What can Amazon Sales Rank tell you about how often a book is selling? A guide to understanding Sales Rank for books.
Video: How to read Amazon Sales Rank for books
A quick & dirty guide to Sales Rank
Okay, so you know generally what Amazon Sales Rank is. You know it’s a number that roughly measures Amazon sales.
You also know you don’t want your mind cluttered with memorizing a complete breakdown of every sales rank number and how many sales it translates to. You have enough balls to juggle and you just want the basics.
That’s what this article is about.
Defining Amazon Sales Rank
Let’s get a few facts out of the way for the uninitiated…
- Amazon Sales Rank is Amazon’s measure of an item’s demand.
- “Sales Rank” also goes by “Best Seller Rank” or “BSR.”
- It is impossible to translate Sales Rank into an exact number of sales.
- The lower the number, the better an item is selling.
- Every category has it’s own Sales Rank. You can have a #1 bestselling Toy and a #1 bestselling Book, but you cannot have two books with the same sales rank.
- An item with an average Amazon Sales Rank of roughly 150,000 or higher (a higher number) is selling an average of less than 1 copy per day.
Since we know that there is no way to look at a Sales Rank figure and determine exactly how often a book is selling, all we can do with a Sales Rank figure is attempt to get close. Everyone wants exact numbers and zero uncertainty. You don’t get that with Amazon Sales Rank.
Let’s cover an easy broad-strokes guide to Sales Rank for books – one that doesn’t require you to memorize more than a few basic points.
The importance of average Amazon Sales Rank vs current rank
When speaking of Amazon Sales Rank, its problematic to focus on the current rank. Whenever possible, you want to refer to the average Sales Rank.
The reason is this: Current Amazon Sales Rank is just a reflection of the book at that moment, and its sales relative to all other books on Amazon that day (or hour). The current rank says very little about a book’s actual demand (since a book that was ranked 10 million an hour ago could have a Sales Rank of 150,000 right now).
(Sidenote: It’s almost as bad to rely on the “eScore” figure used by a couple tools. If you’re relying on that, read my eScore article immediately).
The solution to this ambiguity is average Amazon Sales Rank. To keep this simple, you’ll find this in two tools:
- Scoutly (scanning app)
- Keepa (browser extension).
Average rank simply averages out Amazon Sales Rank across the last 90/180/365 days, to give a better picture of a book’s demand.
The Eight Categories Of Amazon Sales Rank For Books
This guide provides a simple mental shortcut to interpreting Amazon Sales Rank for books. Once you understand these eight categorizations, you can basically shut off your brain and source inventory with confidence.
Bestsellers: Sales Rank Of 1 To 50,000
Translation: These books are selling multiple copies a day and will sell very fast at almost any price.
A book in this range could be selling anywhere from thousands of copies a day to several. And it doesn’t really matter – as long as you’re not extremely negligent in your pricing (and repricing), you’ll be getting a sale fast at almost any price.
The only way to go wrong with books in this range is to do something outrageously reckless pricing-wise (like price above Amazon’s offer).
I don’t even feel the need to reprice books in this range that often. Almost no matter how you price them and no matter in what condition – you’ll get a fast sale.
Daily Sellers: 50,000 to 150,000 Sales Rank
Translation: These books are selling around 1 or 2 times a day, and will sell fast at any reasonable price.
On average, books in this range are selling more than once a day. I look at these almost identically as books in the first Sales Rank range, with one update: You want to be at least moderately conscious of how you’re pricing these. Even though sales are high and steady, they’re not exactly bestsellers.
But by any measure, books in this Sales Rank range are a sure thing and will sell quickly.
Safe Bets: 150,000 to 500,000 Sales Rank
Translation: These books are selling at least once every few days.
Books in this range can be viewed almost identically as in the previous range. Whether it’s twice a day or twice a week, these books are still selling often.
This is where I get mildly more conscious of the details on my scanning app, my buy cost, and the potential profits. The book is still selling often enough that it’s not likely to make a purchasing mistake, but I’m aware that the book is welll outside of bestseller territory at this point.
Weekly Sellers: 500,000 to 1 million Sales Rank
Translation: These books are selling at least once a week.
With a book selling once a week, there’s room for things to go wrong. These are still high-demand books, but you want to start looking at how many competing offers are for sale around the price you intend to list the book at, and if you would still purchase this book even if the price dropped significantly.
Again: Still high demand, but the sales price starts to become less of a “sure thing” in this range.
Monthly Sellers: 1 to 2 million Sales Rank
Translation: These books are selling at least twice a month.
As an FBA seller, this is where I’m less confident I can give an FBA premium price to the book and still get a sale. When a rank is better than 1 million, I can confidently ignore the Merchant Fulfilled prices and only consider competing FBA offers when making a buying decision.
I stop doing this in the 1 million to 1.2 million range, and instead ask the question: Can I make money off this book even if I matched the lowest Merchant Fulfilled price? Even if the answer is “no,” I might still buy it depending on other factors. But 1 million is where I start to get more reluctant.
The Long Tail: 2 to 4 million Sales Rank
Translation: These books are selling at least every couple of months.
“Long Tail” refers to how the majority of products in any category sell infrequently – appearing as a “long tail” on a sales graph.
These are books you want to purchase if the value is high enough to compensate for the risk. And while the “risk” isn’t risky, a lot can happen when a book is only selling every month or two. The price can plummet. You can neglect repricing and not get a sale. Storage fees can start to become an issue. Etc.
I’m always a buyer for books in this range, but I need to see more than a few dollars profit to buffer me against the (mild) risk.
Wildcards: 4 million Sales Rank and beyond
Translation: You have no idea how often this book is selling and you’re taking your chances.
These books could be selling anywhere from every couple months to every couple years (or more).
Books in this range are absolutely fine to purchase and should not be avoided, but you want to reduce your risks by knowing the numbers. At its most basic, this means:
- Expecting this book will only sell if you match the lowest overall price (pricing higher FBA is a gamble).
- Building the increased risk into your profit margins (allow a buffer for books in this range to either not sell, or the price to plummet while you’re waiting).
- Reviewing the price history on Keepa (I rarely review price history for a book before buying, but books in this range are one exception.)
You’re Literally Gambling: No Amazon Sales Rank
Translation: This book has never sold a single copy on Amazon
Personally, I love books that have never sold a single copy on Amazon. While I rarely buy them, when I do, I usually sell them for big money.
A book that’s never sold on Amazon can either mean it has zero demand (bad), or a pent up demand with zero supply (good).
I’ll asses which of the two is mostly likely to apply (based on the subject matter), and price these at a minimum of $25. Usually $99.
Amazon Sales Rank should never be a reason to not buy a book
If you’re ever passing on a book solely because of the Sale Rank, I would (strongly) argue that is a mistake.
There is profit to be found at any Sales Rank – even with books that have never sold a single copy.
As the demand for a book gets lower, you should apply increasingly stringent criteria that resolves these questions:
- Based on the subject mater, is this book likely to have steady demand (if it the demand is small)?
- Based on the price history, is this book likely to hold it’s value?
- Based on the expected profit, is this book worth having in my inventory for potentially a long time?
Other ways to get a book’s demand besides Amazon Sales Rank
There’s no substitute for a general understanding of Sales Rank, but there’s a couple of alternative options to measure book demand.
Keepa “drops”: Found in the “Sales Rank” column in the “Statistics” tab in Keepa, this is Keepa’s measure of how often the line in the sales rank graph “dropped.” This usually indicates a sale, but it’s not exact.
Scoutly “Sales Score”: This is Scoutly’s estimate of how many sales an item has had in the last 180 days. While this is also not likely to be exact, it its confirmed as being much more accurate than ScoutIQ’s “eScore” figure.
Interpreting Sales Rank just got a lot easier
Take a minute to memorize this list, and your sourcing decisions will get massively easier.
I think one big mistake that FBA sellers make is assuming that a book’s average rank or its sales velocity only represents Prime offers; whereas, it actually represents ALL offers of that book on Amazon. So, if a book is selling one copy per week, for example, that’s one copy per week from the total combination of Merchant Used/New, FBA Used/New, and Amazon’s offer. And if Amazon happens to have several hundred copies in stock then that means that only one copy per week is selling from an inventory of several hundred or a thousand copies of that book. I think that if there were an average rank stat that took ONLY USED FBA offers into account then nearly every book would have a much higher (worse) average rank than it currently does.
Peter Valley says
Absolutely true. Some sellers melt down when they learn that rank encompasses *all* sales. That includes Amazon’s offer, which may get the majority of sales (who knows).
Just thinking out loud here, but I’m wondering if not considering FBM offers under a rank of 1M is the best way to go about pricing in relation to rank. I find that I have a lot of books that have a great average rank (under 500K for example), but that even when I’m the lowest Prime or matched to the lowest Prime, these books still sit forever and don’t sell; the reason being that all the Merchant offers are one half or a third of those Prime offers. This tells me that most buyers are going for those cheap Merchant offers, regardless of the rank. I think the only way to mitigate this tendency is to buy books with much higher minimum Merchant offers; high enough so that even when (not if) the Prime offers go down to within a few cents of those offers, there’s still profit there. The only problem is that it can take much longer to find even a box full of these kind of books.