With over 600 physical locations in the U.S. and holding strong, Barnes & Noble is one of the few retail booksellers that survived the wave of online distributors. One of the reasons for its continued success is its generous B&N Membership, a loyalty program that rewards regular customers.
Barnes & Noble refuses to be stuck in the past. It now supports an expansive online store that sells physical books, ebooks, audiobooks, and many other products. It also hosts frequent promotional events, for both in-store and online shoppers.
Still, with so many ways to purchase books, is it really worth forking over $25 per year in exchange for a Barnes and Noble Membership? We’ve taken a deep dive into that exact question, and this guide will help you determine with precision if a paid membership is the best avenue for you.
Barnes and Noble Membership benefits
A B&N Membership currently costs $25 per year and will provide members with a bevy of premium benefits. However, it requires a bit of digging to uncover just how these benefits work.
There is also a hidden benefit not listed on the Membership program’s main page that we included below:
- 40% off the top 20 hardcover bestsellers, based on current B&N store sales. In-store only.
- 10% off most other in-store items, including new books, discounted items, bargain bin books, music, toys, DVDs, newsstand items, and perhaps most importantly, all items in the Cafe.
- Free shipping on online orders, and ship-to-home orders placed at a retail B&N outlet, with no minimum purchase required.
- Hidden benefit: 20% off your first in-store purchase, pending you sign up for a Barnes and Noble Membership at a retail store.
- A special birthday coupon
- Other exclusive in-store and online offers sent throughout the year
- Early access to special sales and event sign-ups
- 10% off NOOK devices and accessories. Applies to both in-store and online purchases.
Notice that many of these benefits apply exclusively to shoppers who don’t mind checking out in person. Retail shoppers that spend at least $250 per year on eligible items are guaranteed to recoup their initial investment. That’s a worst-case scenario. With a little savvy, you’ll only have to spend about half that amount to offset the B&N Membership cost.
Online shoppers will find a Membership harder to justify, but there are still ways to make it work. Let’s look at each individual benefit, and see what they’re actually worth.
B&N Membership: 40% off Hardcover Bestsellers
At first glance, this appears to be a stellar benefit. Who wouldn’t want to save 40% on bestselling books?
However, there are a few caveats that diminish its value. First of all, it only applies to in-store purchases. That wouldn’t be a big deal if online prices weren’t roughly 10% cheaper.
Not to mention, Barnes and Noble commonly marks down its bestsellers by 30% or more. These discounts apply to both online and retail purchases and are open to non-members.
Granted, members receive the 40% discount year-round, while non-Members may only receive discounts during certain times of the year. That doesn’t take away from the fact that a non-Member could get Member pricing by coordinating their online purchases around B&N’s promotional schedule.
Then there’s the question of how B&N’s pricing compares to its top competitors, namely Amazon. To answer this, we compared the price of Barnes and Noble’s current top 20 Hardcover bestsellers, against the same books on Amazon.
Barnes and Noble vs. Amazon (Hardcover bestseller prices)
|Base Price (Avg.)||B&N Discounted Price (Avg.)||Amazon Discounted Price (Avg.)||Amazon Avg. Discount (%)|
Notice that after factoring in discounts, Amazon.com shoppers save an average of $2.85 (13.54%) per bestseller vs. Barnes and Noble shoppers — and that’s for online purchases!
From the detective’s desk: In our research, we noticed that all of the top 20 B&N hardcover bestsellers were heavily discounted on Amazon. The average discount was 38.11%.
Given this, the 40% off hardcover bestsellers perk really isn’t much of a perk at all. Non-members can find similar pricing at Barnes and Noble’s online site, and perhaps even better prices at Amazon.com.
B&N Membership: 10% Everyday Member Discount
In-store shoppers will also receive a 10% discount (Everyday Member Discount) on most items. The only exceptions are:
- Hardcover Barnes & Noble bestsellers
- Barnes & Noble College Bookstores or websites
- Gift/eGift cards
- NOOK devices and accessories
- Digital content
- Gift-wrapping, shipping, and handling fees
- Membership fees
The bulk of Barnes & Noble’s product line, including most books, magazines, newspapers, and Cafe items are all eligible.
The Everyday Member Discount is applied after all other discounts. In other words, it’s based on your final subtotal. The exception is coupons, which are applied after the 10% discount is punched in.
From the detective’s desk: Barnes & Noble does not allow you to stack coupons, but you can stack coupons and in-store discounts.
Because the 10% discount is only valid on in-store purchases, and online book purchases are roughly 10% cheaper, this benefit is really a net neutral for new book buyers.
From the detective’s desk: Barnes and Noble’s retail store will price match with BN.com, but you cannot stack the Everyday Member Discount with the price match. B&N does not price match with other booksellers.
Where the Everyday Member Discount really shines is for purchases that can only be made at retail outlets. We’re talking used books, non-subscription newsstand items, some Manga, and Cafe items.
B&N has been partnered with Starbucks since 1993 and serves Starbucks coffee exclusively. Shoppers can also purchase bakery items, premium branded treats, and specialty foods like gourmet sandwiches, soups, pretzels, and quiches.
Spend just $21 per month at the Cafe, and a Barnes and Noble Membership pays for itself. Do note, however, that you cannot use your Starbucks Rewards card at a B&N Cafe.
B&N Membership: 20% off first purchase
If you sign up for your Barnes and Noble membership at a retail store, you’ll receive 20% off your first member purchase.
This is one of the very best perks of the Membership, and a genuine reason not to sign-up online. Users that make a purchase of $125 will receive their membership for free.
However, the same purchase made online, at BN.com or elsewhere, will likely be somewhat cheaper, so the true break-even point is closer to $200 – $250.
Even if you don’t quite spend that amount, you’ll have a year to take advantage of the Membership’s other benefits. This should be more than enough time to recoup the remaining Membership cost if you shop wisely.
B&N Membership benefits for online shoppers
For many, nothing can replace the experience of walking B&N’s countless aisles, browsing magazines, grabbing a snack, and purchasing something with their own hands.
If it’s not evident already, let’s be perfectly clear: It’s these folks that will clearly get the most out of a Barnes And Noble Membership.
However, online members are not totally left hung out to dry. The main benefit for online shoppers is free shipping, regardless of the purchase amount.
Barnes and Noble’s shipping costs are pricey, $5.99 for the first item and $1.29 for subsequent items. Saving $6+ on shipping is nothing to scoff at, especially if you make multiple purchases throughout the year.
But non-members can somewhat easily offset shipping costs by spending $35 (subtotal after discounts), as all online orders above this price point include free shipping.
Some items are excluded from free shipping. They are:
- Gift cards and certificates
- Digital products
- A Barnes & Noble Membership
- Unusually large items
Online (and retail) shoppers also receive a variety of smaller benefits like:
- Members-only discounts (usually 40%) on pre-orders
- Birthday gifts
- Exclusive coupons/discounts throughout the year
Exclusive Membership coupons
B&N doesn’t quite send as many coupons as they used to, but members will still occasionally receive email and/or mail offers throughout the year.
About a week after purchasing a Membership, you can expect to receive a welcome package in about a week. It will consist of a variety of limited-time use coupons.
From the detective’s desk: In order to get the most bang for your buck, start your Membership at a time when you’re planning a big purchase, so you can take advantage of the welcome coupons.
You’ll also receive a coupon on your birthday. At last check, the offer was pretty mediocre: $5 off your next purchase of $30+.
Discounts on NOOK with a B&N Membership
Members in the market for an e-reader will receive a 10% discount on NOOK devices and accessories.
This is not a particularly appealing perk, because B&N already supports a free NOOK app for Android and iOS-powered devices. Also, the discount doesn’t apply to ebook purchases.
Still, if you prefer a dedicated e-reader, the option is there. NOOKs start at $119.99 and run up to $199.99. Compare this to Kindles, which start at just $89.99, but run all the way up to $299.99.
The bottom line: Is a Barnes and Noble Membership worth it?
Determining whether a Barnes and Noble Membership is right for you is more complicated than simply figuring out how much you have to spend at B&N each year to make it worth it. How you make purchases, what you buy, and even when you make purchases are all factors to consider.
Based on our analysis, a B&N Membership will likely benefit shoppers who fall into one or more of the following groups:
- In-store shoppers who make a large purchase at sign-up: The easiest way to recoup the price of membership is to make one big retail purchase, and sign-up for a Membership at that time. This is because you’ll receive 20% off your first in-store purchase.
- Frequent Cafe users: If you’re already spending just over $20 a month on B&N Cafe purchases, then purchasing a Barnes and Noble Membership is completely justified. Spend $500 a year and you’ll already be $25 in the black. The same logic applies to people already spending $20+ a month on other in-store items that can’t be found online.
- Savvy coupon spenders: The more you make use of the exclusive (and non-exclusive) coupons and discounts, the more you’ll save. Even 20% off on a $20 book has a $4 value. Rinse and repeat a few times, and it’s enough to offset the membership cost. Factor in the 10% discount on top of the coupon/discount savings, and you’re in business. It’s just too bad the exclusive coupons don’t come more often.
- Online shoppers that make small purchases: Some shoppers only purchase items that they absolutely need. These folks will likely be able to make use of the Membership’s free shipping perk. If you find yourself making more than four <$35 purchases a year, then a Membership will save you money. Of course, the easier solution is just to group purchases together.
In-store shoppers who love to bargain hunt, use coupons, and like to snag a latte on their way to the cash register will undoubtedly get the most out of the program. But you don’t necessarily have to fall into all of those buckets to get your money’s worth, and then some.
A B&N Membership is not recommended for:
- Frequent online shoppers: If you already do most of your shopping online, and make purchases larger than $35, then the B&N Membership doesn’t have much to offer beyond a few exclusive coupons.
- Hardcover Bestseller buyers: Barnes and Noble frequently lists its hardcover bestsellers at 30%+ off. An in-store benefit of 40% off these same titles doesn’t do much, especially when the books can be purchased cheaper at BN.com or another online bookseller.
- Shoppers who buy excluded items: If you mostly purchase digital products like ebooks, audiobooks, or gift cards, then a Membership won’t do you much good, since these are excluded items.
- Passive savers: To get the most out of a B&N Membership you need to actively watch your inbox for offers. If you’d rather just have the savings fall in your lap (and who can blame you for that), then maybe a Membership is not the best choice.
Barnes and Noble Membership FAQ
How much is a Barnes and Noble Membership?
A Barnes and Noble Membership is an annual subscription that costs $25 per year.
How to cancel a Barnes and Noble Membership?
The B&N Membership will automatically renew each year unless you take measures to cancel it. To do this:
- Log in to your B&N account
- Go to “Manage Account”
- Go to “Manage Membership and Discounts”
- Go to “B&N Membership”
- Scroll to “Automatic Renewal Setting” and click “Edit Settings”
- Check off “No Thanks, I’ll Renew My Membership In-Store or Online” under the section “Never Miss a Day of Savings.”
This process will opt you out of automatic renewals, effectively canceling your membership. Note, that even if you cancel your membership, it will remain active for the duration of the year.
Members can also cancel their account by presenting their card to Customer Service at any B&N retail location, or by calling 1-866-238-7323.
Memberships renew 30 days before the current annual cycle ends. So, if you do decide to cancel, make sure to do it at least a month ahead of your renewal date.
Those who cancel their membership within 30 days of purchase will receive a full refund, pending they didn’t use any of the Membership benefits.
How to renew a B&N Membership?
If you don’t take any action to cancel your B&N Membership, then it will renew automatically. Your card on file will be charged $25 approximately 30 days before the Membership’s expiration date.
How to get a physical Barnes and Noble Membership card?
If you sign up in-store, you’ll receive a card after you complete the registration process. Those who sign up for a Barnes and Noble Membership online will receive their card in the mail within 10 business days.
However, online registrants can access all of their account information before the physical card arrives. Just go to “Manage Account” -> “Memberships” -> “Manage Your B&N Membership”. There, you’ll find your Membership number along with other account details.
Is there a free trial period for a B&N Membership?
No. However, if you cancel your B&N Membership within 30 days of the purchase date, and don’t use any of the benefits, then you’re entitled to a full refund.
What is the Barnes and Noble Kids’ Club, and is it part of a B&N Membership?
The B&N Kids’ Club is not a part of the B&N Membership program but is definitely worth signing up for.
This free program allows adults with at least one child 12 years or younger to enjoy a few nice perks.
For instance, for every $100 spent on eligible Kids’ purchases, you’ll receive a $5 rewards certificate, capped at four certificates per year. In addition, each child will receive a free cupcake or cookie on their birthday.
Perhaps the best benefit is the welcome offer, which is a 30% coupon on one select Kids’ book, toy, or game.
What is the B&N Educator Program?
The B&N Educator Program is not linked to B&N Memberships. To enlist in this free program, you must be an educator employed at an accredited Pre-K through Grade 12 public, private, or parochial school. Teachers are eligible, but so are guidance counselors, principles, and coaches.
Sign-up must be done in-store, and the educator must present valid identifying info including proof of employment.
Benefits include 20% off the publisher’s price on classroom purchases, spot discounts of up to 25% on Educator Appreciation Days, and a wealth of free educator resources provided by Barnes and Noble.
Can you get a B&N Membership for free?
If you’re already a frequent B&N shopper, then it’s worth considering picking up a Barnes & Noble Mastercard. Doing so will unlock several ways to score a B&N Membership for free.
For a store-branded card, the benefits are surprisingly solid:
- Receive a $25 Barnes and Noble Gift Card with your first purchase.
- Receive additional $25 B&N Gift Cards for every 2,500 points earned
- Get 5% back on Barnes & Noble retail and online purchases, delivered as a monthly billing credit.
- Get a free 12-month B&N Membership after spending $7,500 or more per year on eligible purchases.
- No annual fee
The easiest way to receive a B&N Membership for free is to buy it with the $25 B&N Gift Card you receive after your first purchase. However, that only works for the first year.
In subsequent years, you can earn 2,500 points and then exchange the $25 B&N Gift Card for a Membership renewal. Cardholders earn 2 points on restaurant purchases and 1 point on everything else (excluding B&N purchases). That’s not a great cash back rate, but if you factor in the Gift Card, it’s 3% on restaurants.
Cardholders also receive a free Membership after charging $7,500 a year on the card, but it’s probably not worth it unless most of those purchases are from Barnes & Noble. There are way better credit cards to use on everyday purchases like groceries or bills.
Our advice, use the Barnes & Noble Mastercard for your first $1,250 in restaurant expenditures, claim the $25 B&N Gift Card, use it on a purchase or a Membership, and then only use the Mastercard for B&N purchases until the following year.