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Tracking Sales: The Programs and the Payoffs

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Why track your sales? You’ll
learn who’s selling your titles, who’s buying them—and which of your
promotional strategies are paying off. Tracking helps determine which book
fairs, conferences, and customers yield the most profitable sales, how long
each title takes to break even, what revisions to make, when to
reprint—and even how many books to take to an event. And, of course,
tracking means you know what royalties are due and what taxes are accruing.

 

Most important, tracking may alert
you to a need to change the focus of your company.

 

That’s what has happened at
Gorgias Press, which uses Quick Books and a custom program called Folio Flow
for detailed reports on the hundreds of humanities titles it publishes and/or
distributes.

 

“When we looked at sales by
subject, we found that sales in Syriac Studies (a dialect of Aramaic known as
the language of Jesus) surpassed sales in all other categories,” says Christine
Altinis-Kiraz, vice president. “We never expected Syriac to dominate major
fields such as Arabic and Islamic studies, biblical studies, and religion,” she
adds, but since this discovery, the company has concentrated on marketing these
titles through Google AdWords and at conferences.

 

The results? “We saw our revenue
triple, and most of the books sold were in this category. Before the sales
analysis, we marketed Syriac as a supporting field. Now we concentrate on it.”

 

Software Selection

 

If you’re a new publisher, you’re
probably smaller than Gorgias, and you may wonder what tracking involves in
terms of economical, simple accounting systems or programs. When we polled PMA
members about tracking, we asked that question too. Answers ranged from a
handwritten list to Quicken, Acumen, and custom software.

 

Among those who use off-the-shelf
software programs is Georgette Baker of Cantemos, which produces bilingual
books and music of traditional Spanish songs.

 

Quicken is easy to use and can
provide itemized reports for both income and expenses, says Baker, whose
primary interest is marketing. But it’s important to remember, she notes, that
sales resulting from a conference appearance have significant lag
times—sometimes as much as two years. Since school district and
government agency orders almost never include promotional codes, she tracks by
state.

 

“I know a conference has been
successful when I receive orders from the school district, city, or state where
the conference took place,” she says. “If an order comes from the East Coast, I
know it resulted from Internet publicity or advertising because I don’t attend
conferences there.” And, she adds, “When I receive consistent orders from
Follett Library Resources, I know they resulted from a PMA library mailing.”

 

Carol White’s choice for off-the-shelf
software is Excel. Her RLI Press is a single-title publisher, and she reports
that it can function quite well with simple systems. “I have a lot of
information on sales—by vendor, by date, by program type (Web site,
presentations, direct orders, special programs, etc.),” White says, explaining
that she uses it “to decide which distribution channels are working and what I
might expect from new channels and distribution outlets that I’m considering
for Live Your Road
Trip Dreams
.”

 

At FPI Publishing, Gyleen
Fitzgerald also uses Excel, recording sales of her two quilting titles by
discount rate. “Because I know who gets what rate, I can tell where the sale
was made,” she says. “I know all the books sold at full retail were back-room
sales.”

 

Fitzgerald can determine which
venues yielded the most sales by checking a second spreadsheet: “Through my Web
site, I track hits based on when I do promotional campaigns to see if they made
a difference.”

 

Anything she contributes to a
magazine—an article, a quilt pattern, a photo—includes her URL in
the byline or credit line. The flyers that she sends to shop owners and to
quilt guilds display both the URL and her postal mailing address.

 

Now she is planning to ask
customers how they heard of her books and to see what she can learn from their
responses.

 

Codes and Other Clues

 

That’s exactly what’s recommended
by Linda Coss at Plumtree Press, which publishes books on food allergies. To
track the effectiveness of promotional tools, Coss uses three simple devices:

 

·      She puts “How did you hear about
us?” on all Web-site order forms and every mail-order form (“Unfortunately not
everyone chooses to answer this,’’ Coss notes).

·      She includes a “Department”
number, which serves as a tracking code, as part of the company address on the
order form at the back of every Plumtree book.

·      She incorporates a coded discount
coupon on every flyer distributed at an event, such as a food-allergy
conference.

 

At Upper Access, which publishes
books and software, Steve Carlson tracks what promotion a customer responds to
and how the order is placed. The company also codes reviewers by type and by
title received, both for promotion of future titles and for following up on
review copies sent. This coding is “effortless,” says Carlson, because he uses
Publishers’ Assistant, the software the company sells, and it makes the coding
an automatic part of the invoicing process. “Any time we want information, we
can run an appropriate report with just a couple of keystrokes,” Carlson notes.

 

For example, he says, if a
magazine-advertising salesperson is on the phone, suggesting a rerun of an
Upper Access ad, “I can instantly punch up the numbers showing whether the ad
has been paying for itself. If I’m considering another mailing with a group, I
can tell exactly how successful the previous mailing with that group was.”

 

At San Francisco Story Works,
which is in the startup stage, most of the sales for its <span
class=95StoneSerifIt>Many Adventures of Pengey
Penguin
come via the Internet, and PayPal does the bulk of the
tracking work.

 

“All we have to do is make a copy
of every transaction,” says John Burns, who uses the copies to add names to
databases: one for mailing labels, one for personalized letters, a third for
email campaigns. Burns also maintains two smaller databases, one for Pengey’s
Fan Club and another for fans who want to correspond with the author. The extra
work on these last databases pays off, Burns notes: “These customers help more
that you can imagine by creating word-of-mouth advertising.”

 

Internet sales are also important
at ComServ Books, which works with diabetes organizations, such as the Juvenile
Diabetes Research Foundation, to promote <span
style=’font-size:11.0pt’>Yes I Can! Yes You Can!
the new book by
Denny Dressman and Jay Leeuwenberg about how Leeuwenberg became a college and
professional athlete despite living with type 1 diabetes. Links from these
organizations are coded so that Dressman knows what each site generates in
sales and what he owes it in referral fees.

 

At the Safer Society Foundation,
which publishes about 50 books on the prevention and treatment of sexual abuse,
sales are tracked in several ways, including by title, customer category, and
state, with counts for customers and dollar volume, reports Brenda Burchard,
executive director. This is easy, she adds, because most sales are direct and
even bookstore sales are usually special orders.

 

“We use this information to
determine where we would expect higher sales based on population,” Burchard
explains. Recently, for example, sales analysis showed that sales to California
were out of sync with the state’s population, so the foundation is increasing
its promotion there.

 

Data also helps Burchard monitor
trends, essentially by finding answers to questions like: Do we sell more
workbooks for juveniles or for adults? Is the proportion staying the same? Are
sales to government agencies, to treatment providers, to individuals trending
up or down? What is our ratio of repeat to new customers? All this information
goes into strategic planning and budget decisions.

 

At the International Foundation of
Employee Benefit Plans, book sales are tracked by purchaser (for example, law
firms, corporations, unions, or government agencies) as well as by foundation
membership status and by title and source of sale. Like Plumtree, the foundation
uses source codes on each printed promotion to enable tracking.

 

“We immediately know the
effectiveness of our internal mailing lists vs. any rented lists. We know the
effectiveness of brochures mailed to members vs. nonmembers, and of electronic
promotions vs. paper,” says Dee Birschel, senior director, Information Services
and Publications.

 

Katie Sheehan, who runs marketing
for the Homeowners Education Association, uses information from codes to watch
for emerging markets. “I noticed that most buyers of our <span
class=95StoneSerifIt>Home Maintenance Manual

were women—which was important because the cover was really man-oriented.
Once I demonstrated that the primary market seems to be women, the author
agreed on a change for the cover for the next print run. We made a lot of
changes that seem to be helping sales.”

 

Sheehan uses the email address
that comes with each order for informal market research. “If a real estate
agent or mortgage broker buys one of our books, that alerts me to a possible
new market, so I try to find out if the purchase was for professional or for
personal use.”

 

Tracking sales also helps
publishers improve the timing of reprints and the monitoring of receivables.

 

“After we sold out our first and
second printings before the next one was ready—causing many back
orders—I became much more attentive to tracking sales and anticipating
trends,” says Margaret Parkhurst of Banot Press.

 

At Orchard
Publications—which sells professional titles on applied math and
electrical and computer engineering—a spreadsheet accommodates most
tracking for sales and marketing. For accounts receivable, Steven Karris
explains that the company monitors in detail.

 

“Our biggest account is Amazon.com
Advantage,” he says, “and because the number of copies ordered and the payments
received rarely match, we assign a separate invoice number for each copy
ordered. When we receive payment, we annotate the appropriate invoice number(s)
as paid.”

 

Start Now; Save Always

 

Asked about advice for others on
tracking, Sheilah Vance of The Elevator Group says, “Set up a system before
your first sale.” Burns of San Francisco Story Works makes the same
point—“Start from the very first day and the very first sale”—and
adds another: “Make duplicates and keep them in another area of the world.”

 

Burns sends copies of everything
he’s written and of his customer database to his sister in Boston and to his
wife’s office in another San Francisco building, so that, “if anything
catastrophic were to happen, I’d still have backup.”

 

The author of <span
class=8StoneSans>Company Towns in the Pacific
Northwest
and 10 other books, Linda Carlson creates promotional
campaigns for publishers and reports that she tracks at least some of the
results.

 

 

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