers. The rest of us — and authors beware — believe them to be far more erratic than that, and only one indicator of several that should be weighed together.]

Meanwhile, S&S CEO Carolyn K. Reidy “said that the portal was not a response to Amazon, but rather an effort to accede to authors’ requests to have immediate access to their sales figures, without being forced to ask their editors or agents to provide the information.”

But the move speaks for itself. It’s war.


Dennis Johnson is the founder of MobyLives, and the co-founder and co-publisher of Melville House. Follow him on Twitter at @mobylives