One of the fun things about working in publishing is a system called Nielsen Bookscan, which tracks estimated sales of books. They gather data from lots of independent booksellers, chains like Barnes & Noble and Borders, online sellers like Amazon, and other retailers like Target and Costco and grocery stores. They aggregate these numbers and then do some statistical manipulations to arrive at sales numbers they believe represent around 80% of the book market.
What does this have to do with notebooks? Well, all Moleskine notebooks have an ISBN number, and they are distributed by Chronicle, a book publisher. So they’re tracked by Bookscan. Which means I can see how many they’ve sold… and it’s quite impressive! The total number of units they estimate sold since 2002 (when Bookscan started) is about 8.3 million. If you assume that is 80% of the market, that would mean the real number is around 10 million in the last 10 years, so about a million a year on average. But that’s only the book market– Bookscan doesn’t track a lot of the museum shops and gift shops and stationery shops where Moleskines are very popular, so the real number is probably way higher. Also, the report I ran doesn’t include older planners from 2008 and before, so you’d have to add that in too.
The bestselling notebooks in 2010 were the ruled ones, hardcover large and pocket, then softcover, followed by the large sketchbook, the pocket size sketchbook, the 18 month planner, then the ruled cahiers. Of the new items introduced in 2010, the Passions Recipe Journal seems to have been the most successful, while the Folio line of larger notebooks doesn’t seem to have done well at all– though since we’re mainly talking about bookstore sales, that may be misleading. Perhaps gift and stationery stores were more likely to devote space to the spinner racks that displayed those products, while bookstores might prefer to just stock the smaller, lower-priced items that are an easier impulse purchase.
I wish someone would invent a sales tracking system like this that covered all stationery brands and all stationery stores– I’m a bit of a numbers geek!