I track the sales rank of a book after a single sale, and am floored by the results.
I’ve mentioned before that one of my side businesses is publishing. I have about 10 titles in print, most of which are very “long tail” books that sell steadily but slowly. Cumulatively, they bring me in decent supplemental revenue every month. I have a couple of titles, however, that almost never sell.
One of them is a title I actually thought would do well when I first published it. We’ll just say it was targeted to the “computer hacker” niche. I couldn’t have been more wrong about this one. The book sold a single copy the day after going live on Amazon – and never sold another copy since.
What this book didn’t make me in revenue , it made up for in a very valuable (and unexpected) lesson in Amazon Sales Rank. Specifically, how quickly the sales rank of a book can plummet. I offer this lesson to you for one important reason: So you never use sales rank alone as the basis for any assumption about how quickly a book will sell.
There are factors you can look at that will indicate a book will “never sell.” Yet sales rank is just one part of this.
Here’s what happened when I watched this book sell a single copy:
It was published on November 15th, and sold a single copy the next day, bringing its rank to approximately 100,000. Then (as I said), it never sold another copy.
Here’s the kicker: Today, just over 3 months later, the book is ranked 6.5 million. It went from 100,000 to 6.5 million in three months.
Keep in mind the worst rank a book can possibly have is around 13 million (as of this writing). Also keep in mind a rank of 6 million is considered atrocious by nearly everyone (including me, although this is a position I’m now reconsidering), and almost no booksellers will touch a book like this. But 3 months isn’t that long ago.
When I noticed this books’ sales rank the other day, I was totally floored that a book could go from a sale to 6 million in only 3 months.
A second example, with a different lesson
Its clear that Amazon does take into account the sales history of an item when calculating sales rank, as this next example shows.
In mid-August (6 months ago), I purchased a book when it was ranked 400,000. It had just sold a copy at $200 (according to CamelCamelCamel.com). I had the only copy on Amazon (and still do), and I priced the book at $499.95. The book hasn’t sold in those 6 months. And the book is currently ranked 3.5 million.
How could a book that sold 6 months ago be ranked 3.5 million, yet a book that sold 3 months ago be ranked 6.5 million? The answer is pretty simple: Amazon’s algorithm factors in past sales history of an item. After a single sale, the rank for some items rise upwards more slowly than others. The book that has sold one copy in its history will drift upwards much more quickly than a book that has sold two copies a year for 10 years.
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