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Nielsen bookscan numbers: Amazon's early Christmas gift to authors

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Mary Knox Merrill/CSM staff/file

(Read caption) Access to Nielsen Bookscan numbers allows authors to know more precisely how many readers are buying their books and where.

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Knowledge may be power, but the latest news from Amazon.com reminds us that a little knowledge is also a dangerous thing. The company announced it would give authors free access to Nielsen Bookscan numbers, letting them see how many books they are selling and where.

Such data had previously been expensive and hard for authors to acquire, even from agents and editors, wrote Techcrunch in a story headlined “The Walls of
Jericho Have Fallen.” Of course, what they’re learning now isn’t always good news.

“Hear that? That’s the sound of thousands of authors’ hearts stopping mid-keystroke as they open up their Bookscan numbers and keel over dead of disappointment,” the TechCrunch story began. Or as The L.A. Times headline puts it: "Get the Xanax Ready."

The caveats: Amazon noted that Bookscan doesn’t include digital book sales and only captures an estimated 75 percent of all print retail sales. (The numbers doesn’t include Wal-Mart, Sam’s Club, libraries, or sales to certain wholesalers, according to the Amazon site.

Still, the news blew around in a whirlwind of angst, interest, and even wry humor.

“Every time an author uses the Amazon Bookscan feature, a box of Kleenex is charged to your card & sent to your house,” quipped urban fantasy writer Anton Strout on Twitter.

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