The B&N Report

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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:

1 600

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.

2 600

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:

3 600


4 600

The Big-5 publishers still rake in the lion’s share of Barnes & Noble publisher dollars, as shown below:

5 600

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:

6 600

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:

7 600

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:

8 600

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):

9 60010 600

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.

Barnes and Noble US Genre Bestsellers

1 There are two reported issues with the e-book rankings on B& 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.

49 Responses to “The B&N Report”

  1. TM Simmons says:

    Thanks very much for this information and your time in collecting and publishing it. It’s invaluable to us indie authors.

    • Michael says:

      Agree. Transparency will help authors make a more informed decision.

      By the way, these are the official figures from Amazon and B&N: From the Wall Street Journal article Fast-Paced Best Seller: Author Russell Blake Thrives on Volumes

      “In 2013, self-published books accounted for 32% of the 100 top selling e-books on Amazon each week, on average.”

      B&N (April 9 2013) press release that was mentioned in this report:

      “Customer demand for great independent content continues to dramatically increase as 30% of NOOK customers purchase self-published content each month, representing 25% of NOOK Book™ sales every month.”

      from Publishers Weekly:

      Indeed, sales of self-published e-books continue to grow on the Nook Platform and the company said they represent about 25% of all e-book sales on Nook devices. According to B&N, PubIt! titles grow by about 20% each quarter and general self-published titles offering through the Nook are growing by 24% each quarter.

  2. Mark Henwick says:

    Another amazing and useful report.
    Thank you and keep up the good work.

  3. Tracy Falbe says:

    This is so validating for me as an artist. To see indies get the highest star rating just made ponies dance in my head.

    Thank you for your generous work collecting, analyzing, and sharing this data.

  4. Aubrey Rose says:

    I’ve heard first-hand reports of B&N manipulating its rankings for erotica titles as well, but only for indie authors and not for trad pubbed titles:

    “One of my books, His Indecent Proposition by Aphrodite Hunt, has sold more than ever, and yet its ranking slipped over several hours from No. 62 to No. 1053 yesterday. The same thing happened to its sequel, His Indecent Demands.

    Several of my author friends have told me that Pubit has deliberately added a thousand points to my rankings because this book is classified under Erotica to keep it off the Top 100. They claim it has happened to them before…

    By Oct 2nd, sales of the affected books have all tumbled. I have a day to day Excel sheet compiled from the B and N daily sales reports to show you how badly my sales and earnings have been affected by this manipulation. I have lost literally hundreds of dollars each day.

    As I mentioned, I don’t mind if this has been done to ALL EROTIC ROMANCES, but once again, ‘Fifty Shades’ and books under major publishers were left intact. As an indie writer, I was singled out.”

    • Rob says:


      I’ve heard of this as well — it’s been rumored for a year or so, now.

      Hugh Howey has raised this issue in his site, and again in the comments at the link above.

      • Aubrey Rose says:

        The NYT bestseller list does the same thing – it’s not actually a bestseller list. I didn’t know this until this past year when I was supposed to hit in a boxed set but didn’t. I wrote them an open letter and didn’t get a response, but the next week they had put us up on their lists…

        “I just hit your NY Times bestseller list for the Rockstar Romance boxed set with eleven other authors. However, the other boxed set I was also in – the BBW Romance boxed set – did not hit the list, despite having stronger sales over the course of the entire week.

        WTF, NYT?

        The BBW boxed set sold more copies than the Rockstar boxed set, and not by a hair. We’re talking THOUSANDS of copies. All of the authors involved in the BBW boxed set were confused when the list came out this morning and BBW was nowhere to be seen. Is it the acronym BBW that got you all riled up, NYT? Is that it? Scared off by some big beautiful women, mmm?

        I was in both boxed sets; so were other authors involved. We are all self published, and unlike trad publishers, we share numbers with each other. This week, the numbers don’t add up. Has this happened before? How would anyone know? And if better sales numbers don’t mean anything for a bestseller chart, what the hell are you actually charting?

        Tell us why, please. A little transparency would go a long way.”

        Thanks to Howey for starting the transparency ball rolling!

      • It actually first occurred at least three years ago. Spring 2011 was when I first remember erotica authors having 1000 added to their rankings on B&N. It was all over kboards (then called kindleboards). There have been enough reports of books jumping from the top 200 to just over 1000 in one shot despite increased sales that there has to be some truth to it.

        It may have started even before 2011, I don’t know.

    • Hugh Howey says:

      Books have been known to rank #1 on the overall top 100 on B&N, but the actual ranking on that book’s product page is much lower, sometimes out of the top 100. It looks like end-capping, but done on a digital storefront.

      • Ann Christy says:

        This end-capping or suppression of ranking is interesting and I wonder if there is a way to collect actual numerical sales data from some of those authors and see if the numbers bear out that the ranks were originally suppressed, thereby decreasing future sales.

        That seems quite unethical if it manipulates what should be a basic and honest ranking.

        Then I’d like to hear what B&N has to say about it.

        Hugh? Any thoughts on going there?

  5. Thank you, Hugh et al.
    These Indie numbers are encouraging, especially since just a few years ago the stigma was so much stronger against self-publishing.
    On another note, my titles have seen a steady sales-demise at B&N while staying consistent or growing at Amazon, Apple, Kobo and Google Play. I wonder how common this is. Have you done a retailer comparison study or is one in the works?

  6. Rob says:

    Exceptional work Hugh and Dataguy!

    The efforts you guys are putting forward to shed some real light on the current reality of publishing is, truly, a gift to writers, agents, and publishers everywhere.

    I feel that with this kind of transparency real, meaningful change can be affected in how business is done, and real options — with facts behind them — can be explored. I think that these reports have the potential to alter contracts and business practices across the board in the book world.

    Well done, and I look forward to the next one!

  7. Liana Mir says:

    While this is good data, you might want to consider that review data is skewed on Barnes and Noble. They have gamers who leave reviews but are only talking to each other. Reporting these reviews rarely gets them removed either.

    • Scath says:

      Yes, I noticed one of those gamer reviews on one of my titles at B&N. It’s the Warrior Cats! on a book about werewolves. My daughter collects those books.

  8. Katie Schickel says:

    Thanks Hugh and Data Guru! As always, your dedication to authors is incredibly generous and greatly appreciated.
    However, I feel like I’m missing something on this one. If 26% of the titles in B&N’s top 5,000 are from Big 5 authors, and that 26% accounts for 52% of the daily revenue to authors, then aren’t Big 5 authors faring much better than indie authors? (As opposed to the 53% of indie authors who account for only 39% of daily revenue to authors.) When you have a smaller group of people eating a bigger piece of the pie, aren’t they each getting a bigger helping?
    What am I missing here?

    • Data Guy says:

      The Big-5 slice of the pie goes disproportionately to a few top Big-5 authors, Katie.
      If you look below the 50 top-earning authors in the spreadsheet (of which 8 are indies, 4 small/medium press, and 38 are Big-5), the remaining indie authors are out-earning the remaining Big-5 and small/medium-press authors combined.

      • SW Blayde says:

        “The Big-5 slice of the pie goes disproportionately to a few top Big-5 authors.”

        I know you don’t have the data, but isn’t that true for the overall results from the data you’ve compiled? The results are disproportionate to those authors in the top list? The results reflect those indies that have enough sales to be included in the top lists. Think how many indie books never sell a single copy. I’m sure that phenomena is much higher for indies than traditionally published books.

        I wish you had all the data. Thanks for the hard work and sharing.

  9. Thank you to Mr. Howey and the gentleman who wishes to remain anonymous for the analysis. What a groundbreaking report for the industry.

  10. Paul Phillips says:

    As interesting as this report is, I find a few things interesting: firstly, there is no comparison for Indie authors who write a 120-page “books” compared to the full-length novels that trad. publishers will release.

    Also, I don’t see a comparison between how many books are “published” by Indies vs Traditional. I think there would be a huge disparity there when it comes to income generated by Indies.

    Finally, I think using reviews/ratings as a guide is a bit of a joke, really. As we saw with the “Sockpuppet Scandal” and bullying/abuse between readers and authors going on at Amazon & Goodreads, surely that means nothing.


  11. Candi Silk says:

    Thank you for your impressive data and reports that you have released and shows clearly the successes of thousands of Indie authors that followed their dreams of being published. Your data along with other reports and experiences of Indie authors begin to paint a vivid picture of the murkiness that seems to lurk in the background of traditional publishing. It is disappointing, though not surprising, to learn of obstacles that self-published authors have had to overcome. But it is encouraging, as your reports indicate, to learn that readers are voting with their wallets in favor of Indie authors. It’s now a full-blown revolution as Indie readers join Indie authors in declaring their independence to read and publish their way, no longer controlled by the priestly “bestseller” lists printed in waning newsprint.

  12. Milton Bagby says:

    Hugh —

    Great work.. I wanted to throw in a request for future study. The Amazon studies made reference to audiobook sales, which dropped as the sample size increased. I wondered if the lower percentage is because not all books have audiobooks. The higher the Kindle ranking, the more likely a book is to have an audiobook. I would like to see the numbers when you only count books that have audio as well. Maybe that’s how it was done in the first studies, but I didn’t see a note to that effect.

  13. I like the report. Very much. But I ‘m confused: $40,000 is the daily revenue for Indie publishers? Total? How many authors? 1,950 (39% of 5000) Is it an average?

  14. AD Starrling says:

    Thank you very much for this series of reports. You and Data Guy didn’t have to do this and I am humbled by everything that you do to help authors understand the business side of publishing and open their eyes to all its different possibilities, be it traditional, self, or hybrid. Forewarned is forearmed!

  15. amy eyrie says:

    Thank you for the illuminating report, a nice, sharp stone ready to hit its mark, Goliath.

  16. Travis Hill says:

    Hugh and DG, please keep going with this. Go as far as you can. There will always be those who will shout as loud as possible that your numbers are wrong, skewed, made up, whatever.

    Keep doing what you guys are doing. You can feel the fear creeping in from the traditional publishing side of the industry. That fear you smell, it isn’t us authors sweating.

  17. I like how the average ratings basically blow away the myth that the authors of the big publishers are the only source of quality and that self published are cesspools of mediocrity.
    Great data. I’m sure the industry mouthpieces will soon be poo pooing it but numbers do not lie.

  18. JL says:

    Thank you for another report. I’ve read all of them, along with naysayers’ criticisms and rebuttals, too. As someone with extensive experience in the consumer products world, studying and presenting this kind of analytical information at the highest levels within Fortune 500 companies, I appreciate what you’re doing. True, it’s best to look at year-over-year analysis and growth trends, to give a more accurate picture of market and dollar share. However, given that your (our) access to the data is limited, you are offering us a beginning, a snapshot. It certainly cannot be dismissed in its entirety. Gatekeepers, of course, are going to throw rocks. By definition, their business models may depend on exclusion. Yet publishers and bookstores should be interested in creating strategic alliances with talented authors, where everyone can benefit, especially readers. You are shining a light for writers, explaining we have choices about our careers. As a literary fiction writer who will soon be publishing under my own press (unfortunately, to you, we will look like a small publisher), I truly appreciate your work. It is valuable. Thank you, again.

  19. antares says:

    Hugh Howey et amicus,

    I did stats for a living on the performance of the US Air Force Satellite Control Network. I read all three postings, but I have not downloaded your raw data. What I saw was in .xclx format, and that format is not compatible with any of my software.

    I am impressed with 1) your choice of datapoints, 2) the volume of data you collect, and 3) the inferences you draw from your results. Although you use proxies, you respect the limits of those proxies and consistently compare apples to apples and oranges to oranges.


    h lynn keith, aka antares

  20. How is Harlequin categorized here? Generally they are not counted in the “Big 5,” though they are a major publishing house.

  21. Teresa Hill says:

    I don’t know about B&N selling spots on its bestseller list. But I had a special promotion for my indie books with B&N about 16 months ago, a Nook Spotlight that featured a 99-cent 1st-in-a-series book of mine and the three other books that followed in that series. For two weeks, I had e-book placement I would say equal to being shelved at he front of the physical stores.

    Didn’t pay for it. Got it through another indie-pubbed friend who made a contact at B&N and shared that contact with me and others, and I did have the indie marketing support of, which I’m sure helped a lot to push the book.

    The 99-cent book spent … I don’t know, 5 or 6 of the 14 days of the promotion at No. 1 on the overall B&N e-book bestseller list. It was a Christmas romance, and I know the B&N people were really surprised and pleased with how well the book sold.

    So, I can’t say B&N doesn’t sell spots on the bestseller list or that it hasn’t started selling them since then. But I know I had the No. 1 slot for a few day, and it wasn’t because I paid for it.

  22. Dor says:

    So, Indie/Self Pubishers have a higher percentage of books in the top 5,000 titles, but they receive a smaller overall percentage of author revenue? So at B&N Indie/self published authors earn less?

    Am I understanding that correctly?

  23. Patty Ann says:

    Just tapped into this site – marvelous information. I appreciate Hugh’s charts and especially hearing from other indie authors experiences on skewed numbers.

  24. Lee Strayer says:

    Adding my thanks so much for this important information. It’s too bad that these retailers couldn’t offer to make this data readily available to us, but kudos to you for figuring out a way to get this important information out.

  25. My inspirational self-help book, The Marriage Whisperer: Tips to Improve Your Relationship Overnight was published by a small independent traditional publisher, MSI Press. They have been great! I own the audio rights and am about 2/3 finished with narrating (myself) the audio book at a small local studio. I want to find options to the Amazon-Audible-ACX route for distribution of physical and digital audiobook versions. I do want to make a reasonable profit, after all. Are there any? I’ve been looking and all I see is the exclusive contract AMAZON has for i-tunes and MP3. B&N maybe? Please help! Thanks. Dr. Patt—The Marriage Whisperer

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