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United States History

Primary and secondary sources for the study of US History

Strange as it may seem, we know of no reliable, publicly-available way to get comprehensive statistics for book sales at this time.  The only database with reasonably accurate information is Nielsen BookScan, which reports point-of-sale data, but even that claims to represent only 75% of all retail sales.  BookScan is a comparatively recent (2005), very expensive subscription service, used primarily in the industry.  [UCLA] does not have a subscription.

If you are looking for current sales figures, you can use Amazon.com to get a general idea, although it relies on very recent numbers, so the figures are not really accurate.  The “Author Central” feature on Amazon.com does provide BookScan data to current authors only.

Prior to BookScan, the only source for anything like market data for some individual titles was Best Seller lists compiled by publications such as the New York Times. These are not based on point of sale figures but on the selections of bookstores, from which they generate edited estimates of rankings.  These published lists don’t indicate how many copies of a book have sold from those bookstores or the relative sales among books on the lists.  Since 2009, BookScan does supply weekly “book charts” to the Wall Street Journal, but they're just best seller lists. 

The bottom line is that only book publishers have comprehensive sales data, and they don’t usually make the information public.

-Harvard Library, "Where can I find detailed book sales figures or statistics?"

Possible Strategies

  • Contact the publisher and/or author directly. For more historical data, the information may be available in archival collections.
  • The record for each book on Amazon.com includes information on its ranking in sales compared to other books offered by Amazon.
  • Book articles in Publishers Weekly and other magazines/newspapers may give figures.
  • Check for the number of editions, which may speak to sales success. (Copyright page, National Union Catalog, WorldCat) 

UCLA Database Options

Market Research

Print Sources

Book Reviews