Saturday, February 6, 2016

How Did BookScan Know? A Real-Life Mystery For Authors

Today, I invite my readers who write to help solve the mystery of The Magically Appearing BookScan Data.

For anyone who might not know, BookScan is a literary Big Brother that "sees" when your ISBN is scanned on a physical book. This typically happens at bookstores when your title is purchased. It *doesn't* happen when you print your own copies via Createspace and then sell them out of the back of your car. Or so I thought...

When I launched The Vesuvius Isotope, I did it the way that a book launch is normally done: at a bookstore. Sometime later, I saw a sales spike in my Nielson BookScan data via Author Central, and the sales showed up as having occurred during the week of the launch party. This is what one would expect.

Later, when I launched The Death Row Complex, I decided to do something different. My husband had just closed in buying out his partners, and now he was sole owner of a restaurant. So we decided to have a book launch/new ownership combo party, and we held it ourselves at the restaurant. There were advantages and disadvantages to this, which I won't get into here, but suffice to say that I knew going into it that I was losing a huge metric: the BookScan data. These sales would be going through cash and my PayPal account, so as far as the Book Sale Statistic gods were concerned, they wouldn't exist.

But here's the weird part: I had a separate book signing at a bookstore a few months later. When the sales spike from that event appeared in my BookScan data, it contained not only the number of sales from that day, but a giant number of sales that I couldn't account for. I knew I had sold some books, but geez, I hadn't sold anywhere near that many.

I racked my brain. I reviewed my POD numbers from Createspace and Lightning Source, the two printers that I use for various distribution channels. There was NOT a massive order of books by anyone (heh, I wish! In fact, there has only been one time when I sold that many physical books at once, and that was at the book launch.

Which leads me to one of two conclusions: either BookScan completely screwed up and accredited me for a spike of sales that I didn't make (a spike that happens to match the number of books sold at my launch party), or else BookScan recorded my PayPal sales that day, the ones I took through my iPad and my phone.

I can't for the life of me figure out how this could have happened. As far as I remember, when I set up my sales through PayPal, I just typed in the name of the item I was selling and how much it was going for. I don't think I did anything to include an ISBN or even to identify it as a book.

If you know what happened, and how, and why, I'm all ears, and I'm sure other authors would love to hear it. Can BookScan and PayPal talk to each other? Or did Nielson just feel sorry for me and give me a pile of extra sales?


  1. Interesting. I'm curious to see what others have to say.

  2. That is so weird! Perhaps the price point is a trigger. I'm pretty sure PayPal talks to BookScan. That's believable.