Decoding Amazon Best Seller Rankings

It has been interesting over the past few months to try to decode how Amazon calculates sales ranking by watching the relationship between sales of Newton’s Ark and its best seller ranking. Amazon guards its algorithm closely, saying very little about what the best seller ranking actually means or how it is calculated.

My key conclusion is that the ranking measures the rate of sales rather than total sales. That means it tells you what is popular recently, but not necessarily what has been most popular over time. That runs counter to what I always thought a best seller ranking meant – that the best selling book had sold the most copies total. But perhaps this has always been standard practice?

A sales rate based measure necessarily favors more recent works rather than classics. It also means for items with small sales volumes the ranking jumps around all over the place. I’ve noticed that two sales in a week can raise the ranking of the Kindle edition of Newton’s Ark by more than 300,000 places (it’s even worse with the paperback – once recent sale raised the ranking more than two million places!) To me that suggests the best seller ranking has a fairly low signal to noise ratio. Sure it’s still useful to distinguish between #1 and #100,000 but probably not between #75,000 and #175,000.

My other criticism is that Amazon ranks different editions of the same book separately. For example, a book that sells 100,000 copies on Kindle only would have a much higher best seller ranking than a book that sells 50,000 Kindle copies and 50,000 paperbacks. I think everyone will agree that both books are equally popular. If someone is trying to identify popular books they may wish to read, do they care what format other people are reading the books in, or just that they are reading them?

What’s my solution? Not that Amazon throw away it’s current best seller ranking but that it makes it clear what it means and also add additional measures. So for example, instead of just having one best seller ranking for a Kindle book you would have something like:

Best Seller Rankings

Kindle books – fastest selling: #102

Kindle books – most sold ever: #33,452

All formats – fastest selling: #245

All formats – most sold ever: #456,765

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Serialized Novels

Releasing novels in serial form seems to be making a bit of a comeback. Amazon for one is pushing the concept hard including re-releasing various works by Charles Dickens like Oliver Twist in their original serial form.

I picked that example because it highlights the issue I can’t get my head around. Why would you want to receive a novel that has been completed for over one hundred and fifty years piecemeal?

But what about a work in progress? Wouldn’t it be nice to receive each chapter as it is completed? Sure, but that assumes the writing process is linear. That has definitely not been my experience so far. I’ve written one hundred and sixty pages of Faraday’s Mine, but they are not even close to consecutive. It would be more like pages 1 – 50, 75-100, 130 – 140, 200 – 275. And there is lots of going back and reworking the story as I go along.

Which leads me to my question. I know many people who have read Newton’s Ark are waiting impatiently to see what happens next. Is there any interest in seeing Faraday’s Mine released as each chapter is completed, even knowing that they may change (radically) before it is done?

Paper Back Now Available in Europe

The paperback version of Newton’s Ark should be available via Amazon in Europe from tomorrow for £5.99 or €6.99.

US pricing for the paperback is $7.99.

If you’re really worried about price though, the Kindle edition is a bargain at $2.99 (or the equivalent in pounds or euros). Interestingly, I make a bigger royalty on a $2.99 kindle edition than I do on a $7.99 paperback.

That makes it hard to see how traditional publishers can justify asking almost as much for the Kindle version (and sometimes more!) than for the hard copy. e-books should be considerably cheaper, not only because they are much cheaper to produce and distribute, but also because they are more restrictive (you can only lend them once ever, if at all, and you can’t resell them) which ought to mean more sales. The disruption of the publishing market has really only just begun.

Book Pricing in Australia

I am in Australia visiting family and while I’m here I’ve been into a few book stores. Shocked is the only word I can use to describe my reaction to the price of books here. Take, for example, Caleb’s Crossing, the latest book by Geraldine Brooks (I haven’t read it but I loved People of the Book). It is available on Amazon.com for $10.88 in paperback and $16.17 in hardback; it’s nearly $25 (in paperback!) in the book store here.

For all Australian readers, I would say if you don’t have a Kindle buy one. Now. Forget about walking the dog. Forget about feeding the kids. Jump on Amazon.com now and buy a Kindle. Caleb’s Crossing and lots of other great books are only $9.99 on Kindle (and even the ‘expensive’ books are $12.99). Not to mention there are lots of books like mine available at the ridiculously cheap price of $2.99.

This post brought to you by author D.A. Hill

Newton’s Ark is Now Available

I recently independently published my first novel, Newton’s Ark,  as an e-book in Kindle format via Kindle Direct Publishing Program I thought it would be worth making some observations for the benefit of other inspiring authors who might be considering this path.

The big change that independent publishing makes is that it removes the traditional publisher as gatekeeper. There’s plenty of stories out there of books that were rejected by multiple publishers only to go on to critical or commercial success or both.

What independent publishing does do though is push back on the author an awful lot of responsibility for the process of producing the book; stuff like editing and proof reading and formatting and design. You can do it yourself but it is not for the faint of heart. You need a combination of skills to get it right. Traditional publishing skills like attention to detail, editing and graphic design, mixed with the technical skills necessary to translate a manuscript in Microsoft Word into a properly formatted Kindle book within the constraints of the Kindle format (e.g. the fact that is has no such concept as ‘keep with next’) and the quirks of the Kindle publishing platform. The good news is that there are plenty of people out there who will take care of this stuff for a modest fee. I didn’t try any of them – I was determined to do this myself – but if you don’t like banging your head against a wall as much as I do, perhaps it is worth trying.

It is way too early to tell whether independently publishing via Amazon will be a commercial success. That seems to me to be dependent on a mix of the quality of the book, the marketing effort and sheer luck. I can control the first factor, am working on the second one but it’s not my strength, and can only cross my fingers in terms of the third factor.

I will also be releasing a paperback version soon, also independently published, this time via a company called CreateSpace (which happens to be an Amazon subsidiary). I’ll report on that process once it is complete.

This post brought to you by D.A.Hill, author of Newton’s Ark.