B&N sales of self-pubbed books won’t mean much to most

There was a brief flurry of interest this weekend in an announcement that Barnes and Noble is to start selling self-published books in their bookstores. Thad McIlroy points out in that piece that bricks-and-mortar floor space is one area where Amazon just can’t compete with B&N, since they only have one store to their 640.

It sounds like a great thing. And it’s definitely a step in the right direction.

Here’s the problem, though: in order to qualify for print sales, an author already has to have sold at least 1,000 units in the past year for the Nook reader or app (emphasis mine).

It only makes sense that B&N should skim the cream that’s already risen to the top. But selling 1,000 ebooks for the Nook is a Sisyphean task. How do I know? Personal experience.

I sell The Hundred Hearts through Amazon, Nook, and iTunes. It’s been available for maybe two years now. In all that time, guess how many ebooks I’ve sold for the Nook?


I don’t like to release my numbers, but let’s just say that my Amazon sales outweigh my Nook sales by several orders of magnitude… so much so that I haven’t even bothered making Crypt City, my twelfth book and my second self-published novel, available for the Nook or the iPad. The hours it would take me to format and upload the manuscript are literally not worth the effort.

Fine, you may say, but that’s just a reflection of your own laziness/stupidity/non-commercial viability, not of the Nook.

Well, not exactly. Here’s another article that is several months old now, but which points out that Amazon sells about three-quarters of traditionally-published ebooks. That doesn’t even account for self-published ebooks. Here’s a great line: “Some traditional industry spokespersons have speculated that more than 85% of indie ebook sales are wholly dependent upon Amazon. They presume that indies sell very poorly outside the Kindle store and make up an insignificant percentage of ebook sales elsewhere.”

The reason, of course, is that Amazon makes it fantastically easy–almost pleasant, really–to sell books on their platforms. B&N, meanwhile, makes you feel like they’re doing you a favor.

I do think this is a clever move on B&N’s part. They know self-published authors would like to see their books on store shelves, and they know they should be capitalizing on that. Someone in management has finally figured out that the best way to succeed in the new internet economy is to get your users to do your work for you. In this case, that means putting self-published authors to work promoting sales of their own books for the Nook, and using that process as the gateway to determine who gets valuable shelf space.

There’s nothing wrong with that, either. In theory, it’s a good plan. In theory, everyone wins. But like so many other corporations, B&N’s plan fails to take into account its own weaknesses, and as a result, this won’t amount to much.

Why do I say this? Because it’s going to take a huge amount of work on the part of the author, and it’s a losing proposition from the get-go. Not only is promoting an ebook (or any kind of book) a great labor of love to begin with, but nothing has changed about the fact that B&N is still trying to dislodge a giant from a space it already occupies. Essentially, what they’re asking authors to do is go out there and convince people that the Nook is relevant, when it simply isn’t.

Of course, a monster of a book might have no trouble selling 1,000 copies on the Nook. But if that is the case, then it’s probably also sold 100,000 copies on Amazon, in which case the author will likely have already received contract offers from traditional publishers anyway, and won’t be inclined to fall to his or her knees in gratitude at B&N’s offer to sell print copies.

B&N may be counting on the naivete of those who believe that flogging 1,000 copies of their book on a reader that no one uses will result in them achieving best-seller status in the print world. For a very few, it actually might, and more power to them. I love seeing authors succeed. And I’d love to see Barnes and Noble succeed, too, because after all, they sell books, and they promoted the hell out of my first novel, Eddie’s Bastard, through their Discover Great New Authors program.

But hoping people will produce a good result from bad information is bad business, not to mention bad karma. Relationships need to be based on trust and honesty. This is just as true in the business world as it is in every other area of life.

I would therefore counsel self-published authors to focus instead on cultivating relationships with owners of those independent bookstores that are within a few hours’ drive of your home. If you can find a way to get them physical copies of your book at a steep discount from the retail price–the same sort of discount they are accustomed to receiving from sales reps at publishing houses–and then do your own promotion, you’ll see results far sooner, and more doors will open for you, than if you try to accomplish the task B&N has set out for you.

2 thoughts on “B&N sales of self-pubbed books won’t mean much to most”

  1. Thanks: I think this is the calmest and best-reasoned analysis of the NOOK Press Print Platform, and of selling ebooks and print books outside of Amazon.

Comments are closed.