Wednesday, July 6, 2011

How Much Do eBooks Profit From Being on Bestseller Lists

One of the bits of ‘conventional wisdom’ around books is that making the bestseller list (any of the growing number of lists, really) is important for discoverability.  The natural question that arises from this is whether position on the list tends to be self-sustaining.  In other words, do books that make it onto the bestseller list gain real benefit from the additional exposure? Does that exposure help them increase sales and thus maintain their high ranking?

We found that there is a significant benefit to making these lists, and that benefit is far stronger for eBooks than it is for print, where titles rise and fall in sales rank far more frequently.  In fact, eBooks that rise high on the bestseller list can normally look forward to a far longer time on the list than an equivalent print book.

Let’s start with a basic assumption – some number of customers are looking at, and making purchase decisions off of, the bestseller lists.  This could include the Kindle Bestsellers, which show 20 at a time up to the top 100, or Nook Bestsellers, which can show from 10 to 100 at a time and go as deep as you care to go.  In the world of online search, the data strongly suggests that being on the first page of results is far better than being farther back.  So I set out to test the data in a few different ways:

  • Comparison between retailers
  • Comparison between formats (eBook vs. print)
  • Comparison between position on the list

Let’s start by looking at the “churn” on the Top 20 list for Kindle, Nook, and Print bestsellers on for the past 60 days.  I define “churn” as the number of titles that appear on each day that were not on the list the previous day.  To be clear, these titles may have been on the list previously, but there was at least one day since its last appearance. 

Chart 1 – Daily Churn – Top 20 for Kindle, Nook and B&N Print

Although it is hard to see, the average daily churn for Kindle and Nook are close, Kindle at 8.8% and Nook at 11.8%, while the B&N Print is much higher, at just over 24%. In other words, the turnover of titles on the Kindle and Nook bestseller lists are about comparable, and those lists are considerably less chaotic than the B&N Print bestseller list.

Expanding the scope to the top 100 titles, rather than the top 20, the differences between print and digital are even more noticeable.

Chart 2 – Daily Churn – Top-100 for Kindle, Nook and BN-Print

Now the similarity between Kindle and Nook is more obvious (8.1% vs. 8.6%), and the gap between eBooks and print is even wider (BN Print at 27.9%).  What we see is that there is substantially less churn on the eBook lists than on the print list and that the top-100 eBooks are about as stable as the top-20.  This also confirms that the ‘self-sustaining’ effect is far more prominent for eBooks than it is for print, indicating that eBook purchases are more influenced by bestseller lists than print. 

Lastly, we want to test if the churn is indeed lower on the bestseller list than it is deeper down.  In order to do this, we looked at the Nook list in five groups of 100 titles each.  What we found was a very strong basis for the assumption that bestseller lists support book sales.

Chart 3 – Average Daily Churn for Nook Bestsellers

Rank range      Average Daily Churn
1-100               8.6%
101-200           25.1%
201-300           35.3%
301-400           54.7%
401-500           66.7%

Now there is one factor that could be greatly affecting these numbers and that is that may be imposing any number of arbitrary rules that affect the repositioning of sales rank.  In fact, we previously noted here that there is one such rule that at least temporarily restricted the highest rank a book priced below $4 could achieve (no higher than rank 126).  Yet while these rules may be impacting the free repositioning of sales rank between titles, it actually doesn’t really matter since the titles in the top-100 are clearly tending to stay there as compared to titles lower down.

With support from the data, we can see that titles that make it to the bestseller list continue their bestselling habit.  What I would take away from this as an author, agent or publisher is that getting my eBooks into the top-100 on both Amazon and is highly beneficial – not just for the status but for the actual sustained impact on additional sales it may provide.

Dan Lubart can be reached at
You can follow him on Twitter at @ebook_mktview  

1 comment:

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