By Joe Moore
Someone emailed me the other day and asked what sellthrough means in regard to publishing. Sellthrough is one of those buzzwords that helps a publisher evaluate their current and future relationship with a writer. It’s determined by the amount of books that were shipped and paid for, and it’s expressed as a percentage. For instance, let’s say a writer had a print run of 5000 books and the publisher shipped 4000 (orders). Of those, they received payment for 3500. The sellthrough would be 87.5% since 3500 is 87.5% of 4000. And a sellthrough that high would be a very good thing.
Now, the next question sent to me was: How important is sellthrough in the eyes of the publisher?
For that answer, I went to my friend Neil Nyren. Neil is senior vice president, publisher and editor in chief of G.P. Putnam’s Sons. Here’s his response:
“Sellthrough is important for a couple of reasons. Every book has returns, no matter how successful it is – that’s just the nature of the business. But returned books cost money. We’ve printed and shipped them, but they haven’t sold, and so now all we can hope to do is sell them as remainders. So the fewer books that come back, the better the potential profit picture, for both the publisher and the author.
“Sellthrough is also an important indication of the traction a writer is acquiring in the marketplace. If your sellthrough is 80%, that means the books are sticking and the accounts have a positive history with you (after all, for every five books they ordered, they sold four). And that means a publisher can use that as a springboard to get them to order more copies next time (“Look how well you did!”). It’s an indication that – even if the figures are still small – there may well be growth potential there. It’s a very positive sign – and we can use all the positive signs we can get!”
So for all the published authors out there, it’s easy to calculate your sellthrough. Check your statement and divide the number of books sold by the number shipped—some publishers even calculate the sellthrough for you and display it on the statement. In the above example, the answer is .875 or 87.5%. For those who aren’t published yet, when you finally do get your first statement, you’ll already know one number to watch for that can tell you and the publisher a great deal about how you’re doing.
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