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Navigating the Amazon Sales Ranking

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First, the disclaimers: Since the algorithm Amazon uses to generate its sales ranking is proprietary, the details contained herein are extrapolated from research and field tests.

The resulting consensus finds Amazon’s system to provide marginal sales data at best.

To whit, read Amazon’s own definition of its system, slightly paraphrased from their FAQ: “The Sales Ranking system exhibits how books are selling. The lower the number, the higher the sales.

The calculation is based on sales and is updated each hour to reflect recent and historical sales of every item sold. We hope you find the Amazon.com Sales Rank interesting!” This last sentence seems to indicate Amazon’s own perspective on the importance with which the sales rankings should be viewed.

You’re not supposed to find the sales rankings informative or helpful. You’re supposed to find them interesting.

In actuality, the process is somewhat more convoluted than they let on. Only the top 10,000 books are updated every hour and the ranking does not depend upon the actual number of books sold, but rather, on a comparison against the sales figures of the other 9,999 books within that same hour. Simultaneously, a trending calculation is applied to arrive at a computerized sales trajectory. So, hypothetically, a book that held a ranking of 2,000 at 2pm and 3,000 at 3pm, might hold a 4,000 ranking at 4pm, even if it actually sold MORE books between 3-4 than it did between 2-3.

Books with rankings between 10,000 and 100,000 are recalculated once a day, rather than once an hour. Current projections, as well as historic sales information play a key role in these calculations. In fact, the predictive nature of the Amazon ranking system is what makes it possible for a newly-released book to outrank an older established title, even though the actual sales figures for the latter far exceed the former.

Books with rankings over 100,000 are also recalculated every day and applied with historic sales information and projections, although in the case of these books, history takes a back seat. Sales projections and trending take an active role here, which is why a book’s ranking can leap from 900,000 to 200,000 in the span of 24 hours or less. Does this mean the book has sold 700,000 copies in 24 hours? Absolutely not! What it does mean is that recent activity (i.e. purchases) for that book is trending higher than those 700,000 books it just surpassed. But, don’t get excited just yet; since the activity of those 700,000 other books range from slow to stagnant, one or two orders are sufficient to catapult a ranking.

If a book’s ranking breaks into the top 100,000, the sales history calculation starts to rear its head, which is why a “phenomenon” book has a hard time maintaining a high, legitimate ranking. A phenomenon is defined by a book that leaps from the high hundred-thousands into the lower thousands (or better) in the span of 24 hours or less, usually due to some concentrated marketing initiatives. Since Amazon’s sales history for that title doesn’t support the leap, the spike occurs and then quickly drops again.

HOW DOES ALL THIS TRANSLATE TO ACTUAL SALES FIGURES?

Since the data is recalculated every hour and/or every day (depending upon a book’s current ranking), it’s impossible to get cumulative sales figures, although those figures are applied to the algorithm during the calculation. No, to get a very rough idea of the actual number of books being sold, the sales ranking has to be dissected dynamically, with the same immediacy as the ranking being calculated, (hourly for top 10,000 books or daily for top 100,000 books). Chart the ranking of a top 10,000 book every hour for 24 hours and divide by 24 to arrive at its average daily ranking. In the case of a top 100,000 book, take its ranking every day for 7 days and divide by 7 to arrive at its average weekly ranking.

Bear in mind that this next piece of information is extremely arbitrary, based upon sales ranking/sales figure comparisons and data received from third party sources. In other words, it’s probably completely wrong. But rather than disclaiming this chart until the cows come home, I’ll just say this: It is difficult to make sense of something that doesn’t make sense. But it sure is interesting, and now, perhaps, even slightly helpful. If the book’s average ranking is:

2,000,000+ Perhaps a single inventory/consignment copy has been ordered

1,000,000+ Current trends indicate total sales will most likely be under 40

100,000+ Current trends indicate total sales will most likely be under 200

10,000+ Estimate between 1 – 10 copies being sold per week.

1,000+ Estimate between 10 – 100 copies being sold per week.

100+ Estimate between 100 – 200 copies being sold per week.

10+ Estimate between 200 – 1000 copies being sold per week.

Under 10 Estimate over 1,000 copies per week

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Brent Sampson is the President & CEO of Outskirts Press Publishing at http://www.outskirtspress.com and author of Publishing Gems: Insider Information for the Self-Publishing Writer. Information at http://outskirtspress.com/publishinggems

Navigating the Amazon Sales Ranking
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  • david

    It will be interesting to watch global trends in book publishing, to see if e-books ever steal the thunder from print books, the way e-music seems to be cutting into "printed" music on CD’s.

    There’s an interesting list of sources of statistics on book sales at Google Answers:

    http://answers.google.com/answers/threadview?id=246739

    Global Book Sales

    Worth a look.

    • http://amazonworldwidebooksales don noble

      please need sales rank overall look at sales worldwide since amazon has tagged high seller 4 stars bookis for kids all ages title rappin randy and the pearls of wisdom, isbn1456701339/isbn-13 9781456701338

      • http://amazonworldwidebooksales don noble

        please send comment how is book rappin randy and the pearls of wisdom selling since you at amazon tagged high seller i am the author don noble have nice day , will be glad to have some kind of answer;

  • http://www.kianydesigns.com Senjaya Harianto

    It will be interesting if somebbody can build a tools to get the sales rank of each category under amazon.

  • http://www.vickihopkins.com Guest

    As a new publisher out the door, I don’t feel bad now about my 800,000 ranking after one month. Phew! I knew it couldn’t be that bad.

    I think I’ll treat it like my scale when I weigh myself in the morning – you never know if it’s accurate or if you’ll be up or down. Just depends…

  • Mark

    If anyone is looking for a cool tool to track their books sales rank check out Metric Junkie. It’s free to use and collects ranks hourly for up to 10 books.

    http://www.metricjunkie.com

  • Guest

    that is soo illegal to post! Amazon does not release any information regarding their sales ranking system. It will be on CNN about the lawsuit brought against this site for this kind of disclosure I can see it now..

  • http://www.novelrank.com/ Mario

    Just launched NovelRank for tracking Amazon Sales Rank, and if you sold 1 book a day for an entire month, you would have a rank around 100,000 – 200,000. It’s tricky business, but any book > 1000 sales rank can have the sales tracked pretty accurately by watching the ups and downs of the rank.

    By the way, NovelRank is free of ads and cost. Feel free to check it out if you are an author.

    Cheers.

  • http://nookreader.com Nookie

    The big question to me is how much these sales figures influence the search rank on amazon? If it’s a big factor it seems like something that is easy to game (artificially inflating sales by temporarily selling something at a loss).

  • http://www.jaybellbooks.com/ Jay Bell

    I once saw a graph based on the sale rank estimates you have listed above. Was that on this site? It matched what you were saying, but it was nice to see it all in one simple graph.

  • http://www.internetbookselling101.com gene bregman

    Very good thorough discussion. I introduce the basic idea of Amazon sales ranks to new book sellers (http://www.internetbookselling101.com). Your discussion goes into a great deal of depth that would very much benefit those readers who have a further interest in the mysterious world of Amazon sales ranks.

  • http://www.lostdecadegames.com/ richtaur

    Thanks for doing this research! Interestingly, the current #1 in the bestseller is not a book, but a game.

  • http://www.wordsthatsell.co.uk Mel Henson

    Thanks for this. As a newly published author I have been fascinated by the rankings. It’s quite addictive watching your own sales figures go up and down, especially when it gets ranked on one of the bestseller lists. But have wondered what it all meant, so I found your blog interesting and helpful.

    Mel Henson
    Author of ‘Flicks & Clicks. How to create websites and catalogues that sell more.”

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