What I learned analyzing dozens of DVDs and VHS, on a mission to reverse-engineer Amazon sales rank for movies.
My DVD sales rank experiment
It took me years to understand Amazon sales rank for the books category. But I’ve never understood sales rank for DVDs.
But after a recent VHS heist (where I dumpster dived dozens of high-value VHS tapes) I decided I should act like a professional and figure out how to interpret sales rank for DVD and VHS.
The average sales rank for the haul in that story was almost 400,000. Was that good? Bad? What I can I read into this number to estimate how long its been since a VHS tape ranked 400,000 last sold on Amazon? I had no idea.
It’s insane that I never understood sales rank for DVDs
I make too much money off DVDs and VHS to not know. I’ve made purchases of up to several thousand DVDs at once. So I stand to make (or lose) a lot of money from not understanding DVD sales rank. Yet it took me this long to sit down and figure it out (I should be embarrassed, but I’m not.)
Amazon Sales rank for dummies
Amazon sales rank in any category is the best figure we have to estimate the big question facing every Amazon seller:
How long until this item will sell?
Of course Amazon sales rank won’t reveal this. It’s not a crystal ball.
What it does do is offer the best data point we have to get us close to an estimation of an item’s overall demand. This in turn indicates either that an item may sell quickly, or that we may sit on it for a while (as long as the margins are good, I’m fine with either one).
And when we go deeper into this number (using tools like Keepa), we get even more useful data: Like average Amazon sales rank over a given time period, seasonal sales rank history, and highest/lowest rank over several years.
Are you allowed to sell DVDs?
If you’re not sure, you can find out at this link:
https://sellercentral.amazon.com/hz/myqdashboard (Must be logged in to Amazon to view)
This shows you every category you’re approved to sell in.
My Amazon DVD sales rank analysis
I dug into the data to bring you this guide to Amazon sales rank for DVDs. It took many hours, but it was totally worth it. Because for me, there were some surprises.
Some takeaways for me:
- Sales rank for DVDs is very different than sales rank for books.
- The “good” sales ranks translates to more sales than I thought, and the “bad” rank means fewer sales than I thought.
- There are few DVDs that have a “bad” sales rank, and few VHS with a “good” sales rank.
And lots more. Let’s get into what I learned.
(Note: I’ll often use “DVDs” as a general term for the entire video category, which includes many VHS and streaming titles.)
10 things I learned about Amazon sales rank
When a DVD sells, its sales rank will jump to anywhere between 30,000 to 80,000.
That’s a pretty big range. Much bigger than books, which jumps to around 180,000 after one Amazon sale. While that number can vary greatly in books as well, percentage-wise, the range is not nearly as broad as with DVDs
In fact, the range is massively greater. Consider that a deviation of 50,000 has about 15 times the significance as the same deviation as books – i.e. there are about 15x more books than videos. So a gap of 50,000 (30k to 80k) is a much bigger swing, relatively speaking.
How can this be? My theory is that there is much more volatility in the top 10% of DVDs than the top 10% of books. This point will become even more relevant in just a moment, so its worth understanding…
By “volatility,” I mean that the top 10% in DVDs sell more often than the top 10% in books. A higher percentage of overall sales are stacked up in that “fat” end of the demand tail than in books.
To put in more layman terms:
There are a much greater percentage of DVDs that have steady demand than there are books that have steady demand.
And there are fewer DVDs relative to the demand for the demand for DVDs than there are books relative to the demand for books. I.e. there’s a lot more demand spread across a lot fewer items.
There’s just a lot more activity in that top 10%, leading to a greater deviation in sales rank when a single copy sells.
How far up sales rank for a DVD goes after a single sale depends heavily on its overall history.
Inconclusive, but the evidence suggests this.
A DVD that has steady demand seems to jump to a higher number after a single sale than, say, a DVD that only sells one copy a year.
Amazon appears to factor in sales rank history to a DVD’s sales rank.
How far up a DVDs sales rank goes after a single sale also depends on how many DVD sales there were that day.
A more obvious but still often overlooked point.
If somehow no DVDs sold anywhere on Amazon for a single day, and you bought an obscure silent B&W German art film DVD, that weird DVD that almost no one wants would be ranked #1.
As a rule of thumb, a DVD ranked 150,000 sold about 5 to 7 days ago.
Again, there’s a lot of deviation here. But after looking at Amazon sales rank history for dozens of DVDs, this figure applied to the majority.
Personally, I had previously believed a sales rank of 150,000 was a lot worse than this. (Note I did see DVDs ranked 150k that had sold on Amazon two weeks ago. I’ll repeat: Huge deviation.) Overall, I found this encouraging for DVDs with a sales rank I had previous thought was “bad”.
There are a greater percentage of DVDs that have a strong, steady demand than in many other categories (including Books).
This point made earlier deserves its own bullet point, because it’s important.
The top 10% of books that have sold a copy on Amazon is roughly 1.6 million. How long ago did a book ranked 1.6 million sell? The numbers are murky, but we can put it in range of 2 weeks.
The top 10% of DVDs that have sold a copy on Amazon is roughly 95,000. How long ago did a DVD ranked 90,000 sell? It could have literally been yesterday.
This is very significant.
One result of this is that the worse the Amazon sales rank (i.e. the higher the number), the more slowly the number climbs.
This was the biggest surprise of my research. I had no idea how bad an Amazon sales rank of, say, 300,000 really was in DVDs and VHS.
The answer is: Pretty bad.
This is relevant to all “long tail” titles, of which there are many more VHS than DVD. Most VHS tapes have an Amazon sales rank worse than 250,000. It’s fairly uncommon to find any DVD on Amazon ranked worse than 250,000.
See this next bullet for a powerful illustration…
A DVD can reach a sales rank of 150,000 after selling 5 days ago. Yet a DVD can take an entire year to go from 300,000 to 375,000.
This gets back to how there’s all that activity in the top 10% again. It makes the DVDs at the high end of the demand curve very high demand. And it makes the ones further down that much worse – and exponentially worse the further down you go.
A DVD ranked 200,000 could have sold as recently as 12 days ago.
That’s the best case scenario I found. Usually it’s been significantly longer. But 12 days ago isn’t that long.
And as we just covered, if the item you’re looking at is a DVD, a sales rank of 200,000 shouldn’t be discouraging.
Remember that few DVDs have truly “low” demand on Amazon. So almost any DVD will sell at least “now and then.” And if it has an Amazon sales rank of 200,000, it could have sold as recently as 12 days ago. So that “bad” sales rank isn’t too bad in the bigger picture. “Bad” in the context of the video category, but not had in terms of what it will mean for potential Amazon sales.
Most of what has an Amazons sales rank worse than 250,000 appears to be VHS.
There’s no way to conclusively dig into the numbers here, but I know two things from picking up and scanning tens of thousands of DVDs and VHS:
- It’s uncommon to find a VHS tape with a sales rank better than 250,000
- It’s uncommon to find a DVD with a sales rank worse than 250,000
Obviously there’s tons of each format on either side of this, but these are the strong trends.
As a seller wanting to know when your inventory is going to turn over, all of this is extremely encouraging for DVDs, and (frankly) discouraging for most VHS.
I consider any DVD with an average sales rank of 100,000 or better as a “high demand” item.
DVDs consistently ranked better than 100,000 will sell, fast.
Finally, Amazon sales rank for DVDs makes sense
When I began meditating on what I’ve learned from this analysis, it started to make sense.
Try this experiment: Think of a film, any film. Don’t think Hollywood either. Think of the most obscure documentary you’ve seen lately. Whatever you want.
Now ask yourself:
“Can I imagine, over the next two weeks, not a single one of the 300 million people in this country will purchase a single copy of this film?”
You might have really random tastes, and you answered “yes”. There are plenty of films that really are this obscure.
But the answer was probably “no.” There aren’t many films that don’t have steady demand on Amazon.
Books are a totally different story. When you’re out sourcing, ask this same question with each book you pick up.
When I did this, the numbers completely flipped: I can’t imagine anyone reading ever reading most books I pick up. Not one person every two weeks, not one person ever.
The results of this (unscientific) experiment bear out in Amazon sales rank
Most DVDs seem to be ranked better than 200,000, which translates to most DVDs selling on Amazon at least semi-regularly.
And VHS… You might sit on those for a while. Or in the case of my recent dumpster haul with an average rank of 400,000 – they might not sell for years.
But I’ve sold more than a few VHS tapes for $50 and up that were ranked worse than 500,000 when I bought them. So there’ still money at the tail end of the demand curve – and also a lot of waiting around for Amazon sales that don’t always come this year.
- Most DVDs will sell on Amazon pretty fast.
- Most VHS tapes will sell on Amazon eventually but not anytime soon.
- For movies, an Amazon sales rank better than 100,000 is much better than I thought.
- An Amazon sales rank worse than 250,000 is much worse than I thought.
My approach? Sell it all and let the high-demand DVDs carry the weight for the slower-selling VHS.
And it will all sell eventually…