Colleen Doran spills the beans gives some metrics on what everyone knows—Nielsen’s BookScan Numbers are way low. Especially, it seems, where comics are concerned. She cites several books she has worked on, comparing her royalty statements and BookScan numbers:
According to Bookscan, it has sold 542 copies in hardcover. Ouch. What a bummer! This is accurate as of yesterday.
Except I got a royalty statement on this thing. And according to my royalty statement, this book sold 7181 copies by end of the accounting period, which was last summer. As of now, it has sold over 10,000 copies in hardcover. Respectable numbers. Not tearing up the charts, but enough to issue a new edition.
So, the accumulated Bookscan numbers are a good 93% off my actual reported sales from my publisher, as of my last royalty period.
Doran posts several other anonymous books with similarly inaccurate BookScan reports—among her body of work is books with Neil Gaiman and Warren Ellis, so you can guess some of these actual sales are high. Jim Ottaviani chimes in in the comments with his own stats which are similarly low.
This is something I’ve heard repeatedly from comics folks—BookScan is generally considered to be about 60%-75% of a book’s sales, but for comics it seems to be lower still. For instance, even this verified million seller has to note that its BookScan numbers are low.
So should we just ignore BookScan? Not entirely. It’s still a useful metric for a given set of sales outlets. Once again, as with the Diamond charts, the number are NOT absolute. But they do reflect placement and as the annual leaking of the numbers approaches, we should keep in mind that they do reflect sales that never show up in the Diamond charts.