Does B&N Manipulate its Rankings?

A bold question, but it isn’t the first I’ve heard of this happening. Several erotica and romance authors on KBoards have complained that their ranking on the Nook bestseller list does not reflect their actual sales. The most recent victim is Maya Cross. Maya reported on KBoards that her new release LOCKOUT was sitting at #5 in the Nook store. Her first book, LOCKED, soon began to shoot up the lists. But when it hit #126, it stopped. It didn’t go any higher. Even though it was selling very well.

This was only mildly suspicious until she woke up the next morning to find the former #5 bestseller, LOCKOUT, sitting at #126. LOCKED, meanwhile, had dropped to #127. The two books sat side by side, pinned, selling more than the ranking would indicate. And poor Maya watched as her sales gradually diminished due to the lower visibility.

I should point out here that many indie authors are expert at reading sales numbers from sales rank. We’ve shared enough data and collected our own as we move through the lists, so that even as the numbers required to hit certain rankings grows over time with the growth of e-books in general, you can tell when something is amiss. At this point, it was cause for alarm. But then a pattern emerged.

It turns out that two other authors have experienced the same thing and with the same number! Gail McHugh saw her book rise to #126 and go no higher. It appears that any flagged book, whether due to racy cover or racy content, is given a hard ceiling. Couple this with allegations that erotica books have been deleted from NOOK UK with no explanation and no recourse. Folks, this ain’t right.

It’s not right for three reasons.

First, it’s bad for the customer. Is it a wonder that B&N is flailing when it refuses to serve the needs and tastes of its customers? Readers coming to their storefront should know what’s selling the best, as that’s a reflection of what they might want to check out. Otherwise, why have a bestseller list at all?

Second, it’s bad for the authors, who are unfairly discriminated against. With the press of a button, Maya saw her earnings diminish. This should infuriate anyone with a pulse. It’s disgusting behavior. If a customer wants to see what’s selling best in their favorite genre, like mystery or science fiction, those lists are a click away. Nobody should manipulate the overall bestseller list and harm authors just to suit the tastes of what someone in an office wishes their list looked like.

Which leads to the third party this hurts, and that’s Barnes and Noble. Bookstores excel when they match good books with happy readers. This is an attempt to halt that process. It is immoral, abhorrent, and it should stop. I hope it does so before Barnes and Noble drives itself out of business. That won’t be good for anyone. Not that their business decisions seem driven by such logic.

Edited to add: Selena Kitt, Cassia Leo, and Liliana Hart have all seen their books pinned at the magic number of 126. If you want to support these authors, check out their books. And why shouldn’t you? They must rock if they sell so well. Buy them on Amazon, Kobo, or the iBookstore, as their rankings should reflect your purchase appropriately:

Maya Cross ~ Selena Kitt ~ Gail McHugh ~ Cassia Leo ~ Liliana Hart

Anyone else affected by this? What do you all think of this practice?

Also: Maya blogged about this on Goodreads. Probably the best source for what’s going on here.

COMMENTS (84)

Don’t forget that just today we’ve learned that BN has engaged in a modern twist on book burning….deleting hundreds of romance books with the push of a button form their UK site. No disclosure to authors, the books are just gone. We now not only have to write, publish and market our work, we also need to police it.

Ostensibly the action was to clean up the site, but Fifty Shades of Grey remains intact on BN. Why are traditionally published books sold freely while indies with a proven sales record are suppressed?

M

I saw something about this in that same thread. If I would’ve known it was so recent, I would’ve given it more than a line in my post. I don’t get the thought process. Is it any wonder that Amazon is eating their lunch? Or that Kobo is doing so well with reaching out to indie bookstores?

I don’t want to see B&N shut down. Even though they have hampered WOOL with their Simon & Schuster fiasco, bookstores are good for all of us. But something needs to change over there. They have lost their minds.

The thing is Hugh, Amazon filters books and tampers with indie sales as well. Both Amazon and BN suppress indie books, but in different ways.

Imagine every time you went through the drive thru at McDonald’s that they blacked out their deals menu and only showed you the higher margin, full price items? If you know the secret password, you might be able to see some of the deal list, but McDonald’s would still make you wade through higher profit margin offerings first.

That’s what Amazon’s filter does and it’s just as egregious as BN’s business practices.

Meanwhile you can shop for sex toys (complete with graphic pictures) and traditionally published romance with no barriers. So the low margin books (which tend to be indies) are hidden and hard to find. High profit books (tend to be traditionally published) are up front and center, easily searchable for readers.

Is that how you want to be treated as a customer? Always being pushed into the product that best benefits Amazon? Having books hidden from you so you can’t even see everything in the store?

Amazon isn’t eating BN’s lunch because they are indie friendly. They game the consumer just as much as BN does.

M

I’m aware of those algorithm tweaks, but I don’t think it’s quite the same thing. If someone is willing to spend $15 on a book, I think that is a higher indication of that book’s strength than someone spending 99 cents on WOOL 2. One way to look at he sales list is in terms of strength of dollar or cost to consumer rather than raw count. The film industry does the same thing. They look at dollars, not tickets. If more people are paying extra for 3D films or iMax, that’s a sign of how popular the film is.

Just my opinion, anyway. And I say this as someone the policy hurts. I keep my books as cheap as I can. I just think closing off entire genres and leagues of authors is different than weighting by sale price. But I hear you.

Damon J Courtney

As much as I don’t like it, I tend to agree with Hugh here. Someone buying a $15 book says more about the book than an impulse buy at $.99.

Apple had a similar problem with their app store a few years ago. The bestsellers were ranked solely by quantity sold, which meant the list was clogged with $.99 apps. They actually left that list alone and ended up adding a “Top Grossing” list that showed ranking essentially as (sales * price).

Amazon has sort of done the same in that there still exists the “bestseller” list, which is based solely on a book’s sales rank, but they don’t make it upfront and visible. The list that really matters is the “popularity” list, and that one is weighted by sales, price, and who knows what other secret sauce.

But capping a book at some cutoff point because it’s indie (what I believe B&N is actually doing) or because of its content is just chicken shit.

It’s not based on price–I’m not saying that. The price differential is a consequence (possibly intended) of removing books from the Amazon search engine. I have several books that will no longer appear in search, yet Amazon is only to happy to suggest other books in their place. This has disproportionately affected indies to the benefit of traditionally published books and Amazon’s bottom line.

Readers can’t find my books. Not even by title. If they do by some miracle navigate behind the filter, my books might show up….on page three. This is for a title and pseudonym search. Essentially you are asking Amazon to find a book you know is there and they refuse to show it to you. Ergo what do readers buy? The books that show up instead. It’s a purposeful manipulation of their search engine results.

Category searches are just as bad. Filtered books are rarely on the first page.

My also bots have all been removed. My filtered books can only have also bots of other filtered books. It’s segregation of content with no disclosure to authors or consumers.

My sales are down 80%. Tell me again how Amazon is so amazing.

M

I don’t understand. A search for your title and name reveals nothing in the search results? Or the results are hidden? I’d love to know more about this. If there’s any attempt to suppress books, I’m interested.

Let me see if I can explain it this way.

Wool is a best seller as an unfiltered book on Amazon.

Then Amazon filters Wool.

Readers can search your name and it won’t come up. They can search for the title and it won’t come up. They can search for your name and title and nothing.

Okay how about a category search? Wool won’t appear in those results either.

You’ve been wiped from search.

IF by some miracle readers navigate behind the search filter that Amazon doesn’t tell anyone about (I mean authors have to use a third party site to even see if they’ve been filtered it’s so secret) they can search for your title where it will maybe appear on page three. (A few authors are lucky to still be a first result, but most of us are behind other books that DO NOT match the search query like ours does.)

Do you think Wool is still a best seller in this scenario? My filtered books were best sellers. Top 100 books in their genre. Haven’t sold one since the filter.

Now if Amazon filters primarily indies, what happens? Readers get primarily traditionally published books in search results. Amazon makes more money. Publishers make more money. Indies are destroyed.

This is crazy. Why not create a separate adult store, then? Or not do this at all?

Hugh, I believe MichelleFox may be referring to the recent broadening of Amazon’s “adult filter” for many erotica titles. Basically, titles which are “adult filtered” will not appear if you search for them from the Amazon main page, using the “All Departments” selection in the Search bar. They will only appear if you select “Books” or “Kindle Store.” About a month ago, Amazon started applying this filter to many explicit books and stories which had previously been allowed to list without the filter, but they began doing so inconsistently (i.e. some titles getting filtered while others weren’t) and without any transparency (i.e. not notifying authors or disclosing what terms in blurbs or keywords were triggering the filter’s application).

The decreased visibility in general search results has resulted in huge blows to sales for many erotica and erotic romance authors.

An adult filter would be great, but let’s remember they only seem to want to filter indies. 10″ dildos complete with pictures and traditionally published romance seem to be a-okay in Amazon’s book. They’ll literally let anyone see those but the indies have to be swept under the carpet.

When they let other equally sexual content sell unfettered, that tells me it’s not a content issue. This is a business decision one that I believe costs consumers more money and limits their choices.

(And just to stop the ‘but but but nudity on covers’ argument that always seems to crop up on this issue. I have never had nudity on my covers. I write erotic romance, a lot more consensual than anything in Fifty Shades of Grey. As do many other indies who have been filtered.)

M

1001 Nights Press

Every one of our titles was removed from the UK store. I started emailing Nook Press support (or, “support” over this but can’t get anywhere. Their live publisher chat “support” says they can’t help with publisher accounts. (I asked what they *could* help with, and the response was “Thank you for contacting Nook Press! ::chat ended::”) I’ve sent numerous emails; the current response is

Hello,
Sorry for the delay. Regarding your titles that are not searchable at uk.nook.com, we are still investigating this issue and appreciate your continued patience.
Sincerely,
The NOOK Press Business Team

A Barnes & Noble employee in my town told me the only thing that kept BN in the black last year was sales of 50 Shades of Grey. So why the terror that other erotic romances might be published and read? I really don’t get it.

Wow! Since all the Borders stores closed, I haven’t been to a ‘big’ bookstore. I am shocked to find out that this is happening, and it is horrible! As someone who hopes to eventually write her own book someday, this is a scary discovery. Like you said, it isn’t surprising to hear that B&N are having problems staying afloat. That is one of the reasons I chose a Kindle over the Nook.

I will definitely be checking out those books on Amazon.

I really appreciate you sharing this Hugh. I understand that to a lot of people this may look like just authors complaining that they’re not doing as well as they’d hoped, but the more evidence that comes to light, the clearer it becomes that we’re not crazy. If you’d like to see a more long winded explanation of what happened to my book, you can check out the blog I wrote on Good Reads:

http://www.goodreads.com/author_blog_posts/4244850-important-barnes-and-noble-is-censoring-its-best-seller-lists

I know of at least five authors who have hit the magical #126 wall, including Liliana Hart, who is one of the biggest names in self published romance. And she said she knew a bunch more. This censorship is real, and it seems to be targeted firmly at indie romance novels of varying levels of heat.

Adding this link into the story. I hate this for you and everyone it’s affecting, Maya.

Yep, I had this happen last week. I had a bookbub ad with my novel CADE and it sold enough copies that I know with certainty it should’ve been high up in the top 100. Just like Maya, CADE was stuck at #126 for three days until sales died because of lack of visibility. I have a hot cover (naked man chest) but it’s in no way inappropriate. This is a censorship issue. What kind of a book store believes in censorship? I’ve had my books so hidden at times that my readers couldn’t find them unless they typed in both my name and title. I think that’s a shame because when my last release came out last Tuesday (a $5.99 romantic thriller) I had Nook readers say they couldn’t find it so they went and bought an iPad or a Kindle just so they could buy the book. I had multiple readers tell me that. That same book sold about 4500 copies on Amazon last week and only 197 on B&N. It’s like B&N doesn’t want to make money.

David Alastair Hayden

Nook just made the list of 10 brands predicted to die within the coming year. There are reasons for this. They don’t understand the business they’re running.

I’ve convinced myself that the e-retailers are using a combination of revenue & unit sales. I can’t prove it, but when I lower the price of my books, the unit sales go up and the ranking goes down. But I’ve only have anecdotal evidence.

Peace, Seeley

Brandon Carbaugh

The ranking mechanisms for each retailer are different, and all are fiendishly complicated. They’re full-blown algorithms, with dozens of variables that plug in to produce the final result. Some are publicly accessible, others are kept secret so as to avoid being manipulated. A lot of times if you go on the forums for these retailers, you’ll find discussions between people who have figured out the finer nuances of the local algorithm.

As mentioned in that thread, I write sweet romance and one of my titles (which only features a fade to black sex scene) appears to have been deleted from Nook UK. The title that remains is listed under romance/children because I put it under ‘romance’ and ‘fairy tales’ with the distributor – which may be why it escaped. The deleted title was romance/fantasy.

Wow. This is scandalous and not in a good way. Even my beloved Amazon has noosed erotica by removing anything labeled erotica from the main search page. I have chosen to write erotica because I thought “this will sell” and because I appreciate the genre. I have since fallen in love with my characters and will write their sexy stories whether or not B&N respects their fictional lives. This is really worrisome. Thank you, Hugh, for getting the word out. This shtuff needs to be known. I love a good fantasy romp so I will immediately buy the books of those writers you mentioned even though I am broke.

I’m a few chapters into my first romance novel, so it’s all selfish of me to bring this up. ;)

Yes, my book RUN two years ago, was selling over a thousand a day, and it never crossed that magic #126. Ditto my title EERIE last May. I begged BN to address this issue and got nowhere. So both titles just fell off the radar. Sales were great, but they were invisible on the site. And RUN even disappeared for a period of time. And these are not erotica titles. There’s some violence, but nothing that would make me think they’d be hidden for content reasons. I have a suspicion that the real reason has to do with these being indie books. I don’t even make an attempt to sell ebooks on BN anymore. What’s the point if it’s all rigged?

The indie book distinction has occurred to me too, because the books of one of the authors affected right now, Cassia Leo, are new adult romances with minimal steam.

But there are some anomalies. Like H.M Ward’s Damaged was allowed to climb the ranks to #1 and stay there, and that’s a self published romance.

It all seems rather arbitrary though, because right now there are other self published titles in the top 100, including some self pubbed erotica. So whatever they’re doing, there’s no consistency to it.

I wonder how long before WOOL disappears from the Nook store for blogging about this! :)

I wondered that same thing about Wool. You are a brave man.

I’ve had several indie books in the Top 100 and as low as #3 in the overall BN store. I write humorous mysteries. No hint of sexy in the cover or the description.

I absolutely believe some sort of screening is going on, but I’m at a loss to figure out their criteria.

Damon J Courtney

It has been speculated for years that B&N hinders indie-published books because of their ties to big publishing. It seems to be arbitrarily applied in some cases, but I’m willing to chalk that up to human beings. The filter people just didn’t know they should have tagged those indie books before they hit the top.

It’s purely speculation, but I’ve seen enough evidence to make it sound truthy. And isn’t that all we need in America. :)

I remember the first scandal when books suddenly dropped about a thousand ranks, if I remember correctly. It’s not right that B&N is censoring it’s rankings. It’s outright lying to the readers, actually.

I only have one book at B&N but was going to put the rest up there as soon as the last one came out of Select but now I might hold off on that decision. My books are not erotica but what’s to stop them from censoring books with a political bent they don’t like? Or one they think has too much profanity or violence?

Also, if they are going to censor erotica they need to make it public because being sneaky about it is a disservice to readers and authors. Their customers seem to love erotica, and may have bought a Nook because they could finally read it without someone ‘catching’ them reading it, and now they are left unable to find the books they want. Some will complain, but others will be too shy to say anything.

And authors need to know this up front because they may decide on other options instead of publishing on Nook.

The iBookstore is actually worse when it comes to egregious censorship like this. If a title is flagged for content, it’s not just capped for rankings, it’s completely hidden so unless you search it by exact title, you’ll never see it. It’ll never show up on any lists, no matter how much it sells.

Wow. So this is something that spreads throughout the industry, eh?

Apparently anything that’s got explicit content isn’t publicly acceptable. This despite the infamous Hollywood aphorism: “Sex sells.” Regardless of the content, booksellers shouldn’t censor, period. Consistent quality will rise to the top, chaff will get swept away by demand. People can decide for themselves what’s appropriate, not B&N or iTunes, or Amazon or whoever replaces B&N’s inevitable downfall. LIke you, I want them around, but I think they’re just too far afield from the reality of the publishing marketplace, at this point.

I would also like to add that when I was #1 on Amazon, USA Today, WSJ, and the NYT, Walking Disaster couldn’t be found on BN’s list. Later I learned it’s because I’m a Simon&Schuster author, and BN refuses to put S&S books on any bestseller lists.

Unfortunately, manipulating rankings is is nothing new for BN.

I’ve been hurt by the S&S fiasco as well. It makes you wonder how much longer B&N will be around.

I’ve been reprimanded for not including B&N when I hold giveaways or when I post links of any retailer, however they didn’t hesitate to offer me a very public snub. I wonder that myself, Hugh. From a business perspective, especially when hybrid authors are becoming more common, it just doesn’t make a lot of sense.

Melanie Marchande

Thanks for giving this a mention, Hugh. I’m interested to see a lot of the comments about romance being targeted as well, because I did see my first romance novel suddenly freeze once it hit double digits on B&N and then spectacularly tumble down the ranks in the space of about twelve hours. It was like someone flipped a switch. I wrote it off as “one of those things,” but seeing others mentioning romance specifically being targeted makes me wonder.

Just for the record, it wasn’t a book that anyone could have “mistaken” for erotica. The marketing barely alludes to sex and the content itself is pretty softcore. So unless they are punishing anyone who PUBLISHES erotica under their account – which I do, under different pen names – that’s not the connection. And if that is the reason, it’s quite troubling.

1001 Nights Press

That could be it, actually–the books of anyone who publishes erotica. Because one book under my Nook Press account (but different listed imprint), not erotica whatsoever, is also missing from the UK store.

Hugh, Amazon isn’t just tweaking algorithms to hide erotica books. They are using an undisclosed label, called ADULT, to essentially bury the book completely.

Go to Salesrankexpress.com and type in the names of some INDIE erotic romance authors and erotica writers. See the bright red ADULT label to the right of the title?

There is some sort of tag in their software that does this. Now, when someone does a search for an author’s name in the general Amazon store, that book never appears. It DOES appear when you click, specifically, on the author name — but not when you SEARCH the author name in general search.

You have to know to go into Erotica and do a search — and even then, sometimes books aren’t appearing. Even with the full author’s name AND title.

Other erotica writers who are trying to branch out and write in different genres have had Amazon *switch their categories back to erotica* even if the book has no erotic content. It’s as if the pen name is poison — anything you write under it is forever to be put in erotica, even if it’s NOT the right category.

When you ask Amazon to be transparent about this, you get a canned response and no explanation of guidelines, what crosses the unexplained line, or how to categorize safely.

The ADULT filter is being applied to translations, too. This radically suppresses innovation — what’s next? Audiobooks? Do indies want to sink thousands of dollars into translations and audiobooks only to have the books filtered with NO explanation why, losing their investments, and also having no way to plan for future releases that might avoid the arbitrary filtering of content?

It’s not just an algorithm change or tweak here.

And it’s aimed at indies in both romance and erotica.

Is this the ADULT tag that we apply to our books when we upload them? I don’t know how that works, as I haven’t (yet) published a book that would require me checking that box. How does that work?

Someone else mentioned that the iBookstore hides racy content. Is this industry-wide? What’s crazy about this is that these are the authors making the most money for these companies right now!

No it’s not the adult tag you apply, it’s one that Amazon applies.

In secret.

M

No. This is Amazon applying an ADULT tag without the author’s knowledge, with no description of the conditions for what constitutes ADULT content, and it’s being applied to indies. Not tradpub books.

I am disheartened but not at all surprised.

Sounds like what’s going on is Amazon and BN’s own version of the “Google slap”.

The question is, what can be done to stop it? I would also like more transparency from Amazon and BN. If they are filtering out (indie) romance and erotica, prospective customers need to know about it — and they need to know why.

A few class action lawsuits should take care of this. Who’s in?

When you’re done running this down, Hugh, maybe you can find a way to see whether Amazon et al are delivering honest sales numbers (and checks) to authors. I find myself wondering lately about whether they can be trusted on this score. If they’re manipulating bestseller lists without revealing so, what’s to stop them from underreporting sales to authors?

There’s been a lot of questions about this. My response is that the trust is even more difficult with publishers and agents in-between. The more layers, the more cause for concern. At least with e-books, I can see my sales in real-time. And we have gotten pretty good at noticing when our daily sales and our ranking don’t match. Now, you can suppose they manipulate both at the same time, but at some point you have to put fears aside and trust. That’s what I do, anyway.

B&N and Amazon both refuse to use the same criteria for one author as they do another. As you mentioned in your article, some books are getting manipulated so the cover or story doesn’t show up in the top listings because of some flag due to something someone perceived as inappropriate, but other huge money-makers like the Fifty Shades trilogy is completely ignored in the new scheme B&N and Amazon apply to everyone else. And indeed, why kill the golden-egg goose?

Only, they ARE killing the golden-egg goose. Authors you’ve mentioned in this article (and many others) have made both B&N and Amazon tons of money, too. Perhaps not as much as Fifty Shades, but certainly enough that if they continue on their present course, they will have some “esplainin'” to do to their shareholders when their quarterly profits are much less in book sales.

Another bad thing about this heinous type of manipulation is that they are preventing the next Fifty Shades-type sensation from every happening. Now, this doesn’t make sense to me. They want a big seller like Fifty Shades to remain as visible as possible (and that writing would make a hooker blush), but yet they hide away the authors that have the potential to reach that level of break-out success. If I was writing erotic romance or erotica, I would be downright livid. How dare they dictate what the reader should or should not see or read? How dare they kill a potentially successful writing career for who-knows-how-many writers? They’re worse than traditional publishers with their gatekeeper mentality. And they’re huge hypocrites allowing Fifty Shades to remain visible when it’s way worse “erotically” than many of the books they’ve hidden away behind some asinine filter!

Honestly, are we living in the middle ages? The dark ages? I would expect such behavior from religious zealots, but Amazon and B&N don’t strike me as particularly religious. I don’t personally read Fifty Shades genres, but I certainly don’t begrudge others from reading it, or writing it. And neither should booksellers. If I was Smashwords’ Mark Coker, I’d be all over this figuring out a way to take over as King of Erotic eBook sales before somebody else does it. Censorship has no place in this modern day and age.

Apologies for the rant. This got me all riled up!

Bree, I AM an erotic romance author who’s been writing in the same genre as 50 Shades of Gray for about 7 years before that book came out and I can tell you, I AM livid. For a while, I even pulled my books from Amazon entirely, but then realized the only person suffering from that move was me, so I put them back.

Mark Coker seems to be one of the only e-publisher out there who isn’t censoring titles, and even he had trouble for a while with the credit card companies who wanted to play censor.

Thank youk, Hugh, for this discussion. You’ve found more than a few of us with ruffled feathers.

So this looks as if there’s still gatekeeping in the industry. If it’s found that all of the main avenues for self-publishing are indeed doing this, what kind of recourse can be taken?

Thank you SO much for bringing attention to this, Hugh! I’ve posted about it on Facebook and in my groups. I’m considering pulling all of my books from B&N.

New Adult Author

This has happened to me as well. I had two books that sold well enough to make the top 10 easily. Yet, they never moved from 106 ranking. And then just dropped.

They were New Adult romances and had a couple kissing. I’m 100% positive that Barnes and Noble deliberately stopped me from going higher. I’m also pretty sure they did something else to my account recently but I’m not going to say anything else right now.

They are a vey very shady company.

Sounds to me like B&N and the Big 6 have concocted a plan to keep B&N a float and kill the indies. Sad, sad world we live in when the rich get richer and the indies are snubbed out. First erotica (obviously because of 50 shades) and then who knows what? all of it? Slowly, one by one…

Follow the money people.

Who owns B&N anyway???

The stockholders.

Given the lousy performance in the markets, one would think that BN would be more interested in creating a positive impression. Instead it seems to go out of its way to shoot itself in the foot. If they truly are manipulating rankings they are proving themselves to be without ethics and not to be trusted… a true death shot for the company moving forward.

Thanks for a great article and meaningful feedback from your commentators.

Maybe somebody mentioned this in other comments already, but back in March 2011, B&N added an arbitrary 1,000 to the sales ranks of all indie published books it perceived as erotic/erotica. At the time I had a book at #30 in the Nook Store, selling between 400 – 500 copies a day. Within a few hours after they dropped my book to 1,030 I sold 5 books a day,costing me thousands a day. It happened to all my books, and since that event I only manage to sell a few books on B&N when I have a new release and tell my existing fans, other than that my sales at B&N are pretty much dead.

Thanks for blogging about this, Hugh. If only Barnes & Nobel would listen to you! However, plenty of people have blogged about the problems with Barnes & Nobel and little has changed.

I’m a successful self-published author, and B&N helped propel my first book, Wild Montana Sky, a sweet (not sexy) historical Western romance to the USA Today list. So I definitely feel a combination of gratitude to and frustration with the company. I can’t understand why they don’t see self-published books as a huge cash cow. Their customer service for self-published authors is dismal. I know I made them a lot of money last year, and if you multiply that by thousands of self-published authors….

And I’m not even as big an author as Liliana Hart…

I can’t even imagine how they think pulling books as well as blocking deserving books from the top 100 list is a good financial decision.

I want B&N to stay in business. I want the company to do right by self-published authors AND readers. However, all I can do is sadly watch B&N drive their company into the ground.

They B.S.-Anchored my book, For You, at about 125 as well. I thought at the time perhaps I’d just fallen short with # of sales, but I realize now they just blocked me, and that makes me GRRRRRR.

Another friend suggested it might be the content warning labels that many of us self-apply to our books that have mature content. (That 17+ or 18+ warning text.)

HOW IRONIC IS THAT??? By protecting their younger readers from buying books with mature content, by willingingly self-labeling our books, we are being punished? How *bass-ackwards* is that?

Would they prefer we just publish any ol’ stuff with no warning whatsoever?

HEADDESK REPEATEDLY

Jason Z. Christie

Bravo for publishing this, Hugh. Other people in your position would be scared to rock the boat, even a little.

I don’t see a solution forthcoming any time soon, unfortunately. But drawing attention to the issue is a step in the right direction.

Hi, Hugh, thanks for highlighting this issue.

I have also found that every one of my titles (erotica and erotic romance) has been removed from Nook’s UK catalogue. All are traditionally published by a variety of houses, including a couple of the ‘Big Six’, so it’s certainly not a problem confined to indie authors and publishers. They’ve been ‘looking into it’ for an awfully long time now…

Colleen Hoover

Lets not forget how B&N also refuses to even rank S&S authors. My latest release was in the top ten on Amazon and iTunes, but had no visibility at all on B&N despite the sales. Who did it hurt? B&N. Doesn’t make sense from a business standpoint.

This happened to someone I work with, too, and we figured this is all based on embarrassment. (Because it’s sure not based on business — rather, Amazon & B&N have shown that their “morality,” such as it is, wins out over money.)

I think the book sellers are embarrassed that erotica / erotic romance appears in the best-sellers list so often. If it’s a big publisher, sure, it’s excusable-by-authority, so they let it slide. They still respect “real’ publishing enough to trust in its brand authority “Well, if Penguin Books sees fit to represent it under their name, who are we to boot it off.” Plus, they might have to actually answer to Penguin (or whatever.)

And why they’re embarrassed is because this so-called cultural elite — the smart people, the *book buyers* — have all shown themselves to be as interested in sex as any other human. With money.

Just as my old mentor said, “Everyone says the read the Bible, but what they BUY is the National Enquirer.”

Aphrodite Hunt

Well, Hugh, I did tell you about this last year when they removed 5 of my books from the B and N Top 100. They did it twice for one of them, and when I complained, they let that book get to No. 21. So this is nothing new. At least the new books are ‘pinned’ at 126. The last time they did it to me they added 1000 points to the ranking, which was drastic.

I remember that. And I remember another thread on KB about this. I’m shocked it’s still going on.

Maree Anderson

One of my self-pubbed books has mysteriously vanished from the Nook UK store – one day the link I had on my website worked, the next, an “Apparently the page is missing. Sorry, this didn’t turn out as we planned. Try another search or check out these bestsellers” message… with thumbnails to the bestsellers.

The thing is, my missing book is 1) a FREE book 2) book one of a trilogy (and the other two books plus the bundled trilogy are still there), 3) a fantasy with romantic elements that is very very tame. The links to my sexier and far more explicit paranormal romances are still working… if you click on the direct link to the book. If you click on the link to my name then only books 2 and 2 of the fantasy trilogy and one of my YAs show up.

I had no idea what Nook UK were playing at — it didn’t make any sense at all. And after reading this post and the comments, I still don’t understand why they’d limit customer searches like this and try to manipulate customers. They click on my free book link from my website and are directed to supposed “best sellers” instead? Nice.

I’m hardly a big-name author, and because I’m in New Zealand I can’t pub direct to B&N so I’ve gone through Smashwords. I wasn’t going to bother as I thought Nook UK was just updating their store, but I’m going to try emailing Smashwords to see whether they can get an answer from Nook UK. (Not holding my breath for one, though.)

I was talking to an author earlier, who I shall leave nameless for now, and she raised another interesting point. She now realises she is stuck behind the wall at B&N too, and she thinks that might be part of the reason she didn’t hit the NYT best seller list with her latest release (which was in the top 10 overall on Amazon).

Now, obviously we can’t know anything for sure, and I’m not certain how places like the Times aggregate sales, but if they use sales rank as an indicator, then this is an even bigger thorn in our sides, because it makes it much harder to get that important recognition.

A comment sent to me by email:

Thanks so much for posting about this. I’ve been looking for other authors who have experienced this on B & N as I’ve had the same thing happen to me. I released The Billionaire’s Obsession (an erotic romance) about a month ago on B & N. I was selling well over a thousand copies a day and sitting at #6 on their list. A day or two later I was having my best day ever…and suddenly…I dropped to #126 and stayed there. The exact same thing happened to the second book in the series, except that one landed at #127 as I guess they needed the #126 number for the first book. They have not answered any of the numerous emails I’ve sent, nor will their supposed live help (which I think is actually computer generated) address the ranking issue at all. I’ve lost all respect for B & N and I would not doubt they are desperate enough to also skim sales numbers. If they fix their list and ranks, how do I trust that they are reporting and paying accurate sales numbers?

The Billionaire’s Obsession made the USA Today Bestseller List because of Amazon and ITunes and has remained on the list because of those two vendors.

I’m not sure if B & N is dumping indies because they don’t want them on the list or because they are selling those spots to publishers and need to dump them to make space, but the whole situation is disheartening. Do they think this doesn’t have a negative impact on them? They complain about losses every quarter, but they aren’t looking at the big picture. I was a very good B & N customer. But I’ll never buy another product or book from them now, nor will any of my friends because of this dishonest behavior.

So…are they manipulating their list? Oh, heck yeah. I guarantee it. I’m so glad authors are talking about the issue. I just wish it didn’t happen at all!

David Alastair Hayden

I think erotica probably gets flagged and other things pushed out depending on space, as in books with coop money get precedence for top 125.

So what I’m understanding from this is if I want to find the best new erotica, I should look for what’s ranked at #126 on B&N.

Yup. But it seems inconsistent. If you are with a major publisher or a particular author (or temporarily lucky), you might see your book break through that barrier.

Either that, or you could look for a smaller, specialty e-store like All Romance Ebooks. (Disclaimer: I don’t work for them, but I have my books up there and at OmniLit, and have shopped as a reader there for years. They seem to specialize in the spicier end of things. What they lack in automation, they make up for in human customer service.

The same thing has happened this weekend with my adult romance, Selling Scarlett. Pinned at 126, and varying from about 126-130, despite strong sales.

Doug Bornemann

Just a thought…might B&N be reserving or selling a certain number of spots within the top 125 of various lists to favored legacy publishers (sort of like grocery stores selling higher visibility shelf space to specific companies.) That might explain the inconsistent treatment and why indie authors are more affected, but not exclusively affected. Would be interesting to keep track of the publishers of the bestsellers in the various lists over time and see if the numbers for any of them seems suspiciously constant. Do legacy titles from particular houses always remain in the top 125 for a certain minimum number of days? Would be an interesting comparison…indie vs. legacy, no? Wouldn’t that be a much more effective use of the publicity budget, compared to the old-school uses?

Hi there,

I am a huge fan of Hugh’s work (but really huge). But I am also a marketer and, offend me as much as you like, I don’t agree with some of the statements I read here. Let me start by saying that what BN is doing is wrong: they should NOT manipulate real data – if a book is #23 in sales ranking, they cannot say it’s number #126 (or whatever other number that is not #23). By the way, hotel booking sites do the same thing with their “popularity” index (in reality it’s primarily about how much commission they get from each hotel), so it wouldn’t be a world’s first. But as long as real data is not manipulated, everything else is game: search algorythms, who to publish or who not, what to push and what to hide, etc. should be in the hands of the service provider. Much in the same way as a supermarket chooses what items to sell, on what shelves to place them, and what to advertise in the stores. Or to stay in the same industry, much like a physical bookstore chooses what to sell and what to display in the store window.

Why? Because e-stores are companies and a company thrives when it makes money. And it’s perfectly fair a company invests where it makes more money. A company is not a free-access democracy where everybody gets to publish their ideas. It’s a profit machine. That’s the basics of capitalism and like it or not it is what has driven Western development for a while.

I don’t think that Amazon or BN hate Indies because they are evil, and secretly plots how to destroy the indie industry. But if the standard publishing industry is where the money comes from, then it makes sense to prioritise the needs of the standards publishing industry. After all, indies are getting a free ride on the e-bookstores’ infrastructure, don’t forget that. All those servers, people, marketing, traffic generation and much more is paid by e-stores such as Amazon, not by indies.

Now, it doesn’t mean that what these e-stores are following is the right strategy, though. It could very well be that by hindering indies they are not serving their customer base well, that somebody else will, and that the bookstores that fight indies will lose. But don’t worry, if that’s the case the market will find its way. Think of the music industry: music labels have been fighting p2p and piracy forever while at the same time refusing to evolve and support digital downloads. And there came Apple and their iTunes thingie and it grabs itself most of the profit from that.

So, to recap, you are totally right that BN or Amazon cannot lie about your achievements and sales data – but whether they support you or not, I think it all depends on how profitable you are for them directly, indirectly, in the short and long term, and what they do with this information is really just up to them.

And now, best of luck, because personally I do enjoy you work immensely.

How about calling a reporter from a TV network and have these issues made VERY public? Amazing how this might bring some changes. The companies mentioned in this thread will not like the bad publicity.

Late to the party but this happened to me last year. Ours was different however; instead of locking us at a certain level, then just added 1000 points to my ranking. It wasn’t necessarily “right” but I republished the affected book and it shot straight up the charts.

Of course mine was in the erotica category, which has been censored like crazy across the board. It’s disappointing, they’re losing out on sales by hiding books. Amazon does the same thing with their filter, but B&N seems even more arbitrary (which is saying a LOT).