Software Resources

Managing Your Sales Data: The Problem, The History, Solutions.

An abundance of digital sales platforms has given independent publishers exciting new routes to market—but with them have come new challenges around sales reporting and royalties. MetaComet® Systems President David Marlin outlines the problems and introduces the work towards a solution.

It is a headache familiar to many independent publishers handling their own digital distribution. You receive perhaps a dozen files of sales data each month—or as many as 50 if you sell into multiple sectors or specialties. Each has its own format, layout and quirks, and many will indicate sales in multiple currencies. Some will have several sources of revenue beyond plain e-book transactions, like audio and subscription sales.

Aggregating these files into an appropriate state for sales analysis and royalty calculation can be laborious and frustrating. The rearrangement of columns and repeated copying and pasting may take hours, and it can be difficult to keep tabs on which files have been incorporated and which remain to be done. The need to convert currencies usually adds another round of manual labor.

If you discover a mistake in any line of data, or if files have been imported in error, you have the extra task of correcting or removing figures that have already been appended. Fields may need to be modified or added, and when pre-defined layouts of reports change—as they often do—more adjustments will be required. Even if ways can be found to automate some stages or shortcut others, it tests the tolerance of the most patient of publishers.

The proliferation of digital platforms has exacerbated the problem, with each new retailer or distributor reporting data in a way that suits them, but not necessarily you. The globalization of the market, which sees publishers now selling into numerous territories worldwide, is clearly a positive development in general, but it has added more new dimensions to sales reporting and royalty calculations.

For smaller independent publishers and self-published authors in particular, who lack the ability to handle the task in-house and the resources to outsource it to others, it can be a huge drag on time. It risks compromising the vital tasks of analyzing sales trends opportunities and supplying authors with accurate and timely royalty statements, and it takes people away from the work they came into publishing to do: producing and selling great content.

Trying to ride the digital wave

This challenge can be traced right back to the first wave of ebooks in the early 2000s. The emergence of e-readers like Rocket Book, Sony Reader and Franklin eBookMan, and of specialist e-book platforms like Fictionwise and Peanut Press, later Palm Digital Media, triggered an avalanche of new sales files. These reports offered publishers the chance to improve their understanding of readers’ tastes and purchasing habits, but they also left teams grappling with new forms of sales and royalty data.

Many of these e-book readers and platforms have fallen by the wayside, or have been absorbed by their competitors. But over two decades on from the dawn of digital distribution, the same challenges remain right across the publishing sector.

Slow progress has not been for want of effort. Soon after these new reports started arriving in publishers’ inboxes, my company MetaComet developed one of the first iterations of a solution. A presentation to the Book Industry Study Group led me, BISG founder Sandy Paul and colleagues to set up a new Digital Sales Reporting Committee. Our brief was to develop a standard mechanism for transmitting digital sales data between trading partners, and it was soon piloted by Palm and Random House. But the complexities of the issue and the absence of a strong financial imperative for businesses meant it failed to gain traction, and it stalled again when the concept was revisited in a new guise in 2011.

Striving for a solution

With no solution that could be standardized across the industry, the problem persists. For publishers seeking better aggregation of sales reports, options now include closer collaboration with digital distributors and the adoption of Extract, Transform, Load (ETL) tools, which can blend data from different sources into a single destination—though these can be expensive to acquire and hard to maintain.

Publishing-specific tools are available too, and these have the advantage of catering to the unique aspects of our industry. At MetaComet we have been studying and addressing the problem since the beginning, since it is so central to our key focus of royalty automation, and we continue to learn new and better ways to deal with the ever-changing structure of sales files.

The sum of these learnings to date is our tool, which automates workflows as much as possible. It consolidates sales from multiple channels into a single gateway—from any source and in any format and currency. The result is a single gateway to your sales that is effortless to manage and easy to analyze. opens up exciting new potential for sales analysis. Time spent on the chore of aggregating sales files can now be used to interrogate data and identify important trends. It leads to a better, more rounded understanding of sales patterns, and generates more strategic and effective marketing.

This tool is becoming part of MetaComet’s suite of solutions. It integrates automatically into our Royalty Tracker® platform that makes your royalty management and payout simpler and speedier, and other tools like our Rights Tracker solution that helps you optimize rights trading.

Put together, this is a powerful set of services that can make your business leaner and sharper. We would be pleased to discuss the advantages of further, and to hear your feedback as we seek to set new standards for sales and royalty management in publishing.

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MetaComet Systems, Inc., Computer Software Publishers & Developers, South Hadley, MA