Amazon’s sales rankings: what do they mean?

By Sharon Fussell, September 18, 2014

When you are listing books, do you take note of Amazon’s bestselling rankings?

If you are unsure what I mean, when you’re next buying a book on Amazon, scroll down the description page for the product until you get to ‘product details’. In this section you will see the ‘Amazon Bestsellers Rank’.

Amazon's sales rankings: what do they mean?

Amazon’s sales rankings:
what do they mean?

It will usually have a number, such as ‘447 in Books’.

  • What is this number?
  • What does it signify?
  • Is this number good or bad?
  • What happens if there is not a number, e.g. no sales ranking?

If you have asked these questions, you are not alone. Here is a short excerpt from an online chat session:

How many books sold does a given Amazon sales rank indicate?

Unfortunately, due to the hourly fluctuation of Amazon sales rank, we can’t pin it down precisely. But I have enough data to make some generalizations for ranks between #333 and #100,000.

All the following data is for Amazon US sales rank only. Also, Amazon changes the ranking algorithms, so my results from six months or a year ago might not equate to what is happening today. I don’t sell enough books in other markets or through B&N to have a sufficient data set.

(Reference: Amazon online member’s discussion board.)

It appears that it’s quite a mystery how Amazon get to the sales rankings.

To be honest, I don’t have the answers; I only use the Amazon bestselling rankings as a guide. It’s a snapshot in time. But it does appear that the lower the number, the more the product is in demand.

So here is my guide to Amazon’s bestsellers rankings…

I tend to list fiction books as long as they rank under one million.

I usually list non-fiction books if they rank under two million.

But, I often list books with no ranking whatsoever: in fact, some of my largest, most profitable sales have been from selling products without any ranking at all.

Personally, I adhere more to sales rankings if I am sending books to Amazon fulfilment centres. The lower the ranking, the better I perceive them to be popularity-wise, and so will sell faster. (I always prefer to be a bookseller – not a book-hoarder!)

If I am storing books at home, then I will list books with any type of ranking – big or small or zilch – if I think it will sell eventually. Some books are so niche that it may take longer to sell to that one person in the world who wants it!

Of course, if storage space is at a premium, you may have to make a decision as to whether to list or not, and to take a chance on listing a book that may take years to sell – if ever.

So, in short, I don’t really take Amazon’s bestselling ranking as ‘written in stone’: I treat every individual listing as it comes.

If a book is a run-of-the-mill fiction book and can only really be listed for low value, and if I need the space, I will ditch it in favour of a more niche book that will likely bring in a higher profit when sold.

I do think Amazon’s sales rankings do help as a guide to the popularity of a title, but I do override the ranking should I believe I have an interesting book.

Books titles I may list despite a less desirable Amazon ranking include:

  • local history books
  • unusual craft/hobbies
  • old recipe books
  • old study/reference books
  • collector’s comics/books
  • memoirs

That’s all from me for now!


What do you think?

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