What I Discovered about the Amazon Ranking System

Amazon-sales-rankIn case you’ve been living under a bridge for the last week with no local unlocked wireless internet access to steal, I released my new speculative fiction novel entitled Silverbirch; A Tear in the Fabric of the Night Sky on Halloween.

But before I released it, I wrote a letter to my mail list and friends on my Facebook account. In case you missed it, this is what I asked them.

For those who can’t be bothered reading the full post again, basically I whined and moaned about how it took me three years to write my masterpiece, and then I begged each and every one of them to browse the first five chapters, or listen to the “myric” (podcast) on iTunes by searching for Silverbirch.

IF THEY LIKED the Silverbirch chapter samples, I then asked them to head over to Amazon.com and purchase the novel, simultaneously on the exact same day.

I designated Wednesday 4th November as international “Silverbirch Paperback Guinea Pig Project” day.

So. What was the point of this zany idea, you ask?

I wanted to see how many people it would take in one single day to make a dent on the Amazon.com rating system, and figure out if that dent would have an on-going-mass-buying-ripple-effect.

I promised everyone I would let them know how it went, so here I am, true to my word, with the mathematics behind it all.

The Silverbirch Paperback Guinea Pig Project Results
***********************************************************
My mail list has 858 subscribers.
My facebook friend count is sitting at 187 bestest, bestest friends.
That’s 1045 “guinea pigs” (hey, they were all made aware that they were going to be guinea pigs, so please calm down.)

I sent a call-to-arms letter out to all these subscribers last Wednesday at 12 p.m. Melbourne Time, and asked all of my little guinea pigs to please scurry over to Amazon.com and purchase my book! (Again, only if they had first sampled it and liked it.)

Now. Before I go any further, I want to fill you in on some background mathematics in relation to the Amazon.com website. According to Morris Rosenthal’s research (http://www.fonerbooks.com/surfing.htm) Amazon has sold more than 7.5 Million unique titles as of March 2009, and a book must at least sell one copy a year to remain above a rank of 2 Million. Also, ranking positions are calculated hourly.

So. Without further adieu… here’s what happened.

At 2 p.m. I was ranked at #967
At 4 p.m. I was ranked at #1356
At 8 p.m. I was ranked at #3520
And on the following night I was ranked #6534
And five days later, as I type this blog, I am ranked #238791

So.

I bet you want to know how many books I sold around 2 p.m, right?

Well. I don’t exactly know. Because I won’t get that information from my distributors until the end of the month… But going by the number of clicks the “purchase” link had in the letter I sent out, and the number of emails I received from lovely guinea pigs who had bought my book (I asked people to email me once they bought it), I can estimate I sold around 60-70 books around 2 p.m. and then possibly another 10-20 books by 4 p.m.

To summarize, 1045 people were sent the letter, and roughly 80 books were purchased by them on one given day from Amazon.com.
That means 7.6% of my audience checked out the sample chapters and felt compelled to support my independent cause and buy my novel.

And, although I was initially aiming for the top 100, I am absolutely stoked with the outcome of making the top 1000.

Also, another bit of relative information. In the Science Fiction/Fantasy Top 100 genre of Amazon.com on Wednesday, the book that was ranked #100 in that genre was actually ranked #798 overall. So we were perhaps only about 10 books off making the Top 100 for the Science Fiction/Fantasy genre!

Okay. I’ll calm down now.

So why am I passing on this information and what can an author do with it?

I’m passing on this information because we’re living in a different world than we were a few years ago. Major corporations have always spoon-fed the majority of people the information on which books they should buy and what music they should listen to. They have been the “filter-system”. Those days are over, or at least, numbered. Especially considering the way today’s youth have become accustomed to receiving everything digitally, wirelessly and on demand, from each other. They only trust a “good thing” if their mate tells them so, and I believe this is the best system.

I’m passing on this information because we (as creators) have all been thrown into the deep-end of this new form of instant digital distribution and nobody really knows what the greatest way of promoting their masterpiece is, so we may as well work together, trial-and-error style. That being said, I am (and always have been) an avid believer that no matter how people find art (be it music, writing, illustration, painting or performance), if the quality is outstanding and enough people can actually connect with its hidden message, it will become popular. Simple as that.

But what can an author actually do with this little bit of information I’ve gathered from my guinea pig project?

Well, for starters, before you launch your next book, you can concentrate on building a mail list of at least 1000 people who are interested in what you’re doing. Then, when the book is being launched, you can ask your faithful followers to check out samples of your work, and, if they like it, they can and will go and support you by simultaneously purchasing it on the same day from the same store. Keep in mind, I used Amazon for my guinea pig project, but you might like to use a different store. Whatever store you use, if your “guinea pigs” (and I use this term in the nicest possible way) like your product enough, maybe you’ll do a whole lot better than my 7.6% conversion and get a higher ranking on the store chart, which will cause more exposure to other readers of the site, and possibly more sales… And more importantly, more connections.

And for me, connections is what art is all about.

When I write a novel, I’m not just writing a simple story about how one character meets another and they end up falling in love, or they end up solving a murder, or they stumble across a bunch of magical pages that reveal what happens to you after you die… I’m pouring my soul out on to the page and I’m figuring things out about myself I didn’t even know were buried inside. I’m not leading the story, the story is leading me. And I’m giving away secrets about my own personality, and I’m suggesting how I would handle particular situations. And then there’s an audience reading my book. And the audience is wondering how they would handle particular situations. And we’re all connecting, one-on-one. In a noisy airport terminal. In a plane. In a bus. At a train station. And I’m offering a generalized opinion of how I currently see the world, and where I think we’re all heading, through the subtext of the story, and the reader is drawing their own conclusions.

Subtext is the best form of communication, in my eyes, and that’s how you can tell a really good novel from a bad one.

I believe, as an author, you can’t just tell the reader what to think. You have to grant them access to all the necessary information and let them come up with the conclusion on their own. And if they come up with the same unwritten conclusion as you, the author, all on their own, then you’ve just bloody connected, in a really deep and awesome way.

So, there you go. If you’re a young, newbie, independent author (just like me!!), and you’re drawing nearer to releasing your first novel, take a leaf out of my book and aim on getting 1000 people on your mail list (or social networking website) first. Then ask them to try before they buy. Then ask them all to simultaneously buy your book at the same time. And then… if what you’ve written is true-quality, they’ll tell other people and you’ll have many more connections. And you’ll want to write another book for them.

I don’t think my “guinea pig project” concept will make an independent author an overnight success, but it’s a great first step that’s realistic for a new author to aim for, don’t you think?

Robkaay is the author of Silverbirch; A Tear in the Fabric of the Night Sky. He blogs at http://createeveryday.robkaay.com and you can read sample chapters of his Silverbirch novel at http://silverbirch.robkaay.com.

2 Responses to What I Discovered about the Amazon Ranking System
  1. Matt Andrews
    December 10, 2011 | 11:26 pm

    Great article here. Thanks for the info. I’m an author myself in the “business > real estate investing” category.

    Question – Do customer reviews mean anything in the ranking system?

  2. Cathy B Stucker
    December 10, 2011 | 11:40 pm

    The reviews probably have no influence on the ranking system (that appears to be sales driven only), but they do have an effect on customers. Having good reviews can definitely help sell more books–and selling more books will help the book’s ranking. Thanks for the comment and the question!