Amazon Rankings: What do they mean?

With so many people asking about Amazon rankings – what do they mean? How can I tell how well my book’s doing? etc – I thought it time I posted a quick guide. As an outed Amazonholic – I once put my alarm on for 3am so I could get up and check my book’s ranking – I know a little of the subject.

Each Amazon site is different. I’ll concentrate on Amazon.com, with a little Amazon.co.uk thrown in for good measure.

So, first thing to remember is that Amazon updates their rankings hourly. The ranking is a snapshot of how well the book is doing in the last hour, tempered with how well the book has performed in the recent past. Simplistically, if a book sells one or more copies in the last hour, the ranking improves. If it fails to make any sales, the ranking declines. How high it rises and how high it falls are dependent upon:

1. Its previous ranking.

2. Is it an ebook or a printed book?

3. Other sales that hour – a sale made during peak buying times will have less impact than a sale made during a lull

4. How many other books are in the catalogue

A single sale of a printed book with a previous ranking of around 100k or more will cause the ranking to automatically rise to around 70k – even if its never made a sale before. Then, if it doesn’t make another sale in the next hour, it starts to fall. In peak sales periods it’ll drop by 10k-15k per hour, a lot less in off-peak hours. The worse its sales history over the past quarter, the faster it will fall.

Two years ago, that 70k number was 50k. The rise in the number of the books and an increase in sales numbers have made it harder to climb the rankings.

For an ebook that number is now 30k. One year ago it was nearer 12k. The increasing popularity of Amazon and ebooks makes it harder for us Amazonholics to keep up.

Books that continue failing to sell will drop at the same pace until they near a support level. For a book that has only ever made one sale that’s somewhere down in the several million. For books that sell well, it’s not that far. The support level will act as a cushion to the ranking. Some days the book will actually rise even though no sales have been made. That’s because books with a poorer sales history are falling past it and pushing the better sellers back up. A support level doesn’t last forever. Continue selling poorly and your book will drop through until it reaches the next support level. Take a look at a graph of a poor to average selling book’s sales over time on Amazon and you’ll see a saw tooth pattern – with flattening curves representing lack of sales and vertical lines representing each sale.

That’s the simple part, now the more complex – multiple sales.

For a printed book with a sales rank between 20k and 90k or so, a single sale will knock about a third off the ranking. Two sales in an hour will knock about half off, three sales 60% or so. This is dependent on how well the books around you are doing.

For ebooks this figure is different. A single sale in the 5k- 30k range will knock about a fifth or sixth off the ranking. As ebook total sales increase this amount will get smaller. A year ago, almost a third would be knocked off the ranking for every sale.

For both types of book, the better your rank, the smaller your fall will be if you don’t sell a book in the next hour.

When you reach the sub 2,000 level it becomes much more difficult to calculate as the performance of the books around you become more critical, making it harder to generalise. Resonance made it to 1,300 back in 2006.

For Amazon UK, all the numbers are lower. A single sale of an ebook can get you under 10k. One year ago, that number was 2k.

So if you’re selling one ebook a day your book will oscillate around the 25-40k mark. Two ebooks/day will see you in the 15k-30k range. Three will get you to 12k-25k, and four, 10k-20k. Selling all those books in the same hour will speed you up the ranking, while selling evenly throughout the day will keep you from testing the lower end of the ranking range.

For those who wish to track their Amazon rankings, here are a few sites.

1. Titlez – this has been going for a long time. It’ll track a large number of books for you on Amazon.com, taking a daily snapshot of the ranking and accumulating stats for you.

2. NovelRank This is a newer site which tracks books hourly across all the Amazon sites. It also attempts to calculate the number of sales from changes in the ranking. It’s reasonably accurate but has trouble (see above for all the reasons why) when a book is selling several copies each hour.

If anyone has any questions, I’ll do my best to answer. Though, remember, I am a recovering Amazonholic.

* I have been asked by the BVC doctor to add a warning to this post that it is not healthy for authors to obsess over their rankings. My habit became so bad that I started accessing Worldcat to track down all the libraries that held my books and checking their online catalogs to see how many of my books were checked out. I may even have used a spreadsheet. It was only when I’d reached rock bottom – building a virtual fort in the SF/F aisle of Chelmsford Library, Mass that I sought help. My name is Chris. I’m an author.


Chris Dolley is an English author living in France with a frightening number of animals. His novel – Resonance (Baen) – can be downloaded for free here. More information about his other work can be found on his BVC bookshelf

Recently released from Book View Press: French Fried true crime, animals behaving badly and other people’s misfortunes. Imagine A Year in Provence with Miss Marple and Gerald Durrell.

International Kittens of Mystery. If you like a laugh and looking at cute kitten pictures this is the book for you. It’s a glance inside the International Kittens of Mystery – the only organisation on the planet with a plan to deal with a giant ball of wool on a collision course with Earth. Forget Bruce Willis and his team of miners. Send for the kitties!

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Comments

Amazon Rankings: What do they mean? — 8 Comments

  1. Thankfully, I have never obsessed over Amazon. I prefer to obsess over the comments. I go crazy if someone leaves a bad one. I know they’re subjective, but still, it hurts my feelings.

  2. Psshhh. I never obsess over my Amazon ranking. Never occurred to me. (Thanks for putting the suggestion in my head, though.)

    Sales, now…that’s a different story.

  3. – And all that is irrelevant if you don’t get your bum in that chair and write the book first!

    Precisely, and constantly monitoring your rankings eats up time you could be spending on writing the next book.

  4. Insightful article. Thanks. Some of my writer friends have obsessed about rankings and sales numbers for years, and I have tried to stay out of it. But I must admit during the recent sale events for Read An EBook Week, I did get caught up in the frenzy of checking sales and standings. Maybe I need to come to one of your meetings Chris. LOL

  5. Hi Chris

    Thanks for an interesting and amusing post!

    My Ebook went live on Kindle a few days ago. My overall rank is #6,698 which is a lot better than yesterday’s #109,110.

    A lot of people have been waiting for the launch and because I have priced the book at 99 cents a lot of people are buying them as gifts using the “Give as a gift” button.

    So I had someone today buy 14 copies as gifts, and those gift purchases do NOT seem to be showing up in my sales report.

    Any thoughts on this?

    Thank you
    Oli Hille
    http://www.amazon.com/dp/B0060O1LLM

  6. Hi Chris

    Thanks for an interesting and amusing post!

    My Ebook went live on Kindle a few days ago. My overall rank is #6,698 which is a lot better than yesterday’s #109,110.

    A lot of people have been waiting for the launch and because I have priced the book at 99 cents a lot of people are buying them as gifts using the “Give as a gift” button.

    So I had someone today buy 14 copies as gifts, and those gift purchases do NOT seem to be showing up in my sales report.

    Any thoughts on this?

    Thank you
    Oli Hille