Understanding Amazon’s Sales Rankings

One of the greatest mysteries of self-publishing is the way that Amazon has to calculate its sales rankings. Much has been said from the algorhythms involved, most of it hogwash coming from independent writers as they try to out-guess an intricately developed program in their feeble attempts to understand how it works, so they could scheme a way to the top bestsellers lists.

Good luck and good riddance.

On a personal level, I’m more than able to perform an educated guess, since I spent at least six years during the 80s, learning to program a Commodore 64 on the machine language side. That means, I was directly accessing the ones and zeroes that made the computer do what it did at the lowest hardware subsystems. I loved to decrypt machine code, break through copy protection systems and understand what the damn 6502 microprocessor—one of the hottest computer chips at the time—was capable of doing.

Ok, so I know a little about computer programming and that makes me a more reliable source about what Amazon’s Sales Rankings are doing in the background. Trust me on this.

By mere deduction, one is able to easily determine that this Holy Algorhytm is keeping tracks of sales and whether you picked your toes clean in Poughkeepsie, but it’s by means of experimentation that I found out that it tracks many, many more variables.

About 10 weeks ago, I asked exactly 100 people to have a look at The Recycling Kid’s sales page… and its Amazon Rankings went up by 93 spots. More recently, I lowered the price of Cuentos to 99 cents, tweeted about it (Kathryn and another person helped with this)… and its Sales rankings went up from the 964,000s to the 962,000s… but there were absolutely no sales per se of this particular title… Hmmm…

So this algorhythms also tracks social media traffic while determining your book’s final sales ranking… Of course, there are a few certain variables that I still have to test, like if downloading a sample of an e-book does affect its ranking, but…

I also had a sale in one of my zombie books, which caused its ranking skyrocket from the 1,200,000s to the 100,000s overnight… (a sale every week seems to pin your book in the 80,000s… any notion conceived beyond that, without hard data to back it up, is just a wild speculation).

I came up with an idea to glean the required hard data to prove my deductions, but every fellow writing colleague to whom I introduced it has met it with extreme suspicion, so there’s no way to truly test / disprove my theories and finally be able to clear up this intriguing mystery.

I guess there are truly things that mankind isn’t meant to know….

This seems to be one of them.

Edwin Stark

Signing Off

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3 thoughts on “Understanding Amazon’s Sales Rankings

  1. In the meantime, other than observation, you can always root around in chicken entrails to figure out what’s going to happen with the sales rankings. Bird auguries have been considered a valid way of determining the future for thousands of years.

    Do you think the system is weighted by a particular form of social media, or is it just click-throughs per day? An item that is clicked on thousands of times without anyone purchasing it…

    I don’t suppose we can get a whole bunch of people (in the 10s of thousands) to participate in an experiment? Just ask them to click through the books page. No obligation to buy. And see what happens, then.

    • Well, my original experiment with a 100 people just involved following the provided link back to the sales page, so I suppose that counts on the click-through department. Link shorteners like bit.ly have built-trackers that tell you if someone clicked on your link, which could become extremely valuable in analyzing online behavior, so I guess one can créate a particular short link for each kind of social media and see which channel is the most effective in attaining the desired results. I like your idea of 10s of thousands, but, alas, I’m not that good rounding up people massively to perform such a test…

  2. rainnnn

    I did some looking into this also because I had had a book that had been out for several years have six sales, a few days apart, which didn’t impact its rankings at all. So I emailed Amazon– thinking maybe it was a mistake. They are pretty good at answering but then not answering. The rep claimed that each day your rankings were determined by other sales, not just yours. So on a day that someone important brought out a book, would be a day your own might not reflect sales– or vice versa. What I generally decided is the length of time your book has been out also can be a factor in rankings. They can use any algorithm they want and since they don’t tell us what it is, we can’t say it’s wrong. I also noticed that when you have a new book out, it seems they do more to make its rankings look good but when you aren’t the new kid on the block, you lose that edge (this process does not take long). The bad part about rankings is– how do people even see your book to buy without them as most people do go to Amazon to look for a new book. To say the least, it can be frustrating…

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