Today’s post will be part one of a two-part series on sales rank. In part one, we will explain what sales rank is, how to interpret it over time, and where you can find relevant sales rank information. In part two, I will share actual sales rank metrics from my own book business and share my personal rules that I use when I source books.
But first, a word of wisdom regarding sales rank from the esteemed philosopher Inigo Montoya:The truth is, most people have an improper understanding of sales rank. What’s worse, what they believe about sales rank can have huge (often negative) implications on their business. How often have you heard “experts” say something along the lines of “don’t buy anything with a sales rank of more than one million”? Many of you likely subscribe to the same philosophy. But WHY do you believe that? Have you ever tried to uncover what sales rank really means? Let’s peel back the layers of sales rank together in today’s post.
What does sales rank actually mean? Let’s start with the basic definition of sales rank. Most people think it’s a way to measure how popular a book is over a broad period of time. In reality, sales rank is a simple measure of how long it has been since that book last sold. That’s all there is to it! Sales ranks are updated every hour, and every book that has sold a copy in the past hour gets their sales rank updated to reflect their new standing amongst all the other books currently on Amazon. In a typical hour, roughly 100k-200k books sell at least one copy. How do I know this? Allow me to show you an example:The date range is on the bottom of the chart and sales rank is on the left side. Every spike in the sales rank indicates a sale of that title. Each spike jumps up to somewhere in the 100k-200k range, depending on how many other books sold a copy that particular hour. I’d like to draw your attention to how quickly the sales rank slips down to the one million range after a sale. It typically only takes five days for a book to hit the one million rank! When you’re sourcing books and find a book ranked 1.2 million, that means it last sold less than a week ago. If your current strategy tells you to put that book back on the shelf, you may want to rethink your sales rank rules. Or feel free to leave it on the shelf for me to find later…
The 100k guideline: Based on the information above, I view a book with a rank of 200k as being roughly equivalent to a book with a rank of 1.2MM. Why? The former sold a few hours ago and the latter sold a few days ago. They both have recent demand, and both are likely to sell again in the near future. Unless you look at a sales rank over time, don’t trick yourself into believing that one book is more likely to sell than the other. When ranks dip well below the 100k tidemark, that’s where I start to perk up. That book has sold MULTIPLE copies in the past hour, and is likely to have much higher demand overall. This means that I can price that book higher than I normally would and have a reasonable chance of selling it at that price in the near future. Cha-ching!
Where to find sales rank: Nearly every scanning app has sales rank on the first page, along with pricing information. If you use the free Amazon Seller app, you can see rank in the top left corner:A rank of 3,653 in books is a great one – this book likely sold a few dozen copies in the past hour. To top it off, there are no Prime offers, so if you stumble across this copy in a thrift store be sure to snag it!
The potential dangers of using sales rank alone: Sales ranks are merely a snapshot in time. Remember, it’s only a measure of how recently that book has sold, nothing more. For more accurate information, you will need to look up historical sales ranks to see what the actual demand for that particular title has been over time. My two favorite sites for looking at historical sales ranks are camelcamelcamel.com and keepa.com. Most dedicated scanning apps will have quick links that take you to those websites to let you look at the sales rank charts. If a book is ranked 500k and has consistently sold a copy or two every week for the past few weeks, I feel great about adding that book to my inventory. If another book is also ranked 500k but the only copy it has sold in the past six months was two days ago, I may think twice before I purchase that title. This is a great example of why sales rank can be misleading. Based on sales rank alone, I would have mistakenly thought that those two books were identical, when in reality one is much more likely to sell again than its counterpart. When in doubt, pull up a historical sales rank chart and use that to make your purchasing decisions.
Author’s note: I’m toying with the idea of creating a downloadable book database that will show historical sales data without clicking through to view complex charts on other websites. If you would find that data valuable to your purchasing decisions, would you take 45 seconds to fill out a quick survey? Be sure to include your email address in the survey so I can keep you informed as the project develops. If you have any great ideas you’d like to see in a future app or piece of software, I’d love to hear your thoughts! Please let me know by emailing me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
So there you have it… the real meaning of sales rank. Hopefully the concept is no longer “inconceivable” for you! (Sorry, couldn’t resist one more Princess Bride reference…)A glimpse into the future: Have you ever wondered what percentage of your books with a certain sales rank are likely to sell? Would that help you make better purchasing decisions when you run across a book with a rank of 2.5MM? Tune in next week as I share those metrics from my own business and give you the tools to build your own purchasing strategy.
Remember… if it ain’t broke, flip it! As always, if you have comments or questions, please drop me a line in the comment section below. I’d love to hear where you are in your bookselling journey!