BookScan, a service that tracks the sale of books from their points of sale, has begun signing agreements with a growing number of publishers and has also announced deals with several bookstores to participate as data providers in the BookScan program.

BookScan was launched in 1997 by the Dutch conglomerate VNU to provide information to the book industry in the same way that its sister company SoundScan does for the music industry. Although publishers have been reluctant to sign up for the service, usually over concerns of price, last week's agreement with Simon & Schuster gives the service about 36 publishers. S&S joins John Wiley, Scholastic, Houghton Mifflin, W.W. Norton and others that have signed up to receive BookScan's sales data.

Rick Richter, president of the S&S sales and distribution division, called BookScan "an essential tool in our efforts to target our customers, and sell better and smarter."

Jim King, BookScan v-p for sales and service, told PW that while "price is an issue," the service had not lowered its rates. He emphasized that the firm has worked to show publishers how BookScan information ("sales, market size, trends, etc.") can help them. "In any new market there's a learning curve," said King. "Traditionally, publishers have not spent money on marketing research. You've got to convince them there's a payback, and that takes a lot of meetings."

King noted that BookScan's bookstore data providers are "geographically diverse" and that BookScan sales data cover an estimated "65% 75% of the retail market. For some publishers, our data covers 80% of their markets." He said S&S is its biggest subscriber, and claims he has verbal commitments from more large publishers to sign agreements in "the next two to three weeks."

Other publishers contacted by PW agreed with King's claims. Dean Karrel, v-p, trade sales at Wiley, called BookScan "an excellent opportunity to obtain sales data from key customers, both from the national chains and independents. It is invaluable for sales analysis and planning." Karrell admitted that "it is an expensive service, but since we signed on last month, we are finding that it is a terrific sales tool."

Michael Jacobs of Scholastic echoed Karrel: "We're pretty happy. We've been using them since January and contemplating it for some time." Jacobs said the service provided so much information that it took a while to figure out "how to deal with all the data. But it gives us more insight into the market and into our competitors." He said the service was "not inexpensive. But they've built a critical mass of retailers. We'll get our money's worth if we work to analyze the data. It is helping us make better decisions on reprint editions and see trends. And, frankly, it allows us to see how our competitors' books are doing."

The bookstores announcing agreements with BookScan are the Tattered Cover, Powell's Books and Harry Schwartz Bookshops.