New Amazonian Sickness

Because the people at Amazon are sadistic bastards, they’ve implemented yet another way to drive authors (and other people who have thing stocked at Amazon) absolutely insane: They’ve implemented daily tracking of the Amazon ranking, so you can see where the ranking is today and you can see where it was the day before.

For the twitchy bags of neuroses that are known as authors, who already track their Amazon numbers with unhealthy zeal, this means that everybody else now knows if you’re selling more or less than you did the day before. Sometimes this may be good (for example, the ranking of Old Man’s War is #3,992 as I write this, up from #6,381 as of yesterday) and everyone can see you’re on the way to the top, you big success, you. But tomorrow, when the sales of the book inevitably dip, it’ll be clear to everyone that one’s career is in a flaming death spiral, and who will want to buy a book that is going to take them down with it?

And yes, dear readers, authors are just the sort of people who will think that a visible slide in sales rankings will turn you off from our books. We are silly that way.  

One thing I find interesting about this new and sadistic Amazonian tool is how it makes you aware of how much noise and jostle there is in Amazon rankings. For example, today’s ranking for my very first book, The Rough Guide to Money Online, is #1,365,312, which is several hundred spots higher than it was yesterday. Of course, in real world terms, this means nothing: No one bought the book yesterday, no one’s going to buy the book today, and it’s highly unlikely anyone’s going to buy the book tomorrow (and for good reason — it’s five years out of date). Any ascension or decline of this book is simply the Brownian motion of Amazon’s vast collection of salable items. Among the books that are selling, a book could sell exactly the same number of copies on two adjoining days but have vastly different Amazon rankings, because the rankings are relative to what other books are selling as well.

If Amazon wanted to drive authors to the ragged bloody edge of madness, in addition to the Amazon Rankings, it would also post the number of units any particular book sold in a week or month. The reason they won’t is that no one is that cruel, and also it’s not in anyone’s interest to expose just how low-volume a business bookselling is: A public that thinks a movie is a failure if it doesn’t have a $50 million opening weekend or that an album is underperforming if it doesn’t go double-platinum is not going to be impressed that a book has sold, say, 20,000 in hardcover (which would be absolutely fab for most books). Shhhh. Don’t tell.

Nevertheless, this new wrinkle will be sufficiently maddening that you can expect authors to begin fretting about it… well, about now. No, no. I’m not fretting about it at all.  

9 Comments on “New Amazonian Sickness”

  1. OMG, John. Thank you for posting this!!!
    My boyfriend has been driving me FREAKIN’ INSANE with his hourly/half hourly/five minute checks on how his book is doing. He’s always asking me explain why it goes up or down 10,000 points in 3.2 seconds. I had no answers. Thank you, thank you. Maybe now he’ll settle down.

  2. They really do have a Department of Evil at Amazon don’t they?

    Now, step away from that computer and go outside and play with that new D70. :-)

  3. Ok, I want everyone who thinks they will EVER buy Old Man’s War to buy it this Friday (September 23rd 2005). Anyone that was going to buy it today, tomorrow, or anytime before the 23rd please hold off. Oh, and anyone willing to spend a few bucks to drive an author (more) batty, buy a second copy on the 23rd.

    Now that oughta drive Scalzi (more) nutty.

    As long as he doesn’t read his own blog at any rate. Shhhhhhh, nobody let him in on it!

  4. I enjoyed your comments on being poor. The talk show host on radio station in LA mentioned it and that he has read your writings in the past.KTLK 1150 AM liberal talk.Johnny Wendell is his name. I love his talk show. He also writes
    for local newspaper. He read the entire main list and added one of his own. I grew up poor in the 40’s. I try never to forget what being poor is like. Now I’m off to read one of your books.


  5. “authors are just the sort of people who will think that a visible slide in sales rankings will turn you off from our books. We are silly that way.”

    FWIW, I’ve bought a lot of books online, and I don’t think I’ve ever even noticed what their ranking was, let alone factored it into my purchase decision.

    Thanks, John, for pointing this feature out – I’m sure I’ll be a much better buyer from now on. Nothing under #4372 for this gal!

  6. You want to really go nuts? Wait until they publish trend data, so you can see the line on the graph spike up & then slowly decline over time. Or when they implement comparitive tracking (like Yahoo Finance does), so you can benchmark two or more books on the X-Axis and see how one has done relative to the others…

    Must. Crunch. Data.

    (btw, I followed the link & I don’t see two sales rank numbers – just one. Maybe it’s only visible to the authors? That’s even more cruel, if you ask me…)

  7. “authors are just the sort of people who will think that a visible slide in sales rankings will turn you off from our books. We are silly that way”

    Normally, if I see a book that I like isn’t selling, I tend to think that everyone else is crazy. I mean, how is it that Niven and Pournelle’s Inferno isn’t on its tenth printing by now? This crazy world…