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Amazon Sales Ranking Easily Manipulated But Still Meaningful

Despite Amazon sales representing only a tiny fraction of sales for a book, authors check their sales ranking compulsively. The algorithm for establishing the ranking is a deeply guarded secret. Amazon updates its rankings hourly with recent sales weight more heavily than the entirety of a sales history. A NY public relations firm claims that it can propel a book to bestseller status with a mass email campaign. Mr. Kirchner of Ingram Publisher Services believes that you could “make any book you wanted a bestseller for an hour.”

Amazon doesn’t discourage these types of campaigns because they drive sales. Mass emails sent out encourage people to buy books from Amazon rather than other venues. Despite the easy manipulation of Amazon Sales Rankings, authors can’t help but check their rankings on a regular basis. It means something to them regardless of how easy the system can be worked.

Jane Litte is the founder of Dear Author, a lawyer, and a lover of pencil skirts. She self publishes NA and contemporaries (and publishes with Berkley and Montlake) and spends her downtime reading romances and writing about them. Her TBR pile is much larger than the one shown in the picture and not as pretty. You can reach Jane by email at jane @ dearauthor dot com


  1. sherry thomas
    Aug 06, 2007 @ 14:43:47


    That’s me! Woo! Strangely enough, I thought I was #1.7 million something. Guess my mom has been placing orders. :-)

  2. Emily
    Aug 06, 2007 @ 20:27:50

    People like numbers of negligible real importance, and much sinister bias. But does the fact they like them justify their worth?

  3. Timothy Fish
    Aug 10, 2007 @ 12:14:27

    I wouldn’t mind having my book hit the best seller list for an hour. I would rather have sustained positioning rather than a surge that places it near the top, but having it there for an hour would probably result in some sales in addition to those that placed it in that position. Saddly, it is one thing to know how to get it there and quite another to know how to get it there through ethical and legal practices. A well written e-mail sent out as spam could be used to place a book near the top of the list, but it could have negative results as well. Authors and publishers who have an extensive list of e-mail addresses for people who want to find out about a book release usually have other methods of encouraging book sales.

    The statement was made that sales is only a small fraction of the sales for a book. This is not accurate. Brick & Mortar stores shelve only a small fraction of the books that are in print. Additionally, some stores refuse to sell some books, for various reasons. For the typical book, the majority of sales come from Amazon. Selling more than one copy of a book in one day may be rare for the typical book. Most books go for days without a single sale, so for the typical book, the sales rank can be a quick check to see if any books have been sold. If the book is available in stores, sales rank is less accurate in determining if a book has sold, but it is still an estimate of how well it is selling in stores.

    Timothy Fish – Author of Searching for Mom

  4. Alex Choo
    Dec 07, 2007 @ 14:46:12

    I don’t think it’s right to manipulate the sales rank. Sure, you could get to the top, but if the book isn’t good, readers will know it soon enough and sales will drop eventually.

    In any case, authors might be interested to track their sales rank with 109things. It shows price and sales rank history graphically.

  5. Jeffrey A. Manty
    May 13, 2008 @ 20:42:40

    My book has surged 5 or 6 times to the 10,000 ranking level at Amazon. It happened once using a modest email blast while the other times occurred through hard work using forums, blogs, and links to my website. I have to admit that I did feel a little pushy using the email blast. Nevertheless, I once was told in a letter by Barnes and Noble that 90% of self-published authors never sell 100 books.

    Jeffrey A. Manty – Author of Prophecy Code: A New Revelation for the Last Days.

  6. Petra Falk
    Jul 09, 2009 @ 14:52:41

    Nevertheless, I once was told in a letter by Barnes and Noble that 90% of self-published authors never sell 100 books.

    The average, I believe, is something like 56

    People think writing the damn thing is what it’s all about. It isn’t. Sure, if the product is no good no amount of marketing will make it sell. But without working at it after publishing it it WILL sink withut a trace.

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