Where to Get Data You Can Use to Boost Sales
by Linda Carlson
Accurate data about where your books have sold best and which channels are the best prospects for future sales may seem both difficult and expensive to obtain. Some information, however, is as close as a few clicks on a free Website. And more is free from vendors you may already be using.
Here are some of my favorite data sources, not including Google Analytics (for information on that, see “Google Analytics from Start to Success” via Independent Articles at ibpa-online.org). If you use these sources, please let me know how (firstname.lastname@example.org), and if I’ve missed a data source that you find useful, let me know about that for coverage in an upcoming issue.
Anyone with a book in print—and anyone curious about the popularity of a competitor’s book—can check library purchases at WorldCat.org, the catalog of OCLC, the Online Computer Library Center, Inc. Originally created to facilitate interlibrary loans, this Website shows which of the thousands of cooperating libraries around the world own which titles. Better yet, WorldCat can show reader-created reviews for your titles, both from registered WorldCat users and from other sources.
For me, the single most important figure in a search result here appears under “Enter your location,” where the record for a title says, “Displaying libraries [number] out of [total] for all editions.” This tells me how many libraries have purchased a book I’m promoting, and, in the case of books being featured in the Independent, how many of your titles are in libraries. Or, more accurately, it tells me how many member libraries have a particular title on library shelves, available to patrons.
What WorldCat doesn’t show is how many libraries have ordered a title but do not yet have it in circulation, which can easily take a couple of months. And because affiliation with WorldCat is voluntary, its database reflects only its members’ holdings—but today almost 26,000 public, academic, and special libraries, archives, and museums are members (K–12 school libraries aren’t included).
To determine which libraries carry titles—any titles—you publish, search by all applicable publisher names, using “pb: [publisher name].” As Bob Murphy, OCLC’s public relations manager, points out, “Searching by publisher can be difficult because of name changes and mergers. And there are no name authority files for publishers, so there are references like ‘Harper&Row,’ ‘Harper and Row,’ and ‘Harper-Row’ that cannot be pulled up in a single search.”
If you want to market a title in a geographic area where you have no contacts, you can use the Directory of OCLC Libraries search page (oclc.org/en-US/contacts/libraries.html). It allows you to search by city, state, and country for both member and nonmember libraries, but it may not include the smallest or those without an online catalog.
Another source of library contacts is the American Library Association Website’s page for state and regional chapters (ala.org/groups/affiliates/chapters/state/stateregional). Several chapters have their membership directories online. You can compare this information with what’s available from the Census Bureau, where typing “libraries” into the search feature at Census.gov led to details about a small town library. (I chose Lincoln County, WA, because I wanted to see if mailing, electronic, and physical addresses were all provided, even for small towns and rural communities where addresses are often post office boxes.)
Speaking of the Census Bureau: whether you publish one book or a thousand, you can find useful free information at the U.S. Census Website, census.gov. It’s especially helpful when you want to know whether a given market is large enough for a book project you’re considering, and when you want to target promotion geographically.
For example, suppose you’re evaluating the audience for a Spanish translation of a title. The Census Bureau’s “Language Mapper” Web page (census.gov/hhes/socdemo/language/data/language_map.html), lets you select “Spanish” or “Spanish, speaks English less than ‘very well.’” Choose the second option, and you’ll see there’s almost no market for your title in Montana, Wyoming, Nebraska, the Dakotas, West Virginia, or Maine.
If that Spanish translation you’re considering deals with same-sex households, census figures can also help you decide how big a market you’d have. “Comparison of Estimates of Same-Sex Couple Households from the ACS and CPS” (census.gov/hhes/samesex/files/Lofquist-Ellis_2011-PAA.pdf), indicates that there are almost 600,000 reported same-sex households in the United States—but perhaps 10 percent of them include people who identify themselves as Hispanic/Latino. Few of those probably need a Spanish edition, because in more than half of those households, at least one partner has a bachelor’s degree, and in about a third of them, both partners do.
I could write an entire article—in fact, a series!—about the resources on the Census Website, but I’ll highlight just two more before noting many other sources of data useful to publishers.
“Statistics of U.S. Business” (census.gov/epcd/susb/latest/us/US–.HTM) provides data about businesses with payroll, excluding microbusinesses with no employees. So if, for example, you’re looking for small-business owners in Maine, you can click on through and discover that Maine has about 35,000 employers, total, including about 1,700 in manufacturing, and that, of those, about 60 percent employ fewer than 20 people.
If you’re selling children’s books that you believe should be in school libraries and you don’t have a list of districts in every state, that’s available from the Census Bureau, too, at “Small Area Income and Poverty Estimates, Estimation Details for School District Data” (census. gov/did/www/saipe/methods/schools/index.html). Select the most recent Excel worksheet under “School districts and associated counties.”
State education departments
You probably won’t be able to find contacts for each of those school districts through the Census Bureau site, but most state education departments provide them, and often that information is free. For example, the 310-page Directory of Montana Schools is available at opi.mt.gov/Resources/Directory/Index.html. Like most such directories, it lists public schools, private schools, correctional facilities for youth, and community colleges. The Montana directory also lists specialty distributors and curriculum packagers under “Bonded Firms Licensed to Sell Textbooks in Montana.”
Typically, the Websites of the state education departments provide contact information for their administrators. You can download the names by department and, via Montana’s Office of Public Instruction, find out how to get in touch with Audiology Specialists, Audiovisual Library Specialists, Autism Consultants, and Bilingual Specialists, among others.
Besides library associations and education agencies, sources for enhancing your database and targeting markets include such organizations as the American Booksellers Association (bookweb.org/membership/aba-bookseller-member-directory) and its affiliates, such as SoCal Independent Booksellers (scibabooks.org/store_directory).
There’s also the Association for Christian Retail, which lists members at cba.know-where.com/cba, and the National Church Library Association (churchlibraries.org). The Independent College Bookstore Association has an online directory (icbainc.com/Store/Default.aspx). Several similar groups do too, but you have to be a member to access store contacts.
Still other sources include professional associations with specific functions, such as the National Speakers Association (information about its chapters is available at nsaspeaker.org); DONA International, an organization for doulas (dona.org); and, for information about academic counselors in high schools, the National Association for College Admission Counseling (nacacnet.org) and the Association of College Counselors in Independent Schools (accisnet.org).
And there are gender-specific groups such as the American Business Women’s Association (abwa.org), National Association of Professional Women (napw.org), and National Organization for Women (now.org), as well as groups that are both industry- or profession-specific and gender-specific; think women in law, women in construction, and women MBAs.
For as little as $50 a month—and occasionally with a free trial—you can get information about responses to emails you send to as many as 1,000 addresses each day using e-blast services such as Constant Contact and MailChimp. The reports these services provide show who opened your messages, and who clicked through the links in the email.
These reports offer you such options as:
● followup emails to those who did open, but didn’t click through
● followups to those who did click through, but did not purchase (at least, not directly
● from you or from your distributor)
● similar promotions via postal mail to those who did not open your email
My experience has been that open rates on email can be at least triple when I contact only people who have opened previous messages.
If you mail or email catalogs, or sell direct, whoever answers your telephone can gather valuable information by asking callers how they heard of you. If you take inquiries and orders online, your “Contact us” and shopping cart page can include this question, with a list of options such as:
● recommended by a friend/colleague
● heard/read author interview
● heard/read book review
● search engine results
● attended author presentation
● saw book in library/bookstore
● received an email from publisher
● received a catalog/postcard
In-house sales reports
Even if you record sales only with a spreadsheet, you can retrieve contact information for customers sorted by frequency of purchase, size of purchase, titles purchased, and most recent purchase.
Database and invoicing programs make it even easier to compile VIP lists of the customers who have bought the most in the last year or two.
If all your sales are direct, such reports can also show sales by customer types (e.g., libraries, schools, or specialty stores) and geographic areas.
By cross-checking these sales reports with source reports and the e-blast reports, you can answer such questions as whether catalogs or emails are more likely to result in purchases; which email subject lines result in more “opens”; and how many contacts it takes for a purchase to be made.
If you wholesale through Ingram, you are receiving reports by title, customer, and region. All sales to a chain will be aggregated, so you won’t know which Barnes & Noble store ordered your titles, but independent booksellers are listed by name.
At Baker & Taylor, Rick Shalayda, who is merchandising director, Publisher Administration, says that Publisher Alley is what the company uses most for its publisher reports. “This is a subscription-based Web tool that publishers use to run sales by market analysis, and to create suggested ‘new book buy’ reports which are presented to our category buyers,” he explained, noting that the reports “allow publisher sales reps to compare sales and demand of previous titles to support a suggested buy quantity for a new publication. Publisher Alley also allows publishers to see sales and demand of competitor titles, although discounts and costs are hidden.”
For publishers working with Baker & Taylor, Shalayda offers much more detailed information about both domestic and international sales, some free, and some fee-based. Through its Enterprise Data Warehouse system, the company captures “just about every aspect and data element of our business,” he says. “Practically any kind of reporting is obtainable if there is a business need for it. We routinely provide inventory metrics, fill rate, and sell-through analysis to our publishing partners during business review meetings.”
“Vendor Stats,” created by the B&T merchandising department, produces publisher specific sales by B&T market channel. “This database is updated monthly,” Shalayda reports, “and displays three years of data, as well as standard inventory metrics: receipts, returns (both overstock and customer), and order lead-time.”
Reports from distributors can be as seductive as eBay listings, luring you to check at least daily on sales by title, customer, and discount, and on sales and returns totals by day, month, and year to date. Although distributors do not typically report by geographic area, except in terms of wholesalers and Amazon.com warehouses, their reports do show sales to independent stores, so publishers can estimate regional popularity.
The daily reports allow close monitoring of the impact of publicity. When a new Parenting Press title, The Biting Solution, was reviewed in Library Journal in May, sales skyrocketed, says Carolyn Threadgill, publisher at the Seattle company. “At year-end, when we analyzed the sales by wholesaler that Independent Publishers Group provided, we could see that in seven months, more than 2,000 copies had gone to libraries.” This was corroborated with a look at WorldCat.org, which showed hundreds of copies already in library circulation.
What the IPG reports also showed Parenting Press, which had switched from self-distribution early in 2013, was that sales in Canada and the United Kingdom had climbed significantly with the help of the Chicago-based distributor.
Parenting Press is one of the IPG clients using promotion codes to offer discounts for retail direct sales, which allowed both the publisher and the distributor to see how many direct book purchases resulted from an author Webinar that attracted 2,200 requests for the 1,000 registration spaces. IPG offers the promotion codes at no charge, although setup requires about a month’s notice.
American West Books, in Sanger, CA, provides its publisher clients with weekly point-of-sale data, says president Josh Mettee.
And Cardinal Publishers Group in Indianapolis offers weekly updates online for client publishers, president Tom Doherty reports. “They can check sales by title, sales by title by month, inventory, sales by discount, and how much money is coming into their account.”
Doherty adds that Cardinal also offers special reports on request. “Typically, the client doesn’t ask for a special report, but rather has a question that we can answer with a special report. Although many of these questions can be answered with our internal reports, sometimes we mine databases such as PubAlley, iPage, and BookScan.”
The most detailed BookScan data allows publishers to check sales and inventory by geography, valuable information in many ways. The BookScan reports on independents and wholesale and chain distribution centers identify regions, and in some cases, cities, where titles are selling well—or where more promotion is necessary.
If I had an author scheduled to visit a city and the BookScan reports showed no recent sales of the author’s title to indie stores in that area, I’d be emailing or phoning those booksellers and asking that they consider ordering some copies.
BookScan inventory reports for wholesalers show which geographic areas are prepared for promotion, and they also help publishers determine how many books are in the pipeline.
If inventory in wholesale warehouses is high, you might be able to reduce returns by fulfilling only part of the next order for certain warehouses. Just as important, the Bookscan inventory reports may tell a publisher that it does not need to reprint as soon as the inventory levels in its own warehouse or that of its distributor suggest.
Linda Carlson writes for the Independent from Seattle, where she is launching Advertising with Small Budgets for Big Results (Barrett Street Productions).