Sales Rank Example 1

Demystifying Amazon’s Sales Rank for Books

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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:Sales RankThe 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:Screen Shot 2015-08-28 at 10.46.53 AMThe 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:Amazon Seller AppA 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 thebookflipper@gmail.com.

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…)InconceivableA 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!

 

23 Comments

  1. First, Princess Bride references mean you rock!
    Thanks for the blog on sales rank. I agree in a perfect world, it would be great do do an in depth look at sales rank data, but in my real world, I really find I don’t have time for extra clicks to CCC. At book sales it’s scan fast or be crushed. I am looking forward to your next blog on sales rank though.

    • It’s definitely one of the best movies out there! Do you think having the number of sales in the past 1/3/6 months on the main screen would be helpful? You could easily see if that 1.2MM ranked book has sold 2 times in the past 6 months or 18 times. That’s the goal with my scanning app. Time really is money, especially when the competition is fierce!

      • Caleb, any extra info to make a fast but intelligent buying decisions would be awesome! It can be brutal at some sales and sometimes you get lucky and only one there. Last weekend I went to a sale and 15 people were in line, but none turned out to be sellers. It was crazy. I picked up 64 books for $24.50. I sold a book yesterday from that sale for $35, so basically the other 63 books are all gravy now. Thanks so much for your blog and any help you can give at any time.

      • yes! It would be awesome!

  2. Great post. Lots of good information, looking forward to part two. One area I have never seen addressed is grading the book once you buy it. Is there a price advantage in “like new” versus “very good”, etc. Can you ever sell a used book as new? Do you ever receive complaints because the buyer disagrees with the condition? Appreciate your thoughts.

    • There is sometimes a price advantage in better quality books. I go back and check my recent sales and buyers will often skip “acceptable” copies of a book to buy mine. I’m not sure if there’s much of a difference between G and VG though. I do my best to under-grade the books and over-deliver on value, and more often than not my customers are thrilled the book more than meets their expectations. You shouldn’t sell a used book as new since it will get a bit dinged up in the mail anyway, and in my own opinion you’re opening yourself up for bad feedback – and possible trouble with Amazon if you can’t prove that it was new.

  3. Great post, Caleb! I’m looking forward to your next blog post. I can tell I’m going to learn a lot from you. Thanks for being willing to share your information. Also, I’m glad to hear that you are considering the creation of new app choices for FBA sellers.

  4. New to selling books on Amazon (relatively). That information was priceless. Thank you so much.

  5. from Calebs post; ” You shouldn’t sell a used book as new since it will get a bit dinged up in the mail, and in my own opinion you’re opening yourself up for bad feedback ” Me: I am an old school bookseller. If my book is ‘ bit dinged up’ there is no way I would ever consider selling it as new. as Caleb notes, if you decide to push the envelope, you are taking a FB risk. To continue my old school seller point, I take responsibility for preserving the excellent book condition by preserving it from USPS manhandling and FC tossing it. I don’t subscribe to the ‘ well, the USPS banged it up , or the FC plays rough with the book ‘.

  6. Very helpful information on sales ranks! Thanks!

  7. Caleb, if you got a ton of books in good condition more or less free, would you list them, regardless of sales history? Thx

    • Not at all. If the book was ranked 10 million and was selling Prime for $4, I would donate it to Goodwill. I don’t want duds eating into my inventory storage limits. If the prices are decent and the subject is timeless, I may take a chance and throw it into my inventory.

  8. What’s the best way to promote or market my book to get it back down to the lower numbers, or have people buy my book.

  9. Hi Caleb, I am a new seller and would like to incorporate books into my product mix. I’m solid on sourcing strategy and sales rank, but I need guidance on buy / pricing / competition analysis.

    Should I only be pricing as the low used fba? How much consideration do I need to give the MF used / new offers? Is it worth picking up a book if mega sellers have dropped it to $4.00 on FBA, MF or both? I’m interested in learning as much as possible on this topic.

    I

    • Hey John – those are great questions. Everyone has their own pricing “rules”, and there is no perfect way to price your books. In general, if you’re selling FBA, you should consider other FBA offers as your main competitors. Prime customers will be looking for FBA offers, but they won’t always ignore the MF prices. If there are MF offers starting at $1.00, they aren’t likely to pay $99 for your copy. But they are likely to pay $19 or $29, or even higher if it’s a textbook or a book that someone needs quickly. I know many sellers who like to price their FBA offers just under the lowest new MF price. At the end of the day, you’ll need to play around with your pricing, watch what works and what doesn’t work, and develop your own “rules” to guide you moving forward. Price too high, and your items will take a long time to sell (if at all). Price too low, and you’ll leave money on the table. As long as you understand those risks, you can price efficiently. Great questions!

  10. Iam a new FBA seller in books.Ilove textbooks ,but which textbooks sell best, I mean,courses,subjects,and secondly,how long ago from the current edition? As you rightly pointed out in one of your blogs,the editions come and go fast,and you may not be profitable buying current edition in the store for resale.Please,which subjects are more affected with time than others,and also which are not.Ilove what you are doing,for Ihve no other blog site that concentrates on books.VERY GOOD JOB.Please advise.

    • The sales rank history (Camel or Keepa) is your best tool for learning which books are still relevant. As a general rule, subjects that change often will lose value faster than other subjects. Math, history, and science tend to pass the test of time. Nursing and other medical subjects change often.

  11. ReallyGreat post! Your blog has helped me a lot and solved my problem. Thanks for sharing information about Amazon sales rank. Visit https://bsrmarketing.com/

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