What I learned analyzing dozens of DVDs and VHS, on a mission to reverse-engineer sales rank for videos.
In this article:
- An overview of sales rank for
Amazon‘s video category.
- The top 10 things to know about sales rank for DVDs and VHS
My DVD sales rank experiment
Through a ton of observation and a little research, I understand sales rank for books. I never understood DVDs.
But after my recent VHS heist, I decided I should act like a professional and figure out how to interpret sales rank for DVD and VHS.
The average rank for that haul 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? I had no idea.
I make too much money off this stuff to not know
I do decent business in DVDs and VHS. 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.)
Sales rank for dummies
Sales rank in any category is the best figure we have to estimate the big question facing every
How long until this item will sell?
Of course 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, which 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 and CamelCamelCamel), we get even more useful data: Like average sales rank over a given time period, seasonal sales rank history, and highest/lowest rank over several years.
But wait, aren’t DVDs a restricted category?
For newer sellers, they are. But if you sold even a single DVD before September 2014, you should be approved.
(I go into more detail on who can and cannot sell DVDs, and what kinds, in my article: “What’s the deal with selling DVDs on Amazon?” I clear up a lot of misconceptions about DVDs.)
On the flip side, many people can sell DVDs who don’t know they can 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
This shows you every category you’re approved to sell in.
I dug into the data to bring you this guide to
Here are the bigger takeaways:
- Sales rank for DVDs is very different than that for books.
- The “good” sales ranks are better than I thought, and the “bad” were worse.
- 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.)
- When a DVD sells, its 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 a 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.
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. Does that make sense?
There’s just a lot more activity in that top 10%, leading to a greater deviation in sales rank when one sells.
- How far up 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.
- How far up a DVD 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
- 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 sales rank history for dozens of DVDs, this figure applied to the majority.
Personally, I had previously believed a rank of 150,000 was a lot worse than this. (Note I did see DVDs ranked 150k that had sold two weeks ago. I’ll repeat: Huge deviation.) Overall, I found this encouraging for DVDs with a 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 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 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 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 a 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 a sales rank worse than 250,000. It’s fairly uncommon to find any DVD ranked worse than 250,000.
See this next bullet for a powerful illustration…
- A DVD can reach a rank lf 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.
- In my research, 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, 200,000 shouldn’t be discouraging.
Remember that few DVDs have truly “low” demand. So almost any DVD will sell at least “now and then.” And if its ranked 200,000, it could have sold as recently as 12 days ago. So that “bad” 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 sales.
- Most of what’s ranked 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 ranked better than 250,000
- It’s uncommon to find a DVD ranked 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 now 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.
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.
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
Most DVDs seem to be ranked better than 200,000, which translates to most DVDs selling 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 – 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 sales that don’t always come this year.
- Most DVDs will sell pretty fast.
- Most VHS tapes will sell eventually but not anytime soon.
- A rank better than 100,000 is much better than I thought.
- A rank of 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…