Amazon Author Rankings and Who They Actually Benefit
Posted on October 10, 2012 Posted by John Scalzi 65 Comments
Amazon has started ranking authors by total sales via Amazon, updated hourly. This is certain to make a whole bunch of authors begin to freak out as they constantly refresh their Amazon author pages to see where they stand in the rankings, and, independently, give a whole bunch of people who have their own hobby horses about the state of the industry a bunch of ammunition to make proclamations about how the industry is changing in exactly the way they want it to change, so there, ha ha!
So, on this subject, some thoughts for people to consider when they look at these rankings.
One: They don’t capture the whole bookselling story, which is to say that Amazon is not all of the bookselling world. An author who sells well on Amazon doesn’t necessarily sell well off of Amazon (especially if they’re eBook only and tied into the Amazon ecosystem), and lots of authors sell books outside of Amazon, and those sales won’t be reflected in these rankings. I mean, Hell, yesterday I sold tens of thousands of copies of Old Man’s War through the Humble eBook Bundle. How will those be reflected in those Amazon rankings? Simple: They won’t. This is not a flaw in Amazon’s rankings, since Amazon makes it clear it’s only tracking its own sales. But if people make the inference that Amazon would be totally happy for them to make, i.e., that there is a strong correlation between these Amazon rankings and an author’s overall success as a commercial writer, then those people have a flaw in their own thinking.
This dovetails nicely with the next point:
Two: Amazon isn’t doing this for anyone but Amazon. How does this serve Amazon’s purposes? Among many other things, it helps to promote Kindle-only (or Kindle-majority) writers, many of whom move large numbers of books for free or for reduced cost relative to authors with publisher ties. It offers another reason for authors to use Amazon’s Author Central service, which will allow authors to quickly see their rankings. It motivates authors and publishers to lower prices on their eBooks to goose their sales (and thus their author) rankings, which serves Amazon’s purpose of motivating consumers to make their book purchases through Amazon, and through Amazon’s eBook ecosystem. The value proposition for authors is somewhat more nebulous outside of the ego boost of having one’s name sufficiently high up on the author rankings, but for some authors that may be enough.
Three: An author’s Amazon rank doesn’t necessarily correspond to financial success. One may make as much money or more selling fewer objects for higher prices than one may make selling a lot of objects for a lesser cost. It wouldn’t be entirely surprising to find some authors further down on Amazon’s rankings making more money than some of those higher up, because they gross more in the aggregate from their sales. It’s nice to move lots of books, but it’s also, you know, nice to eat. An author might find it perfectly acceptable to decide to sell fewer copies of books to consumers who are less price-sensitive than to sell a lot to consumers who are buying fiction primarily as a value proposition. Bear in mind it’s possible to make a lot of money selling a lot of things cheaply, of course. But it’s not the only way to do things.
Four: The rankings rank disparate objects. Amazon says it counts all sales. But it
also by all indications seems to count free books as sales (Update: In the comments, an reader notes Amazon is not counting free material), also appears to count any published work of any length or price as a single sale. Nothing wrong with that, if that’s the way you want to go with it, and Amazon appears to want to go with it that way. But it does mean for the purposes of a “sale” in one’s author rankings, a free or cheap short story is the equivalent of a newly published hardcover novel with a $24.95 list price (which will sell on Amazon for $16). This leads directly to the next point:
Five: The rankings are highly gameable. If you want to climb up the Amazon rankings as an author, the solution seems pretty obvious: release a whole bunch of shorter works available at low cost. Now, mind you, this is going to work out great for me, since starting in December we release The Human Division electronically, one episode at a time, once a week, and each episode will be available for a low cost. Someone who buys THD in this serialized form will make 13 separate (but individually low-cost) purchases; someone who waits until May to buy it in hardcover form will make only one purchase. It’ll be the same content. But one potentially has 13 times the potential to fiddle with my Amazon author rankings. Now, as it happens, we planned to do The Human Division in episodic form before I knew about Amazon’s author rankings, so I can’t be accused of intentionally planning to game my Amazon author ranking. However, if you don’t think authors won’t start trying to game their rankings, well. You don’t know how important it is for some folks to be highly ranked.
These are just five points to make about the rankings. There are other points to make (for example, how an author with an extensive backlist is at a ranking advantage to a newer author with fewer works) but I’ve made enough points that you can get my gist: Amazon’s author rankings should be taken with the appropriate grain of salt and with the appropriate perspective — just like any sort of ranking.
Authors who start to worry about their Amazon ranking should likewise be aware that by doing so they’re allowing Amazon to define their success to a greater or lesser extent… and they should really ask who ultimately benefits the most from that: Amazon or them. Amazon isn’t (necessarily) evil, but Amazon is interested in its own goals, many of which may ultimately be at cross purposes to an authors’ own. Amazon will be happy to frame your career to suit its own purposes. All you have to do is let them.
Keep it in mind as you’re refreshing your Amazon author page to see where your ranking is right now.
To get ahead of this before it happens, those of you who may feel I’m trying to belittle Amazon-only/self-published authors who take advantage of Kindle distribution: Nope. Glad it works for them. It’s not about pitting authors against each other, it’s about making clear to folks that Amazon has its own game plan.
I looked at it once to check it out, but like my Klout score, I’ll never check it again. A complete waste of time. Get back to writing instead of checking this out.
It should also not go unnoticed that the ranking system in place will encourage authors to sell for less, which is a bit of a nuance on what you wrote.
I am of the opinion that Amazon has taken a page from the Walmart “success” book, particularly the chapter on How To Squeeze Your Suppliers: this “ranking” system is a subtle bit of support for the general concept that suppliers should be more than happy to support W/a/l/m/a/r/t/ Amazon at no cost – or even at a loss (the consequences of not doing so are A: your competitor will be happy to replace you and B: hey – you’ll make it up in volume (or maybe selling stickers with your book titles on them)
You may be starving, but man are a lot of people reading your profile!
Scalzi: “it’s also, you know, nice to eat.”
I like food. Me and food, we go way back. We’re best buds.
Other than that, this sounds like an indirect Skinner box for writers. Should really plug into the obsessive types nicely.
John, I’m afraid I cannot help your Amazon ranking. Though I plan to get all episodes, and likely the hardcover as well of The Human Division, alas I have a Nook, so I will be buying them from Barnes and Noble.
Interestingly I saw a new book at work yesterday called, Book Was There, by Andrew Piper. I haven’t read it yet, but it seems to be a level headed, realistic look at what books are, have been, and will be in the future. If it turns out to be what it looks like it is, it could be a refreshing take on what sometimes becomes a over hyperd, heated, and exaggerated subject.
I’ve drifted way off topic, but some of what you wrote above reminded me of it.
I dunno John. I think this clearly places E.L. James as the greatest writer of our generation. Lucky for you, she doesn’t write Science Fiction or you might be out of a job. Some might not agree with me, but
THE CLOUD HAS SPOKEN!
When I saw this yesterday, I was wondering about one thing; Amazon says this is “updated hourly”. What does that mean? Is the list for sales in the last hour only? And if not, when is the starting point of the sales that are included on the list?
For me as a reader, this is just another Amazon ranking that means nothing unless you have the background detail. For me as a reader AND reviewer, it will just mean more people saying they are a bestseller, and sending me review requests.
Basically, Amazon is further watering down what it means to be an “Amazon bestseller” to the point where I don’t put any significance on that statement even if it is about Stephen King or Suzanne Collins.
-And having just looked at the list, it has changed pretty drastically since yesterday, and that is just the top 20. And Suzanne Collins, who was in the top ten yesterday, has fallen out of the top 100 altogether. Doesn’t seem to make much sense, but as I said I have no idea what time period these sales are meant to represent.
I think some of those Humble Bundle sales will count, actually, since Amazon is one of their accepted methods of payment.
Ugh. I’m sorry to hear that Amazon is doing that, both for the neurotic authors (is that redundant?) and for the book-buying public. I spent years working in bookstores. I learned very quickly that the kind of book that ends up on the NYT bestseller list was usually the sort of book I didn’t want to read, based on the slavish devotion some of the customers had to that list. And due to the fact that it had nothing to do with customer sales, but rather sales to bookstores. (Which is why John Grisham’s entire backlist went bestseller whenever he had a book released, because stores were stocking up in anticipation. Ohhhh, the number of Pelican Briefs we stripped…)
It’s a shame the tricks some authors pull to get a little attention. I guess doing it the old-fashioned way, with good (legitimate) reviews, is too last century. Ranking is no way to choose a new book or author. Seriously: Get to know an honest-to-god bookseller, in a store, with books, and ask them. Ignore the bestseller list, ignore the author rankings, and explore. I was always happy to chat books with people who were interested in something new. (Not so much the people who wanted me to explain the difference between fiction and non.)
I suspect the ease of gaming you mention will make this useless pretty quickly, since it looks pretty time-sensitive. Particularly with those single-title authors fairly high up the rankings.
Also, go Philip K Dick. 18th.
Well said, John.
Looks like they aren’t using free books in their calculations.
From the Author Central explanation of Author Rank:
Amazon Author Rank is calculated using all historically available sales data. It doesn’t include free books or any sales from any international marketplaces.
John, everything you say seems like simple common sense for anyone who has given the matter any rational thought at all. It sometimes depresses me that how much that should go without saying not only does need to be said but will also not be clear to some people even with explanation. I don’t expect a lot of argument here against your points, but I’ve been wrong before.
I have to say that, while I think the feature is a waste of time, I also wonder exactly how much importance will it gain? Do they imagine it as a latter day NYT bestseller, but auteur-centric rather than title-centric? No matter how you slice it, the purpose is grey. I suppose, as you say John, the purpose is to support Kindle authors, but how deep on the list do you have to go for that? James Patterson, Suzanne Collins, Bill O’Reilly, etc. comprise the front page. As soon as I saw that, I clicked away. This is like charting who’s selling better between Adele and Justin Bieber: who cares? They both move an incredible amount of units. There’s no discovery here. I think I’m just going to continue living my life as if this doesn’t exist.
Their petty rankings also don’t include the numerous books I buy anywhere BUT at Amazon! I’ll buy other stuff at Amazon, but never books.
It’s not an authors total sales, it’s sales over the past 30 days, but I see your point. Of course, the system has always been gamed. I don’t think anyone still believes the NYT bestseller list is legit, do they? They give priority to publishers who buy ads in the paper, and sales come a distant second or third. Most reviews and blurbs for books are done as favors, and all publishers take part in the game, Amazon is no different. They all want to skew the perception of what books and writers are important. It just happens that at this moment, Amazon is the big dog in the neighborhood, and they sell the majority of fiction.
Here’s the scenario that worries me. This kind of ranking is exactly the kind of unscientific one-stop-shop number that the wider media loves. So we’ll see, for example, some successful Kindle author jump to #1 on the list, and get lots of free media coverage, and parlay that into even more success. THEN every aspiring author will starts focusing on ways to game the system, and inject even more gunk into the process.
It is kind of a hoot to see some of the names on the list… Bill O’Reilly and his co-author on the “Killing Presidents” series are #9 and #10… J.K.Rowling is only #12… I agree with the YAY for Philip K Dick at #18, while George RR Martin is #19… Matthew ‘Oatmeal’ Inman is #26, just ahead of Stephen King – proves the power of cat haters… Julie Andrews #43 just ahead of Sandra Brown – and where is the author who WROTE Mary Poppins?… JRR Tolkein #65… Dr.Seuss #67…CS Lewis #99… catalog helps, catalog PLUS new movie versions help more. It’s just a giggle to be able to snark at the listings… note the ‘author branding’ on the books of some of the top authors… most/all their covers look pretty much the same… and if you go by this list, you’d think that female authors DOMINATE the literary biz. But check out the author’s picture on #48, Sara Fawkes. Sez it all.
I have to say the SF rankings confuse me greatly. Not that I am confused by the random Amazon authors mixed in there, but some of the more respected authors’ ranks make no sense to me. Nancy Kress at #11? I guess she’s done a lot of short fiction, but then shouldn’t Mike Resnick be #1 by a country mile (or Asimov who also did his share)? I love her work but didn’t think she was nearly popular enough to be in the top fifty, not to mention #11 (and basically #4 of traditionally published authors).
Either way, it shouldn’t be long until Bookscan publishes a superior ranking, right?
I will remain calm. Until Amazon introduces Reader Rank. Then I will freak.
I like how Suzanne Collins is currently #4 in the listing for All Books, but she doesn’t appear in the listing for Science Fiction & Fantasy.
I guess The Hunger Games takes place in our current reality. If this is the case, I seriously need to find some new sources for news, because all of the ones I rely upon have failed me considerably.
And, for the record, I do include the blog posts of a handful of authors among my sources for news. So, Scalzi, if the universe of The Hunger Games is real, you have failed me.
I think I could find you a Jared Allen jersey.
At least Amazon’s customers won’t be stripping & returning tons of paperbacks.
I have noticed that the Amazon top Kindle titles often has quite a bit of overlap with the top paper titles, but there are often many differences as well.
I do wonder if the person depicted in the Sarah Fawkes profile is the author. Does she use that photo for jacket shots? Perhaps every author should take this approach… or not actually.
I love that one of the writers on the list (#70) is himself a fictional character.
I received an email that I had a rank of 17861 or so in Contemporary Fiction.
Only problem is, all my books are on computer technology.
uugh, I dislike rankings. The Top Sellers on Amazon (SciFi&Fantasy) are full of inexpensive indie titles and Star Wars books. They do not help me find quality new science fiction. Reading a book for me is a huge time investment. I do not buy because it is cheap, I buy becasue I want to read a thoughtful, engaging, and ultimately entertaining novel. My time spent reading is a much larger investment in a book than the purchase price. i want a ranking that helps me with that …. twitter has helped me a lot in this regard.
**before flaming starts, I am not saying all the inexpensive indie books are not good, I am just saying in general the professionally published books already vetted by a publisher on the whole tend to be better**
yes I realize the irony of my final starred statement because Mr. Scalzi started with OMW being self published, but I find his route abberant.
Author rankings do not influence my book purchases at all. So I say… whatever!
If Richard Castle were up for a literary award, would they send Nathan Fillion to appear in character?
@Mike — that would be awesome. Fillion would love it.
I’ve been seeing a LOT about this today, from all over. My thoughts, as both a reader and writer (albeit, as yet, unpublished):
As a reader, I read authors I know and like, or on recommendation – from friends, from other writers I read, etc. I also find new writers by browsing in my local B&N and indie bookstore. Amazon’s fancy new rankings (or old ones for that matter, the “sales rank” they’ve had for forever) figure exactly zero in my calculations. Should I ever be fortunate enough to be (traditionally) published, or I publish indipendently – electronic or otherwise – I expect to distribute/ sell books the old fashioned way: marketing, word of mouth, hard work… and ultimately, by writing good story. Again, Amazon’s ranking will figure little to none. And I figure most readers are as or more intelligent, rational and reasoning than I am, so I can’t imagine them thinking otherwise. So… much ado about nothing, really, near as I can figure.
(Welcome to my first comment post on “Whatever.” What does that make my ranking? :) )
I agree with you completely. One of the reasons I never really bought many books from Amazon, is that their New Release lists are useless to me. They are set by sales rank and not by release date. I like to look at info about new books to decide if I want to buy them. I also like to see when my favorite autors have new books coming out. Sales rank means nothing to me. I like to see everything coming out on a certain date, and then decide myself if I want to buy something.
Welcome to commenting on Whatever. We don’t bite…….much. Well, a very few do. But John bops them on the head when they do.
Definitely interesting in how some authors are classified. Obviously a YA author doing fantasy or SF doesn’t count in the adult categories (Suzanne Collins). George Martin is classified as both Fantasy and Science Fiction, but the majority of his sales are for his fantasy work (but he’s still near the top in SF).
I don’t use the title lists to decide what to read, and I won’t be using the author ranking either.
I do like to look at the lists from time to time because they say something about the times, like Google trends.
Thanks for an illuminating piece, John. I have survived for 25 years as an author but having checked my Amazon ranking now realise I must give up.
I have to say, while there are many authors who write tomes (a certain grey bearded purveyor of nerd-crack) that a faster, smaller, cheaper release cycle won’t work for…
I welcome good, cheaper lit. THD is a nice idea even without gaming amazon’s system and other works can be well suited as well.
Lee – Why is it obvious that authors of books for teens don’t belong under SF/Fantasy?
Tolkein is listed both under Teens and Fantasy.
#83 currently on the SF/Fantasy list is Robert Heinlein. The most popular of his books according to Amazon is Starship Troopers. A book written for teens.
Ermagherd! Another stat tool for authors to obssess over and fret about! (chuckle) I wonder if we — as a class of people — were any happier back in the days when such instant “rankings” simply weren’t available? A straw poll of my author friends who’ve been in the biz longer than I have says: nope.
Or perhaps this is simply another way for consumers to “cut the crap” and home in on material which appears to have survived a significant amount of consumer vetting? Great chunks of the self-published market are simply unknown and unknowable due to the fact that few have read any of it and of those who have, how many are “blind shoppers” versus people trading favors on the Kindle forums or coaxing friends and relatives into buying and/or reviewing the book?
I say: we writes our berks and we takes our chances.
I asked a friend what he thought had kept his self-published electronic book in the Amazon UK top ten for the better part of a year. This, after the identical book in hardcover in the US hadn’t done much.
He said, and I quote, “I’ve got no bloody idea.”
Bottom line: I agree with John; take the new tool with a grain of salt.
Klout was *supposed* to be a means of judging effectiveness in social media but it became apparent fairly quickly that it was total bullshit. My Klout score went up for no definable reason, then went down when my followers and interactions increased. I read articles on Klout and how, to get the best ranking score, it was necessary to never tweet about important issues or promote your friends’ stuff, just to keep your head down and tweet/facebook etc about the stuff for which you wanted a Klout ranking. It seems to me that Klout is like high school all over – skewed priorities, facile, poor quality relationships prized while true worth is dismissed as irrelevant.
This Amazon ranking system sounds very similar to Klout; just as dishonest, manipulative of others, open to abuse by ‘contestants’… Hm, sounds like the basis for some new, dreadful reality TV show.
I already have issues with Amazon. For example, Amazon can sell books at one price in the US and another price for Australia, which has nothing to do with the exchange rate and everything to do with protectionism causing books in Australia to be significantly more expensive than in the US and UK. I’ve followed authors who express concern with Amazon’s contracts, how Amazon can arbitrarily change the price of books without consultation and by doing so can change the amount publishers and authors are paid for the sale of ebooks while paper book fees remain stable.
My excuse for aligning with Amazon: I have a kindle because I have poor eyesight; the large kindle was the best option available when I had the funds to cover the purchase. This means I’m largely hooked in to Amazon’s system *for electronic books*. I have a dream – one day, I’ll get a tablet and then I’ll be able to run simulators for all ebook formats. Until then I like to read paper as much as I can, but this depends on text size. I dream of buying disability access technology but I don’t have a few thousand $$ lying around at the moment. I have managed to borrow a faulty CCTV (magnifier) from Vision Australia, but it’s analogue not digital and the image cannot focus properly [insert rant here about how, contrary to popular opinion, vision impaired people need images in focus]. I feel bad because it recently took me over a week to read 1 mass market paperback because I had to have short reading periods on the CCTV then rest because the blurry image made my eyes water. I have a number of other *review* books waiting to be read, which I’ll have to read the same way. As a reviewer, editor of a zine and a fan I wish there was an ideal system.
As a supporter of genre works I want real solutions. I want *ONE* ebook format that works on every device. I want either genuine ranking systems or none at all. I don’t ‘do’ Klout any more because I think it’s evil & manipulative. I am concerned about Amazon’s ranking system being just as bad if not worse, simply because Amazon’s system is intended to promote Amazon’s monopoly on the market and to pull authors’ and publishers’ strings. With Amazon coming to Australia, our publishing industry and independent booksellers are going to be in for a rude awakening.
My contribution to the solution? Whenever I buy paper books from overseas, I go to sources other than Amazon if at all possible; for example, Book Depository in the UK. I like to source my kindle formats from places other than Amazon too, but it’s not always easy. And, in all honesty, being a reviewer, I only purchase a very small proportion of the books I receive these days.
PS in Australia, for a literary work to sell 1000 copies is considered a good run. This was disclosed at the recent Melbourne Writers Festival in a panel involving the CEOs of 2 publishing houses and Writers Victoria. Stick that in your ranking system, Amazon :P
Interesting that Bob Mayer holds the 13th, 14th and 25th spot (as Rober Dorherty), all for the same books. WTH is that supposed to mean?
@Mike I doubt it. Fillion won’t even take a picture with some twine.
1) The standard EBook format that works on every device EXCEPT the Kindle is called ePub. Nook, Sony Reader, as far as I know, everything else reads the format.
2) Calibre is a wonderful program for managing your eBook library and converting between formats. There are plug-ins that can be found for removing DRM from your Kindle books so you can convert them to other formats, freeing you from Amazon’s lock-in. (Proprietary lock-in is evil and always has been).
3) All eBook readers support a large or larger font mode. You’re not stuck with Kindle for that.
I’m another Nook reader, so all this Amazon drama doesn’t apply to me either. I’m glad Our Sponsor doesn’t worry too much about it. It sounds kind of high-schoolish to me, frankly.
If it works for Amazon, B&N will be all over it. If it doesn’t, they’ll get to look noble (and barny, I guess).
I won’t be helping you game it, because if the others are any indication, I won’t want to wait 3 months to finish the book.
@DarkMatterFanzine (or anyone else with a Kindle and an urge for broader fields, for that matter) — If you’re intrigued by primarily indie works — though I’ve seen previously-traditionally-published backlist there too — there’s Smashwords.com, which offers mobi format and no DRM.
Also seconding Calibre as a very useful resource.
#83 on the sci-fi list is , by JD Clarke, author of 2012 Lunar Contact. This ‘book’ contains of the most egregious writing I’ve seen since the old PC motherboards manuals I used to get that clearly had been translated into English from the original Chinese by denizens of Papua New Guinea.
Seriously, one doesn’t “dawn a space suit”.
,sigh. I’ve acquired an impressive collection of really, really bad books since the Kindle came out. Although I’ve also discovered a few gems. I have no idea why Frank Tuttle isn’t being handled by a Big Six publisher.
As others have stated, I have no desire to waste even more of my limited time checking statistics on Amazon. The numbers game is so easily manipulated (I doubt I’ll ever be #83 on the sci-fi list, but I sure as hell know the difference between “don” and “dawn”–and who TALKS like that?) as to make tracking it a complete waste of energy.
Very interesting post. This is not the kind of thing that people who are not in your industry think about. I would think that these rankings are only meaningful to a small number of authors with really high rankings. This can get them some additional publicity. I am not sure what value it would get you if you are ranked #10,153 and then you run a sale and radically drop prices to get your rankings up. The ranking will only stay up briefly. You would increase sales to a core group of fans and some new ones, but I would think that they would go down. Since others will do the same thing. I don’t see how a big increase in your ranking for a short period of time would help your brand.
Meh. I know what genres of books I like, and some of the “highest ranking” authors are people whose books I have no interest whatsoever in reading. As one example, James Patterson is currently #3 overall. From what I’ve gathered from his TV commercials he writes murder mystery/detective novels, that sort of thing. I believe the last novel in that general genre I read was Murder on the Orient Express probably a decade and a half ago. So essentially Amazon’s #3 is not even on my list.
To put that in perspective I’ve read works by two of the top 10 and nine of the top 100 (and two others I want to read.) So between 80 and 90 percent of this list doesn’t matter to me, and the 10-20 percent that does I already know about. So while others may find this ranking useful, they’re welcome to it — I’m not interested.
Probably at least a little off-topic, for which sorry (assuming, of course, John doesn’t simply boot this out), but on the broader subject of rankings …
I’m a regular at a number of online forums (fora?), primarily in the computer security peer-support field, and as you probably know just about every available forum software includes means for ranking contributors solely by post-count and permits the site-operator to assign his/her own titles to those “ranks”.
At one, the two highest non-admin rankings were (possibly still are) “massive poster” and “incredibly massive poster”. I couldn’t resist pointing out to the owner that those titles invariably conjured up images of obesity problems rather than experience and expertise.
At another, the titles originally chosen actually did imply level of expertise and helpfulness, and it was recognized that too many members were deliberately pumping up their post-counts solely to increase their “status”. The solution there was to rename the ranks to more accurately indicate that they reflected only number of posts, and groups were formed for members with special skills or who had long respected histories of general helpfulness, admission to which required admin approval, with appropriate titles such as “translator”, “malware removal expert”, etc.
As for the new thing at Amazon, where I’m a regular customer (mostly DVD’s), I couldn’t care less. About the only stat there that I’ve any interest in is occasionally checking my profile to see how my reviews are faring in terms of the percent-helpful rating.
While I agree with all of John’s criticisms of ranking systems in general, and this one in particular, I do have to say that I see one possible upside of this: the rebirth of the short story! While I like an epic tome as much as the next guy, I’ve really missed the big market for short stories that existed in my youth; some really great works came out of that. If the Amazon rankings encourage authors to write and publish more short stories, well, maybe we won’t see quite so many short-story-ideas-padded-out-to-novel-length-for-market-penetration.
My favorite quote: Authors who start to worry about their Amazon ranking should likewise be aware that by doing so they’re allowing Amazon to define their success to a greater or lesser extent… and they should really ask who ultimately benefits the most from that: Amazon or them.
Excellent point! And one authors need to remember whether they’re dealing with Amazon or any other measure of success. You need to know how YOU define success. Is it a ranking number, a paycheck, how many books you release . . . the list goes on.
Thanks for the fantastic blog post!
General rule of thumb: If Amazon does something, and you think that whatever it is is not designed to make Amazon more money, your thinking is in error. It may or may not work but that is always the plan. Even when companies give money to charity, they are doing it to make themselves look good (not that that doesn’t mean they aren’t also run by people who want to help others.)
I of course do not mean to say our esteemed host makes such an error, but just point it out in general. As it applies to his example, it will encourage authors to do exactly what he is doing – post serials as opposed to BrickBooks. This is very good for Amazon for at least two reasons:
1) Short series entries are easy to distribute cheaply and quickly as e-books. As paper books, not so much. Advantage: Amazon.
2) It is my belief that within certain parameters Amazon is better off making two small sales than one big sale in that it generates a final net revenue number which is somewhat higher. This one is mostly intuition based on a lot of experience with licensing and e-commerce and somewhat less experience with e-publishing. I’m willing to be proven wrong, but as of now that’s my theory. Again, this benefits Amazon.
There are lots of other ways it could benefit them but those are the two that spring to mind. And of course there are lots of ways in general (many of which our esteemed host points out) that the Author Ranking system can benefit them. It is designed to benefit Amazon. If it benefits authors, well and good. I honestly believe that Amazon would rather benefit authors than not benefit authors, ceteris paribus. But it is a happy side effect, not a principal motivation.
“What gets measured gets managed,” right?
In my day job, I run the nation’s largest workplace charitable giving campaign (bear with me here). Fundraising is difficult, and fundraising from employees (a captive audience, with the potential to help or hurt employee satisfaction) even more so. In a competitive, results-driven work environment, there is temptation to focus on the available metrics rather than the true objectives. That is, last year my program raised over $63 million, and we’ve been #1 three years in a row. It’s tempting to manage the whole program to those metrics.
But the thing is, if you do the job the right way and focus on the proper details, the numbers take care of themselves.
Sure, it’s possible to game the Amazon rankings. Probably pretty easy, as a matter of fact. But I prefer to focus on writing good stories, pricing them appropriately, distributing them in the way that makes the most sense for me… and trusting that the numbers will, eventually, take care of themselves. The better I get at those fundamentals, the more likely that becomes.
Amazon isn’t forcing authors to behave certain ways. Amazon is simply putting metrics in front of authors knowing how tempting it is to manage to the metrics. Avoid the temptation and keep focusing on fundamentals.
And in yet another entry in the Chronicles of I Am Always Right, what do I see in my inbox this morning but an advertisement for something called a “Kindle Serial:”
This book is a Kindle Serial. Kindle Serials are stories published in episodes, with future episodes delivered at no additional cost. This serial currently contains three episodes out of an estimated five total episodes, and new episodes will be delivered every two weeks.
Now, this isn’t quite the same thing as I described above since they get the money up front… but every episode release is an excuse to email you and get you to come back to the Amazon website. Hmmm.
If everything is handled by computer why can’t they update it instantaneously? They could have a ticker tape like the stock results on cnbc.
Very well said. When this was first rolled out I admit, I am guilty of having checked my ranking quite a few times the first couple of days. I was also pleasantly surprised to find myself ranked in the mid 90’s in my category. Was (kind of) a rush!…right? – meh, the next day my ranking had slipped completely out of sight but at the same time my sales on B&N were the highest that they’ve ever been.
So, cool? Sorta – but success in self publishing has far more to do with book sales and reader feedback than in whatever ranking Amazon assigns us with, however temporary.
As a ‘successful’ #1 bestselling author of two books on Amazon (meaning both reached #1 status on several lists and made it into the top 100 Paid), I’ve found KDP Select to be quite helpful with regard to visibility and exposure. I had 9 months of sales and profit data to study before KDP Select came out — 93% of my profit came from Amazon. I’ve since approached about 25K sales of my two books — certainly not in your league — but given that I spent the time and effort to have my books professionally edited, formatted, proofread, and designed by experts (on my own tab), I’m happy with the profit at this point. I’ve also made almost the same amount on lends — a good thing for everyone as I see it.
(as a side note, I purchase all of my books digitally. Can’t tell you the last time I shelled out money for paper.)
If I hadn’t had a history to review, the decision would have been much more difficult. As it stands, my author platform is growing by leaps and bounds and I just finished the MS on book 3, which is now with my editor. I plan to use KDP Select also. Why wouldn’t I?
I respect and appreciate your update. It’s important to know what Amazon is up to (since it’s constantly changing). I will pass along.
Can someone please explain to me how the kindle sales rank and the kindle author’s rank differ? I have one book out in purchase for kindle and my author rank is significantly lower then my kindle sales rank. It makes no sense to me considering I only have one book available for purchase right now. I would think the ranks would be about the same.
@Diane: As I Understand It, At An Ungodly Hour Of The Morning, Kindle Author Rank is derived from all the things you’ve sold, and is competing against “everything [other authors] have sold.” Kindle sales rank for an individual book is just that book, competing against all other books. (Or all other books in its genre, if it gets high enough within genre.)
If you sell 10 of Book X, but only Book X, then you are going to have a bigger-number author rank than someone who sold 3 each of Book Y, Book Z, Book Q, Short Stories F, R, and T, and Novella K. Author-ranking should, in theory, tend to reward people who have a bazillion different offerings (books, short stories, novellas, etc.), all of which are at least moderately popular — though skimming it suggests that it can reward massively popular single books as well.
Again, that’s my understanding of it and I could be wrong. Or I could mis-type something because I’m running on 3 hours of sleep.
It’s nearly impossible to find well-informed people on this topic, but you seem like you know what you’re talking about! Thanks
It’s a nice generic compliment, and there are almost 400,000 exact matches on Google. Linkspam.
What amazes me, is how unaware the general public is about the publishing game, as it stands at the moment. I myself, was ignorant, not long ago and I am an avid reader.