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Why I Don't Care About Amazon Best Seller Rank for My Books

Heidi Thorne is a self-publishing advocate and author of nonfiction books, eBooks, and audiobooks. She is a former trade newspaper editor.

Here's why Amazon Best Seller Rank doesn't matter for your books.

Here's why Amazon Best Seller Rank doesn't matter for your books.

What Is Amazon Best Seller Rank?

Every product on Amazon has a Best Seller Rank. According to Amazon’s explanation, it can be a good indicator of how well the product is selling overall. A lower sales rank number is the goal.

However, the overall sales rank does not show how well a book is selling compared to similar titles. For that, Amazon has set up categories and subcategories. On your book’s product page, you’ll see how your book ranks in a few popular categories or subcategories.

All bestseller rankings are updated hourly. Hourly! Imagine the sophistication of the Amazon algorithm that can do this for the millions and millions of books and products on its site.

Author Central Doesn't Help Much in Detangling the Amazon BSR Puzzle

Around early 2021, Author Central, the program that helps authors set up and manage their author presence on Amazon, launched a more author-friendly interface. While the information on BSR is more clearly presented, it really offers little help when assessing a self-published book’s sales performance.

On Author Central’s reports, you can look at the overall BSR graph for each title and format of your book. These graphs only show your overall BSR in Books, Kindle Store, or Audible. To see how Amazon ranks your book in categories or subcategories, you’ll need to go to the product page for your book on Amazon. That’s really the more important metric, yet it’s still difficult to monitor through Author Central, even though they do provide a link to your product page to check it out.

Your Amazon Best Seller Rank for categories is shown on your book's product page on Amazon.

Your Amazon Best Seller Rank for categories is shown on your book's product page on Amazon.

Getting Higher Sales Rankings Without Selling Anything

Here’s what freaks out many self-published authors. They may be obsessively checking their books’ best seller rank and notice that one of their books has climbed hundreds of thousands of rank places, but they don’t see any sales in their sales reports on Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP).

The BSR for categories and subcategories is comparative and historical. It compares your book to others in the category or subcategory. So your book may rank higher on any given day when compared to competing books, even if you make no sales.

Amazon Best Seller Rank Is Impossible to Control

If you are hoping to influence your BSR with advertising or other tactics, you are chasing the impossible. You have zero control over when other authors or publishers launch a new book and gain a high sales rank that kicks your rank downward. Or maybe a competing book does a social media blitz that causes their sales to spike, again leaving your book in the BSR dustbin.

Trying to counter and control competition and BSR with high investments in advertising or social media will torpedo your publishing profits.

Amazon Best Seller Rank Can Change Frequently and Dramatically

With such a large and dynamic database of Amazon sales data, it’s easy to understand why best seller rankings can change rapidly and dramatically over time, even within a day. It’s just statistics.

Some of the variation in best seller rankings for your books might be attributed to their time on the market. Books have a unique product life cycle. They typically reach their sales peak at launch, then can drop precipitously, eventually leveling off at a low sales volume. This is what I call the waterfall sales cycle. Unless you’re willing to constantly spend an extraordinary amount of money, time, and resources on advertising and social media, it is difficult to maintain a book launch level of sales. So you might expect your book’s BSR to follow a similar pattern. Not always.

What I’ve noticed is that my books have had many waterfalls in their best seller rank over time. This is due to the constant reshuffling of rankings on Amazon. Measuring your book’s sales success on a constantly moving BSR target is a futile endeavor.

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Read More From Toughnickel

Amazon Best Seller Rank can vary dramatically over time. This graphic shows the change in my book's Amazon BSR over about seven years.

Amazon Best Seller Rank can vary dramatically over time. This graphic shows the change in my book's Amazon BSR over about seven years.

Gaming Your Book to Improve Your Amazon BSR Doesn't Work

One of the best seller games that self-published authors play is giving away the Kindle eBook edition with a Free Kindle Book Promotion in the hopes of being “#1 best seller” in a category or subcategory. True, if they play this game right, they might attain a #1 spot in Amazon’s Top 100 Free listings for a certain category. This does not make your book a genuine best-seller, even if it improves sales rank for a particular category for a brief period.

Plus, it does nothing for your overall best seller rank. According to Amazon’s Author Central, as of this writing, “. . . the Sales Rank report doesn't include free Kindle eBooks.”

How Should You Measure Your Book's Sales Success on Amazon?

Sales and royalties. That’s it.

If you’ve self-published on Kindle Direct Publishing, all you need to look at is your sales data in your account’s reports. If you have enrolled your titles in KDP Select, which requires that you offer that title exclusively on Amazon, you would also monitor your Kindle Edition Normalized Pages (KENP) to monitor royalty-earning page reads by Kindle Unlimited subscribers. And, if you’ve self-published audiobooks on Amazon’s ACX platform, check your sales reports there.

Because that’s all that matters, I really don’t care about the best seller rank for any of my books. And you shouldn’t either.

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.

© 2021 Heidi Thorne


Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on February 23, 2021:

Mary, authors definitely self publish on Amazon's KDP because it's easy to use and free. But, as you might expect, they don't make much. Maybe they used to when the whole KDP thing was new. Now? No. Super competitive.

Glad you found it interesting. Thanks for reading and commenting, as always! Have a lovely day!

Mary Norton from Ontario, Canada on February 23, 2021:

This is very enlightening. I think authors use Amazon because it is easy to use. I don't know how much authors earn on Amazon.

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on February 19, 2021:

Flourish, "metrics machine" is such an appropriate moniker for Amazon. A lot of people want to think of them as a retailer. Nope. They're a logistics and data company first and foremost.

And you're right. It's so easy to get distracted by meaningless metrics like these best seller rankings and social media follower counts. Sales is the master metric.

Thanks so much for reading and sharing in the conversation, as always! Stay safe and warm!

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on February 19, 2021:

Devika, a lot of authors are curious about how Amazon ranks and displays their books. My hope is providing this info is so that authors realize what they can and cannot control on Amazon. Maybe they'll be less stressed about it. Thanks for reading and commenting. Have a wonderful day!

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on February 19, 2021:

Hi Chitrangada! Glad you found this helpful. There's so much to learn about Amazon. Thanks so much for reading and commenting. Have a beautiful day!

FlourishAnyway from USA on February 19, 2021:

Updating those numbers hourly just emphasizes what a total metrics machine Amazon is! You're so right to point out that sales is what matters. There can be a lot of other bells and whistles metrics that distract a person's attention.

Devika Primić from Dubrovnik, Croatia on February 19, 2021:

I am always interested to know about book information as in how Amazon selects their bestsellers.

Chitrangada Sharan from New Delhi, India on February 18, 2021:

Great article about Amazon, the rankings, the categories and related information.

Everyday, we learn something, and today I learnt a lot from your well written article. Thank you for sharing.

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on February 18, 2021:

Hi Devika! Seeing what categories Amazon puts your books in is truly interesting. It has been for me! Thanks so much for reading and have a wonderful day!

Devika Primić from Dubrovnik, Croatia on February 18, 2021:

Interesting information and most useful indeed. I have my books on Amazon and have been concerned about where my books lie in categories.

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on February 18, 2021:

Pamela, a lot of customers don't even know about these rankings. I think authors are the only ones who are genuinely concerned about them. :)

Thanks so much for reading and chiming in! Have a lovely day!

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on February 18, 2021:

Peggy, so true. Sales are the only real measure. Everything else is just imaginary.

Thanks for commenting, even though you've got so much going on with the weather in your area. As I've been seeing the news, I've been thinking about you and my other Texas friends. I hope you're staying safe and warm. Please take care!

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on February 18, 2021:

Steve, indeed it is easier to rank in the low competition categories. That's how some authors get their "best seller" status. As long as they're true experts in those narrow niche categories, I think they can make sales. That's happened for me in a very small category.

Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts! Have a great day!

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on February 18, 2021:

Bill, the philosophical types say it's useless to worry about what you can't control. Glad to see that philosophy is working for you.

Also glad to see you have goals. ;) Yes, I think you might have a shot at that.

Thanks for chiming in while we're digging out! Got way more than I initially thought we did. Dogs can barely run through the stuff. But, hey, we ain't in Texas and we always have our shovels, snow blowers, and generators ready.

Pamela Oglesby from Sunny Florida on February 18, 2021:

This is a very interesting article, Heidi. I did not know anything about book rankings before, and I found all of your information very interesting.

Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on February 18, 2021:

It makes sense that sales are the ultimate measurements that count.

Steve Mitchell from Cambridgeshire on February 18, 2021:

I agree with you. It’s easier to rank higher in categories with low competition. I suppose if you write what your audience is looking for and you can pick the right keywords you will make sales.

Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on February 18, 2021:

It's all out of my control and it's all out of my realm of giving a damn. lol How's that for a reality check?

My goal is to become the Greatest Unknown Writer, and I think I have a shot at it if I really apply myself. lol

Have a great Thursday, my friend! Good luck with that snow.

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