I've been on a little spending binge for the 2007 tax year, which got me thinking about record keeping and data collection. Most publishers who succeed in business are pretty good about record keeping, primarily for tax reasons. When you're publishing as a business, all of your publishing related expenses can be deducted from your gross income before paying your taxes, provided you keep reasonable enough records to prove those expenses. I save receipts and keep a travel log for the car, and I run 100% of my publishing income through my business checking account. With online access to historical records, it's made tax time a lot easier.
Anybody who's seen my Amazon Sales Rank analysis or retail publishing sales statistics knows I'm a bit of a data freak. What I'm not a fan of is data entry. I've never cared for spreadsheets, they strike me as a slippery slope that destroys the context for data and leads to fundamental errors in analysis. My routine is to archive transient records daily, which helps me maintain the discipline to check them. This routine means I'm never more than 24 hours away from spotting a problem with distribution, discounts or availability. The transient records I archive are the daily Ingram iPage sales and demand reports, and an Amazon snapshot taken through Aaron Shepard's SalesRankExpress.
In addition to the transient data, I check my Amazon Associates orders on a daily basis. While the numbers over the short term lack statistical significance, checking every day builds up a fluency in how sales flow, and the relationship between website visitors and sales. I'm going to have to beg your indulgence with the production quality of this little video showing my daily data collection routine. I recorded directly off the LCD with my Flip Cam rather than using software capture, because I wanted voice-over and I don't own a microphone!
I don't save Amazon Associates records on a regular basis because they retain them them going back to 2002. Somewhere on my hard drive I have saved all my Associates sales records from 1997 through 2002 for my old website, though I'd hate to have to find it. If I see the 2002 year go away after New Years, I'll start archiving that information on an annual basis as well. The part of my routine that I didn't show in the video is checking the usage statistics for my website, something that I also do on a daily basis. Again, the daily checks promote fluency in understanding how the website is functioning, and dovetail nicely with the information from the orders reports.
If the only record keeping you do is for tax purposes, you're missing out. There have been several occasions over the past ten years where the recording of transient reports has allowed me to demonstrate to the existence of problems higher up in the food chain that would have been dismissed as fanciful without the data. Nobody in the publishing industry is going to give you the time of day because you "seem to remember that it used to be different." It's also important for me to have a check on my own memory, especially when it comes to optimizing my sales approach or trying to figure out whether or not the sky is falling.