Wondering why your books aren’t selling on Amazon? Good news: There’s only two reasons
Let’s say you have some inventory at the Amazon warehouse, and it’s not selling to your expectations.
Some common scenarios:
- You ship a bunch of books to Amazon, have big expectations, then check your “Orders” page, and… crickets.
- You were sure you’d make X amount in X number of days, and things fell far beneath expectations.
- You’re comparing your Amazon revenue against last year, and things are down. You have the same (or more) inventory, but sales aren’t increasing to scale.
All three of these things are very common. And there’s only two (major) reasons. Let’s give you a two-step diagnostic test to determine why your books aren’t selling.
What’s not to blame for your books not selling
Let’s eliminate some things Amazon sellers blame for their books not selling. Yes there’s more than two things that would cause your Amazon FBA inventory to not be selling, but these aren’t among them:
- Your Amazon feedback score.
- You condition description.
A lot of sellers blame these two things. And they do matter. But they barely affect your sales compared to the Big Two.
Things Amazon sellers blame for their books not selling
Here’s a few quotes you hear from Amazon sellers who are blaming the wrong things:
“People aren’t buying books anymore” – Absolutely not the case and there are no stats that back this up.
“Amazon changed the Buy Box” – Amazon has built such massive fulfillment warehouse infrastructure to sellers into their platform. If any change they made caused a dramatic drop in sales of FBA offers, Amazon would implode.
“Amazon prices have gone up after new fees and people aren’t buying.” Similar to the first one. Prices have gone up, but barely. And not enough to affect sales so much that you’d notice.
“I don’t have the Buy Box” – Amazon’s Buy Box can be significant, however it’s role in sales is greatly exaggerated and probably much less important in the Books category than other categories. Sales may go down when Amazon makes your offers ineligible for the Buy Box (usually temporarily), but it should never break a business.
Revisiting the 30/60 Rule
It’s possible you think you have a sales problem, when you really don’t. One way to confirm you have an issue with low sales is by using the “30/60 Rule.”
This is a rule I developed over years selling on Amazon to determine if I’m getting the sales I should, or if there’s an issue I need to address.
The 30/60 Rule sets out to answer two questions:
- How quickly should I expect to get my FBA inventory investment back?
- How quickly should my FBA inventory turn over?
We’re focused here on inventory turnover, and it tends to be especially accurate for that.
Here it the 30/60 Rule:
“You will at least double your investment in 30 days, and sell at least half your shipment in 60.”
You can build a whole Fulfillment by Amazon business around these projections, and the Rule will rarely fail.
So your first step in deciding if you have an inventory turnover problem is to see how well it currently aligns with The Rule. If you’re selling roughly half your shipment after 60 days, you probably don’t have an issue with your books not selling at all.
But if you do, These Two Things are the reason why…
The Two Reasons Your Books Aren’t Selling
Here they are:
- Low demand inventory (i.e. inventory with a poor Amazon Sales Rank)
- Poor pricing.
Let’s address both. (Spoiler alert: The second one is vastly more common).
#1 Low-demand inventory
If you ship in low-demand inventory, your books won’t sell as fast. Sounds ridiculously simple, yet Amazon sales rank is often dismissed by Amazon sellers as a merely academic distraction. You’ll hear things like:
“Well sure, lot of my inventory is poorly ranked, but still….”
Amazon sales rank is not a mere trivial fetishistic indulgence for mathematicians. It is literally the only thing that measures how regularly a book will sell on Amazon.
But here’s the thing: There is nothing wrong with shipping in low-demand inventory. It is in fact strongly encouraged (provided the profits are good and you won’t get killed on Amazon’s long term storage fees).
So the solution your books not selling on Amazon is not to stop shipping Amazon slower-selling inventory. The solution is to adjust your expectations to align with reality.
Amazon sales rank is a huge subject. But you must understand sales rank to be successful on Amazon.
The lower the demand of the inventory you ship to Amazon, the slower your books are going to sell. It’s not a bad thing, but it is a factual thing.
#2 Poor pricing and infrequent repricing
Two sides of the same coin that are major reasons your books aren’t selling: Pricing and repricing.
Here are two seemingly contradictory facts that are uncomfortable to admit:
- Always matching the lowest FBA price is not a winning FBA pricing strategy. Pricing higher than the lowest FBA offer much (or most) of the time is a winning FBA pricing strategy.
- If your book isn’t matched with the lowest FBA offer (or is not the lowest FBA offer), its the same as the book not being for sale at all.
What this means is: If you want to get the most money for your FBA inventory, you must practice a pricing strategy that inherently means your books won’t sell as fast.
Your job is not done when you ship your books to Amazon. Remember what I said about how if your Amazon inventory is not matched with the lowest FBA price, it’s the same as the item not being for sale at all?
This means that half (or more) of your inventory effectively wont’ be for sale even after it hits the FBA warehouse and goes live. Prices change fast. They even change between when you ship and when your books hit the FBA warehouse. They may even change before you get to the UPS store.
If you’re not repricing Amazon inventory regularly and often to optimize your FBA prices (not that does not always mean drop your prices), that means at any given time the majority of your Amazon inventory is effectively not for sale. And that means your books will not selling very fast.
Price smart and reprice often, and watch your FBA inventory turnover (and/or Amazon revenue) go way up.
The Two Reasons Your Books Aren’t Selling: A Recap
- Selling low-demand books.
- Poor pricing & repricing practices.
Even if you have a bad feedback score and your condition descriptions aren’t the best, these two things are 90+% of the reason your books aren’t selling on Amazon.
Terry Gray says
No analysis of pricing strategy will be complete without dealing with the scourge of Amazon book selling: the mega sellers & others who continually undercut and totally tank the prices of books. Merchant offers are mostly irrelevant, but how do you deal with other FBA sellers, mega and individuals, who bottom feed on every listing? Very often it means that you have to make a choice between tanking your own price in order to stay on page one, or holding your price and getting bumped off the first page only days after your listing goes active. In these cases matching the lowest FBA offer, or even the second or third one, is totally out of the question if you want to make any profit. And, I’m talking about prices that get tanked AFTER you’ve made a good buying and initial pricing decision. I’m not talking about buying books that already have several tanked prices when you buy them. I just sold a 3.3M rank book for $16. I originally listed it at $55 or $60 and that was the lowest offer; but, I had to keep matching the lowest offers coming along, because of the high rank, eventually settling for a $16 sale. There needs to be an effective way of dealing with this always-present phenomenon.
nicolas levasseur says
The most recent textbook season has shown this to be more true than ever. I am very interested to see where it will go from here and what others think of it. Sometimes the mega sellers are literally selling FBA at such a low cost there is no way they are making money. With 15+ copies as well.. driving the price down for weeks.
This season was pretty bad… RentU repricer was going nuts
Peter Valley says
Here’s what I always say about this: Humans are wired to look at problems in the short term. When you’re looking at a book that’s $50 FBA, then the price drops to $25 FBA, that looks like a really bad thing in our pinhole view of the books pricing history. That book that “tanked” in 3 weeks may have been on Amazon for 15 years, and our perspective of the book’s price is microscopic in the big picture.
The book may average $25 over the lat 15 years and we bought it at an artificially high point.
And we fail to notice how often we buy a book at an artificially low price, where the price goes WAY up.
I have a cool software tool coming out any minute to address this. Keepa is sufficient, but for history pricing, this will add a cool twist.
I struggle a lot with book sales – my used books almost never sell, to the point where I’ve stopped sourcing used inventory. It doesn’t seem to matter if my price is the lowest or my condition the best (or both) and the book ranks well, it sits there for months if it’s used and I have no clue why.
Terry Gray says
Lol, that’s not good to hear since I just went full time.
Timur Yakubov says
Companies like RentU, FlippingPages, and others constantly destroy prices, And the only solution I have found is to keep bringing in more inventory and staying on top of your prices
“Price smart and reprice often, and watch your FBA inventory turnover (and/or Amazon revenue) go way up.”
Does this mean that if you reprice a lot you will have faster turnover?
I’m having trouble with this. I follow all your advice. If there is an FBA offer, I NEVER price equal or lower than the lowest FBA. So if the lowest FBM are all 5.99 and the lowest FBA is 10, I might go 11.99 or even higher. If there are no FBA, I always price much higher than FBM. I have my repricer working 5 times a day.
Things were ok this summer, but lately it has been bad. Like, time to quit level bad. I have a few thousand listings and I’m lucky to get 1 sale a day. I’m following your tips and advice, but lately nothing seems to work. I just don’t get it. Would appreciate any advice or help.
Terry Gray says
Tabitha, are you taking the six-month average rank into consideration in your pricing? After books attain a six-month average rank higher that about 1.2M-1.5M, it’s vital that you begin pricing against FBM offers as well as FBA. I’ve sold many, many books over this average rank by matching the lowest FBM offer; the key being not to buy books to begin with that have a really high rank together with a lot of low FBM offers. Your high FBA offer will sit forever. You could also unknowingly be pricing your FBA offer higher than a competitor who has several or dozens of units available. I use the How Many extension (Keepa also does this, but not as well) for this. For example, if there are three FBA offers for $18, $22.35, and $23.14, but the dude at $18 has a dozen (or maybe many more) units available, then I’m going to match his offer, especially if my offer is in the same/better condition and my feedback is the same/better.
Thanks, Terry, for sharing your advice. In the past I followed Peter’s mantra of not even bothering to think about sales rank. I just looked for low competition and sent items in. Most of my books are slow selling long tail books, but it never used to matter because I had thousands of them and had sales every day. Years ago this was never a problem.
I never used to price on par or even close to FBM, my logic was that if I did that I might as well make more money by selling it FBM myself.
Peter, I watched your video and tried to leave a comment but it didn’t work so I’m commenting here. I appreciate that you’re trying to look on the bright side. It’s nice to know there’s less competition, but I think that’s only happening because almost everyone is pulling out of FBA for used books, and they’re doing it because FBA is just not profitable for old used books. When I made my removals a month ago I noticed that not only were the long term storage fees very high, but even the SHORT TERM fees were high! I had books that were in FBA for only a few months, and the 6 month fees were coming up and for some of my books they were a buck or two. That’s really high. And if it’s a $10 book, and you pay a buck or two after 6 months, and the same after a year, there’s no money in it. Even if it’s a $15 book, you’re giving almost all the profits to Amazon. It’s just like they’re eliminating book selling on FBA all together. Yes, I have some books for $100 in FBA, but most books I have are less than $20. And I don’t believe that anyone should FBA a book for $20 or less. Unless you want to give most of the profits to someone else. It’s just not a good business model anymore. I’m really sorry to say this. I am looking at Biblio.com and other sales avenues now.
Book selling is more than the numbers. Yes the numbers are or can be important, but experience and feel can also be quite important. It is far more difficult to sell books now than it was say ten years ago. What worked then may or may not work now. One has to develop their business over time with an eye on what aids selling. There are many factors such as sales rank, pricing, condition, rareness, etc.. I suggest having models of say 25 books with certain factors understood in each model (meaning very similar) placed for sale at the same time (day) Then determine for yourself which model is giving you the best results. You could try 25 books, 50 books or 100 books per model. Compare at least 2 models against each other. Be prepared to do this every time your sales slow way down. Try to stay in front of the trends that are caused by whatever.
Summary: Compare your results between Model A, Model B, Model C in terms of sales, margins and profitability. Stay with what is working at that time. Determine your own criteria for success. What works for me, may not work for you, and vice versa. Best of Luck and we do need some Luck as Amazon continues to try to confuse us, reduce the number of sellers, and maximize their profits with little to No regard to the harm they might be causing the small to moderate seller.
Back in the good old days when EBay first started, and when Amazon played fair, all one needed to do was to list books at a reasonable price and wait a relatively short time period and orders would FLOW IN. You could not miss no matter how you tried. Excellent Customer Service actually existed back then and you could understand them. Those days are long gone. When EBAY first threatened to eliminate Half.Com and tried to get book sellers to get into a store, that was the beginning of the end for selling books on Ebay. Many, many book sellers left EBay at that point and found success at Amazon. You really could not miss back then as there was limited competition and lots of buyers. Now, you all know it is lots harder to sell a book. Best of Luck–we all need it.
PS: Ebay at the last minute did not eliminate Half.COM back then, but by the time they made that announcement many, many book sellers had moved their inventory to Amazon. EBAY inadvertently actually boosted Amazon’s progress in terms of business and popularity by a year or two. What a terrible decision by Ebay! This occurred way before Peter hit the scene.
Aileen Drill says
I have a lot fewer books listed than I used to have, but still, until the end of last August, percentage wise I was doing well. I have about half FBA and half MF now. The end of August the bottom fell out, and it took me a while to realize that traffic for my listings had dropped more than 70%. I also realized after a while that I was only getting orders from the west, where I live, while most of my orders in the past have come from the rest of the country. I use FBA for the best ranked books, and MF for long tail. My feedback is 100%, and I always try to give detailed and honest Condition descriptions. There doesn’t seem to be anything I can do to change this situation.
Also, I am frustrated by the same problem as Terry Gray. I am continually having to re-price my books to levels below my established minimum, and this situation has been getting worse. Raising my minimum, now at $15, leaves me with fewer books to sell. I am having to pay more for inventory, more in fees, and expenses have risen. Let’s hope the new fee schedule will make a difference. I’m still hanging in.