Monday Musings: Amazon Rankings: What Are They, and Do They Really Mean Anything?

For this blog post, I am going to focus on books as relative to Amazon’s rankings, although all products sold on Amazon are ranked. But for my purposes, and for most of you who might be reading this, books are our main interest.

In one of the writing groups I am in, there was a discussion a week or so ago about Amazon’s rankings. In case you don’t know, at the bottom of the Product Details list (where it lists things like size, weight, number of pages, etc.), you will find that book’s ranking. As of my typing this, my novel, “Circle Unbroken,” had these rankings:

#2,263,828 Paid in Kindle Store 
#20277 in Kindle Store > Kindle eBooks > Literature & Fiction > Action & Adventure > Science Fiction
#39184 in Books > Literature & Fiction > Action & Adventure > Science Fiction
#71956 in Kindle Store > Kindle eBooks > Science Fiction & Fantasy > Science Fiction

 

Depressing? Well, maybe. There were a number of differing opinions on those numbers, and if they are even significant, especially given the number of books that are available for purchase on Amazon at any given time. The other most asked question was whether running a pre-sale helps or hurts your rank- and, again, why is that significant?

Now, Amazon does not disclose details of exactly how their ranking algorithm works. But, there have been many studies and experiments done on the movement of rankings, and there are some pretty good articles and blogs about those. I will cite the references at the end of this post.

According to Amazon, rankings are calculated hourly, which drives some people to obsessively check their ranking. However, sales apparently don’t have an immediate effect on rank. For top-ranked books, the lag is generally not more than a couple hours, but lower-ranked titles may only be updated once a day, and bottom-ranked titles possibly even less often. Additionally, there are predictive elements to the algorithm, and this is where sales history will help you out. A title with a solid history of sales will not see a lull in sales hurt its ranking as much as one with little or no history. There is some evidence that a quick spike in sales due to a good marketing campaign followed by a lull in sales after the title’s release will make the ranking fall faster. A more spaced out launch, allowing the algorithm to collect data consistently over a period of time will give the algorithm something to base its predictive elements on and make maintaining a higher ranking easier.

In an article published in April of this year on the “How To For Authors” site, John Doppler explains fairly clearly how Amazon’s ranking system works for books. The key points, as I see them, are:

  1. Sales rank is relative. A book’s rank will rise or fall due to what other books are doing, not just its own sales.
  2. Higher sales do not necessarily mean higher rankings. Sales history is weighted more heavily than a one-day spike.
  3. It takes half as many sales to sustain a rank as it does to hit it first. Additionally, each day without sales halves the score.
  4. A release day spike can (again, dependent on what the other books in the category are doing) maybe get a book a high initial rank, but steady ongoing sales are needed to sustain it.
  5. Pre-orders count as sales on the day of the order, not the day of release. So, good pre-sales can get you early visibility and jump-start your rank. Remember, after that initial rank is reached, you only need half as many daily sales to maintain that rank.
  6. Kindle Unlimited downloads are counted as sales immediately and affect the book’s rank right away, regardless of whether the book is read.
  7. Reviews, ratings, and price do not affect rank. Neither does enrolling in KDP Select. Ranking is purely a measure of sales and downloads, with slight adjustments by the algorithms.

So, now we know (maybe) how the rankings work. For now. Because the other thing Amazon seems to do is change the parameters of the algorithm on a regular basis. Presumably, this is to counter those scammers who may figure out how to game the system, but it also makes it harder for legitimate authors to keep up. One example of this is the change in how Amazon counts free versus paid rankings. They used to both count toward a single ranking. Now, Amazon distinguishes between the free store and the paid store, and a free promotion that generates a lot of downloads can actually hurt the title’s paid sales rank once the promotion is over. It can, of course, create paid sales after the promotion if the campaign generates reviews and recommendations.

And, just to illustrate, here are my rankings for the same book, four days later, with no sales recorded:

#2,242,603 Paid in Kindle Store
#19957 in Kindle Store > Kindle eBooks > Literature & Fiction > Action & Adventure > Science Fiction
#38943 in Books > Literature & Fiction > Action & Adventure > Science Fiction
#67442 in Kindle Store> Kindle eBooks> Science Fiction & Fantasy>Science Fiction

So, it appears my ranking improved very slightly, even though I didn’t sell a copy during those days. How? Remember, those rankings are relative to all the other books in those categories during that four day period. I have a small history of sales on this book, and that may have caused me to rise above a couple titles that don’t have that to back them up.

It’s confusing, and Amazon doesn’t help much by not telling anyone a lot about how the ranks work. Are they useful? To some extent, yes, of course. A high rank, especially around your title’s release date gets you exposure on Bestseller and Hot New Release pages on Amazon. A high rank can get you listed in recommendations and suggested purchases. But a quick spike in sales followed by a drop-off will see those benefits fall off quickly as the rank decreases. At the end, it’s another tool. Use it wisely and it can benefit you, now and in the future. At the same time, it isn’t something to obsess over and cause you to lose sleep if your rank isn’t at the top. At the end of the day, sales rank is still relative to all the other books available, and it only helps you on Amazon. Which is not necessarily a bad thing.

References:

Doppler, John (2016, April 7) Amazon Sales Rank: Taming the Algorithm, retrieved from http://www.selfpublishingadvice.org

Nightingale, Rob (2014, April 28) 8 Things Most People Don’t Know About Amazon’s Bestsellers Rank, retrieved from http://www.makeuseof.com

McMullen, Chris, (2014, October 19), Amazon.com Sales Rank- How Does It Work (Research Based) retrieved from http://www.chrismcmullen.wordpress.com

Matting, Matthias, (2014, December 3) Test: How Amazon’s Algorithms Really Work- Myth and Reality, retrieved from http://www.selfpublisherbibel.de/

(Image from startupdaily.net)

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Available now:

 

tn_Circle Unbroken Cover (eBook)

After five years away, Kaili is coming home for the ceremony to install her sister as head of the family business. When an old rivalry threatens the family, Kaili and her partner need to use all their skills to save the sisters’ lives. Learn more here.

 

 

 

 

tn_Six of One

A collection of six short fantasy stories set in varied worlds of magic and mayhem. Learn more here.

 

 

 

 

 

tn_Survival of the Fittest (Front Cover)

A short novelette set in a dystopian Earth after the final envinronmental collapse. Sam is a genetically engineered chameleon who may hold the key to mankind’s survival. Learn more here.

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