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Australian booksellers get their numbers crunched to mixed reviews

While getting one’s jollies from poring over accurate sales data only recently became a favourite activity among Canadian bookfolk, Australia six-year-old book industry sales data program, according to an Australian article, is like many a six-year-old in that it’s causing somewhat of a ruckus.

The story is a profile of Michael Webster, who “introduced the contentious book sales tracker Nielsen BookScan to Australian publishing” and, while he can’t leap over tall buildings in a single bound, he is “the kind of man grown authors have reason to fear … [and] partly because of him, the Australian book industry is undergoing a mini-revolution. In the process, he has helped turn a quaintly old-fashioned trade — described by novelist Robert Drewe as being ‘like journalism, with better table manners’ — into a more efficient and more ruthless industry.”

Webster says that BookScan forces publishers to see themselves as an industry. “It’s bringing that cold, hard commercial side into it,” he says. BookScan provides publishers and bookstores with “continuous, comprehensive sales data, as it surveys everything from postmodern poetry to street directories at the point of sale.” It also has a pretty good track record — it claims to track around 90% of book sales across the country, courtesy of 100 Australian bookstores, and gets the info out to their customers within a week.

But, according to the Australian article, “for a service that ostensibly tracks barcodes, BookScan divides opinions like no other publishing industry tool.” Yea-sayers give props to the transparency the service brings to the trade, while naysayers say the lists “foster obssession” with bestsellers.

Looks like we have a whole barrel o’ fun in store…

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