Judging books

Neilsen's BookScan bestseller chart is based on real numbers, not guesstimates

So, which were the bestselling Indian books of 2011? Until recently, you could have had every author in the country hold up his or her magnum opus as the readers’ favourite and there’d be no way to dispute it. The lack of recording standards meant any writer could add prefixes like “bestselling” or “leading” to their name, even as publishers and bookstores grappled with royalties and inventories.

There was probably a collective sigh of relief when Nielsen introduced its BookScan service in India. The global information and measurement company provides real-time data on book sales across retailers. It tracks 80,000 different book purchases worth ₹8 crore each week. And year-to-date, it has data on sales worth ₹328 crore from 13 million book sales across 386,400 titles. 

Publishers pay for the results, but it is more of a partnership with the retailers. In the past 15 months, the company has signed on 22 retailer groups, including large chains such as Crossword, Landmark, Odyssey and Flipkart and smaller players of repute like Connexions, Galgotias and Full Circle. 

For both publishers and retailers, it’s proving to be a good strategy to have accurate numbers for book sales. The weekly sales charts that retailers are given free in exchange for sales data helps them manage their supply chain and negotiate prices with publishers (based on the average selling price revealed by BookScan). “It helps retailers in two ways,” explains Deepinder Kapany, vice president and head, books and entertainment business, Reliance Retail. “You don’t need multiple sources to locate a book, and the consolidated sales data from different retailers helps in better inventory control.”

For publishers, too, the benefits outweigh the cost. “They can now take reprint decisions and frame inventory, distribution and marketing policies based on information from a third party, provided without any bias, and with an established methodology to track sales,” says Vikrant Mathur, associate director, Nielsen BookScan Practice.

Of course, the Nielsen analysis is not a total market measure. “They cover about 70% of the organised Indian book market and the only way in which they can improve is if more and more retailers go electronic and offer them data,” says Anantha Padmanabhan, vice president, sales, Penguin India. The trouble is that many retailers in India do not have standardised billing and systems, and even the ones that do are wary of giving out data. Bookscan is expanding slowly but publishers and retailers aren’t complaining. After all, they no longer have to judge a book by its cover—they can do that by simply looking at its sales.