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Sell Throughs, Part Two:
Retail sales information is generally more reliable than publisher sales figures, though publishers generally don’t pay too much attention to retail sales numbers in the short term except on major bestsellers. Retail bookstores get their sales figures from cash register sales, so they have a day-by-day, week-by-week, store-by-store tally of how many copies of a given title they’ve actually sold. Overall, sell-throughs still take time to accumulate and are only final when the retailer pulls the book off the shelves. In most cases, it takes at several months for a retail establishment to accumulate the sales to compute the final sell-through for a particular title. (This is not true for series romance titles. For those books, two to four weeks is sufficient to get a solid sell-through. However, it still takes months for bookstores and wholesale accounts to get the covers to the publishers, so series romance publishers are as much in the dark about sell-throughs as any other publisher until significant time passes.)
The sell-through numbers in bookstores can be computed many different ways. Retailers can compute sell-throughs based on initial orders of a given title only, or upon total orders, including all reorders. Typically, retailers compute sell-through this way:
Sell-through percent = Books purchased by consumer
Books ordered by retailer
Many retailers, who are interested in comparing apples to apples, so to speak, keep a database of all titles, with sell-throughs computed at some given period—usually eight or twelve weeks—during the book’s life. This database enables them to see if a given book is performing particularly well or particularly badly against others of its kind at exactly the same moment in its lifespan. If a writer can get a sell-through at all from a retailer, that’s generally the number given, and it tends to be lower than the full life-of-the-book sell-through. So even the numbers we think of as so reliable aren’t set in stone. They can change depending on who’s putting the calculations together and why.
Can you calculate sell throughs for eBook sales? If you press the buy button for a book the sell through will always be 100%. Think about it, one book was ordered, paid for and delivered. Looking at the bye button it represents a single book until you press it. Once your book is delivered another book is available for purchase. So the formula is now, (1+ n )/total books sold. Or is it? If I use this formula and purchase the first book, the sell through for the publisher is 1 divided by 2 times 100 equals 50%. Two books purchased equals 33.3333%. You can see this formula will not work. The sale of eBooks cheat the system. For every one sold the sell through is 100%. The total eBooks sold will not be known until the retailer removes the button. If a given book only sells a single eBook the sell through is a cool 100%. If a million copies are sold it’s still 100%.