A few days ago, FutureBook posted about the imminent launch of digital bestseller lists in 2011 by both the New York Times and Nielsen. It seems to be a sign of the increasing maturity of the e-book market that it is finally getting its own bestseller lists.

Ironically, thanks to the presence of long-established paper book sales-tracking survey BookScan, it is currently significantly harder to quantify sales of electronic books (which should create a digital record with each single sale) than it is to track paper ones.

As e-book sales grow, so the market has become increasingly opaque. Amazon’s figures are a master-piece in self-interested obfuscation, and I’ve seen nothing from Apple, or Sony that suggests they are likely to have a damascene conversion to openness anytime soon.

This necessitated some of the same sorts of guesswork that preceded BookScan for the paper book selling world for FutureBook to come up with an e-book bestseller list of its own for the launch of a weekly email newsletter.

I wonder how the New York Times and Nielsen are going to gather accurate sales figures if the e-book stores are so reticent to give them out. Will they come from the publishers themselves?


  1. Amazon’s e-book sales aren’t “obfuscation” … they are press releases. They do not report e-book sales for competitive reasons. But they have reported sales of James Patterson novels in response to the APA report of the same stat. I seem the recall APA said 1.3 million sold and Amazon responded saying it sold 870,00 of them.

    And Amazon has reported that five authors have sold over 500,000 and now two of these have passed 1 million. Those are helpful, colourful facts but don’t tell you have many overall. If I were a shareholder, I’d agree that’s the right approach — no need to tell Barnes and Noble your internal stats … or someone else coming into the business. (Disclaimer: I am NOT a shareholder of anyone in the industry.)

    Top Sales lists are what they are: the snapshot based on available data. NY Times may be able to get Amazon, Kobo, Sony, B&N and a handful of smaller players to fill out a weekly survey — what’s your top seller? Or how many copies of your top sellers with the data passed to an embargoed 3rd party like Price Waterhouse auditors? Or ask twenty five publishers to provide the same data?

    Publishers may not actually know what’s sold in real-time. There is no inventory to ship: they rely on the sellers to provide weekly or monthly sales figures with their cheque. Or maybe Adobe could be involved since it hands out the DRM IDs … but that rules out all Amazon sales and all smaller houses that sell DRM free.

    So, yes, its a problem. But if the list is declared upfront for what it is … then that’s what it is and it’s as useful as that. Which … could be very useful. A NY Times list will be useful simply because its from and bless by the NY Times.

  2. Obfuscate is “to be evasive, unclear, or confusing” so with respect I think Amazon’s number reporting do qualify as such 🙂

    To have any credibility as a best seller listing what is needed is an independent organisation that will keep reported sales confidential and that can reliably collect auditable data representing the overwhelming majority of sales. Otherwise any listing such as the NYT listing will have only local relevance within the context of that seller. Imho.

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