Amazon’s Best-Seller Ranking System: The Myth and The Magnificent

Bemoaning Amazon is not really my thing. Enough rants & raves about the corporate giant already exist. So, if you’re itching to leave a comment about Amazon’s business model, practices, processes, or place in the market you are out of luck.

I’m here to simply educate Authors and aspiring authors about the Amazon bestseller ranking system, and the misinformation and assumptions that prevail about its actual meaning.

I don’t want to burst anyone’s bubble, here. My goal here is not to de-wind your proverbial sales, but rather explain why a high Amazon bestseller ranking does not necessarily equate to mammoth sales figures.

Amazon’s rankings are hourly, rather than weekly or cumulative.  New York Times Best-Sellers, for example, are determined via weekly sales data from various booksellers. The idea being that it’s a more rounded average of what consumers are buying.  An hourly ranking may not be inaccurate, but it can be misleading at times.  Let’s say you write an awesome memoir, Amazon’s hourly ranking means that if someone bought your memoir twice in one hour, and Cheryl Strayed’s WILD once in that same hour, your memoir earns a higher-ranking. Does that mean your memoir is out-selling Ms. Strayed’s? Probably not.

Additionally, the categories and sub-categories can be misleading. There are categories than can get really specific. For example, Non-fiction, Memoir, Travel, Asia, Russia is it’s own category, so you’re Russian travel memoir may be ranked # 1, but it’s only against other Russian Travel Memoirs sold within the hour.

Am I saying you shouldn’t be proud? NOT AT ALL. Your book is published and ranked on a best-seller list. That is magnificentand by all means share it with everyone. What I am saying is that you should practice realistic expectations when it comes to how a “best-selling” title translates to actual sales.

Amazon is so non-transparent about actual sales figures the rank amounts to an arbitrary number; there’s no measurable context or value associated with it.





One response to “Amazon’s Best-Seller Ranking System: The Myth and The Magnificent

  1. I’ve wondered how Amazon’s rankings work, so thank you for explaining. Though now I wonder why they chose this model. 🙂

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