Author Topic: Do USA Today & NYT Only Track US Sales?  (Read 711 times)  

Offline Andrei

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Do USA Today & NYT Only Track US Sales?
« on: January 26, 2018, 05:45:37 AM »
I've noticed that a lot of people say only US sales "count" for bestseller lists but if I take a look at let's say USA Today's methodology, they don't use terms such as "US sales" or variations thereof anywhere.

I'm genuinely curious:

1) Is it true that only US sales count?

2) What is a "US sale" anyway?

When it comes to question #2, I have 4 follow-up questions:

2.1) If someone who has the United States listed as his country but buys a book using his US credit card while vacationing in Germany (so using a German IP)... does that count as a US sale?

2.2) If someone who has the United States listed as his country but buys a book using his German friend's credit card (non-US credit card) while vacationing in Germany (German IP)... does that count as a US sale?

... but wait, what if the exact opposite happens and his German friend visits him in the US? Some obvious questions arise:

2.3) If the German friend uses the US guy's Amazon account but his German credit card, does it count as a US sale? So US account + US IP + German credit card

2.4) If the German friend uses his own German Amazon account (but signs in using Amazon.com rather than Amazon.de) while in the US, does it count as a US sale? So German account + US IP + German credit card

... I'm sure you get the point.

You might be wondering why this is important but, well, it is if someone wants to hit a bestseller list on a tight budget.

If only US sales count, you'll only target people from the US through your FB/AdWords/etc. campaigns but that traffic tends to be very expensive.

If international sales count as well, my best guess is it would be a LOT more cost-effective to try some international traffic campaigns on for size.

Just throwing the idea out there, hope some of you can help clarify this.

Offline Rex Jameson

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Re: Do USA Today & NYT Only Track US Sales?
« Reply #1 on: January 26, 2018, 10:37:12 AM »
Yes, only US sales count toward USA Today and NYT tracking.

You can read a bit more about the methodologies on their websites (USA Today and NYT). The USA Today list is more straightforward. It goes by sales on US vendors, including Amazon, B&N and Apple. In order for B&N or Apple to report during a week, the title has to have 500 sales on that vendor, and USA Today requires not just Amazon US unit sales (from my understanding, neither USA Today nor NYT wants to just present an Amazon bestseller list but instead a unified list that covers as best a representation of the US book interest as possible). USA Today requires reporting from at least two vendors (usually Amazon and B&N) as well. In other words, you have to have thousands on Amazon US and you have to have 500 in either B&N or Apple within a week. Total unit sales are counted, not price/profit.

There are various articles about these lists and how to target them. USA Today is much easier to hit because you just have to hit the top 150 total sales list and the list is not curated (there's no moderation unless an obvious scam, perhaps). The NYT keeps their formula especially locked up and also curates their lists for whatever reason they see fit. They want to present a top 15 books list according to what they feel is the pulse of the US book buying interest. Getting into the top 150 on USA Today tends to require maybe 5-6k sales, counting the 500 you need on B&N or Apple, in a week. The NYT list requires significantly more sales. You have to make the top 15 books in a curated list for that. It's not uncommon for 30k books to not be enough (see the Dominion Rising box set, which was curated off). That's a metric butt-ton of sales and rare for indies without a long preorder and focused ad burns in a large ebook market. There have been people who made it with half that, though.

Not all online or retail US stores are tracked for either list. Also, if a reporting vendor has technical issues, there have been situations where no ebooks made the list (Amazon reportedly had some system failures last year and didn't report on time, for instance, which means they missed a hard cut off date for both USA Today and NYT reporting, impacting any author trying to hit the list for that week).

As for your follow-up questions, I'll simplify. If someone buys a copy on a US online retailer that reports to these lists (e.g., Amazon, Nook, B&N, Kobo), then it counts toward the tally of units sold. If a person gifts a book to another person on a US online vendor, that recipient of the gift has to claim the copy or the gift doesn't count toward units sold (it doesn't count until the gift is essentially claimed). From what I understand, this prevents people from, for instance, purchasing 500 ebook gifts and then never having anyone claim them (that's the design of the reporting). However, there are some unusual games that people have played with print books that can sometimes involve no purchases but work around the system for reserving paperback copies at stores that can be returned to the printer (these are actually reported by retail outlets that report to the NYT). One of the more infamous ones I'm aware of happened late last year. Thankfully, this was fixed retroactively by the NYT after a lot of sleuthing by the community.

An additional thought. If you're wanting to go for a list, you need to ask yourself why. Most readers don't care about the label and have no idea what is actually involved in it. The goal of any promotional activity should be to engage new readers or make existing readers even happier. Otherwise, you might be wasting your time and money.
« Last Edit: January 26, 2018, 08:49:09 PM by Rex Jameson »

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Re: Do USA Today & NYT Only Track US Sales?
« Reply #2 on: January 26, 2018, 03:42:43 PM »
An additional thought. If you're wanting to go for a list, you need to ask yourself why. Most readers don't care about the label and have no idea what is actually involved in it. The goal of any promotional activity should be to engage new readers or make existing readers even happier. Otherwise, you might be wasting your time and money.
Excellent point! I think most indie authors daydream about receiving that kind of accolade, and I'm sure it feels great when it happens, but it's a hard target to hit and I'm sure requires a big ad spend to even have a chance. If an author has that kind of money to throw around, there may be better uses for it.


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Offline TwistedTales

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Re: Do USA Today & NYT Only Track US Sales?
« Reply #3 on: January 26, 2018, 05:12:15 PM »
Excellent point! I think most indie authors daydream about receiving that kind of accolade, and I'm sure it feels great when it happens, but it's a hard target to hit and I'm sure requires a big ad spend to even have a chance. If an author has that kind of money to throw around, there may be better uses for it.

One of my books did hit the USA Today list last year with over 7,000 sales on Amazon and 600 on iBooks (they take the numbers from a 7 day period). I had a BookBub feature deal plus some low cost FB and AMS ads. I think all up I spent around $1,200 for the week, give or take a $100. I earned back the cost of the week long campaign within a matter of hours. I didnt try to get on the list and didnt even know I had until someone told me. To be honest, until then I didnt even know the lists existed.

But it proves you dont need to spend huge amounts of money or be part of a multi author boxset to make the list.

The real question is whether having the letters means much. I do include them on some of my covers and ads, but not all of them because I forget and it doesnt seem to make any difference. I think they mean more to authors than they do readers, and I didnt realize many of the multi author box sets are created just to try and make the lists. Seems like a huge waste of time and money to me.


Offline Andrei

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Re: Do USA Today & NYT Only Track US Sales?
« Reply #4 on: January 26, 2018, 05:13:05 PM »
It goes by sales on US vendors

That's my #1 dilemma: US vendors vs. US sales.

I've read the USA Today document you've linked to quite a few times and the thing is, they simply list a bunch of vendors but don't explicitly mention "US sales" or anything along those lines.

For example, Kobo is listed as one of the venues they gather data from and in my case at least, I have quite a few non-US sales on Kobo (a higher percentage compared to other venues). Do all Kobo sales "count" or are only the US ones taken into consideration?

Offline Rex Jameson

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Re: Do USA Today & NYT Only Track US Sales?
« Reply #5 on: January 26, 2018, 06:35:22 PM »
One of my books did hit the USA Today list last year with over 7,000 sales on Amazon and 600 on iBooks (they take the numbers from a 7 day period). I had a BookBub feature deal plus some low cost FB and AMS ads. I think all up I spent around $1,200 for the week, give or take a $100. I earned back the cost of the week long campaign within a matter of hours. I didnt try to get on the list and didnt even know I had until someone told me. To be honest, until then I didnt even know the lists existed.

But it proves you dont need to spend huge amounts of money or be part of a multi author boxset to make the list.

The real question is whether having the letters means much. I do include them on some of my covers and ads, but not all of them because I forget and it doesnt seem to make any difference. I think they mean more to authors than they do readers, and I didnt realize many of the multi author box sets are created just to try and make the lists. Seems like a huge waste of time and money to me.

I'm still dreaming of a BookBub feature like that. It makes everything so much easier.

I'm also struggling with this letters business. Ultimately, I don't care, and I can't imagine readers caring. I have it listed on my author page, and I have the changes from my cover artist, but I find myself dragging my feet on actually updating the covers. I do not care, one way or the other. As a reader, I look at covers, blurbs, and reviews. The only time such letters mean anything to me is if they are something like "Hugo Award Winner" or something like that. I pay almost no attention to USA Today Bestseller at all. Now that I know what is actually involved with NYT Bestseller, I may actually notice it, but it wouldn't be something that prompted me to actually read the book. It's just a sign that the book had been popular, and I don't read a book just because it's popular. Something else has to grab me.

Offline Rex Jameson

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Re: Do USA Today & NYT Only Track US Sales?
« Reply #6 on: January 26, 2018, 06:44:54 PM »
That's my #1 dilemma: US vendors vs. US sales.

I've read the USA Today document you've linked to quite a few times and the thing is, they simply list a bunch of vendors but don't explicitly mention "US sales" or anything along those lines.

For example, Kobo is listed as one of the venues they gather data from and in my case at least, I have quite a few non-US sales on Kobo (a higher percentage compared to other venues). Do all Kobo sales "count" or are only the US ones taken into consideration?

It definitely does not count non-US vendors. Anything purchased through amazon.co.uk or amazon.ca, for instance, is not counted. I've heard this from multiple sources. If a Canadian person is able to buy from the amazon.com store, it would count. USA Today asks for the US sales reported, and Amazon ships them the amazon.com numbers (unless they muck it up and don't send due to slow reporting, which screws anyone aiming for the list that week). Amazon doesn't curate these, from what I understand. They just ship what they have from the amazon.com store, probably through an automated system.

This can get really confusing if the reporting system you have visibility to says that you have 510 total sales on Apple, for instance. If 18 of those are from an international market (e.g., Canada), then Apple will not report the sales for that week because you didn't hit 500 sales in the US. You hit 492, and none of them will count toward your attempt at USA Today Bestseller, because Apple would not report any of the sales to USA Today (you simply didn't hit the 500 threshold in US vendor sales). If the reporting supports breakdowns by international market and US market, you'll have a better picture. It's only those vendors who give you an aggregate on a platform that might give you false hope.

Offline TwistedTales

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Re: Do USA Today & NYT Only Track US Sales?
« Reply #7 on: January 26, 2018, 11:57:10 PM »
I'm still dreaming of a BookBub feature like that. It makes everything so much easier.

I'm also struggling with this letters business. Ultimately, I don't care, and I can't imagine readers caring. I have it listed on my author page, and I have the changes from my cover artist, but I find myself dragging my feet on actually updating the covers. I do not care, one way or the other. As a reader, I look at covers, blurbs, and reviews. The only time such letters mean anything to me is if they are something like "Hugo Award Winner" or something like that. I pay almost no attention to USA Today Bestseller at all. Now that I know what is actually involved with NYT Bestseller, I may actually notice it, but it wouldn't be something that prompted me to actually read the book. It's just a sign that the book had been popular, and I don't read a book just because it's popular. Something else has to grab me.

Listing awards for books is an old trick used by the trads, but Im probably a typical reader in that I dont know anything about them. If anything, smothering a book with awards can make me think the publisher feels obliged to oversell what is really just a bad book.

Of course, all these multi author box sets claiming letters will dilute the value of having them. I dont believe getting the title from a multi author box set is equivalent to getting it for a single author book. But I also dont believe getting them for a heavily discounted single author book is the same as getting them for a full priced book.

The bottom line is you cant fake a genuine fan base, and just making it look like you have a fan base (however you fake that) wont get you one. You can play all the games in the world (in or out of KU for that matter), but if youre not genuinely popular then your apparent success will be short lived, so its probably better to spend your energy producing a better book than trying to make it look like the one you have is better than it is.

Offline Rex Jameson

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Re: Do USA Today & NYT Only Track US Sales?
« Reply #8 on: January 27, 2018, 06:51:49 AM »
Listing awards for books is an old trick used by the trads, but Im probably a typical reader in that I dont know anything about them. If anything, smothering a book with awards can make me think the publisher feels obliged to oversell what is really just a bad book.

Of course, all these multi author box sets claiming letters will dilute the value of having them. I dont believe getting the title from a multi author box set is equivalent to getting it for a single author book. But I also dont believe getting them for a heavily discounted single author book is the same as getting them for a full priced book.

The bottom line is you cant fake a genuine fan base, and just making it look like you have a fan base (however you fake that) wont get you one. You can play all the games in the world (in or out of KU for that matter), but if youre not genuinely popular then your apparent success will be short lived, so its probably better to spend your energy producing a better book than trying to make it look like the one you have is better than it is.

Totally agreed. Whether you put these anywhere or not, readers can tell pretty quickly who doesn't deserve accolades and who does.

Offline notjohn

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Re: Do USA Today & NYT Only Track US Sales?
« Reply #9 on: January 27, 2018, 07:28:21 AM »
Quote
Total unit sales are counted, not price/profit.

Well, I believe 99-cent books and freebies don't count. At least they don't on the WSJ lists, which are the ones I follow.
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Offline Rex Jameson

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Re: Do USA Today & NYT Only Track US Sales?
« Reply #10 on: January 27, 2018, 08:03:09 AM »
Well, I believe 99-cent books and freebies don't count. At least they don't on the WSJ lists, which are the ones I follow.

Free ebooks do not count on USA Today, NYT, or WSJ. 99 cents do count on all 3 lists. WSJ methodology says it does not includes books priced under 99 cents. Only 99 cents and up, basically.