Online Bookselling:

Ever wonder what percentage of people who look at a book’s listing on Amazon actually purchase it? Here’s one datum: I have a click through link to Amazon’s listing of You Can’t Say That! book on my academic home page, on the book’s home page, and I also occasionally use this link on Volokh. Because I was curious about the question above, I signed up for Amazon’s Associates program, which gives me a small commission on every purchase made through this link, and, more important for my curiosity, allows me to track both traffic and purchases. Since January 1 of this year, 1,040 people have clicked on my Amazon link to the book. Of those 1,040 people, eight actually purchased it (seven new copies and one used copy) for an incredible 130 to 1 ratio of browsers to purchasers (some of the individuals, however, may have purchased the book from Amazon at some other time, using another Amazon link). Note that these were people who already had enough interest in the book to click on a link to it, and many of them were likely reasonably familiar with the book already, if they visited from VC or the book’s home page. Random browsing, one would assume, would result in a signicantly worse ratio of browsers to purchasers. Other relevant data: the book has a relatively modest purchase price on Amazon ($14), and its Amazon ranking has varied from a high of 59 (after I was interviewed by Walter Williams on the Rush Limbaugh show) to a recent low of 100,000. Conclusion: online bookselling, and bookselling in general, is a tough business!

The good news from an author’s perspective, I suppose, is that my data suggest that sales reflect only a fraction of the total interest in a book. Of course, if you are trying to make a living writing books (which I’m not), that’s also the bad news.

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