Hitting Online Bestseller Lists Is Key For E-Books’ Success

How much do e-books benefit when they hit the Nook and Kindle bestseller lists? A lot, new findings suggest. Meanwhile, the New York Times bestseller list appears to have less effect on e-book sales.

Iobyte’s Dan Lubart, who previously examined the effects of Kindle Sunshine Deals on the Kindle bestseller list, turns his attention to at the Nook and Kindle bestseller lists, alongside BN.com’s print bestseller list. “We found that there is a significant benefit to making these lists, and that benefit is far stronger for e-books than it is for print, where titles rise and fall in sales rank far more frequently,” he writes. “In fact, e-books that rise high on the bestseller list can normally look forward to a far longer time on the list than an equivalent print book.”

Lubart looks at “churn”–the number of titles that appear on the bestseller lists each day that weren’t on the list the previous day–on the Kindle, Nook, and BN.com (NYSE: BKS) print lists, and finds that there’s substantially less turnover on the e-book lists than on the BN.com print lists. “The ‘self-sustaining’ effect is far more prominent for e-books than it is for print,” he writes, “indicating that e-book purchases are more influenced by bestseller lists than print.”

Lubart also found that churn increases rapidly lower down the e-book lists (there’s much more turnover for titles 401-500 than for titles 1-100). An e-book hitting the Kindle or Nook bestseller lists is “highly beneficial,” he concludes, “not just for the status but for the actual sustained impact on additional sales it may provide.”

Lubart didn’t look at the New York Times bestseller lists–which, unlike the Barnes & Noble and Kindle lists, are updated only weekly and only list the 35 bestselling titles. It’s widely believed that the NYT list sells print books–a Stanford Business School professor looking at Nielsen BookScan sales found in 2005 that first-year sales of books that made the list increased, on average, by 13 or 14 percent–with a 57 percent increase in sales for debut authors.

But that research obviously took place before the NYT began including e-books on its bestseller lists. There is currently no BookScan-like resource tracking total sales of e-books, and, Lubart says, “I do track the NYT list for e-book fiction and non-fiction each week. Honestly, I have found next to no sales uplift for any titles that appear on that list so I left it out. It just doesn’t appear to drive additional sales (but it does make the authors happy). Also, it is smaller and more heavily curated so I would not be as trusting of the churn index since they aren’t clear about what gets filtered out.”

I asked Lubart why he thinks online retailers’ bestseller lists affect e-books sales more than print book sales. He attributes the effect to on-device browsing: “When I want to purchase a new book on a Kindle, unless I am setting out to buy a specific title, it’s very natural and almost inevitable that I will glance at the bestseller list. The devices make it very easy to do so, and the increased exposure is going to drive sales.” Meanwhile, when you buy a print book from Amazon (NSDQ: AMZN), “you are going through the website, where the bestseller list is not as prominent and the promotions are more personalized to your prior browsing and purchase history.”

Lubart says he is also open to other theories, and if you post them here, he’ll respond.

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