I’ve been trying to monitor the relationship between my books’ number of sales each day at Amazon.com, their rank in the Kindle Store, and their level in its ‘Hot New Releases’ and ‘Best Sellers’ rankings. (The former lists best-selling books published during the previous 30 days, the latter all books in a genre or category irrespective of publication date.) To my surprise, the various numbers don’t always correlate. Some of what I’m going to say here may seem simple, even intuitive, but I hadn’t thought about these things in detail before. I hope this discussion will help other authors who are trying to understand their own sales figures.
First, let’s consider a book’s sales per day compared to its rank in the Kindle Store. I’ve found that if a book drops in rank, its sales don’t necessarily drop as well – in fact, they may increase! For example, the day before I wrote these words, my latest novel ‘War to the Knife’ dropped more than 400 positions (from the mid-1,400’s to the mid-1,800’s) in the Kindle Store sales rankings; yet it sold more copies that day than it had the day before. Clearly, sales rank doesn’t depend only on how many copies of your book were sold, but also (and perhaps more importantly) on how many copies of other books were sold. If books in other genres or categories spike upward or downward in sales, it can lower or raise your book’s Kindle Store rank, sometimes substantially, even though its own sales are maintaining a level.
Second, there’s a book’s position relative to its competitors in a given genre or category. I’ve taken the two days before writing these words as an example. On the first day ‘War to the Knife’ was ranked 7th in Amazon.com’s Kindle Store ‘Hot New Releases in Military Science Fiction’ list, and 10th in its ‘Hot New Releases in Space Opera Science Fiction’ list. The following day (when its sales rank dropped over 400 places, as noted above) it climbed to 5th in the former list and 8th in the latter. Clearly, its declining overall sales rank had nothing to do with its sales rank within its genres. The same effect was visible in Amazon’s Kindle Store ‘Best Sellers in Military Science Fiction’ and ‘Best Sellers in Space Opera Science Fiction’ lists. In both ‘Best Seller’ categories my novel climbed two places over the two-day period in question. (At the time of writing it’s 19th on both lists.)
It’s been my experience that one’s position in the ‘Hot New Releases’ lists is critical to early sales success. If one’s ‘true fans’ or ‘core readers’ buy enough copies of a book during its first day or two on the market that it gets into those lists (and particularly onto the front page of the list, which shows the top 20 new releases in the genre) that’s a real boost to its visibility. A lot of Amazon.com customers appear to browse the ‘Hot New Releases’ lists in search of reading material. If a book stands out there, it’s likely to achieve decent sales during its first month on the market.
That’s where I find my blog to be a critical, indispensable sales tool. I can announce a book launch there knowing that my core readership will go to Amazon.com and buy a copy, thereby boosting its position in the sales rankings almost immediately. Apart from the first novel, which took two days to chart, every one of my books has hit the top 20 (i.e. the front page) in its ‘Hot New Releases’ genre lists within the first 24 hours after publication. That’s what cultivating a ‘fan base’ can do for you.
It’s been my experience on Amazon.com that after 30 days, when a title drops off the ‘Hot New Releases’ lists, its sales decline more quickly. Of the total number of copies of each book sold during the first 6 months after publication, I’ve learned to expect between a quarter and a third of them during the first 30 days. The rest follow more slowly as sales drop off. (A lot depends on the frequency with which you publish. If you launch another book within 3 to 4 months of the first, the former improves the latter’s sales. If you don’t, the latter’s sales decline further and faster, in my experience – but they still pick up again, albeit from a lower base, when your next book comes out.)
Two factors have influenced sales of my latest book in ways I hadn’t previously experienced. It’s the first in a new trilogy rather than a continuation of my earlier (and ongoing) series, the Maxwell Saga. I’d read articles on forums (and been warned by my wife, who studies the statistics on these things more closely than I do) that the first book in a new series always sells more slowly than another book in an established series. I’ve certainly noticed that with ‘War to the Knife’. Another factor is that book sales in general are reputed to be slower during the summer months, because people are allegedly devoting their dollars to vacation expenses and other forms of entertainment instead of reading. Again, this appears to be borne out by sales of my most recent book.
While the third volume in the Maxwell Saga, ‘Adapt and Overcome’, notched up just over 3,000 sales during its first 30 days on the market after being launched in early February 2014, ‘War to the Knife’ has sold just over 2,000 copies during its 30-day post-launch period. However, given the ‘double whammy’ effect of a first-in-a-new-series book and a summer launch, I don’t find that disappointing. I look for its sales to get a boost when the second book in the Laredo War trilogy comes out at the end of this year, just as the second and third books in the Maxwell Saga gave big boosts in sales to the first in that series when they came out. (As a result, the first book is still the highest-selling in the Maxwell Saga, despite its debut-novel flaws. It’s sold well into five figures by now.)
The date of its release doesn’t appear to affect a book’s relative sales rank in the Kindle Store. ‘Adapt and Overcome’ sold more books on a day-to-day basis than ‘War to the Knife’; but its Kindle Store rank during the latter half of its first 30 days on the market (the only period for which I retained records) was pretty similar. In other words, when all books are selling more, they seem to maintain similar Kindle Store ranks in relation to each other; and when they all sell fewer copies, that appears to have the same effect.
Although I can’t provide hard evidence to back up my theory, I suspect there’s another factor affecting the sale of all e-books: namely, the price of used copies of hardcover or paperback editions. I’ve bought a number of books from Amazon.com in recent weeks, and deliberately compared their e-book prices with those of used paper copies. I found that in many cases, the latter were available for less (sometimes much less) than e-book editions. Here are a few examples (print edition prices include shipping costs).
John Ringo – ‘The Last Centurion’ – e-book $6.83 – used hardcover from $4.00.
David Weber – ‘Mission Of Honor’ – e-book $6.69 – used hardcover from $4.00
Antony Beevor – ‘Stalingrad’ – e-book $11.02 – used paperback from $4.22
This has implications for the level at which indie authors price their books. By setting my e-book price at $3.99, I’m in line with what a good-condition used copy of a ‘mainstream’ paper book is selling for on Amazon.com. If I were to increase my price by even a dollar, it would put me over that level… and I suspect that would be enough to deter some purchasers. I’m beginning to wonder whether readers are comparison-shopping indie e-book prices against those of used mainstream print books, rather than new mainstream e-books. If so, that sets a de facto ceiling on the prices indie authors can reasonably expect to ask for our work. (Certainly, in my case, I routinely order used print editions whenever the e-book price is more than 50% higher than theirs. The latter may be instantly available and more convenient to carry around, but I’m on a limited budget!)
Incidentally, this appears to be borne out by the latest Smashwords survey of indie authors. It makes very interesting reading, but the price points identified in previous years’ surveys – namely $2.99 and $3.99 – continue to be the most widely supported by readers. I’d love to know whether the price and availability of used editions of ‘mainstream’ books factors into the popularity of those price points. I don’t think I’ve ever seen that question asked or answered in major surveys.
That’s what I’ve learned so far this year from watching my books’ performance on Amazon.com. I’d be very interested to hear what other writers have noticed about the same subject. Do you have any insights to share with us? If so, please leave a comment below. I’m sure all of us will find it useful.
Exploring the bottom of the rankings, I’m noticing an asymptotic line. I’ve been sinking closer and closer to the 1 million mark, but it’s been going slower and slower. Basically anything that’s going to sell more is selling, and anything that isn’t going to sell will continue to not sell, as I sink to the sediment of non-selling books at the bottom of Amazon’s servers. And as that happens, all the Amazon tools that help people find you also switch off, so it’s self-perpetuating.
Amazon is designed to promote fresh new material that’s popular. Older stuff is less important.
On the other hand, it’s such an ego boost just how insanely high you jump when you get a single sale.
I gotta hand it to Amazon that yes, they push the new stuff– but if there’s a spike in the old– BOOM! It comes back.
“No boom today. Boom tomorrow. There’s always a boom tomorrow.”
Waiting for my boom… 😦
Best fuse I’ve found to light the boom is including a teaser in the back of the next work…
Trying to figure out what’s next. Getting a moment to BREATHE let alone write lately has been tricky. I seem to be stuck working 7 days a week forever.
Clearly I need a second thing out to put teasers in. OTOH, I need someone to actually SEE the teasers. I haven’t sold a single copy since May 17th.
That’s more than a little discouraging.
You didn’t include shipping on used books. Just being picky. And, being old and living in much quarters I don’t have the room for the real paper books.
I did include shipping on used books, Don – see the text.
Typical Amazon used mass-market paperback: several choices of Good, usually at least one VeryGood, for $0.01 or a little more + shipping, which Amazon flat-rates at $3.99. Thus, “$4.00 & up”.
left out ‘”smaller” before “quarters”. I’m not fully awake yet.
As someone who is averaging about a sale a day at the moment, I find that there’s about a 12 hour lag between sales and the rankings adjustment. At my numbers, I don’t focus on the level of granularity you see, Peter. I say things like,”Ooooh, I’m in the 80’s” (and that’s 80,000) when I sell more than one in a day. One sale puts the book in the 100’s.
Also, swallowing my anxieties, I’ve put Manx Prize on Kindle countdown starting today. It will be 99 cents for two days, and then go up a dollar for each increment until it’s back to 3.99. I’m hoping for sales and reviews, and will report on results. Now, it’s 7:45 eastern time, and it hasn’t dropped in price yet, but I’m hoping that changes in 15 minutes.
It changes on Pacific time zone, as the servers are in Seattle. (Except for UK sales, where it changes on GMT.
And it worked!
Yes it did. Just bought mine!
Cool. Thanks for letting me know!
I’ve heard rumors that in the fewer-sales end of the kindle store, the rank is weighted by price as well as number of sales. Any chance I could talk you into keeping an eye on your sales, and telling me if they look like they move the same ranks up and down, or if they go higher?
My main touchstone is Theresa Ragan’s chart, but I know it was a snapshot and things change..
Happy to. Like I said, my level of granularity is not very good, but the other day when I sold 4 books (HUGE for me) I was in the 80’s when I looked. I wasn’t looking a lot, so it could have been a better number before the sinking started. I’ll report in tomorrow morning.
Ok, we are approaching my bed time so on 7/11 with three sales on the dashboard, two of which are recognized in the month to date unit sales, I went from the 160’s to 49,495 at 11 p.m. EDT. (For me, even if I see a sale or two, my rank declines throughout the day. Last year I thought rankings refreshed hourly. This year it seems to refresh only twice a day. I don’t know if that’s a function of being in Select. It doesn’t seem like an improvement.)
Today the book was on sale for 99 cents.
I wish I had looked sooner the day this week that I sold 4 at 3.99 because I was up in the 80’s, when I looked the following evening. It would have been a nice comparison of the numbers to see the rank for the sale of 4 in a day at that price.
The graph drops off very fast, then starts to curve down. I have some long term examples, unfortunately. I should screencap one.
6:30 a.m. EDT update: sold a total of 4 yesterday, the first day of the countdown (no marketing yet aside from mentioning it here and tweeting a couple times this week to my 8 followers–three of whom are space law types). This put me at 37,865 and #87 in the subcategory colonization. One interesting observation is that the book is now moving up at a sufficient rate to get its rankings refreshed a little more frequently. Not even 12 hours have passed since the 11 p.m. refresh. That’s interesting.
Dorothy, I don’t think price is slowing me. When the book first came out early May, the Oyster got me 8 sales in one day and I think I was looking at these numbers. Don’t know how reliable my memory is, but it’s not terrible as memories go.
Btw, Manx got listed at indieauthorland. They do an interview and email their members if you are offering a free or discounted book. I was a little worried because my cover wouldn’t upload, but I gave them the rest of my data in comments and they made it work, so I’m thinking they’re kind of awesome.
Seriously, thanks for sharing. Hmm. It does make more sense for Amazon to do a straight sales ranking, because it’s so much simpler than mucking about. (Besides, once you start putting your thumb on the scales, can you ever really trust your own data again?)
Ok, at 4:15 EDT, the dashboard shows 9 sales, and Manx has moved up to 23,630, which again shows that Amazon is willing to refresh quicker for those selling more than one a day. Also, it’s #58 in colonization and #72 in space exploration. I’m kind of excited. My first book got into the top 25 for one of those two categories last year at $3.99, so again, I don’t think we’re seeing a downgrade for price.
Thankfully, I’ve been traveling today, so this is the first time I’ve looked since breakfast.
Dorothy, I think you got this notion from a post last year by Dave Freer, who noticed that his rankings differed, and didn’t show what he expected for different books. He hypothesized that price was the distinguishing factor. He may have been right. Amazon changes stuff.
… Amazon is willing to refresh quicker for those selling more than one a day.
Makes sense. It’s not going to matter as much, comparatively, to the slower-selling books, and it saves them server resources.
True. And it has the salutary of effect of keeping you from looking at your rankings, just your dashboard.
I don’t know. A price-weighted ranking can be quite useful, though it shouldn’t be used as a metric for sales ranking, but rather earnings ranking. This way, authors could compare their sales vs earnings, even if it is in rankings and not raw numbers, and get an idea where the price point is.
Sunday update: I checked this morning and had reached the 15,000’s with 17 sales in the dashboard (not all showing yet in the “month to date” box). One interesting observation is that if you have one sale a day you can move up by leaps and bounds, several hundred thousand spots in an instant. Yesterday, the last rank to which the book moved several thousand places was from the 25,000s to the 18,000s. Then it crept about 100 spots to the high 17,000s. Night fell. (Ok, I went to bed long after night fell, but drama).
Around 6 a.m. EDT I saw a ranking of 15,000 with those 17 sales yesterday. In the UK, where I had one sale (at full price–don’t know why the countdown didn’t work there), Manx leapt many hundreds of thousands of spots, and is now in the 68,000s and #44 in colonisation (with an “s”). That’s one sale. I’ve had one other sale there since publication, and you go high and sink more slowly than here in the U.S.
One other interesting observation is that Manx was no longer ranked in space exploration (which is really a better category than colonization–with a “z”, this being America–because the colonization is of Earth orbit, but I feel very comfortable saying it’s about near-space exploration), even though rankings went up overall. Exploration must be a crowded category.
Final observation, having nothing to do with rankings, is that if you drop your price more people will buy your book. There are lots of people who have described very well the reasons not to leave it at a low price, and I won’t be doing this again since the book leaves Amazon exclusivity in August, but the experiment was a good one. I’m glad I did it.
I’m figuring I’ve saturated the likely markets (Oyster at Sarah’s and Indieauthorland), so don’t expect many sales today with the price having gone up to 1.99. This, thus, is the last of the tales of derring do in Kindle Countdown for this book. (I hope it was helpful. It’s the kind of thing I always want to know from other people but am too shy to ask.)
That’s one sale. I’ve had one other sale there since publication, and you go high and sink more slowly than here in the U.S.
Oooh, sounds like it includes the length since a sale and since it’s been up in there, too.
I think that’s true in both countries. Let’s say you make your first sale in weeks. In the U.S. you go into the 100,000s. Then you staring sinking. A couple days later your book is in the 200,000s if there’ve been no more sales. (This is one quibble I have with Theresa Ragan’s characterization of the numbers as “averaging” sales. Being in the 100,000s does not mean you are averaging a book a day as she states. Instead, it means you’ve sold a book in the last day-ish. You may have sold nothing for a couple of weeks before that. I know whereof I speak.)
[sigh] “start sinking” not “staring sinking”
To throw some other data into the mix, here’s my depressing chart. (Note, I will eventually delete this in a month or so) http://sta.sh/02mh95dygk0
I wanted to clip it to just the time since the last sale for more detail, but that wasn’t an option.
There might be something about where the graph starts to flatten, the first time around 45K, then a couple of times around 55K, then around 70K. It probably means something about the supply of non-selling books, because by then you’re surely ranking in and around other books that haven’t sold in a couple of weeks.
But it’s hard to say, Amazon doesn’t release the formula. It could have something to do with how long you’ve been on the market, or averages in more than the last sale (If they’re within a certain date range).
Does anyone want to spend a buck and see how much it jumps? *sheepish grin*
Yeah, didn’t think so.
I just picked it up. I predict it will move into the 100,000s by tonight at the latest. Let me know if I’m wrong.
Thank you, I hope you enjoy it. It’s an odd piece of work.
Right now, the rank hasn’t changed on the listing, so we’ll see how it goes from 960,615 now…..
I’ve clearly been having a brain cramp this weekend, or I would have posted this sooner.
It’s likely that Amazon’s algorithm is quite simple.
First of all, the numbers have to be based on the total sales during some recent number of days, or else mega-bestsellers would sit at or near the top of the list for a LONG time. So, since they usually mention 30 days, we’ll go with that.
Next, they likely order the list by the date and time of last sale. It’s probably not “weighted”, it’s probably that once you get a sale, that book jumps to the top of the list of the ones which have sold that many in the past 30 days. As other books sell to the same 30-day quantity, they jump above yours, simply because of sorting. They could weight the calculations based on how close together the sales are, but why bother, when the authors get a boost out of seeing their book jump by huge numbers at the low end of the scale?
So far, no real change to the rank. 960,961 although for a while it was a little lower, 961,035 an hour after the sale. OTOH, the sale showed up instantly on the Dashboard. They’re re-calculating SOMETHING. (And reloaded just before hitting the post button, it’s 961,011 weird.)
Was I right? 133,375
That’s a lot of motion.
And right now, I just looked and it’s 183,107 8 hours later.
So the real question is, do I now show up again in the also-boughts of my also-boughts. Because I noticed that when I got lower, I dropped out of the lists. That could be self-perpetuating.
And no link-backs on my also-boughts. (That’s a lot of links to go through) although it’s very interesting to see the same books groups together. One of those graphical link maps would be very interesting to see.
My theory on the also-bots is that your purchaser’s subsequent purchases will show up in your also-bots. Your book won’t show up in the also-bots of the books your purchaser later buys (which is annoying). I went and looked at my most recent purchase and did not see Kiwi in the also-bots, which suggests at least two things: 1. it takes a long while, or 2. there need to be more purchases of Kiwi by people who also bought the book I did. This is just a theory.
It may take a while. I remember it was a couple weeks before Also Viewed turned into Also Bought, but there was reciprocity then.
And of course, I’m totally behind the idea of more sales…. 🙂
Peter, I’ve been watching my rankings for Vengeance from Ashes and have seen much the same as you when it comes to sales numbers vs. rankings, both in the overall rankings and the Top 100. What I’m debating right now is the price to put on the sequel to Vengeance from Ashes. I priced VfA at $2.99 since it was the first in the series and the first from this pen name. I’m tempted to keep the sequel at the same price and wait until the third book to raise the price to $3.99. Any thoughts?
That’s what I did – put “Take The Star Road” and “Ride The Rising Tide” at $2.99, to build my readership, then went to $3.99 for subsequent books. Whilst it’s tempting to move up to $4.99, I think I’m going to stick to $3.99 for at least the next two books, because there does seem to be a level of resistance among readers to going above that level for indie books. I may be wrong, of course, but I don’t want to alienate readers when there are so many other books they can buy instead of mine!
Peter, that was pretty much my thought, although Sarah and I have gone back and forth about it. What I need to do — unless you and Dorothy already have and are willing to share the results — is track the Top 100 in the three sub-genres where I’ve been ranked for the next few months to see what the main price point seems to be.
Sounds like a worthwhile piece of data-mining to me. Dot and I will take a look at it.
I didn’t track over time. Right before each book’s release, I did a comparison of the top 100 for applicable subgenres at that time, and then when Peter said, “I want my pricing strategy to be…”
I said “Hmm. This would be more in line with… but okay.”
and he said “Oh?”
and I infodumped.
And he said “Well, then, this is what I’ll do.”
and I said “Okay.”
LOL. Now why doesn’t it surprise me to learn that’s what you did? 😉
There is some delay built in Amazon’s net. I stay up late often and I’ve looked at my sales before going to bed and then found when I wake up that quite a few sales reports trickled in past Pacific midnight.
I notice one odd thing. My sales all follow a pattern. Peak then a decline for four days and another peak. So far the bottom of the entire trend line (stock trader talking here) is positive so I can’t complain, but why? It runs a five day cycle instead of a week and seems unaffected by month.
Perhaps that is how long it takes my average reader to finish reading a book?
Then they either decide to buy another or tell their friend who wanted a report – “Yeah you should buy it. It was OK.”
I will be adding paper to the mix soon so the comments on that are interesting.
That is a REALLY interesting observation. If your surmise is correct, given that people are seldom regular enough to keep a rhythm long-term, do you see any signs of that pattern flattening out? If not, I would suggest that there is some other factor in play, though darned if I can think of any.
The peaks have been lower since my last book was posted, but the base line continues up. Yeah it is narrowing. Will try posting a graph with trend lines added by (shaky) hand…
Oh well. Guess that doesn’t work here. You can cut and paste in your browser.
For future reference, use angle brackets (< >) instead of square ones.
Of course, I guess I should verify that I’m right, so here’s your link, done the way I’m talking about:
Grr… I REALLY wish I could find enough time to build a service to provide that kind of info to people who are less technically inclined (or don’t have time).
Speaking of reader response, take a look at the latest 1-star review for my first novel, “Take The Star Road”. I’m laughing my ass off! The headline reads, “Comparing this atrocity to the work of Heinlien is like comparing festering garbage to a meal at a Michelin Star restaurant.” It goes on:
“Without a doubt, the worst book I have ever attempted to read. The narrative has all the skill of a seventh grader writing about their summer vacation. I am offended that anyone had the gall to charge actual money for this pig slop. It was so wretched that I gave up on it after the second chapter. Do yourself a gargantuan favor and do not buy this trash masquerading as literature.”
Uh-huh. That’s for a book with (so far) 90 5-star reviews, 66 4-star and 23 3-star, as opposed to 8 2-star and (including the above) 4 1-star reviews. I wonder what set him off?
Looks like some of the ones I’ve gotten on my books. There really are times I wonder if the reviewer read the book I wrote and the others read. 😉
There’s gotta be someone who likes Grey Goo more than Human Wave…..
I think the key word to take away there is “literature.” Folks what use “literature” to describe stories seem to be expecting haute cuisine at a greasy burger bar.
“What is this, juicy, melty, thing of hand formed patties, bacon, fresh veggies, and sesame seed bun? Where is my filet mignon? My cabaret? I demand service, waiter!”
That just makes me want to turn some tenderloin into burger. Given the lean-ness, I’ll add some bacon and lamb, though. Which could be a writing metaphor, now I think on it. Look upon my works, ye pretentious, and despair!! MuahaHAHA!!
I admit, I don’t track my Amazon rank, just sales at this point. What I’ve noticed, prior to this May, was a bump, and then nothing, then a little bump. August of last year and March of this year were dead, with April of this year still very slow. December-January 2013-14 had been the best sales period. But once the second Colplatchki book came out, there was a spike, then another spike two weeks later (payday?), a slight taper, then a bump on the weekend around LibertyCon, then another taper. The third book, released Wednesday of this week, didn’t sell much until yesterday BUT the first two books in the series jumped and pulled almost everything else with them. The Colplatschki books, sci-fi/alt-history, are bringing readers to the Cat books (mil-sci-fi/alien sci-fi). And I’ve noticed a Friday bounce, followed by a taper, then another bounce, for the past few weeks.
Since I don’t do social media, I rely on my blog, the Friday book bit on PJMedia, and Sarah Hoyt’s Saturday announcements. I did find out that Sarah and a few other people mentioned this release on their FB pages, which I suspect explains the Wednesday spike (that and people who dropped by Ye Blog.)
Yep, that helps, and I’ve had a couple of people tell me my blog review led to a modest rise (I can’t imagine it’s much, but the blog does have a couple thousand followers in aggregate). Which is partly why I do them, a sort of community service.
It’s good to see similar results on other indie authors, I feel more certain about the business model I’m currently experiencing/planning on. Though at times it feels like reading tea leaves. I tried releasing novellas at a lower price to build readership, but I found my full length novel garnered a far higher amount of attention, thus proving the adage that people prefer to buy a full novel over a novella or short story. The weekly dynamics I’m seeing is interesting also, most folks seem to have a spike of sales on Friday, my e-book sales spike on Mondays.
I’m definitely seeing the slow fall off, though I finally fell off Amazon’s top 100 for it’s category around 8 July, after a release in March, so long-term it held up pretty well. I will say that studying the data available is somewhat addictive, especially as a ‘new’ indie author.
I personally treasure the 1 star review I got so far and the 0 star review on Goodreads. It means I’m reaching a broad enough audience that someone hates me… and hate warms the heart : )