The B&N Report
In our first two reports, we concentrated on Amazon’s e-book sales. We analyzed the top 7,000 e-books in three bestselling genres [link]. Then we followed up with a look at all 54,000 ranked bestselling e-books on Amazon in a single day snapshot [link]. We now turn our attention to the next bestselling book and e-book retailer, Barnes & Noble. The methodology is the same. Barnes & Noble’s online store lists overall ranking for their e-books, and as with Amazon, current rank generally correlates with daily sales.1 We determined sales rates based on the sales of our own books and from data gathered from other authors. In all cases, the rates we collected were within 20% of each other. Adjusting rates even beyond this margin of error does not alter the percentages of market share shown in our pie charts — it simply adjusts the overall size of the pie.
Last year, Barnes & Noble reported that 25% of the Nook market was made up of self-published works [link]. We were curious to see if this meant 25% of the bestselling titles were self-published, 25% of the sales came from self-published e-books, or if self-published e-book sales accounted for 25% of the gross dollar market. As always, our primary concern here is where authors are doing better, sale for sale. It doesn’t help authors to say that 70% of the book market is in print if only a small fraction of that money ends up in authors’ pockets [link]. What we want to see is the combined effect of royalty rate, sales volume, and sale price. These three factors combine to give us a true picture of comparative earnings, as shown in our pie charts. Let’s see what our spider gathered as it snared 5,400 of Barnes & Noble’s top genre e-books in its digital web:
Just as we saw in Amazon’s store, indie titles make up a very large percentage of the bestseller lists. More than half, in fact.
Indie titles make up almost a third of Barnes & Noble’s e-book sales as well. The extent to which self-published content dominates Barnes & Noble’s e-book store is even more starkly apparent when the market shares of the Big-5 publishers are shown individually, rather than lumped together:
The Big-5 publishers still rake in the lion’s share of Barnes & Noble publisher dollars, as shown below:
However, publisher revenue is far less meaningful to authors than author revenue. And in Barnes & Noble’s e-book store, just as in Amazon’s case, we see that indie authors and small publishers are earning almost as much as all of the Big-5 combined:
When we look at the Big-5 individually, indie authors take home a much larger share of the Barnes & Noble e-book pie than authors published by even the largest Big-5 house:
Far from being an Amazon-only or Amazon-created phenomenon, the market dominance of indie authors can also be seen here at the second-largest e-book retailer, Barnes & Noble. As some have opined, this reflects a much larger consumer-driven economic reality at work. Retailers and industry middlemen no longer dictate to readers what they should be reading. Readers now vote with their wallets, and everywhere we have thus far looked with our spider, readers are choosing self-published works at a higher rate than those by any other publishing entity.
While author revenue is our primary focus, it’s also worth looking at how Barnes & Noble’s own share of e-book income is distributed. Just as we saw in Amazon’s store, self-publishing authors as a group are worth more money to Barnes & Noble than a business relationship with any traditional publisher, even the largest of the Big-5:
Publishing’s print retailers, print providers, and other businesses in the print supply chain clearly have reason to expand and simplify print distribution options for self-published authors. By doing so, they can increase their profitability and ability to serve consumers, while giving consumers the full range of quality content they demand. In fact, looking at the above chart might give Barnes & Noble a reason to reach out to indies for merchandising opportunities, and also to readers in order to promote these works.
As a footnote, we also include average prices and review scores (out of five stars) for Barnes & Noble (you’ll note the gap where Amazon-published works reside in our other studies):
Here at Barnes & Noble, just as with Amazon, best-selling indie content is better rated on average than best-selling traditionally published content. Our initial speculation about price correlating to average review score has since been disproven by others, who looked at our data more closely. We may be left with the conclusion that self-published works are outselling every other publisher by dint of readers simply liking them better.
As always, anonymized raw data for this report is included below. We look forward to the discussion continuing and seeing what our spider turns up next. And if you are a writer who wants to help us improve our data, please see our survey page [link]. We have nearly 1,000 respondents in our earnings survey, and Michael J. Sullivan has added a format percentage survey in an attempt to get a better understanding of e-book, print, and audio sales rates in today’s ever-changing market.
1 There are two reported issues with the e-book rankings on B&N.com that we feel obliged to point out. The first is reports that Barnes & Noble leases top spots on its charts to major publishers, much as it merchandises books in favorable positions in its stores. The second issue is that indie authors writing in the romance and erotica genres have reported suppressed ranking due to the covers or content of their works. If either of these issues are at play in our data, they would cause our graphs to err in favor of Big 5 publishers, as merchandised books would count for more than they ought to and suppressed self-published books would account for less. Our conclusions are only strengthened if such manipulation is taking place, which is why we are comfortable reporting our findings without taking them into account. As can be seen in the charts above, self-published authors can afford to give up advantages wherever possible while still coming out on top.