Amazon book sales – I don’t have a clue

My co-author on the Stuart’s Ride book, Eric Wittenberg, and I have recently been talking again about online book sales on sites such as Amazon.  In particular, for some reason the sales of our book have been spiking on Amazon again.  Over the past three days, the book has averaged a ranking of about 16,000 out of approximately 4,500,000 books.  Once when we checked it, it was ranked about 9,000.  It was released in late September 2006, and early on had reached a high ranking of around 3,500 and was averaging very well.  If your book is around 10,000 in rank, that means you’re in the top .002% of books listed on Amazon.

But the question we’ve been bantering between us is what the heck does it all mean?  For instance, the ranking isn’t just book sales alone, it’s also how much “interest” there is in the book – i.e., people clicking on the book’s page, bookmarking it, putting it on a wish list, etc. etc.  And, the actual sales of your book depend on the amount of sales of all books ranked higher than yours.  For example, let’s say your book is ranked at #10.  Let’s also imagine that among the first 9 ahead of you, they’ve sold a total of 1000 units.  Now, if you imagine the first 9 at one given time have sold only 500 units, then your book (still ranked #10) is selling less.

So whatever the ranking is, the book scould be selling quite differently during a period.  For example, if a book is ranked at #10, maybe it “sold” 100 units that day.  If the next day it’s still ranked #10, maybe it only sold 50 copies that day.  A particular ranking is therefore not indicative of a particular number of sales obviously.  About all one can say is that whatever book is #1 (like the newest Harry Potter fodder has been for a while) is selling like hell.

Confusing, ain’t it?  (Thoughts of Vinny Barbarino are popping into my head here.)

And what makes it difficult for publishers and authors to really track actual sales is that Amazon does not directly report its sales to publishers or distributors (I’ve learned this from my publisher).   The publisher only seems to know what is left in stock when they get their reports from distributors.  If books need to be shipped out, then it’s selling.  If they don’t, then it isn’t.

We do know it has sold well and continues to do so.  The first edition of our book, which was a decently high print run for a Civil War hardcover of its nature, literally sold out in the first week when it was gobbled up by online sellers and storefronts.  We were completely blown away by that, and our publisher literally had to scramble to get the second edition in print and in the pipeline.  That second edition is now rather low, and a third should be going to press soon – all just about 7 months after the book’s release.  Some special marketing ideas are being considered right now between us and our publisher for this year, which promises to spur sales to a certain segment even further.

All in all, we’re astonished and grateful about how well the book has done – far exceeding all of our expectations.  The reviews of the book have been tremendous.

But try to figure out exactly “how the book is doing” at any particular time on an online seller like Amazon, and it seems to be an exercise in frustration.  When publishers can’t even figure it all out, it seems to be one of those great mysteries about book selling that we’re not likely to get a handle on any time soon.  And online selling is one of the largest segments of the market right now – or maybe the largest… but who could know?

Go figure.

Or not.

Published in: on May 2, 2007 at 11:08 am  Comments (4)  

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4 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Hey J.D., this piece may be a little dated, but explains some:

  2. Thanks, Richard! That page did help to explain a lot. I’ve done a search before for information on the ranking statistics, but didn’t come up with this one. Reading that helped quite a bit, and at least gives one an understanding of what goes into the calculations.

    When our book was hovering in the 3,500-5,000 ranking for several days early into its release, it was selling pretty well on Amazon apparently (not in Harry Potter-land, but decent nonetheless). Seven months later it’s still hanging in there.


  3. Let me share an experience I had with my first book. A nationally syndicated columnist wrote a piece about Robert E. Lee a couple of years ago. In this piece, he referred to and recommended my book, The Maxims of Robert E. Lee for Young Gentlemen. This same article also appeared on a popular political junkie website over Memorial Day weekend (getting the benefit of an extra day for exposure). Within 24 hours, that book shot to a ranking of around #120 on Amazon! As best I could tell, I traced around 800 books sold to that one article. It’s amazing what something like that can do for sales.

  4. Correction, that was Labor Day weekend . . . Must be accurate 🙂


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