Amazon Sales Ranking
By Brent Sampson
“Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows” was added to Amazon’s Web
site, it held an Amazon Sales Rank of #1 for months, even before it
was released. This meant it was the top-selling book throughout all
of Amazon. But what does being the “top selling book” on Amazon
mean, and how does Amazon make that determination?
algorithm Amazon uses to generate the Amazon sales ranking is
proprietary, so the details contained herein are extrapolated from
research and field tests. The resulting consensus finds that
Amazon’s system provide marginal sales data at best and that, in
most cases, the Amazon sales ranking is more akin to market research
than anything else.
whit, read Amazon’s own definition of its system, slightly
paraphrased from their FAQ: “The Sales Ranking system exhibits how
books are selling. The lower the number, the higher the sales. The
calculation is based on sales and is updated each hour to reflect
recent and historical sales of every item sold. We hope you find the
Amazon.com Sales Rank interesting!” This last sentence seems to
indicate Amazon’s own perspective on the importance with which the
sales rankings should be viewed.
other words, you’re not supposed to find the sales rankings
informative or even helpful. You’re supposed to find them
actuality, the process is somewhat more convoluted than they let
on. The ranking does not depend solely upon the actual number of
books sold, but rather, on a comparison against the sales figures of
the other books in their database (all six million+ of them) within
that same hour.
sales in that hour and historic all-time sales both play a role in
the calculation. In fact, the predictive nature of the Amazon
ranking system is what makes it possible for a newly released book
to outrank an older established title, even though the actual total
sales figures for the latter far exceed the former.
said, sales history takes a back seat to current sales numbers
occurring in a given hour. Sales projections and trending take an
active role here, which is why a book’s ranking can leap from
900,000 to 1 in the span of 24 hours or less with a concerted
marketing effort. Does this mean the book has sold nearly 900,000
copies in 24 hours? Absolutely not! What it does mean is that recent
activity (i.e. purchases) for that book is trending higher than the
900,000 books it just surpassed. But, don’t get excited just yet;
since the activity of 800,000 of those other books range from slow
to stagnant, one or two orders are sufficient to catapult a ranking
into the top 100,000 with “relative” ease.
book’s ranking breaks into the top 100,000, the sales history
calculation starts to rear its head, which is why a “phenomenon”
book has a hard time maintaining a high, legitimate ranking. A
phenomenon is defined by a book that leaps from the high
hundred-thousands into the lower thousands (or better) in the span
of 24 hours or less, usually due to some concentrated marketing
initiatives. Since Amazon’s sales history for that title doesn’t
support the leap, the spike occurs and then quickly drops again.
But that’s not to say such an endeavor doesn’t hold its
advantages. Phenomenon books that are well-written and well
marketed can use its ranking “spike” as a foundation on which to
base a consistent, respectable, long-lasting Amazon ranking. Does
the ranking maintain the same zenith as its initial spike? Rarely.
But, it also rarely drops into the millions again, either.
How does all this translate into sales figures?
Unfortunately, since the data is recalculated all the time, it’s
impossible to arrive at accurate, cumulative sales figures solely
using the Amazon sales ranking. It fact, it’s work intensive just
to arrive at an average sales ranking. This process alone involves
the time consuming task of charting the ranking of a book at the
same time every hour for 24 hours and then divide by 24 to arrive at
its average daily ranking. Do that for seven straight days to arrive
at its average weekly ranking. You can do it all month long to
arrive at its average monthly ranking. The longer your average
timeframe, the more accurately your sales ranking will reflect
"reality" (as opposed to a spike or dip in sales).
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