A Snarkling strategizes:
Do online sales count toward an author's sales record the same way bookstore sales do? How does the online price (which is often reduced) affect this? And what about online pre-orders? Also, what about bookstore sales before the book's official release date (for sometimes, a book is shelved a few days ahead of time)? This last instance, especially, I've heard doesn't always count. The reason I ask is because there are a few authors whose work I enjoy very much, and want to make sure they're fully benefiting from my patronage.
You're talking about a couple different things here.
First, authors aren't paid based on where their books are sold, they are paid on the basis of cover price OR net proceeds. Net proceeds is used when big volume retailers (think BN, Borders, WalMart, Costco) buy the book at a steep steep discount (often 60% off cover prices). Author royalty rates for those buys are less than they are for other buys made by people who get a smaller discount (ie indie stores, libraries).
So, if you buy a book online from BookSense, you're contributing more to the author's bottom line than if you buy it online from BN. Same place, different vendor, different discount, different result.
Same for online preorders - from whom you order is the key.
All sales count on royalties except promo copies and certain other exceptions. If you buy the book, your sale will "count".
What I think you're asking though is whether it "counts" for making a book a "best seller". That's a horse of a different color. Those are relative figures. Like Amazon rankings, it's not the number of books that go out the door but the number in relation to other books.
Best seller lists have no direct correlation to author royalties. There can be bonus clauses in a contract if a book is, for example, a Times bestseller, or gets picked as an Oprah book, or something along those lines, but even without those clauses, the author benefits because of increased sales.
So, your unspoken question: when and how to buy a book to best line the pocket of the author: buy full retail from an Indie store that is a Booksense member, and then write a well reasoned, correctly spelled review on Amazon.
Oh, and take six friends with you to the bookstore!