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Thursday, August 5, 2010

Why Amazon's Bestselling Rank is Misleading

Today's post has to do with a number that I know a lot of self- and indie-publishers like to watch -- The Amazon Bestselling Rank for their book(s). So what does this number mean anyway?

The foregoing question is one of life's big mysteries. Amazon clearly has a methodology for developing this Bestselling Ranking. But they aren't saying what it is. Some folks have gone to a great deal of effort to reverse engineer what Amazon is doing with its ranking system. If you like detail, check out this link to Morris Rosenthal's article.

But if you just want the short version, I'll give it to you here.

The most important thing to know about Amazon's ranking system is that, for all but the top 10,000 ranked books or so, a book's ranking at any given time is totally meaningless in terms of how well that book is selling. I'll say it again. Totally meaningless.

Here's why.

If a book has been selling a copy every 10 or 20 days or so, if you check it 20 days after its last sale, it will have a ranking of maybe 700,000 - 900,000. But if you check the ranking for the same book an hour later, after it has sold a single copy, you might find it's ranking has moved up to as low as 70,000 - 100,000. Did you know that?

So if you want to really get an idea of how well a book is selling, you need to check numerous times over an extended period to get a true sense of its average sales ranking. The more frequently you check, and over the longer time period, the more accurate the true average sales/day ranking will be. But don't ever expect to see that average displayed as the book's sales ranking!

Another thing you might consider if you tend to rely on this Amazon Ranking is that it DOES INCLUDE sales of books through Amazon Marketplace, but it DOES NOT include Kindle sales. So a book that has great Kindle numbers may have a lousy paperback number, and vice versa.

And of course, the Amazon Ranking doesn't take into account any sales of books or ebooks made outside of its own system (meaning, not through Amazon and not through Amazon Marketplace). So a book may be selling great at Borders or Barnes & Noble or at gobs of Indie bookstores all over the country, but if it isn't selling a lot through Amazon, its ranking number will be very high.

Let me give you an example from my personal experience of how pointless this Amazon Ranking can get.

I have three books for sale on Amazon right now. All are available in paperback and Kindle. One is a volleyball coaching book that I published in May, 2009. The other two are suspense/thrillers I published in March and June of this year.

Since May, 2009, I have sold a total of MAYBE 80 of those VB books in paperback. About 50 were sold through Amazon. I've sold another 40 or so through Kindle. My current novels are both selling 100 copies or more in paper each month (not all through Amazon), and another 15 or 20 each in Kindle. Yet earlier this week, my Amazon Rankings for the two novels were over 700,000 and the VB book was at about 120,000. Why? I had just sold half-a dozen VB books in a space of two weeks. And most of my paperback sales had been through other channels.

Does that makes sense? Not to me.

Some NY Times Best Sellers have fallen down the list just because they're a few years old. Are they less worthy for the passage of time? I don't think so.

So here's my bottom line regarding Amazon's ranking numbers -- unless your book is in the top 10,000, or below 2,000,000 or so, they don't mean anything! So stop fretting over them. And don't judge other author's books by those numbers either. Please!

That's it for today. Have a good one!


PS. If you're interested in buying one of my paperbacks, it's cheaper on my site than on Amazon. You'll still have to go to Amazon for a Kindle version, though. JB

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