This year, for the first time, Nielsen BookScan will track sales at leading literary events Hay Festival (26th May – 5th June) and Edinburgh International Book Festival (13th – 29th August).
The Nielsen BookScan service is used by publishers, authors and media to measure the sales impact of titles, collecting retail sales information for point of sale systems in more than 35,500 bookshops around the world.
A spokeperson for Hay called Nielsen's decision to include festival sales as part of its official BookScan data "an important step forward". Negotiations were led by Caroline Michel, c.e.o. of literary agency PFD and Hay Festival chair, who told The Bookseller festivals had to be recognised as part of the publishing process and, accordingly, the sales it generates recognised for the sake of authors taking part.
Michel said she first spoke to then Nielsen Book president Jonathan Nowell about the issue a year and a half ago, with The Bookseller reporting Nielsen was in the testing stage to develop a festival sales channel in June last year. Nielsen had not counted sales from festivals before now because it viewed them as "pop-ups", despite Edinburgh and Hay being two of the UK's leading literary events, the latter now in its 29th year, according to Michel.
She said: "I cannot tell you how great it is. It’s unthinkable that all those books and all the work the authors put in being at a festival and the books never get tracked. It's so important because every single copy an author sells bears more weight to the author’s future than ever before. Bookselling has become so much more of a science, and it matters. When a writer [wants to] write the next book, publishers look at sale figures. If you’re selling hundreds of books at festivals and they’re not being tracked, it’s crazy – because festivals are so much part of the publishing process now.”
James Shaw, head of book sales and retail at the Edinburgh International Book Festival, said he was "delighted" authors and publishers attending the festival would be acknowledged through their sales. With over 60,000 books sold at the Edinburgh festival, he said, "some small and medium sized publishers may find themselves in the charts for the first time, which will be pleasing for all concerned”.
Regardless of the development's impact on the chart, the tracking of these sales will have "long-term" benefits, according to Michel, who added that, if anything, festivals were getting “stronger” with bookselling now a “major" part of it. The Hay Festival, which stocked 3,400 titles and around 55,000 units last year, has seen sales increases the past two years following a 50% extension of the shop. Sales rose by 17% during last year's festival.
“It should be possible for an author and publisher to see where the books are selling and what kind of impact festivals have," she said. "It’s very important for a festival to be able to offer that service, to be able to offer a functioning books sales service. Part of publishing is just that, you take every opportunity to sell books. [Author] profile is one thing but sales is the other. Sales are incredibly important - it’s what we do, we try to get our books to the widest possible audience. If it is being bought by somebody, it should be tracked.
"When you look at the fact that books get sold at readings and when author are on tour, why wouldn’t you track a festival?”
The development comes in a period of increased trade engagement at Hay Festival as it fosters growing partnerships with the Booksellers Association, Waterstones, and The Reading Agency in promoting its events and authors direct to book lovers. Independent booksellers, libraries and Waterstones outlets across the country have been rallied with point of sale packs, while competitions for Golden Tickets are running nationwide through Waterstones customer loyalty schemes. In addition, The Bookseller will unveil its YA Book Prize winner on Thursday 2nd June at Hay as part of the festival’s growing #HAYYA strand of activity.
Festivals have been increasingly under the spotlight after Phillip Pullman resigned from the Oxford Literary Festival in January over its policy on author pay, which is now under the review. Michel said of the issue: "Festivals are a great way of linking readers with writers. Of course the writers should be paid. At Hay, they were always given a gift, and now they are having the choice of a gift or of money. So they are being paid now."