by Tess Gerritsen
The common wisdom in the book biz is that you want to bring out your big-name books in the fall, to take advantage of the Christmas shopping season. I’ve long wondered just how much impact Christmas actually has on book sales. Now, thanks to Amazon, I’ve been able to look at some real numbers and report back that the common wisdom is true. Christmas really is a great time for bookselling.
Late last year, Amazon began offering free Bookscan data to authors who are enrolled in Amazon’s Author Central program. Bookscan records sales of print books in selected markets across the country, and they claim their data captures approximately 75% of all sales. (I’ve heard from other sources that the number is closer to 65%.) It does not include e-book sales to Kindle, Nook, etc. Authors are only able to see their own sales data, so you can’t compare yourself to other authors’ sales, but this gives us more data than we could ever access before. And it’s all free.
If you’re a published author, register now! It’s easy, it allows you to post a profile, link to your website, and post a blog directly onto Amazon’s site. When I saw the announcement that I can now access my Bookscan numbers via Amazon, I began keeping track of my sales. (Because Amazon only captures a month’s worth of sales data at a time, you’ll have to check back regularly and keep track of your own numbers.) Week by week, I’ve watched how my sales changed as Christmas approached. I followed, in particular, my most recent title ICE COLD. Admittedly, it was published way back in June 29, 2010, so it wasn’t a fall book. It’s still in hardcover, but it’s now shelved in section and wouldn’t be particularly visible in bookstores. Still, I wanted to see if even a summer book would show a bump during the holiday shopping season.
Here’s what the Bookscan numbers told me.
The first week of data available was November 22 – 29. I’ll use the number of copies sold that week as my baseline figure.
November 29 – December 5: the sales of ICE COLD were up 27% from the first week.
December 6 – 12: sales were up 30% from the first week.
December 13 – 19: sales up 51%
December 20 – 26: up 60%.
December 27 – January 2: sales dropped back down to what they were the first week.
So there you have it. Even a book that was a mid-summer release saw a nice uptick in sales thanks to Christmas shoppers.
Even more interesting were my sales figures for all my titles, combined. This includes my entire backlist, all now in paperback. Here’s what I found:
Week 1 (November 22 – 28): baseline
Week 2: up 15%
Week 3: up 38%
Week 4: up 115%
Week 5: up 98%
And this is interesting. In week 6 (after Christmas), my overall sales remained 77% above baseline.
So even backlist paperback titles get a boost from Christmas shopping. No surprise — paperbacks make great stocking stuffers and they’re inexpensive. Or perhaps it’s because people go on vacation, and they need some leisure reading during those weeks.
Not only do these numbers tell us that Christmas shoppers buy books, it also gives us a hint about the future of bookselling. And it’s this: when it comes to buying gifts, real books, printed on real paper, continue to be a popular item. Even though we’re in the midst of an e-book revolution, with up to 50% of book sales projected to be in digital form within the next few years, print books will continue to sell during gift-giving holidays.
I can’t help but picture those mall “pop-up” stores that appear and disappear according to season. Halloween shops, for instance, which turn up every September and are gone by November. Or Christmas shops, which sell ornaments and gift-wrap during November and December, and vanish in January.
Luckily, bookstores have more than one season to cater to. There’s Mother’s Day and Father’s Day. Graduation. Back to school. And then there are birthdays, all year round. Such events demand a physical gift that can be wrapped and handed to the recipient. Which means, if it’s a book, a book printed on paper.
For that reason alone, I don’t see bookstores vanishing from our landscape.
I’m traveling this week, so can’t respond to comments. But I hope other authors will share what they found out about their own book sales during the holiday season. And if you haven’t registered with Author Central, do it now!