Going beyond Amazon Sales Rank: How to tell what books sell on Amazon with a 3-part test
Setting the record straight: reselling low-demand books on Amazon
I’ve done a lot of writing on the profits to be made selling books with a bad Amazon sales rank that other Amazon sellers miss.
Unfortunately, my message on reselling low-demand books seems to be misunderstood more often than not. So this is an article to set the record straight. Here’s the main message:
There are 1 million+ ranked books on Amazon that will sell, and 1 million+ books that won’t.
This article is is about how you tell the difference, in a simple 3-part test. A test that reveals what books sell on Amazon, vs what books are merely obsolete.
Amazon sellers misunderstand Amazon Sales Rank (and suffer for it)
After writing about investing in books that aren’t exactly high-demand, I’ve received a lot of misguided messages from Amazon sellers that fall in one of two categories:
“Thanks for the advice! I found a Apple IIe manual from 1982 selling for $50 on Amazon! Can’t wait for it to sell!”
“So I followed your advice six months ago, bought a hula hoop exercise guide for $10 that is selling on Amazon for $40, and it hasn’t sold. You were wrong.”
I realized many readers have missed some basic points, and some clarification is in order. So here it is:
The three-part “Obsolescence Filter Test”
(aka how to tell what books sell on Amazon – no matter how bad their Amazon Sales Rank)
First, understand there is such a thing as a poorly-ranked, obsolete, forgotten book that will never sell ever again. Amazon is full of books like this.
This is a four-question test you can apply to any book with an Amazon Sales Rank of 1 million or worse, to determine if this is a book that will sell on Amazon (vs a book that is obsolete).
If any of the following apply, do not bring a book in the 1 million+ sales rank range into your inventory :
1. Does the book have a more recent edition?
This doesn’t just apply to textbooks. There are many books that are revised and updated over the years. If you find a copy of “Rock Hounding in Mississippi, 2nd edition” and it’s going for $30 used, yet you see they’re up to a 5th edition – walk away. It’s not selling.
2. Is the book on a non-esoteric (mainstream) subject AND have 5 or fewer used offers?
This is basic supply-demand economics. You can’t trust an Amazon price when there are 2 or 3 offers, because there isn’t enough competition to get that book down to a price that the market can bear. Often you will see books selling for $50 and up that also only have 1 or 2 competing offers. You can assume books like this have an artificially high price.
Note that this is not the case when the book in question is so esoteric that there is no other book on this planet that can replace it. In that case, the next time someone wants a book on voodoo rituals in southern New Guinea, they have to buy your copy. I’ll have no problem asking $100, even when I’m the only seller on Amazon. The buyers simply don’t have a choice.
3. Is the subject matter of the book obsolete?
That’s great that by some odd glitch in the Amazon ecosystem you found a microwave repair guide from 1984 that is listed at $149, but guess what? It’s not selling. And you shouldn’t need me to tell you that.
If none of these three attributes apply, and your profit margins are good enough, you may have a winner. Even if the book has an Amazon Sales Rank of 5 million.
And if one of these does apply: I apologize for dashing your hopes about that “How to start your own 1-900 number business” guide from 1981 selling for $200, but someone had to do it.