The Mysteriously Knowledgeable Sales Director

Or, Using Publisher Alley and Neilsen BookScan Every Day

Soon after joining NYU Press, I subscribed to the sales databases Publisher Alley and Neilsen BookScan as a way to help me better perform my job. The information that both these systems provide has helped me on various levels—from analyzing proposals for weekly acquisitions meetings, to projecting sales for forthcoming books, to determining reprint decisions. I find these services extremely useful and will briefly go though the different functions they provide.

As the marketing and sales director, I am responsible for reading and reviewing the packet of proposals before our weekly acquisitions meeting. In preparation for the discussion, I look at the books previously written by the authors and editors to get a sense of how well their books have sold. I know that different subjects sell at different levels but having an author with a solid track record certainly helps when you are pitching a book to a buyer. It's also good to know when a book hasn't sold well. I look at Pub Alley for a picture of the library market and at BookScan to see the bookstore market.

After reviewing the authors' and editors' own books, I look at the comparable titles that the editors have listed on the proposals.. Although it is important to recognize other factors that go into a particular book's sales background such as author, publisher, price and discount, it is really useful to know how a competitive book has performed. A big-name author publishing with a big trade house can't be compared to a first-time author at a university press, so I try to make comparisons with like titles published at similar houses. I know that NYU often competes with Duke or Minnesota in certain subjects, so looking at sales figures from books by these presses is valuable.

I bring all of this information into the acquisitions meeting and it becomes a good source for setting price ranges and print runs, allowing us to make informed decisions rather than basing them solely on guess work. Before the days of sales databases, we had to rely on our friends at other houses to look up sales—it's nice to type in a password and get the information in seconds. Though I've told colleagues that I can show them how to look up information too, they haven't taken me up on the offer, and I secretly enjoy being the only one who can access the information.

When the press is low on stock on a new release, usually a general interest title, we don't want to lose momentum and be left without stock. Before we push the button for a reprint, though, I review stock levels at the chains and wholesalers to determine if there is too much stock in the marketplace that might be returned. PubAlley and BookScan, particularly the B&N BookScan feed, are invaluable resources for this information. Without these numbers, we could make disastrous decisions. Of course, due to demands from other channels, I sometimes need to reprint even though B&N and Borders may have a ton of books. However, I may not reprint as much knowing that I'll get 50% or more back from them months later, just enough to supply other key channels such as Amazon and core independents.

Before presenting to my buyer at Baker & Taylor, I need to do a comparison sales report. In the past, I would do a lot of research beforehand and go to my appointment an hour or more early to look up sales data for books related to the frontlist being presented that day. Needless to say, this was not a fun exercise. Pub Alley has made this task quite easy and streamlined and I am thrilled that I can run these reports with so much less stress. I recently got a refresher training lesson and was still amazed at how easy it is.

Additional data that Pub Alley provides is pricing and models for comparable books. For instance if I want to look at how other presses publish cloth religion monographs, I can do so with little hassle by logging onto Pub Alley. This is great data to have for analyzing a subject and determining print runs.

These are brief summaries of how I use Pub Alley and BookScan. I must emphasize that both systems have become part of my daily work routine. In addition to logging into the NYU Press sales and marketing databases, I log onto Pub Alley and BookScan every morning. While I feel a bit like the Wizard of Oz voluntarily lifting the curtain to share the source of my all-seeing book-market knowledge, I would certainly encourage others to take advantage of the information resources that these services make available to us. Not simply marketing and sales departments, but the whole press may benefit from the increased certainty and efficiency this information contributes to publishing decisions.

Fredric Nachbaur
Marketing & Sales Director, NYU Press