How Does Amazon.com Sales Rank Work?

AMAZON.COM SALES RANK

Amazon assigns a sales rank to every product that has sold at least one time.

The lower the number, the better the product is selling.

For example, a sales rank of 2500 is better than a sales rank of 375,000.

The product that sells the best in its category has a sales rank of 1.

CATEGORY RANKS

Amazon has different ranks for different types of products.

Books are ranked independently from sports equipment and video games, for example.

For a given type of product, there are also category ranks.

For example, a few Books categories include Romance, Children’s, and Science.

A great overall rank is more impressive than a category rank.

For example, a book has to sell quite frequently to rank 500 overall in Books, but can sell much less frequently and still rank 500 in Romance.

A good rank in a broad category is more impressive than a good rank in a subcategory.

For example, a book must sell frequently to rank 100 overall in Science, but can sell much less frequently and rank 100 in Biochemistry.

If a product has never sold, it won’t have a sales rank. (However, if the product was just released recently, there may be a significant delay before its first sale results in a sales rank.)

SALES RANK CHANGES

Amazon sales rank is dynamic.

It fluctuates up and down.

If you look at the sales rank of a product right now, it’s possible that the sales rank happens to be at an all-time low or high for that product.

The current value doesn’t necessarily tell you how well the product usually sells.

A book that usually sells a few copies per day might have an overall sales rank fluctuate between 20,000 and 500,000. Sometimes sales are steadier, sometimes the range is wider, depending on a variety of factors.

For example, during and after a promotion, a product is likely to have a better sales rank than normal. There are seasonal changes. If an author releases a new book, this sometimes helps the author’s other books a little.

There are many reasons that a product that usually sells well might temporarily have a worse rank than usual, or why a product that usually sells less frequently might suddenly have a much better sales rank than usual.

If you really want to judge how well a particular product is selling, monitor its sales rank multiple times over the course of a month.

REPORTING DELAYS

Although Amazon advertises that sales rank is updated hourly, this is not always the case.

It is often fairly up-to-date.

Actually, it’s amazing how well the millions of products are handled.

However, if you happen to purchase a product and expect to see a sudden change in the sales rank, don’t be disappointed if it doesn’t seem as responsive as you had hoped.

Also, a single sale may not have the impact that you expect (unless the rank was previously in the millions). For Kindle eBooks enrolled in KDP Select, there is an additional complication (discussed below).

There are occasionally significant delays. A delay might just happen to coincide when sales rank suddenly becomes important to you. It happens.

MAJOR SALES RANK FACTORS

There appear to be three main factors that affect a product’s sales rank.

  • Recent sales. This is the most important factor. How many copies have sold in the last 24 hours?
  • Sales history. This affects how quickly the sales rank number rises when a product doesn’t sell. A product that has sold frequently in the past has its sales rank climb very slowly when it suddenly stops selling. A product that has hardly ever sold has its sales rank quickly rise up into the millions if it doesn’t sell again soon.
  • Sales frequency. How well has the product sold on average in the past? It seems that Amazon added this factor to help limit the impact that short-term promotions have on sales rank.

What we know for sure. This is what Amazon states on the Amazon Seller Central help pages:

“Sales rank is calculated based on all-time sales of an ASIN/Product where recent sales are weighted more than older sales.”

DO REVIEWS AFFECT SALES RANK?

According to the Seller Central help pages:

“Sales rank is generated based on order data and product reviews are not taken into consideration.”

This suggests that customer reviews do not directly impact sales rank.

You can find many products with a large number of positive reviews with overall sales ranks in the millions, and you can find a few bestselling products with harsh one-star reviews with excellent sales ranks.

Therefore, if customer reviews do have any influence on sales rank, it evidently isn’t significant.

Indirectly, however, customer reviews can influence sales rank. How?

For example, if customer reviews happen to help or hurt a product’s sales, this change in sales frequency will surely affect sales rank.

Note that it’s the change in sales frequency, not the reviews themselves, that cause the significant change in sales rank.

Customer reviews often have virtually no impact on sales, in which case sales rank won’t be influenced by them.

KINDLE RANKS

Kindle eBooks have both ranks in Books and ranks in the Kindle Store, whereas print books only have ranks in Books.

For KDP Select books, Kindle Unlimited introduces a significant complication.

Here is the problem with Kindle Unlimited:

When a customer borrows the Kindle eBook, it counts much like a sale.

However, KDP doesn’t tell you how many times your eBook is borrowed.

KDP only tells you how many pages have been read, which isn’t the same.

If 100 pages are read, you don’t know if 1 customer read 100 pages or if 5 customers each read 20 pages.

If 100 pages read show in your reports today, you don’t know if it was from customers who borrowed your book today or last month.

Why does this matter? Here are a couple of examples.

A Kindle eBook that only sells a few times per week can rank just as well as a book that says a few times per day. How? By getting borrowed a few times per day.

A Kindle eBook’s sales rank might not improve much during a promotion where sales double. Why? Because you don’t know how the rate of borrowing compares to the sales, and you don’t know whether the book is being borrowed more or less during the promotion.

Interpreting the sales rank for a print book and a Kindle eBook is different for two reasons. One reason has to do with Kindle Unlimited, as we just discussed. Another reason is that Kindle eBooks sell much better in certain categories.

So if you’re trying to determine how many sales it takes per day to maintain a sales rank of a particular value, first decide whether you want to know the answer for a print book or a Kindle eBook.

For example, the number of daily sales needed to maintain an overall sales rank of 50,000 is different for a paperback than it is for a Kindle eBook.

For a Kindle eBook enrolled in KDP Select, the answer also depends on how many times per day the book is being borrowed in Kindle Unlimited.

FREE VERSUS PAID RANKS

Kindle eBooks have separate ranks for free books and paid books.

So if your Kindle eBook is free, the rank doesn’t mean the same thing.

There are two ways that this matters:

  • A perma-free book always has a free rank (unless you succeed in raising the price point).
  • A KDP Select free promo shows a temporary free rank, to be replaced with a paid sales rank after the promotion ends.

Unfortunately, when customers get the book for free, this doesn’t count toward the paid sales rank.

So although the free rank may look wonderful during the promotion, when it is replaced by the paid rank after the promotion, sales rank will probably have dropped due to lack of paid sales during the promotion.

However, if the free promo succeeds in generating interest in the book, this can lead to improved sales and eventually help the sales rank.

HOW MANY SALES ARE NEEDED TO MAINTAIN A GIVEN RANK?

That depends.

First, it’s different for every category, and it’s also different for subcategories.

So lets look at the overall sales rank just in Books, for example.

And lets consider just print books (not Kindle eBooks), since they are different.

The answer will still vary a bit. First, there are seasonal changes.

Second, tens of thousands of new books are published every day, and authors are getting better at marketing, so more books are selling.

A major difference comes with sales ranks in the millions. Since there are several million more print books than Kindle eBooks, a sales rank of 2,000,000 indicates a better seller in print than in Kindle, whereas sales ranks under a million probably indicate better sales for Kindle eBooks than print books.

Following are some rough estimates. Remember, these are for print books (not Kindle eBooks). Kindle eBooks work similarly, but the numbers are a little different (and complicated by Kindle Unlimited, which is why my example is for print books instead).

Remember also that it also depends on how well the book has sold in the past. Recent sales aren’t the only factor.

Plus, sales rank isn’t constant. When I indicate a sales rank of 30,000, it might fluctuate between 10,000 and 60,000.

These are overall in all of Books.

  • 100,000 equates to roughly 1 sale per day.
  • 30,000 equates to roughly 3 sales per day.
  • 5,000 equates to roughly 20 sales per day.
  • Ranks between 100,000 and 1,000,000 tend to fluctuate quite a bit, and are indicative of 1 sale every few days. But books that usually have a rank well above 1,000,000 will drop down to this range temporarily after a recent sale. The worse its historical rank, the faster it climbs.
  • Ranks between 1,000,000 and 2,000,000 could mean a couple of different things. It could mean the book used to sell some, but has gone through a dry spell recently; if so, its sales rank will climb very slowly (or it will get a sale and return to a better level). It could happen when a book’s rank was above 2,000,000 but sold in the past few days; if so, its sales rank will climb very rapidly (unless it gets a new sale).
  • Ranks above 2,000,000 probably indicate not much recent activity. Note that there are books that sold fairly well in the past that now have ranks in the millions. In those cases, there just haven’t been any sales for a month or more. Books that rarely sell may have ranks well above 2,000,000 (I have seen 5,000,000, and this number will keep rising).
  • A book has a current steady point. For example, based on its combination of sales history and recent lack of sales, suppose that a book’s steady point is 3,500,000. If it suddenly sells, it will see life in the hundred thousands, and then it will rapidly climb back up to near its old steady point unless a new sales comes soon. Steady points in the low hundred thousands or in the ten thousands tend to be much less steady: Since those books have more frequent sales, any changes to the sales frequency can have a significant impact. With ranks in the millions, you can see huge drops down to the hundred thousands, but they tend to rise back up into their old millions quickly (unless the book stars to see more regular sales).
  • Ranks of 1000, 500, 100, or better can have wildly varying results. The number of sales needed to have an overall sales rank of 100 can be considerably different next month than it is now. I’m not going to quote these numbers since they can change dramatically (plus it’s not as easy to get a book to hold its rank in that range for a long period of time).

I’ve published several books, some in pen names, and can corroborate all of the numbers above (but please read all of my notes above before you try to interpret them too literally).

Note that these numbers will change significantly over time, beyond just the seasonal effects.

Back in 2008, a single paperback sale would cause the overall sales rank in Books to jump to about 50,000, but nowadays a single sale might bring the sales rank to 200,000. (Remember, it also depends significantly on the sales history of the book, not just the recent sale.)

Someday there may be 1,000,000 different books selling once per day on average, and then not all ranks in the millions will be indicative of books that aren’t selling.

Indeed, sales ranks are slipping to 1,000,000 faster than ever when a book doesn’t maintain its sales frequency.

If a newly published book doesn’t generate steady sales, it can plummet to the millions before the author realizes it.

MISPERCEPTIONS

It’s very easy to draw incorrect conclusions based on sales rank numbers.

One common mistake is to conclude that only 100,000 books sell once per day or more.

Wait. Isn’t that what I said in my list above? If an overall sales rank of 100,000 equates to roughly 1 sale per day, then why is it wrong to conclude that only 100,000 books sell once per day or more?

It’s because sales ranks change in time.

If you compare the top 100,000 books today to the top 100,000 books tomorrow or yesterday, there will be thousands of books that crossed this threshold.

Many books sell multiple copies per day when they are released, and then see sales drop off at some point.

Many books that usually only sell 1 copy every few days see a big boost during a short-term promotion.

Over the course of a month, there will be way more than 100,000 books that sold at least 30 copies for the month. That’s because sales ranks are constantly changing. Hundreds of thousands of books will average one sale per day for the month, even though their sales ranks will spend some time above (and below) the 100,000 mark.

Over the course of a year, there will be more than a million (1,000,000) books that sell at least 300 copies for the year (about 1 copy per day on average). A significant number of books sell their 300 copies over a very short period. Almost no books will sell exactly 1 copy per day all year long.

Here are a few more common mistakes that are made trying to interpret sales rank:

  • Forgetting that Kindle Unlimited borrows are very significant for Kindle eBooks in KDP Select.
  • Only looking at the current sales rank, and not looking at the history of sales or how the sales rank changes over time.
  • Looking at category or subcategory ranks, and comparing that number to overall ranks.

If a book has a sales rank of 50,000 right now, it doesn’t necessarily mean it is a consistent seller. It probably means that there were a couple of recent sales, but without monitoring its rank over a longer period of time, you can’t really tell if it sells consistently or infrequently.

If a book has a sales rank of 700,000 right now, it doesn’t necessarily mean that it hasn’t sold well, especially if the book has been published for quite some time. It’s possible that the book sold a few times per day for weeks or even months, and then sales slowly declined. It’s also possible that the book sells once a week or so. Yet another possibility is that the book hardly ever sells, but had a sale in the past few days. Without monitoring the rank over a long period time or knowing the sales history, you can’t tell.

AUTHOR RANK

Amazon also keeps track of author rank in addition to sales rank.

How is author rank different from sales rank?

Author rank adds all of the sales of all of the editions of all of the author’s books (published in that same author name).

If an author publishes multiple books that sell regularly, all of these books help with author rank.

You can see your author rank by signing up for and logging into Amazon’s Author Central.

I pay more attention to my author rank (and my author rank in my pen names) than I do to sales rank.

One of my goals is to improve my average author rank each year.

If you’re at 100,000 now, strive to improve this to 50,000 next year. Try to come up with better ideas, strive to write better, and try to improve your marketing.

If you can get your average author rank down to about 10,000 or better, that’s pretty good.

If you can get your author rank for your name and for a pen name to both be significant, this gives you a little peace of mind: Not all of your eggs are in a single basket.

Just like sales rank, author rank can fluctuate significantly. It can also tail off over time or see sudden spikes. So you have to be careful about interpreting this number (as I mentioned with sales rank).

DO AMAZON GIVEAWAYS AFFECT SALES RANK?

According to the KDP help pages:

“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.”

This suggests that Amazon Giveaways do not affect sales rank.

If sometimes it seems to help, perhaps the effect is indirect. After all, one goal of the giveaways is to create exposure.

TIP FOR AUTHORS

Spend more time writing your books, some time marketing, and much less time monitoring your sales rank.

The new books that you publish and your marketing may help you improve your sales rank by netting more sales.

Simply staring at your sales ranks probably won’t make you feel better unless you get super lucky.

Write happy, be happy. ๐Ÿ™‚

Copyrightย ยฉ 2018

Chris McMullen

Author of:

  • Kindle Formatting Magic (new release)
  • A Detailed Guide to Self-Publishing with Amazon (also part of a Boxed Set)
  • The Improve Your Math Fluency series of workbooks (algebra, fractions, arithmetic, trig, long division, and more)

Follow me at WordPress, find my author page on Facebook, or connect with me through Twitter.

42 comments on “How Does Amazon.com Sales Rank Work?

  1. Pingback: Reblog: How Does Amazon.com Sales Rank Work? | ARMAND ROSAMILIA

  2. “Spend more time writing your books, some time marketing, and much less time monitoring your sales rank.”

    I just went wide so I need to remember this, especially that last part.

  3. Pingback: How Does Amazon.com Sales Rankย Work? | GeezWriter Blog

  4. I do agree about NOT hovering over the sales stats, however, had I not been a bit more attentive than usual, I would NEVER have seen (or found out) that I hit #1 Best Seller with my last book. It only lasted a few hours, I got a screen shot but it did get there. Love the detail you put into this post, so much we need to understand.

  5. Thank you so much for the article, Chris. I particularly like the part:
    Spend more time writing your books, some time marketing, and much less time monitoring your sales rank.
    I think that is true. so, guess, what i will do.
    Well, anyway, my next book in the Talon series is coming out end of the year.

  6. You know what I like about you, Chris, besides the fact you know what you’re talking about?
    Years ago, I bought one of your books about self-publishing on Amazon (where else?) and I had a question about somethin’. I emailed you and you answered within twenty-four hours. I was impressed.

  7. Pingback: Self-Publishing Profits: How Amazonโ€™s Algorithm Can Help You Sell More Ebooks | Inkwell Editorial

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