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Following the success of Nielsen SoundScan which tracked point of sale figures for music, the Nielsen Company decided to launch a similar service for book sales. Nielsen BookScan was launched in January 2001. Previously, tracking of book sales, such as by the New York Times Best Seller list, was done without raw numbers. The New York Times would survey hundreds of outlets to estimate which books were selling the most copies, and would publish rankings but not figures. Only the publisher of a book tracked how many copies had been sold, but rarely shared this data.
Nielsen BookScan relies on point of sale data from a number of major book sellers. Nielsen BookScan's US Consumer Market Panel currently covers approximately 75% of retail sales and continues to grow. BookScan does not track sales from BJ's; Hudson Group's airport and train and bus locations were added to their reporting panel effective week 1, 2009.
BookScan was initially greeted with skepticism, but is now widely used by both the publishing industry and the media. Publishers use the numbers to track the success of their rivals. The media uses the figures as a reference to gauge a title's success. Daniel Gross of Slate has noted the increase of pundits using the figures to disparage each other.
BookScan also provided previously unavailable metrics on books published by multiple publishers, such as classic novels in the public domain which may be published by many different houses. Previously, no single entity had figures for the sales of these books; publishers and bookstores only knew their own sales. Slate noted that Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice was available from Amazon in 130 different editions; prior to BookScan there was no way to tabulate total sales. By summing BookScan data, however, Pride and Prejudice was reported to command sales of 110,000 a year, nearly 200 years after being published.