When somebody gets it right, it’s important to say so.
So I’ll say it straight out—Apple’s iTunes Connect just hit a home run with its new reporting tools for indie authors. (iTunes Connect is the web site for managing your account as an indie author.)
Gack, who cares about reporting? That sounds so … dull.
Indie authors care about reporting. They care when they want to know how many books they’ve sold in the last day or week or month or year or lifetime. They care when they need to know how much they’ve earned.
Let’s be clear, those are the two main numbers indie authors care about:
- How many books did I sell?
- How much did I earn?
You’d think that all the major online retailers would make those two numbers easy to get. You’d think those would be the first thing the online retailers tell you.
Well, no, most of them make it hard to get that information. Some of them make it impossible.
But before we go complaining about who gets it wrong, let’s talk about what Apple has done to get it right. (And until last week, they were getting it horribly wrong.)
How Apple’s New Reporting System Works
You log in to the iTunes Connect web page and you see a page with a number of options. Click on the first one, “Sales and Trends.”
A page immediate appears that shows a graph of your sales over the past week. You see the total number of units you moved in that time period and you see the proceeds, in US dollars. (You can choose what currency you want for the proceeds.)
Scrolling down the page, you see a list of each book you’ve published, with the number of units of each one that you’ve sold in that time period. If you click the “Proceeds” tab, the graph changes to show your total earnings each day, and the list at the bottom changes to show the total earnings for each book. Simple and easy.
You may want to change the time-period for the report. No problem. You have several convenient ways to do that:
- Click one of the links: “Last 7 Days”, “Last 30 Days”, “Last Year”, “Lifetime”.
- Click on the calendar icons for the starting date and the ending date to manually set the reporting period.
- Adjust sliders to change the starting date and ending date graphically.
If you want to see how you’re doing in various territories (the iTunes store currently lets you sell your e-books in 51 different territories), you can click a tab to display your results by Territory.
If you want to see how your different categories of books are doing, there’s a tab to break out the results by category.
You can also see results for preorders.
It’s hard to see how the system could be simpler or better.
If you want your results in a spreadsheet, there’s a link to click that will take you to a page where you can choose the reporting period (annual, monthly, weekly, or daily). Then you just click the download button and you’ll download a text file with a table of data that you can load into a spreadsheet.
Authors tend to be obsessive about their sales numbers. Many indie authors log in every day to check their sales on various online retailers. Knowledge is power, and knowledge about your sales numbers gives you extraordinary marketing power. You can try a marketing tactic and measure in real-time whether it works or not. This is a huge advantage that indie authors have over traditionally published authors.
Apple’s new system is so simple and obvious, you’d think that every online retailer did something similar. But tragically, they don’t.
Let’s look at some of the other online retailers to see how they handle reporting.
Amazon’s Reporting System
Amazon makes it easy to view on the Reports page the total unit sales for the current month for each of your books for each of the online stores where your books are sold. This is nice, as far as it goes, but there are a number of shortcomings:
- You don’t see the revenue you’ve earned.
- You don’t see the total units sold for today (or yesterday or any day). If you want to know how many you sold today, you have to subtract the total sales for the month yesterday from the total sales for the month today. And if you didn’t write down the total sales yesterday, you’re out of luck.
- You don’t see the total units sold on all the retailers. There’s a combo box you have to change so you can see the different retailers in various countries—the US, the UK, Germany, France, Spain, Italy, Japan, India, Canada, Brazil, Mexico, and Australia. It’s a major hassle to manually click on each of these and write down the totals for each so you can get a grand total.
Amazon also provides you with the ability to download a spreadsheet with the results for previous months. These are not available until 15 days after the end of the month. And they give you the numbers, but they’re extremely inconvenient.
- Sales are broken out into groups of rows, where each group of rows contains results for a given country.
- There will be a row for each book with sales at the 35% royalty rate, and another row for that same book at the 70% royalty rate. But there’s no row that shows the total sales.
- Each row ends with the revenue to the author, using the currency of the retailer. But there is no exchange rate given, which means you can’t convert to one common currency.
The bottom line is that you can laboriously add up the various rows to determine the total number of units you sold for each book. But you can’t add up the rows to determine your total revenue. You don’t have enough information.
The Smashwords Reporting System
Smashwords gives you a dashboard where you can immediately see the total lifetime sales of each book. But it doesn’t show the total lifetime revenue.
If you want more detailed information, you can get it, but you’ll have to download it. And the time period of each report is a full quarter—three months. You can choose which retailers and which books you want a report for and click the download button. Then you get a large spreadsheet with numerous columns. With some work, you can find the columns you want, sort them by book, and then add up the results to get a total for unit sales and revenue for each book. It’s clunky, but it’s possible to get the results, which is better than Amazon’s system.
Barnes and Noble’s Reporting System
Barnes & Noble’s system has a Sales tab that shows you a bar graph of total units sold by month. The graph shows total units for all your books, so if you want to know the results for a single title, you’re out of luck. You can also see total units and total revenue for this month and last month, but this is not broken out for each book. You can also see yesterday’s sales, both in units and in revenue—but you can’t see today’s.
If you want more information than that, you can click on the “Monthly Sales” button to see sales data for any given month. There’s a table that shows sales for each day of month, broken out by title. But the totals at the bottom are for all your titles summed together.
You can download the same information for any month to a spreadsheet, but if you want total units sold and total revenue, you have to do some manipulation in the spreadsheet to get it. B&N only sells in the US and UK, and they do the currency conversion for you. It’s a hassle to get the total units and total revenue for each book, but it’s possible to get the information if you do some work.
What About Kobo?
I’ve not used Kobo directly (I get my e-books onto Kobo through Smashwords), but it appears that they’ve done a very good job of reporting sales to authors. I can’t tell exactly how good the system is. The info page on their web site displays an example page showing total units sold and total revenue earned all-time for all books. It appears that you can break that out by book. If you can break that out for any given time period, then that would be truly useful to authors.
I’ll probably create a Kobo account and upload my books to their store soon. Their system looks to be very author-friendly.