A complete guide to understanding Amazon Sales Rank: What does “best sellers rank” say about how often an item sells? A complete analysis, and sales rank charts.
Cracking the Code on Amazon Sales Rank (aka “Best Sellers Rank”)
Sales Rank is among the most misunderstood yet important elements of selling on Amazon. You scan a book. It has a sales rank of 700,000. How much information can you learn from this number? You can extract more meaning from it than you think…
This article is the cure for what I believe is among the biggest mistakes I see Amazon sellers make: misunderstanding sales rank. This ignorance comes in two forms:
- Ignoring it altogether, or-
- Overemphasizing its role in buying decisions.
I wrote this article to get down to the question of sales rank: What it is, what it’s not, and how to interpret it accurately for maximum profits.
The Definition of Amazon Sales Rank (“BSR”): Part One
For every category (excluding, for some reason, many consumer electronics items), there is a number in the product description labeled “sales rank” or “best sellers rank” that aims to capture an item’s popularity.
I can define Amazon sales rank in one sentence:
“The period of time since an item last sold.”
What does that mean? It means that starting from one hour after an item sells, its rank will start to rise until it sells again. The longer the gap between sales, the higher its sales rank grows. When the product sells again, it will drop significantly and then begin to rise again an hour later.
The Definition of Amazon Sales Rank (“BSR”): Part Two
But what if a book is selling multiple copies a day? Sales rank doesn’t measure hours between sales, only (very very approximately) the number of days.
Books steadily ranked better than (roughly) 150,000 are selling on average more than one copy per day. For books in this range, the definition of Amazon sales rank becomes:
“The number of units an item sold that day.”
Amazon does not disclose the exact formula that determines sales rank. This article breaks down how I interpret that number using all the available data on Amazon sales rank.
The Amazon sales rank chart
I made a chart to help Amazon sellers of all products answer this question: Should I buy, or should I pass? Or more accurately: Is there a demand for this product?
This sales rank chart is the best current estimate available for how often a book is selling for various sales rank stratum:
Wait: Sales Rank gets a little more complicated
How can this chart mislead you? Here’s how: The top 10% in Books means something entirely different than the top 10% in Grocery. We’re going to look at some familiar categories to illustrate.
Amazon has listings for:
- 6.2 million movies (VHS and DVD);
- 8 million CDs, cassettes, and vinyl.
Calculating the top 10% of products selling in these categories brings us to these rankings:
- 620,000 in movies;
- 800,000 in music.
This is where it gets complicated. I know I sell a lot more movies ranked worse than 350,000 (outside the top 5%) than CDs ranked 350,000 (inside the top 5%). I read this as Amazon simply selling a lot more movies than CDs, which makes a lot of sense. This is an example of how relying on a sales rank “safety zone” can be deceiving.
Some sellers might dispute this point, but in most instances I wouldn’t touch a CD ranked 700,000, but never hesitate to pick up a DVD ranked 250,000.
A book ranked 100 on Amazon could be selling 500 copies a day. However a case of vegan raw food bars ranked 100 could be selling 75 units a day. Different categories, different sales volumes, same sales rank.
The same holds true for percentage brackets. The top 0.01% selling DVDs on Amazon might average 200 units a day. In Lawn & Garden, that same 0.01% bracket might average 20 units. People buy more DVDs than garden hoses. Pretty simple.
How relying on sales rank alone can be deceiving
There is debate about how much Amazon sales rank should factor into a buying decision.
On one end, those who say that the only thing that matters is your profit margin, meaning if a book costs 25¢ and it’s going for $25 on Amazon, they’re buying it — even if the sales rank indicates it hasn’t sold a copy in five years.(There are still considerations about your Amazon IPI score that factor into this, but I’ll set those aside for now).
On the other end are those who need solid proof a book is in heavy demand before they’re spending one cent, no matter if a book is selling on Amazon for $500.
What do I think? Operating in either extreme is just a function of laziness. Particularly in books and media, there is a (somewhat subjective) formula you can apply to determine if a book has a small but steady niche demand, or it is merely obsolete. It’s not all left to the whims of “the market.”
By asking a series of questions one can ask to assess if that copy of “Algorithmic Architecture” ranked 3.2 million is just steadily selling one copy a year, or is so irrelevant it will literally never sell another copy for the rest of eternity.
I developed eight factors I use to separate the obscure and valuable from the merely obsolete. Going into that formula may be outside the scope of this post, but the message here is: Amazon sales rank isn’t everything. Look at ALL of the available evidence to make a determination as to the potential for an item to (eventually) sell.
How I was a victim of sales rank myths for years
I started out selling books on Amazon (very part time) in 2007. For literally the first four years I considered any sales rank worse than 500,000 to be the black abyss of sales into which books would vanish and never be heard from again. Fact was, I didn’t know how to interpret that number, and how often a book ranked 500,000 was actually selling.
This myth was reinforced by most of what I’d read about Amazon selling, which advised not to touch anything with an Amazon sales rank beyond 1 million at the absolute worst, if not 500,000.
My Amazon Sales Rank “Awakening”
The reality check came when I started a small side business publishing. This allowed me to see exactly what a sale of a single copy did to Amazon’s sales rank, and track exactly what one, two, and three days without a sale did to that figure. What I learned was mind blowing.
A single sale will cause any book to jump to a sales rank of approximately 160,000. Maybe 100,000, maybe 180,000. Two sales in a day will bring it up to around 60,000. The actual sales rank can be on either end of these estimates, depending on how many other books have sold that day on Amazon.
None of what I publish sells well enough for me to be able to offer personal testimony beyond what two copies sold in a day translates to. But the available info says that a book ranked steadily at 5,000 is selling about 11 copies per day. A book with a steady rank of 100,000 is averaging a little more than one copy per day.
After a sale, the rank starts its downward decline. If no other copies sell, the next day the rank will be approximately 250,000. After two days, the rank will hit somewhere around 500,000 (again, ballpark figures here).
Most Amazon sellers still believe in the “sales rank abyss” I spoke of, and put it somewhere around 1 million. As in: “Anything with an Amazon sales rank worse than 1 million will never sell and is a waste of your time.”
If 500,000 means that a book sold three days ago, what does an Amazon sales rank 1 million mean? Keep in mind almost none of the Amazon literature I read will advise you to buy books ranked worse than 1 million. Let’s take a closer look. How long ago did a book ranked 1 million sell?
Have a seat.
A book ranked 1 million sold about ten days ago. That’s it.
Picture holding two books. According to your scouting app, the book in your right hand has a rank of 100,000. The book in your left, a rank of 800,000. Both will cost you 50¢, and sell on Amazon for $20. Most sellers would run to the counter with the 100,000-ranked book. Most would pass on the 800,000-ranked book. But the only thing that separates them is about five days.
The folly here is that there is no such thing as “a book ranked 100,000” or “a book ranked 800,000.” There are only books with those ranks at that moment. That 100,000 book could be 800,000 in a week. And that 800,000 book could be 100,000 in five minutes. Sales rank only tells you one thing: How long it’s been since an item last sold.
This is a brief look at demystifying Amazon sales rank. Both ignoring and being a slave to sales rank will hurt you as an Amazon seller. Print the charts, study them, then read the feedback (as expressed in your Amazon sales) to know what rank works for each category.
Endnote I: To oversell my point, four weeks ago I sent in a shipment of 110 books (salvaged from a university library dumpster) with an average sales rank of 4 million (only four were ranked better than 2 million). From this shipment, I’ve sold four books in four weeks – books that most sellers will tell you “will never sell.”
Endnote II: One places to learn more about Amazon sales rank: I dedicate an entire section to decoding sales rank in my massive Amazon bookseller video training, Amazon Altitude.