In Your Corner: Getting Started With Amazon Sales Rankings

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What are online sales rankings, specifically Amazon sales rankings, and what do they mean for you, a self-publishing author?

This is the question I’m going to set out to answer, at least in part, for you today.

Amazon, of course, has their own page and definition dedicated to sales rankings:

Best Seller and Category Ranks are based on customer activity – sales and borrows – of your book relative to the activity of other books. A book ranking #1 in Mystery & Thrillers is the book with the most activity in Amazon’s Mystery & Thrillers category. Books can appear in up to three categories. The book’s rank in each category will show under the Product Details section. Activities that may not be an accurate reflection of customer demand, including promotional Amazon Giveaway sales and purchases that are later returned, are not counted towards sales rank.

Rankings are updated hourly but may take 24-48 hours to appear. Rankings reflect recent and historical activity, with recent activity weighted more heavily. Rankings are relative, so your sales rank can change even when your book’s level of activity stays the same. For example, even if your book’s level of activity stays the same, your rank may improve if other books see a decrease in activity, or your rank may drop if other books see an increase in activity.

When we calculate Best Sellers Rank, we consider the entire history of a book’s activity. Monitoring your book’s Amazon sales rank may be helpful in gaining general insight into the effectiveness of your marketing campaigns and other initiatives to drive book activity, but it is not an accurate way to track your book’s activity or compare its activity in relation to books in other categories.

The ranking for books with consistent activity histories that have been available on Amazon for a long time may fluctuate less than the ranking of new books, or books whose histories aren’t as stable. One sale of a very popular book may not influence its rank much at all, but one sale of a lower volume book may significantly improve that book’s rank.

Note: Each available format of your book (eBook, paperback) has its own independent Amazon Best Sellers Rank.

This is a lot to parse, but the main points to remember are these:

  • Your sales ranking is essentially an attempt to quantify your book’s popularity;
  • The release of new books, awards announcements, and book club recommendations (among many other factors) means that new books are always climbing the rankings, while others are dropping in the rankings at the same time—it’s a constant balancing act, and sales rankings are relative;
  • Even if you sell the same number of copies each month, your sales ranking will rise and fall dependent on factors outside of your control. As I mentioned in my last post, there are yearly rhythms to book sales that mean you need to sell more books at certain times just to maintain the same ranking relative to other months when book sales are lower for everyone;
  • Blockbuster books are constantly battling it out for the upper sales rankings in every category, and rankings mean less to popular books because they have other avenues to selling a lot of books. But for new books, indie publications, and self-published books? Sales rankings mean a lot more, because even one or two sales can boost an author’s sales ranking, and as a result, boost their visibility, which will itself boost sales. It’s a feedback loop that can work to your advantage.

Amazon also has a page dedicated to giving its sellers a larger-picture idea of what their sales figures represent, and that’s worth checking out as well if you sell on the website.

But what about the stuff that Amazon isn’t saying about its sales rankings?

Any number of websites out there at any point in time are happy to claim that they’ve “cracked the code” or “tamed the algorithm” or can help you “game the system,” but the fact of the matter is, most of them are offering something more along the lines of Search Engine Optimization (SEO) advice, which is totally well and good, but not quite the same thing as delivering on a promise to make Amazon’s system work for you.

At its core, Amazon is a business which is driven by its bottom line, which is to say, eking every possible profit out of both its customers and its third-party sellers. Their algorithm code is not fully public, and while we can speculate about ways to improve sales rankings, it’s entirely Amazon’s right to code their algorithm to ignore the little sales and boost the visibility of popular items, including those blockbuster book sales that I mentioned earlier. It’s not actually in their best profit-driven interest to be fair, even though it’s certainly in their profit-driven interest to discover new niche markets—which they often do by measuring how many readers access titles through their Kindle Unlimited offering—a service which rarely profits the authors themselves, as authors themselves often point out. All this is to say, we don’t actually know how sales rankings work, other than what Amazon itself has told us, and Amazon has more than one horse in the race to make money.

Next time, I’m going to look at what we know about preorders and how they affect sales rankings—so check back in two weeks for more on this fascinating and important subject!

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You are not alone. ♣︎

Do you have ideas to share? Please don’t hesitate to drop us a line in the comments section, and I’ll make sure to feature your thoughts and respond to them in my next post!

Elizabeth

ABOUT ELIZABETH JAVOR: With over 20 years of experience in sales and management, Elizabeth Javor works as the Director of Sales and Marketing for Outskirts Press. The Sales and Marketing departments are composed of knowledgeable publishing consultants, customer service reps and book marketing specialists; together, they all focus on educating authors on the self-publishing process to help them publish the book of their dreams. Whether you are a professional looking to take your career to the next level with platform-driven non-fiction or a novelist seeking fame, fortune, and/or personal fulfillment, Elizabeth Javor can put you on the right path.

Self-Publishing News: 7.2.2018 – The Company Files!

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And now for the news!

Some highlights from this month in the world of self-publishing, specifically news from or regarding self-publishing companies!

Like it or not, there’s a widespread cultural assumption right now that because bookstore chains are struggling, therefore so too must authors be. Mercy Pilkington of The Good e-Reader is here to complicate that picture with an article that opens with the above provocative question, and sets out to disentangle common misconceptions about the lives of self-published authors as well as their traditionally-published counterparts. So, what, exactly, “does the industry hold for the traditionally published authors, the ones who’ve managed to snag the Holy Grail of writing and find both an agent and a publisher?” Pilkington goes on to answer: “Here’s a hint: the clearance bin at your local dollar store is filled with books that had a traditional publishing deal.” Being traditionally published is no insulation against common market pressures, she infers. Being an author has always, except for the ultra-rare zero-point-one-percent-likelihood blockbuster breakout success, been more about the art than the money for obvious reasons. And Pilkington’s closing thoughts are just as hard hitting. She writes:

But is this a chicken-egg scenario? Are publishing contracts paying authors literally minimum wage because all deals are getting smaller, or are the deals getting smaller because authors are shunning publishers and they aren’t earning as much as they once did? Either way, this situation sheds light on the increased professionalism and credibility that now surrounds the indie author space, indicating that this is (still) a great time to self-publish.

What do you think?

If you haven’t heard about “book-stuffing” … well, don’t worry. Neither had we, until this latest Amazon controversy blew up. Apparently, the self-publishing wing of the website (Kindle Direct Publishing) quietly rolled out some new rules to prevent authors from bundling their books together to get around the page limits of its subscription reading service, Kindle Unlimited. But that’s not where the controversy stops. (This is Amazon after all.) In a turn which surprises no one, Amazon has failed to enforce any of these rules, according to a number of leaders from within the self-publishing community who are pushing for the industry giant to put some weight behind its regulations. The simple fact is that there’s little incentive for the company to do so; its sheer size and its often-accused-as-exploitative author contracts insulate it from many of the ill side effects that the authors themselves will face. The way that Kindle Unlimited is set up, everyone who elect to offer their books through the service is paid out of one shared pot, which is allocated proportionally to its most-read texts. Book-stuffing makes it possible for some authors to exploit loopholes at other authors’ expense, and is therefore not a neutral or mildly problematic activity; it actually threatens livelihoods. Here’s hoping Amazon listens to its detractors and does some enforcement on this issue.

Self-publishing is an emergent opportunity for game design companies these days, with Frontier (above), Bungie, and NieR Studio all making noise in the last few weeks over their intentions to start self-publishing games. Frontier, a British game design company, recently launched an entire self-publishing division after closing down its less successful work-for-hire division. Writes Christopher Dring of GamesIndustry.biz, “It completed its contract with Microsoft (which included the 2015 game Screamride and incubation work on HoloLens), built its own publishing team and now answers only to itself and its shareholders.” The company is now in the process of deciding on how to go about offering third-party publishing to game designers who want to break from the traditional games publishing process. “‘It has to speak to our values,’ [Frontier CCO] Watts says. ‘The games that we make, we want them to be remembered.'” The CEO and CCO of Frontier discuss the elements which make for successful video games, which sound an awful lot like the ingredients for a successful self-published book: authenticity, ambition, attempting something new, and attention to detail. The article serves as a deep dive into the history of one game design company which is “going indie,” but it might just serve as a template to follow for other such companies in the near future.


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As a self-publishing author, you may find it helpful to stay up-to-date on the trends and news related to the self-publishing industry.This will help you make informed decisions before, during and after the self-publishing process, which will lead to a greater self-publishing experience. To help you stay current on self-publishing topics, simply visit our blog every Monday to find out the hottest news. If you have other big news to share, please comment below.

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