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Is Lightning Source Cheating You?

What It Means When Amazon Sales Don’t Match Lightning Source Reports

By Aaron Shepard

Excerpted and adapted from the book POD for Profit: More on the NEW Business of Self Publishing, Shepard Publications, 2010

For more resources, visit Aaron Shepard’s Publishing Page at www.newselfpublishing.com.

Copyright © 2010, 2012 by Aaron Shepard. May be freely copied and shared for any noncommercial purpose as long as no text is altered or omitted, but it may not be posted online without permission.

Book cover: POD for ProfitIt’s common for new publishers with Lightning Source to hang on their computers trying to correlate sales at Amazon—as reflected by jumps in sales rank—to Lightning sales. When they fail to do so, they may conclude that Lightning’s reporting is faulty or even dishonest. So, let me state in the strongest terms that italics can convey, There is no correlation in time between Amazon sales and Lightning sales. (Please don’t make me go to bolding or all caps!)

Yes, all Lightning books sold on Amazon must at some point come from Lightning. But the Lightning sale of any particular copy may be posted days after the Amazon sale—or may already have been posted days, weeks, or even months earlier—and sometimes not even where you’d expect.

Let me summarize the reasons that Amazon sales and Lightning reports might seem not to match up. First, here are reasons a Lightning sale might not show up till after the Amazon sale.

  • Amazon sales rank reflects a sale within a couple of hours of ordering, but Lightning records a sale when the printed book is sent out. So, when Amazon orders a Lightning book for drop shipping by Ingram, there is a built‑in lag of at least one day. If the order arrives at Ingram on Saturday, the book won’t be printed till Monday or shipped and recorded till Tuesday. And if Amazon orders directly from Lightning—which is most common nowadays—Lightning may take several days to ship.

  • Lightning might be running behind in its printing operation. (A significant delay is rare, but possible.)

  • Lightning’s reported sales figures freeze for several days at the close of a reporting period. A sale during that time won’t appear till updates resume.

Now let’s look at cases in which Lightning might report a sale earlier.

  • Amazon might sell the book from its own stock. Amazon in the U.S. has been known to order enough copies of popular Lightning books in advance to cover up to three weeks of sales. This alone could mean an Amazon sale might take place the month after Lightning records its own. And if Amazon over‑ordered, possibly due to a sales spike, a copy might languish in stock for months—well, really, for any amount of time since the book’s publication.

  • If Amazon orders the book from Ingram, Gardners, or Bertrams, the wholesaler might sell it from stock. Wholesalers don’t usually stock Lightning books, but they can if a book is returnable and/or popular. This too can mean a sale by Lightning in a month prior to the Amazon sale.

Finally, here are reasons the sale might not show up at all—or at least, not where you’re looking.

  • The book was a used or review copy sold in Amazon Marketplace. You’d see the same jump in sales rank as for a new book, but there would be no Lightning sale.

  • The book was sold in Marketplace by an international vendor. Both U.S. and U.K. vendors can sell on any Amazon site, so the sold copy might not come from the country you expect. This is especially true for the U.K., where current printing prices and exchange rates favor U.S. vendors. So, the sale you may be looking for at Lightning UK may actually have been made by Lightning US.

  • The book was sold by Amazon but was ordered from a different country than you expect. Books sold by Amazon in Canada, France, Germany, and Japan come from either Lightning US or Lightning UK, depending on where Amazon’s costs come out cheaper. And so far, they do not come through Lightning’s Canadian or European Union channels.

  • You double source your book with another POD provider, and the copy sold by Amazon or a Marketplace vendor came from there. For instance, if you double source with TextStream, the copy might have come from Baker & Taylor.

Finally, keep in mind that sales cannot be reliably determined from sales ranks. If your book’s rank jumps from 100,000 to 20,000, then yes, you’ve made at least one sale. But if it jumps from 20,000 to 19,000, there’s no way to be sure. Because of the way Amazon figures its ranks, your book may rise with no sale at all, only because other books have dropped down. Given a discrepancy between Lightning sales figures and your interpretation of Amazon sales ranks, Lightning is almost certainly the one to trust.

More recently, publishers have been given another set of figures to agonize over. Amazon.com’s Author Central now generously offers weekly U.S. sales figures as reported by Nielsen BookScan—figures previously available only to the publishing establishment. But here again, some Lightning publishers have wondered why Nielsen’s figures are higher than Lightning’s. And here again, suspicions have been based on an incomplete awareness of all that goes or does not go into these figures.

One publisher, for example, ordered dozens of copies of his book from Lightning and supplied them to bookstores directly. He was disturbed to see sales of these books recorded by Nielsen but not by Lightning—not keeping in mind that Lightning does not record publisher orders as sales.

All this is not to say Lightning can make no mistake. With computers, anything is possible. So, if you have convincing evidence, by all means, contact Lightning. The address for this is AccountsPayable@lightningsource.com.

But in any case, I can tell you that Lightning’s integrity and honesty are not questioned by those who have long worked with it. In the unlikely event you do uncover an error, realize it is just that—an error, not any attempt to cheat or defraud you. Lightning’s business depends on the trust of its publisher clients, and it does its very best to earn it.

Book cover: POD for Profit
Read the book!

POD for Profit
More on the NEW Business of Self Publishing
By Aaron Shepard

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