Ebook MarketView: Becoming a “Made” Book

Dan Lubart, Iobyte SolutionsBy Dan Lubart, Principal, Iobyte Solutions, with Anne Kostick

[Ed.: Commenters have noted how hard it can be to get a handle on the current state of ebook sales from the shifting and volatile information available to us. Digital Book World is pleased to offer reports from Dan Lubart’s eBook MarketView, to help us see what stories the actual data has to tell. Using a proprietary market analysis tool, Dan pairs publicly available data from multiple ebook retailer bestseller lists with analysis and visual presentation to help publishers identify and understand emerging patterns.]

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 BN.com 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

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 B&N Print

Chart 2 – Daily Churn – Top 100 for Kindle, Nook, and B&N 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 BN.com 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

Now there is one factor that could be greatly affecting these numbers and that is that BN.com 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 BN.com is highly beneficial – not just for the status but for the actual sustained impact on additional sales it may provide.

Dan Lubart is the principal at Iobyte Solutions, an IT strategy firm with a specialty in publishing and entertainment media. Iobyte’s eBook MarketView tool enables publishers, authors, agents and others to study the dynamics of the ebook retail marketplace in various ways. Dan blogs at eBook MarketView.

3 thoughts on “Ebook MarketView: Becoming a “Made” Book

  1. Carolyn McCray

    Yes, you can feel the “lift” as soon as you hit a bestselling list and a “lift” in sales for each page forward from 100 to the top 20.

    I can say from experience that hitting the top 20, and especially the top 5 (above the “fold” where people have to actually scroll down) helps with residuals.

    30 Pieces of Silver has been in the Amazon Top 20 on Men’s Adventure for nearly 5 months now, yet now does not rank on B&N.

    This is why picking the correct/most efficient/easiest to scale categories is so important and to use your tags and back up categories.

    I have found being up in the mix of bestselling lists to be the strongest indicator of long term sales.

    Most people do not understand the power of the properly chosen category! 🙂

    1. Dan Lubart

      Thanks for the comment, Carolyn. I am actually curious about the impact of the category lists, as I have mostly observed the top-level ones. I was curious if enough interested readers were perusing those lists, and from your experience, it sounds like they do.

      There is always the chicken/egg question of whether the list drives sales, or sales drive the list, or a combination (which is my best guess). I’m going to try to study some of the genre lists soon and see if we can put real numbers against it. Best of luck and thanks again for sharing your experience.


      1. Carolyn McCray

        I would love to see the results of that study.

        For me it feels like my organic, internal Amazon sales (not sales pushed from either social media or paid advertising) are 2/3 recommendation queue purchase and 1/3 bestsellers lists.

        How I divined this ratio is to look at a title and where they sit in sales just before they hit a list. Once they hit a list that title usually gets about a 5% uplift in sales.

        There does not feel like any real difference between being #100 or #50. However getting onto the top 40 page does give you another 5% increase, the top 20 page, another 7% pop and up into the top 10, another 14% increase if you are “above the fold” which is usually about rank #5.

        Remember that moving up these lists many times only represents a few extra sales so you can definitely tell by nearly instantaneous increased sales when you get climb onto a new page or much higher on the same page.

        There definitely feels like there are “benchmark” sales berths that directly impact sales 🙂



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