What Do Amazon Rankings Mean To Authors?

Guest Blogger: Richard Mabry

It’s right there on Amazon, buried in the fine print about a book, along with the name of the publisher, number of pages, and all the stuff most people don’t notice: the Amazon rank. Chances are that when you are looking for a book to purchase, you pay no attention at all to it. But if you’re a published author, and it’s your book, it’s a whole different ball game. You might check the rank frequently, sometimes every day. But what does it mean?

Amazon is particularly tight-lipped about sales figures, and even their information about rankings is sparse. They will admit that their ranking of bestsellers, reflecting both recent and historical sales of every item sold on their site, is updated every hour. However, it takes a little digging to find out that not all rankings are adjusted that frequently. Here’s a reasonable guesstimate from Rampant TechPress: #1 to 10,000 are recalculated every hour; #10,001-110,000 are recalculated every day. The rest are recalculated once a month.

So what do the figures mean? They mean that there are that many books with more sales than the one in question. The smaller the number, the better. If your book ranks 10,000, you know that 10,000 books sold more copies than yours. Since Amazon lists an estimated 4,000,000 books on their site, adding more and dropping some each day, a ranking of 10,000 would be good. But it won’t stay there. The rank can change with the purchase of just a few books, either yours or someone else’s.

Is it possible to correlate ranking with sales? Not officially, but there’s some information out there. For example, I found that a major publisher tracked 25 titles over a six-month period, correlating the weekly Amazon sales rank with actual reported sales from Amazon. Ranks down to 750 sold 75 to 275 books per week. From 750 to 3000 had sales of 40 to 75 per week. The sales drop the further down the list you go, and at 10,000 and above—where most of us hang out—the books sold only 1 to 5 copies per week. So you can see that at this level the number could change with the sale of as little as one unit.

If you want to track your book’s Amazon sales, you can use a free utility called TitleZ. I’ve used it for quite a while, and found it useful. It lets you enter the names of one or more books and follow their Amazon rankings, either in tabular or graphic form. Nice, but is it worth it to follow your rankings, or just an invitation to an ulcer?

The first consideration is that Amazon isn’t the only place people buy books. Barnes & Noble and Borders have online as well as brick and mortar stores. There are large chains of Christian bookstores like Mardel, Family Christian Stores, and Lifeway Stores, to name just a few. And don’t forget the independent booksellers.

Bottom line, your Amazon rank is sort of nice to know, but it won’t correlate with your royalty statement (which is a subject for another day). If you’re an author, should you check your Amazon ranking from time to time? It’s allowed. But should you open the champagne when the number is small and look for the bottle of antidepressants when the number rises? Nope. Just keep writing. Because that’s the major driver to sales: producing a good product that readers want. The figures will take care of themselves.

Dr. Richard Mabry is a retired physician, now writing Christian fiction and non-fiction, and working fruitlessly on improving his golf game. Doc’s first novel, Code Blue, was published by Abingdon Press in April, 2010, and his second one, Medical Error, just released.

  1. SeymoureLykely says:

    woopdeedoo what about books ranking 3,000,000 and lower

  2. Evan Wiggs says:

    Thanks for the good information. I have also been looking at both Amazon and B&N sites for ranking and my book has moved up to the 250K rank from over 2 million in the beginning so I was encouraged by that, not stellar sales but sales non the less. But I also saw another phenomena in the pricing, initially the price was the publisher’s suggested retail, but very soon that plummeted to a 60% reduction and that ran for a month or so, then the ranking went up so did the price and to now has settled at a 23% reduction. Still can’t deduce the exact quantity but is does mean the book is selling.

  3. Kingdom says:

    Wow – this was really informative! Thanks for this post!

    I wrote DARK KINGDOM: LAND OF THE EVIL QUEEN and my best selling rang was 164. 000

  4. Mary Learmount says:

    Many thanks. Very useful to read all these comments. My Kindle ebook has recently appeared so I too have been obsessively checking the ranking, not fully understanding what the changes might mean. Now I can leave off for a while and get on with writing!

  5. Thanks for the advice Richard. My book has recently been released. Quite an exciting time and I found myself checking Amazon just to see if it were real. It was on one of these checks that I first noticed the ranking at the bottom. I’d never before noticed that ranking and at first wasn’t sure what it meant. And then I did and I haven’t been the same ever since. I find myself obsessively checking and quite frankly it’s getting in the way. So, I vow, no more checking! At least for today.

  6. stephen says:

    The article is fascinating, however TitleZ is no longer available. It has been retired (their own word).

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  8. Thanks for this info Rich. My cookbook seems to be doing ok, considering that I’ve done absolutely nothing to promote it. But I wish I knew where to look to find out how many copies have been sold so far.
    All the best.

  9. RadiantMediaAz says:

    As I read the article I was relating it more to my youtube channel because I enjoy the analytics YT gives.
    The last line of this article “…just keep writing…’ says to me “just keep editing and uploading!” the rest will follow.

    Have a friend with a book on amazon so thats what drove me to this article.

  10. I love this post! I love everything blue lately and these pictures are so pretty.

  11. Clay Morgan says:

    Great breakdown. I’ve been curious about these rankings. Useful post!

  12. Ishta Mercurio says:

    >Wow – this was really informative! Thanks for this post!

  13. Beryl Singleton Bissell says:

    >Good advice! Forget the ulcer. Just keep writing.

  14. Amy Dawson Robertson says:

    >I posted on this a while ago on Mystery Writing is Murder. I like Titlz but I also like Novelrank and Metric Junkie as well. And while comparing other writers does seem a bit snoopy I think it is actually very useful in determining how you are stacking up to others in your genre. http://mysterywritingismurder.blogspot.com/2010/04/writers-obsessions-with-amazon-sales.html

  15. Timothy Fish says:

    >Anonymous 4:25,

    I can tell you with certainty that Amazon.com isn’t just using a random number generator. I do have access to my actual sales figures and when I was paying close attention to Sales Rank I also matched it up with my actual sales. When I saw a decrease in Sales Rank, I could look at the actual and see that I’d sold more books.

    You’re correct that no Sales Rank means that the book hasn’t sold any copies yet. As for books in the 7,000,000s, it is actually very hard for a new book to reach the worst sales ranks. For a book to reach that point, it not only has to have no sales after at least one initial sale, but there have to be 7,000,000 individual titles that sell after its last sale. Many of the books that would have to sell are out of print, so while being #1 is unlikely, being last is impossible.

    I do think Amazon.com is putting something more into their calculation than just how many books have sold during the past hour. I think they’re incorporating an average over a span of time so that the effect of a spike in book sales is reduced. I’ve noticed with my books that when they’re rank close together they decline at different rates, even crossing over each other without either book selling. They aren’t very clear on how they do that, but their only means of determining which books should be listed in the top slots is determined by Sales Rank. To get there, a book has to have both a large number of sales and a steady flow of sales.

    There is a huge difference between a book selling at 14,000 and one in the top ten. For that matter, there may be a huge difference between a book at #1 and one at #2. If selling ten books in an hour gets you to #14,000, it may take a few thousand book sales in an hour to get you to #1. That’s just the way book sales are. Very few books sell large numbers and the vast majority sell one ever so often.

  16. Kathryn Magendie says:

    >I never check my reviews or ranking any more! I did, at first – the first few months after my first book was released and once during a Kindle promo, but I realized it was an exercise in frustration and ups and downs and I'd just rather not know! On Kindle I reached No 1 in paid Kindle rankings, over even The Help, and I did track that for a week or so, but then decided to quit looking while I was ahead at No 5 –now, I'm pretty durn certain I'm not at No 1 or even 5 now, but, in my pea-head brain, that's where I can envision the book to be because that's the last place I saw it back then, and that's a motivating feeling!

  17. Judith Robl says:

    >Interesting post. What does it mean that my not-yet-released gift book is ranked thus?
    Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #3,853,891
    I may try the widget, but just for fun. Better get back to the real work of writing.

  18. Brother Cysa Dime says:

    >Even though there are many other stores, your ranking in them will probably be the same. What counts is your annual royalty payment or equivalent.

    What counts even more is how your book influenced others for the better.

  19. Anonymous says:

    >And what about checking the rankings of other authors…I know, that's just wrong.

    (But we all do it)

  20. Anonymous says:

    >I check my ranks every day (unless they get too depressing) and they change every day, so they can't just be updated weekly. Generally they do go up in a big hop, which I always take to be one, solitary sale, followed by a slow descent.

    Sometimes one of my books will be hopping up in the ranks for a couple of weeks, perhaps because of a book-club or a class reading list, or some mention somewhere. Once when I was interviewed on tv after a book release, the sales rank had shot up by the time I got home from the studio, which was only an hour or two.

    But the highest sales rank I've ever seen on one of my books was 14,000.

    So there's something amiss in these calculations, and of course amazon ain't talkin'.

    There also seems to be a bottom-out point. Sometimes AFAICT nobody buys one of my books for months, and yet they never sink below 1,000,000. I've seen books on there as low as the 7,000,000s. My guess: No sales rank means nobody ever bought the book. The area between 4m and 7m is colonized by books which somebody bought a copy of, once. If people have bought the books in any quantity or with any regularity, they occupy the 1m-4m zone even after they stop selling at all.

    But there's also a strong possibility that amazon is just using a random number generator to assign sales ranks.

    I agree with Erin– just give us the actual sales figures, eh?

  21. Erin MacPherson says:

    >Gulp! I'd never even CONSIDERED Amazon rank before… yikes. Wouldn't it be nice if we could just see our sales numbers plain and simple?

  22. Richard Mabry says:

    >Thanks to everyone for your comments. My information was the most up-to-date I could acquire, but I appreciate the input of others via comments. I think the point I wanted to make is that rankings are interesting but not imperative, so don't get hung up on them.

    For T Anne, and anyone else who is interested, Code Blue and Medical Error are both stand-alone novels, although I "close the loop" to a degree with the third novel (out next spring), Diagnosis Death.

  23. Catherine Bybee says:

    >Great post! I check my rank all the time. When my numbers start to dip, I tend to spend more time online promoting! Does it help? Maybe… I don't think it will hurt.

    Here are a couple of links for more on Amazon ranking… and Kindle ranking you might find useful.



  24. Sarah Forgrave says:

    >I've always wondered if there was a method to the Amazon madness. Thanks for sorting it out for us, Richard!

  25. dulwich divorcee says:

    >OMG Amazon rankings! The perfect way to distract myself from writer's block …I'm off to check mine now …

  26. Holly Ruggiero says:

    >Jimmy Christmas that is ridiculously complicated.

  27. Bill Peschel says:

    >In my experience, they adjust the ranks hourly. My new book is coming out next month, so I picked up at Novelrank.com an RSS feed to track my Amazon rank. It checks every hour and pushes the result into my Google Reader account.

    "Writers Gone Wild" started at about 5 million until a library in Connecticut bought two copies. The number jumped to about 110,000, and hour by hour fell like a leaf. Then, a relative bought a copy, and it jumped back up again.

    The Novelrank widget is an amusing little device. But, like you wrote, rank-checking should not be taken seriously. Therein lies madness.

  28. T. Anne says:

    >So Amazon sales rankings are addictive yet non indicative of any real hard numbers? Sounds like I'd play the refresh game anyway. 😉

    Richard, is Medical Error a sequel to Code Blue or a stand alone? Having worked in a hospital for ages I'm really interested in these!

  29. Heather Sunseri says:

    >"Because that’s the major driver to sales: producing a good product that readers want."

    A statement similar to this should be be posted on every writer's mirror, refrigerator, and where they write. It always comes back to story and solid writing.

  30. Timothy Fish says:

    >Sorry Doc, but I think some of your information may be out of date. Based on what I've seen, it appears that several years ago Amazon.com updated rank at different intervals (though that may just be a rumor). Currently, Sales Rank is calculated hourly. If you want to verify that, purchase a book that has a high sales rank number (For the Love of a Devil for instance), wait for an hour and see if the number has changed. Amazon.com doesn't give complete details on how they calculate these figures, but some time ago I wrote How Amazon Sales Rank Is Calculated which will give you as detailed of a explanation as the information they give allows. The reason some books don't appear to be getting updated is because there are a lot of books going for a long time without sale. The only things that will cause a book's rank to actually change is if it is sold and if a book with a higher number is sold. So, a book with a rank of six million could stay there for a very long time.

  31. Tim Martin - Writer/Author says:

    >Thanks Richard! That's good information to know. Especially with Amazon being as tight lipped with their sales as they are.

  32. Walt M says:

    >Richard, this is a great post. I'm a numbers geek myself, so I expect I'll be checking and dissecting mine when the big day arrives. (I'm not published yet, but I'm still saying "when" as opposed to "if" as I like to remain positive.)

  33. kathy taylor says:

    >Elucidating! I look at the rank of my book every day. At first I tried not too, but often it gives me reason to celebrate.

  34. davey says:

    >Richard, thanks for the information, and the perspective!

  35. Richard Mabry says:

    >Thanks, Rachelle, for letting me share your audience today. And despite what I learned in researching this post, I must confess that I still check the Amazon rankings of my books from time to time. I guess it's a case of "do as I say, not as I do."

  36. Wendy Paine Miller says:

    >My eyes began to glaze over whenever I got to the math figures. Math so isn’t my deal. But this is useful information to know. I loved the just keep writing advice. I enjoyed meeting you at the elevator at least four times in Indy, Richard.

    ~ Wendy

  37. Sue Harrison says:

    >Thank you, Richard. I've been wondering about the Amazon sales rankings for years. I appreciate this clear and easy to understand explanation very much!

  38. Sally Zigmond says:

    >I have finally learned to view my Amazon rankings with a mixture of amusement and bemusement. It doesn't take long to discover that one sale can rocket one's ranking up from say, 100,000 to 8,000 in a split second. And then you watch it drop inexorably for the next two weeks.

    I don't actually know what purpose they serve. For Amazon, the publisher or the author.

  39. Gary Corby says:

    >I tried to work this out myself the other day. The ranking system attempts to extrapolate future sales based on the past, and gives greater weight to recent sales over older. Which is why a single sale can move a low-ranked book by a few hundred thousand places (I'm not kidding).

    The problem is, if the standard deviation of the sales numbers per week is a significant proportion of the actual sales, then they're trying to predict randomness. I doubt there's much difference between 80,000 and 300,000.

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