Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Book Sales Tracking Software

For the past five months I've been using BookTrakr. It is still in Beta , and therefore FREE, but I have to say I absolutely love it. It is software in the cloud that provides a way to track each title you have at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Kobo, Apple, Google Play, and Createspace and provide daily, weekly, monthly, etc and All Time sales for each of your titles. Because it's all in a database, you can go and look at them in different ways. You can take a tour of the types of data displays and cool information you can track.

With 15 titles, the time this has saved me is invaluable. I don't have to go to each retailer site to see what's happened. Each retailer displays information differently. With some you can look at all books together, with most you have to look at each book separately to see how it is doing in sales. With BookTrakr I can look at the data across all books in a number of different ways--by book, by series, by retailer, by country, by dates, and many more. This allows me to make decisions about promotion, my next writing project, or any number of business planning activities. It is all displayed in easy-to-read format with colorful graphs.

You can also set up what is called "Shelves" where you can group together titles to be tracked as one entity. For example, I've set up a shelf for each of my series (I have three going at the moment). In that way, in addition to tracking the books individually, I can also track the sales for the series as a whole. I also set up a shelf for my SF work (which is mostly short stories and anthologies with currently one novel) just to see how I'm doing in that genre compared to my more popular romance sales.

Who Owns It?

BookTrakr is owned/developed by Lauren Royal's husband and oldest son. Lauren is a NYT and USA Today bestselling historical romance author. They designed the program in response to Lauren's own needs for tracking all her sales easily. I like that a working/career author has been the use case for the software development. The combination of financial services background (her husband) and technology, software developer (her son) provides a nice foundation for the company.

They are using big servers with high quality security and encryption software. This is important because you DO have to provide your credentials for four out of six of the retailers they track. Apple and Google allow for providing secondary credentials, but the other retailers do not (and who knows if they ever will).

What About Security Then?

As most of you know, I'm a pretty big anti-giving-out-credentials person for most cloud-based analytical programs. However, BookTrakr is designed to encrypt the credentials data before it ever gets to the server and is stored. This is similar to how all major companies and banks handle your password. It is encrypted so that even if you call and ask them what it is no one in support can tell you. This encryption technology (encrypted with a 2048-bit RSA key) is the web standard for security. That encrypted data is sent to the vendor (e.g., Amazon) where another encrypted key (a private key) is needed to understand the credentials and provide access to your sales data. In other words, the software passes the encrypted data to each site in order to fetch the reports. Once encrypted, the data is never put back in plaintext form. It is only readable by software. No human at BookTrakr can even see your credentials. If anyone wanted to look they would only see encryption (gobbledygook to most people).

That is not to say they couldn't figure it out. Obviously, a software developer who assigned the encryption hashing algorithm could also design a program to reveal the data. However, I don't see that happening. This is a family run business and Lauren has been upfront about the business and her relationship to the principals. She is putting her reputation on the line in being associated with it. Their business model is to make money from people using the service.

Is There Other Similar Software Where You Don't Have to Give Out Credentials? 

For people who are very wary about ever giving out credentials, then BookTrakr or other cloud-based software is definitely NOT for you. If you have a PC and you are looking for a different option, try TrackerBox. It runs as an application on your own computer and can import your downloaded sales information. You will still have to go to every retail site yourself and login, then download the sales information in a CSV file. Then import the file into the software. TrackerBox knows how to take a variety of file types and put the data in to the database in order to display the analytics for you. This does not run on a MAC.

Is the BookTrakr Data Accurate?

It is just as accurate as if you login every day and check your sales yourself at each vendor site. As you may be aware, each site has its idiosyncracies in how it displays sales. For example:
  • Every time Amazon changes its algorithms, sales are not reported accurately for a couple of days. International sales are often not reported until a month late.
  • Kobo tracks promo code sales in the full dollar amount which can throw off sales reports. For example, if your readers use a promo code to get a book free, Kobo records it in the online sales display data as a full priced sale. You don't know which ones were free and which ones were bought without the code until you get your royalty statement. This means BookTrakr will pick up that Kobo data just as inaccurately as it is displayed to you in person on their site.
  • Google is notoriously late in reporting, so it is likely that BookTrakr will report zero sales for several weeks and then you will suddenly have 100 sales all at once.
  • Barnes and Noble has struggled with sales reporting a lot in the last year as the Nook portion of the company has been sold and bought and passed to different managers and platform changes made. Again, like the others, whatever the data is that you see when you login yourself is the same data BookTrakr will report.
The bottom line is that BookTrakr cannot makeup for the system bugs or inaccuracies of each vendor. It will only report what you would find if you had logged in and looked for yourself that day.

What Do I Love About BookTrakr?

I like the set up, the security, and the ease of use of BookTrakr. As it is in the cloud, it doesn't matter what your system is MAC, PC, Linux. I'm primarily a MAC girl, though I do have access to my husbands PC if I have to use it. I would prefer not to. For me BookTrakr's cloud-based model with instantaneous access to sales, and automatically identification of titles as I load them to each venue,  is worth a lot to save me time and aggravation. And I can make decisions based on data-driven analytics. That will impact my business profitability in the long term.
  1. Loading books is a cinch. Once they go to fetch from each site where I have directly loaded titles, it automatically populates the BookTrakr database with each title--no matter what pen name I used, the genre, or anything else. It reads my account of book loads at each vendor and uses the metadata it needs to create the books for me. It then asks me if I want to track that title (called ACTIVATE). This means whenever I release a new book, BookTrakr knows it the day it is released and asks me if I want it to be activated/tracked.
  2. I get an email every morning displaying the results of sales from the night before. This is displayed by title,  by retailer,  and by country—plus for each title it lists all my Top 100 rankings at each retailer around the world.

    Admittedly, sometimes this email can be depressing—especially when I get a big zippo in sales that day. However, I've never stressed over short-term sales lulls. My success metrics are over quarters and comparisons of one year to the next. Also, because DIY Publishing has remained in the Top 100 on Kobo and occasionally gets into the top 100 in it's category on Amazon or Apple, I do get to smile somewhat regularly. :)
  3. I can track how my ads, or special promo pushes effect my sales. The software provides an “events” driven comparison. In the EVENTS category, I can add a date that I'm doing a promo, an ad,a blog tour, etc. Once that event has triggered, BookTrakr will show me the impact of sales in relation to that time period. This is great for me. In the past I had to wait weeks or a month later (depending on the vendor) and again go to each site and try to determine if a blip in sales was related to a promo or not. The guessing is okay if I only run one promo a month, but if I do more I need better tracking. BookTrakr provides that.
  4. BookTrakr does currency conversions. When the software fetches the sales data, it also refreshes conversion numbers each day based on world banks data. This allows BookTrakr to display foreign sales in dollars each day (e.g., Amazon DE and Amazon AU have been good to me most recently) so I don't have to do the calculation.

Right now BookTrakr is free because it is still in Beta (I think it has been in Beta for a couple years now). Eventually, there will be a charge. My understanding is that it will be "reasonable" (I'm guessing that means $5-10 per month). I have no idea when the Beta will end and how they will choose to migrate their current 800+ members to a paying platform. But I'm not worrying because so far this company has been responsive and up front about plans. No sudden sales to another company or huge venture capital infusions (like a experienced with Vook) that change the entire focus of the company.

I'm in love with BookTrakr and the time it saves me while delivering sales data in an easy to understand and quickly scannable form. I would be willing to pay $10 per month without a second thought.

What Does it Need?

I'd personally love to see them add Ingram Spark and/or Lightning Source, as I distribute print through both Createspace and Ingram. All my other distribution is done through another aggregator where I already get good reporting.

I believe other indies would also like to see D2D (Draft 2 Digital) added. BookTrakr does query Smashwords but not D2D yet. And a number of indies would probably also like to see Overdrive and ACX added.

Give it a Try?

Right now BookTrakr covers the major retailers that the vast majority of indie authors use to upload direct--Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Kobo, Apple, Google Play, Createspace and Smashwords. If any of BookTrakr's services sound good to you, and you are okay with the whole credentials thing, I recommend you try it out and see if you like the services as much as I do.

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