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Amazon Sales Rank: Taming The Algorithm

Amazon Sales Rank: Taming the Algorithm

Stairway with Amazon logoConfused by the behavior of Amazon's sales rank? John Doppler takes the mystery out of this frequently misunderstood feature.

We're all familiar with Amazon's sales rank, those tantalizing numbers that have driven authors to obsessively revisit their pages over and over in hopes of seeing their book climb through the ranks.

Has my rank changed yet? Better refresh it again...

Has my rank changed yet? Better refresh it again…

Yet, as a closely guarded secret, Amazon's sales rank remains a perpetual source of confusion and myth.

“Why did my sales rank go down when I sold more books this week?”
“Why did my sales rank go up when I didn't sell anything?!”
“How did the sales rank of this book leapfrog over mine when I've sold ten times as many books?”

Amazon won't disclose their proprietary algorithms, but thanks to some clever analysis by indie authors, that formula has been reverse engineered. And once you understand that formula, the quirks of sales rank make much more sense, and you can use them to your advantage.

Amazon's sales rank algorithm is surprisingly simple…

1. Each sale or download of a product counts as one point toward a hypothetical “rank score”.
2. Each day, the preceding day's score decreases by half, and is added to today's points.
3. For each category on Amazon, books are ranked based on their current scores.

Monday, a book sells 32 copies. That's 32 points towards its ranking.
Tuesday, the book sells 36 copies. Those 36 points are added to half of Monday's total (32 / 2 = 16 points), for a total of 52 points.
Wednesday, the book sells 16 copies. Those 16 points are added to half of Tuesday's total (52 / 2 = 26 points), for a total of 42 points.

…but the devil is in the details.

The underlying process is simple, but there are aspects of the process that contribute to the “strange” behavior of the algorithm.

Sales rank is relative to other books.

A book does not exist in a vacuum. As your book rises in sales rank, it will displace other books. As other books rise through the ranks, your book may be pushed downwards.

This counterintuitive feature of the algorithm is responsible for more confusion than any other.

The more recent the sale, the more weight it has.

Because the formula weights sales by recency, the effect of a sales spike quickly fades. The algorithm favors steady sales over a dramatic surge.

Consider the two books below (Figure 1). Book A experiences slow, constant growth for the first two weeks. Book B offers a promotion which results in an explosion of sales, but those sales quickly settle back to normal levels once the promotion ends.

Amazon sales rank - figure 1

At the end of the second week, Book A holds a higher sales rank — and has better visibility — even though Book B sold over three times as many copies.

In the long run, steady, organic growth outperforms sudden bursts of activity.

And this underscores a point we've made in the past: publishing success is a marathon, not a sprint, so authors should be focused on long-term success.

Reviews, ratings, and price do not affect sales rank.

Sales rank is governed by sales and downloads, with a little adjustment by Amazon's algorithms. Sales rank is unaffected by the number of reviews, ratings, or any aspect of a book other than its sales performance.

Enrollment in KDP Select/Kindle Unlimited does not confer any direct advantage to sales rank.

Titles in KDP Select do not receive higher placement just for enrolling in the program. However, downloads of books through Kindle Unlimited and Kindle Online Lending Library are treated as sales, and they are credited immediately.

A download is immediately recorded as a sale in the sales rank algorithm, regardless of what percentage of the book is read.

High sales rank does not guarantee high placement in search results.

Sales rank plays a very minor role in determining the order of Amazon search results. Other factors such as relevance, keywords, sales history, product listing quality, and available inventory may influence Amazon's algorithms. Therefore, a book with high sales rank may appear later in search results than lower-ranked books.

It takes twice as many sales to hit a rank than it does to maintain it.

Because each day's sales rank builds on previous sales, twice as many sales are needed to initially achieve a rank as compared to maintaining that rank. In other words, an author may need 40 sales to initially hit a given rank, but once that momentum is established, they will only need 20 sales per day to maintain that score. (Sales rank may still fluctuate due to the performance of other titles around it.)

Similarly, if no sales are made, the book's score is cut in half on the following day.

Twice as many sales are needed to hit a rank initially; each day without sales halves a book's score.

Pre-orders are counted immediately.

Pre-orders are counted on the day the book is ordered, rather than on the date of the book's release. This explains how books that have not yet been released may have a high sales rank, a common source of confusion.

Sales momentum is a key factor in the algorithm. The early boost from pre-orders have the potential to propel a title onto the Amazon charts faster and for a longer period of time than a launch day blitz alone would.

Taming the Algorithm

Now that we understand how the system works, we can leverage it.

  • Sales rank is relative, and changes in rank may be due to the performance of other books
  • Higher sales rank does not mean higher overalls sales
  • It takes half as many sales to sustain a rank as it does to initially hit it
  • A launch day blitz may briefly attain a high sales rank, but steady, organic growth will sustain it
  • Pre-orders increase visiblity and jump-start your book's sales rank
  • Kindle Unlimited downloads immediately affect your sales rank, regardless of whether they are read

Remember that sales rank changes daily: it's never too late to hit the Best Sellers list!


In addition to my own experiments, this article draws heavily on the work of German indie author Matthias Matting of Die Self-Publisher-Bibel, as well as Author Earnings' excellent analysis which confirms Matting's findings on a much larger scale. (The AE presentation by Data Guy is well worth exploring.)

Their outstanding contributions to the author community are gratefully acknowledged.

Do you have questions about Amazon's sales rank? Post your comments below!


Wondering how to make the most of online retailers? Don't miss these useful posts from our archive.

#Selfpub authors have deciphered the secret #Amazon sales rank algorithm — by @JohnDoppler Click To Tweet

Author: John Doppler

From the sunny California beaches where he washed ashore in 2008, John Doppler scrawls tales of science fiction, urban fantasy, and horror -- and investigates self-publishing services as the Alliance of Independent Authors's Watchdog. John relishes helping authors turn new opportunities into their bread and butter and offers terrific resources for indie authors at Words on Words. He shares his lifelong passion for all things weird and wonderful on The John Doppler Effect.


This Post Has 119 Comments
  1. […] John Doppler, autor independiente que ha analizado el algoritmo de Amazon en profundidad,  asegura que, aunque el marketplace nunca desvele este dato, es posible extraer algunas conclusiones acerca del funcionamiento del algoritmo, por ejemplo, diversos investigadores del SEO en Amazon han concluido que: […]

  2. If the author purchases eight copies of his own book and has them sent to eight different locations (in this case, for students), will Amazon award full credit or discount the “eight” sold?

  3. Sometimes it is less encouraging to see my book launched and sells much on the first week but after that nothing else again. I don’t know if Amazon is failing to update my sales or there are some favourites that have their sales properly edited daily.

  4. Hello,
    Do you know if sales rank is affected by just orders or the quantity of units purchased. Would one order of 1 unit affect the same way 1 order of 50 units??

    Please respond:)

  5. This is a very informative blog. Has anyone tried to submit their book to a professional service for review? Or is it just not worth it? I am very new to the game of publishing on amazon. I will re-blog this article on http://www.leesulima.com. I look forward to hearing from anyone who had success selling their book on amazon.

  6. Hi there – really useful article thanks. I have a question you might be able to answer. If someone orders 5 copies of a single book in one order for delivery to the same person at the same address – does that count as one sale or 5? I’ve heard conflicting answers. Thanks

  7. Hi, I found new book sales, rankings, and reviews tracking service. It tracks all your book data from Amazon (Apple books, google books, Smashwords as well) and puts them into one chart in the app. Everything is so synoptical. They are planning to add the category analyzer as well. It saved quite a lot of my time. And their support is very nice too, very quick in response, polite, willing and open to suggestions.

    The whole BookCore app is for free and there is a demo version on their site as well – which does not require any registration. You can just give it a try. Really saves a lot of time and effort. Hopefully, it is going to be as helpful for you as it is for me. The website is https://bookcore.net/

    Have a good day 🙂

  8. A very informative article. Thank you for sharing all this info with us. I particularly appreciate your encouraging words about the slow and steady, since that’s the approach I was aiming for. 🙂

  9. Thank for the very helpful article. However, I am not convinced that page reads affect ranking at all. I have a 7-book crime thriller series and track their ranking [hence their visibility) daily. I have never seen a title’s rank increase with ONLY a large number of page reads alone ( ie no sales).

    Where did you get the information that page reads increase a book’s ranking?

    Susan Fleet, author of the Frank Renzi crime thriller series

  10. HI John, I am the CEO of an Indian startup and I have just started working on an algorithm that will enable new sellers to optimise their listings. I have identified the parameters that define the search ranking, and the parameters that define the LQI. However, would love to have a chat with you on the parameters for BSR, and the weights of the variables for all 3 ranking calculations. Please let me know if you would be interested in a short conversation where you might be able to guide us in the right direction.

  11. If this is true, is there a way to find out the release dates of books that are expected to be super sellers? So that Indie authors are able to release around the dates of those books to maintain their ranking? Just wondering if that would help.

  12. Good, well written article, but missing what to do to get these high initial sales.

    People (self published authors) often make the mistake to think posting their book (only) on Facebook-pages or Google+ would be enough.

    BUT: as these pages are often crowded by authors only you do not get the attention to your book that you are really looking for!

    So our quick tip: Just search for niche specific pages or forums. eg. children’s book recommendations or recipe-exchange-central to find and connect with your audience.

    Readers = Buyers best of luck!

    Thanks for this article,
    Hartmut Obst
    Founder of be-to-ce_publishing

  13. On a slightly different topic, I’ve noticed that the Amazon Author’s Rank does not capture the lowest (best) rank. For example my rank went from 2913 to 245 and then has slowly risen (gotten worse) yet the lower scores were lost. Now my graph goes from 2913 to 750 in a straight line and all of the better rankings disappeared. Luckily I’ve seen this before and got screen shots of the ranking as they changed.

    I’ve commented to Amazon about this but to no avail. If my rank goes to a good low (for me) number then I’d like to see that as an inflection point and not get thrown away?

  14. I am a little bit cynical though, in that my work achieved higher rank when it was free than when it cost $2.99. So my rank increased in a spike, but went back to like a lower spot by the end of the free period.

    Hmmm, sounds like they just don’t want perma free to me. I care about the overall sales, not some mystical ranking system.

  15. Sales Rank on Amazon Author Central says ‘Unknown’. What does that mean? Does that mean no single sales yet for the new released book??. ‘Unknown’ doesn’t convey any reasonable message, status or figure.

  16. Thank you for this. I’m curious though. From my obsessive observations of my own books’ rankings, I’ve become convinced that a book’s overall selling history plays more of a role than the halved significance each day thing you’ve proposed.

    For example, my first novel, having sold far more copies than any of my other books since its publication, tends to fluctuate in ranking much less than my other books, even during dry spells.

    If sales’ significance is halved each day, then that would make the significance of any sales beyond the past ten days or so negligible, right? Am I even making sense?

    At any rate, thank you again. You’ve certainly given me a bone to chew on.

  17. There is loads of misinformation here. I just spent two months talking with algorithm programmers who have worked on the A9 algorithm, and a lot you’ve said here is just not true. For instance, where did you get the info that “reviews do not affect ranking?” Yes, they do. Verified reviews and numbers of reviews affect ranking. Performance Factors are all. Your so-called “secrets” about Amazon are not secrets at all. I was able to read all of the tech including the coding for the algorithm during my research. Your ranking explanation does not make sense. What are these “points”? This has no relation to what actually goes on with the way the algorithm shows results. You say ranking does not guarantee exposure. Yes, it does, but based on sales against profit for Amazon. There are many places and people to enable proper first-hand research as well as Amazon’s own manuals, guides, and books. Why all of this has to be mystified and then “uncovered” is beyond me. My article is due up this week, one of many in a mammoth tour of the algorithm explained by those who coded it and who work with algorithms every day, not authors. I hope to debunk this spate of confusion.

    1. Cate, I’m not aware of any misinformation in the article, but I think you’re mixing up sales rank with search results, which would account for some of the confusion. This article is specifically about Best Seller ranking, which is not affected by reviews or ratings, either in quality or quantity.

      The “points” I referred to in the article are illustrative, a hypothetical score used to demonstrate the ranking process. Sorry if that wasn’t clear.

      And your assertion that Amazon’s algorithms are not secret will undoubtedly be a surprise to the folks who have been working for some time to reverse engineer them. I hope you will share more concrete information in your article, and I look forward to reading it.

  18. Excellent article. The manipulation of keywords and phrases can skyrocket a book into the Top 10 AND keep it there even with little-to-no sales. So how does that correlate to the math in this article? Or are you only speaking about the Kindle rank and not the categories?

    1. Hi Sue,
      It’s far easier to break into the higher ranks of a niche category as opposed to the site-wide Best Seller rankings. The math applies to any Best Seller ranking, but the volume and the degree of flux are substantially higher when you’re looking at overall rank across the top-level categories.

      When I see authors boasting of their “best seller” status, I find my eyebrow raising: is that site-wide, or a brief appearance in an obscure, low-volume category? The two are not equal.

  19. John, thank very much from me as well. This is the most concise, useful article I’ve ever read on Amazon’s ranking (and I’ve read a lot).

    Have you written in the past on the algorithm Amazon uses for featuring books (e.g., in the “Readers who bought this book also…”)?

    1. Hi Andy,
      Thank you! I haven’t written on the “Alsobot” before, but I’m in the process of researching it. It’s a topic I’d like to visit in the future.

  20. This is a very good article, but I have one quibble:

    “The constant churn in placement leads to the phenomenon where a book that hasn’t sold any copies rises in sales rank: the score of one or more books above it have declined at a faster rate, pushing the other books upwards in the rankings.”

    If the rank calculation is as you describe it (and I think it is with the caveat that the discounting of previous sales happens every ranking period, but at the 50% rate per 24 hours). The statement above is not possible. As best I can tell, the only way for your sales rank to go up without a POPD* is for an item above yours to be withdrawn from sale on Amazon (or otherwise removed from the ranking system). If you think about it for a minute, you will see that this must be true. If one book has a higher rank than another at some point in time and neither book makes a sale before the next ranking, the raw score of the higher ranked book will always be higher than the lower ranked one by exactly 1/2 the prior difference in raw score.

    After monitoring a very low-ranked book over about a week, I would say there is a lot of jitter caused by a relatively tiny percentage of the over 2 million Kindle books that have rankings at any one time.

    *POPD = Pre-Order or Paid Download where Paid Download includes sales, KU and KOLL borrows, and Prime Member Downloads.

  21. […] Doppler over at Alli (Alliance for Independent Authors) published an article explaining the dynamics at work behind Amazon’s sales rank. Sales rank can be a useful indicator to gage how your book is being indexed by Amazon but a high […]

  22. Your math seems really, really off for claiming you only need half the sales to maintain a rank.

    Check the calculations yourself doing sales of 256, 256, 256, 256, 256, 128, 128, 128 over a 9 day period to see that there is no way to maintain a rank with half your initial sales.

    1. The comparison here is not to the peak rank achieved, but rather the difference between sales needed to hit a specific rank from a cold start compared to the sales needed to maintain that specific rank.

      In the example you provide, the initial 256 sales would give you hypothetical “rank score” of 256 on its first day (as there’s no history factored in).

      Compare that with a second series with consistent sales of 128 per day, and you’ll see that the numbers level out at that same range, approaching 256. (128, 192, 224, 240, 248, 252, 254, 255, 255.5, 255.75, 255.88…)

      You may need more than 9 days of data to see that pattern clearly, and as Phoenix pointed out below, the actual time frame may not be as simple as the example here suggests, even if they do eventually converge at the same numbers.

  23. The KU not adding weight to your ranking is a blatant lie. I enrolled one of my books recently and within less than 1 hour, my rank went up 2000 spaces.

    KU is heavily favored to pushing your rank up. The Amazon reps at NINC confirmed it this past October.

    1. I had exactly the same experience. I took screenshots before I listed the book in KU, the next day when it had been live in KU for 12 hours, and the day after that when it had been live in KU for 36 hours. It SKYROCKETED in ranking when I added it to KU. It continued to make dramatic increases in sales rankings for the first week after I added it into KU, and then started to drift back down.

      The really funny thing is, at no point during ANY of that ^^ did I actually make a sale on the story. Literally not one sale. So the only thing influencing the ranking was the addition of KU into the mix.

      Amazon is really helping out books that are enrolled in KU. You cannot argue otherwise because the facts are damn clear.

      Having said all that, I don’t have a single book in KU at the moment. I am wide with 100% of my catalog, and making a lot more money now than ever. I really, really hate being dependent on the capriciousness of Amazon, and decided it was better to go wide. Best decision ever.

    2. Heather, I have not seen any evidence of enrollment in KU affecting sales rank *directly*, though the increased visibility and downloads can have a strong indirect effect, particularly in the lower echelons where a single sale can have a disproportionate effect on rank.

      What rank were you at when you enrolled your book, and did you receive any downloads when your rank changed?

      1. Dear John
        I can testify that in France at least the books borrowed through KU impact the ranking. My ebook was in the 10000-20000 ranking (sorry not to be more precise) and without making a single sale I was surprised to see my book going to rank 256 (in France it’s easier to get high in rank of course). Simply I was not used at all to look at the page read numbers since the line had always been flat. But then I was surprised to see it going to the 1000 pages read on the first day and finally 7000 pages of my book were read in a couple of days. So the only explanation is that KU has a similar effect than books actually bought.

  24. Hey John:

    The only quibble I have with the post is with the historical sales calculation. First, I think that the US uses a different calc than those in the UK and Euro countries where the algos are more “favorable” to promoted books. I bring that up as important because one of the people working on reverse-engineering the algos is in Germany, I believe, so results from a German dataset may not correspond directly to results from a US/.com dataset.

    My belief is that the historical weightings were changed around May 1, 2014, in the US to better reward protracted sales and punish promo spikes. Meaning it’s a variable I believe Amazon uses to adjust the rankings, although it’s not something often changed.

    My observations around rank maintenance seem to indicate that the current historical degradation is shallower–that it takes a longer time than indicated here to get to that 50% of sales-to-hit mark in order to maintain a rank. As a for-instance, that it takes roughly 90% of sales the first 3-4 days of being at a given rank, 80% after the first 7-10 days, 70% after 10-14 days, 60% in Week 3-ish, and 50% after about a month (maybe more in the 24- to 30-day range). These are ad-hoc observations only, but since I was one of the first to observe and comment around the difference between sales to hit and sales to maintain 2 or 3 years ago, I have a fairly good handle observation-wise.

    I’d love to understand what validations were used to come to the conclusions posted here.

    Mind you, I’m not at all calling into question the idea, or that 50% is eventually hit–I’ve been positing exactly that for a long time–but I am questioning the time factor in the calculations. And if better testing of the calc has been done than my armchair studies have been done (which is exactly what we need to be seeing more of!), I’m also asking whether the calcs were done using a US or non-US dataset.

    Otherwise, a nice round-up here of current theory :o)

    1. That’s a fascinating angle on this issue that I haven’t explored thoroughly. Thank you for sharing your findings!

      My small-scale research only focused on Amazon’s US property, so it’s entirely possible that properties in other countries may weight their algorithms differently. I believe Author Earning’s research dealt only with US sales as well.

      More research is needed there.

      Have you seen any indication of a step function being applied to sales rank? I’ve heard one anecdotal report of staggered sales rank changes, but I haven’t witnessed those personally.

      1. You know, I saw that report too a year or two ago and commented extensively on it over on KBoards at the time. It’s an interesting premise, but hard to support across a large dataset (I’ve managed a catalog of about 150 titles in the past, although we’re down to about 75 now). Yes, I do occasionally see stair-stepping across 2-3 day chunks, and if I looked at only those books, I’d come to similar conclusions that the person reporting her one book did too. But it just doesn’t hold consistently across multiple books — even at similar ranks/similar sales.

        Our catalog is all in KU now, so it’s impossible for me to track our results of rank-to-sales with any degree of confidence any longer, so I’m out of that bit of research now. But I have had email conversations in the past with AE’s Data Guy around the historical/maintenance algos, part of which prompted him to revisit his sales-to-rank charts earlier this year. My calcs last May in a post on David Gaughran’s blog predicted that since the AE reports weren’t using the maintenance algos, the AE sales numbers were being over-reported by about 17.4%. When AE came out with its new report this January that included sales-to-maintain, they verified they had had likely been over-reporting by about 18%. So in the US, at least, we came pretty close to the same result using independent methods.

        1. I saw that post on David’s blog, and it stirred my own curiosity. I’m looking forward to seeing what new information AE uncovers with that massive dataset and their “new and improved” estimations.

          Thanks again for your pioneering work on this. It’s tremendously appreciated!

  25. Is there any way to determine how many books have been sold depending on starting sales rank? For example, if a book is listed at 100,000, and the sales rank goes up (better) by 10,000, how many sales does that translate to? I’m told that the worse the ranking, the fewer sales are needed to get a whopping increase in the rank. I was excited once when my sales rank increased by 200,000, and my publisher said that probably meant I sold one book!

    1. Hi John,
      I’m skeptical that the typical user could develop a reliable guideline of sales-to-rank, and the various attempts I’ve seen have been off dramatically.

      However, Data Guy and Hugh Howey over at Author Earnings say they’ve got a handle on it, and I’m looking forward to seeing their results. They’re looking at over 200,000 books in pass, and throwing some staggering computing power at the problem. That presents a much more complete picture that makes it easier to extrapolate sales estimates from.

      I don’t believe an accurate sales-to-rank estimate is possible with a smaller data set.

      It’s true that the larger the sales rank number, the more volatile it is, and a single sale or download can have a drastic effect on your sales rank. Sales rank is not an effective metric beyond the 100,000 mark or so (in my opinion). Above 1,000,000, it’s comically erratic. But the closer you get to #1, and the more sales that are needed to climb a rank, the more that volatility smooths out.

  26. It’s comforting to think of sales rank as something that can build with time, but that’s probably not the case for authors who don’t consider it at all, authors who just want to keep writing and not worry about rank. Sales rank does help with visibility, which is one way to be seen; showing up in search results is also awesome (but different). Both shouldn’t be left completely up to chance. Authors will probably need to create systems that drive traffic to their book. 10 people a day to their blog, 1 sale a day = maintaining sales rank. Find a system and focus on growing it, by either boosting the traffic, or increasing the conversion.

    You mention that only sales impact rank, but sales are made through a complex process that includes the book cover, the description and the reviews – all used to build trust and hook the reader, giving them a desire to buy the book and overcoming buyer resistance. Authors should be focused on increasing visibility and increasing conversion (if your sales rank is dropping after a promotion, it means it isn’t converting your ideal readers). The combination of cover, description and reviews isn’t working. Those are things that can all be constantly monitored and improved, until things are working. You can just keep writing books and hope to get lucky, it does happen, and it can work, but if you’re just hoping for the best you’re probably losing some readers who might have enjoyed your book, because they either couldn’t find it, or you didn’t sell it to them. Awesome article though, I really appreciate the research and details that went into this.

      1. By the way, if you haven’t made Derek’s acquaintance yet, do yourself a favor and visit his website at http://www.creativindie.com/ . He’s a source of consistently useful information for indie authors, and I think you’ll like what you find there.

        Derek also produces some of the finest interior templates I’ve seen, as well as outstanding covers.

  27. This is fascinating, but I don’t understand how to make this information work for me.

    How *does* one go about building a steady audience from scratch?

    1. That’s a topic for an entire book, Meg, if not several books! It’s an uphill climb, especially for a new author.

      Have you developed a recognizable brand?
      Do you engage with your potential readers in the places they socialize?
      Are your books as appealing and professional as they can be, with high quality covers, editing, and promotional copy?

      You’ll find a wealth of information in our Book Marketing and Promotion section.

      And keep in mind that even if you’re doing everything right, it may take time to build an audience of enthusiastic fans. Be patient, experiment with new techniques, and keep studying the pros to see how they’re building their visibility and fan base.

    2. get better rank and boost your sales and connect us 24/7 . we rank up at your desired position within 7 days or earlier skype :azad_1971

  28. This is interesting, but even for a numbers guy like me, the ranking has little actual meaning unless a book is at the top of the heap. Top of the heap is not necessarily in Amazon’s Top 100, but it could also be an a popular sub-category. I personally keep track to see how long my books stay in SciFi’s Top 100 (the duration is getting shorter) and I like to note how long a book stays in Amazon’s Top 1,000, but that is more for reference than anything else. When the book drops down to 15,000 or 20,000 overall, the ranking has very little real impact on things. I also have books that are ranked in the 100,000 to 150,000 range, and they can jump up or down 30,000 places in a day. But that is really meaningless.

    It is fun, though, I will admit. I have screen shots of various high water marks. And as a numbers guy, I appreciate the more detailed explanation. But my point is that too many people obsess over the rankings even when there are no practical impacts of said ranking.

    1. It is undeniably fun and addictive to watch those rankings shift.

      At the deeper rankings, placement is extremely volatile, so sales rank becomes less meaningful (and less reliable) the further out you go. Ranking at #28,000 may not be much better for visibility than ranking at #1,028,000.

      But understanding how the system works gives you an edge when trying to crack those elusive higher ranks.

      I agree that it’s ultimately about delivering excellence to your readers, not chasing numbers on the sales rank leaderboard. That won’t stop me from repeatedly whacking that refresh button as I get near the Top 10, though!

    2. I’ve just put a complaint in to Amazon about the TOP 100! I notice there is a $25,000 cash bonus for this in USA, in UK £2500 and in Australia ZILCH! The reason why is that my mum’s books ( Sheila Hunter) reached #10 in Australia and was in top 100 for a week here and she will get nothing extra! 🙁 So for Australian Authors, this is now being looked into! even $250 would be nice!

  29. This is perfect timing! I’m getting ready to publish my second book and knew there was something other authors did to help propel their book up to #1 but when I would ask, no one wanted to tell me the secret. Thank you for letting us in on this.

    I’m not sure how to get pre-orders so that part is still a mystery to me. But it seems signing up for Kindle Select/Kindle Unlimited is a good idea.

  30. Thanks for posting this. That clever bit of reverse engineering gave me some guidelines for releasing a book within the next few months. I’d toyed with the per-order thing, thinking it would spike my ranking on release day, but nooooo. Steady as she goes.

    1. Glad to hear it, Jinx!

      “Slow and steady” isn’t nearly as glamorous as seeing your sales rocket skyward, but I’ll happily take a year of steady purchases over a temporary blip on my sales report. =)

    2. I wouldn’t suggest this, Jinx. I always did amazon preorders and had good, though short, visibility.
      My past release i opted not to do amazon preorders. It was a bust. My book never got high enough on the chart to get “seen” and by the time it would have climbed higher, new books were released and mine was buried.

      Just my 2 cents.

  31. Excellent article and very clarifying in one of the aspects that most indie writers fail to understand. As a spanish indie (in a market not yet mature as the english-speaking is), this post is a must. . Can I translate it to spanish to spread this knowledge among the spanish-speaking indies? Of course, credit will all be yours, I don’t want it, just want to help the misinformed spanish indies (of which there is a lot, believe me).

    1. That would be wonderful, Miguel, and greatly appreciated! Please feel free, but include a link back to the original article.

      I’ve been watching the Spanish indie market with interest; I think we’ll be seeing dramatic growth in that sector in the next few years, and authors would do well to look into translations for that market.

      1. Whoa. I’m happy to learn about the activity in the Spanish market. I just published a book in Spanish and am considering a second. But I haven’t a clue how to promote the thing. However, Amazon recently emailed me asking if I would be interested in having the unit considered for a promo along with other Spanish language editions. Consideration does NOT mean selected. A waiting game.

      2. Article translated and published, John! Here goes the link: http://miguelangelalonsopulido.com/como-funcionan-lista-ventas-y-algoritmo-amazon/

        Regarding the spanish indie market, I agree that there is enormous potential for growth. At the moment, Amazon is the main actor, but I hope Ibooks and Play Books will grow in time to become a viable option. We’re stil in the early stages of indie movement, with just a few writers gone full-time indie authors, but things are changing quickly and the growth you foresee is nearer every day.

        Thanks a lot for this wonderful article and your kind permission to publish it in spanish, John. Regards!

  32. Thanks, John. You’ve put into concrete terms what I intuitively understood from comparing my sales to sales rank.

    With just two books out and the third coming soon, I’m just starting to experiment with price promos. I can certainly confirm that a download spike from a promo decays very fast! But the effect of having a book on free or 99c for a while goes beyond the algorithm by reaching new readers, garnering more “real reader” reviews and newsletter signups, and boosting audiobook sales by a considerable factor.

    I returned the first book in series to paid (upon which Amazon returned it to its pre-free ranking) and so far I’m finding that the new baseline for organic sales is higher than before. I’m not entirely convinced by the idea of permafree books so I’m delighted by your demonstration that steady organic growth outranks the promo strategy! I suspect that the most successful indies keep an eye on all aspects of their sales, and know how to manage promos to steer their books toward greater visibility. I hope you’ll write some more articles about how rankings and visibility intersect, especially on platforms like iBooks and Kobo where I can’t for the life of me figure out how readers will find my books!

    1. It’s shocking how quickly the effect of sales spikes can be lost. The effect of 10,000 sales can vanish within two weeks! Hitting the top of the charts in a category is an advantage (and a huge ego boost), but not a long-term solution.

      The boost from a solid free promotion can carry over into paid sales, so they’re worth considering. I find permafree to be a hit-or-miss strategy, though.

      Discoverability remains one of our greatest challenges as indie authors. We’ll definitely be looking at other retailers in the near future, with an eye towards boosting visibility in those venues.

  33. Great explanation — I’ve been scratching my head over some of the weirdness I’ve seen in Amazon rankings. I’ve always taken rank oddities with a grain of salt, though — I view book marketing as a marathon rather than a sprint. I’m after long-term, sustained sales, rather than a short-lived spike that then fizzles into nothing.

    1. Hi Heather,
      Giveaways are counted immediately as the customer downloads them. Rankings are updated hourly.

      Free titles are tracked on a separate sales ranking, however. You can see this in action in the Top 100 Paid / Top 100 Free listings.

  34. John, thanks for writing this post. What’s clear to me is that while ranking is driven by sales, I think buyers are also influenced by reviews. I know that when I look at a book on Amazon, I always check out the reviews. If a book has a lot of five-star reviews, then it’s a good bet that the book is great. So indirectly I guess reviews can drive sales, which drives ranking. What do you think?

    1. Thanks, Frances. You’re absolutely right: reviews drive sales, which boost sales rank, which increases visibility, which increases sales.

      When I said that reviews don’t affect sales rank, I meant that they don’t factor into the sales rank algorithm directly. None of these factors exists in a vacuum, though, and like KDP enrollment, they can offer an indirect advantage to visibility and sales.

  35. I’m happy to have read this, John, and thanks for your research. My attitude is like Denise’s. Good to know, but no desire to obsess. I just keep writing and building a slow-and-steady base of readers.

    Do you have any thoughts about Amazon’s secret review algorithm? Some reviews appear, only to disappear within hours or days. Nobody seems to have any solid information about it. Hypothetical question. 😉

    1. Ahh, the dreaded reviews. Amazon’s fraud detection algorithms are wound way too tight, and it’s a real pain point for authors.

      There are quite a few factors at play here, and while we can’t pin down the exact formula they use, we have some ideas about the warning signs they look for.

      Identified with a high degree of certainty:
      • reviews originating from the same IP address (e.g., you and your spouse both leave reviews using different accounts, but the same internet connection)
      • reviews submitted within 24 hours of a book’s publication
      • disproportionate number of reviews without confirmed purchases
      • disproportionate number of reviews from new accounts

      Suspected, but unable to confirm through observation:
      • disproportionate number of reviews received in a short period of time
      • disproportionate number of reviews where the customer has made few other reviews
      • multiple reviews submitted by the author’s social media contacts (e.g., Goodreads, Facebook)
      • multiple social media connections between reviewers and author

      The problem is even more vexing because the enforcement of their policies is wildly inconsistent, and low-level employees have a history of going rogue.

      The company is definitely having trouble finding the right balance in this area, but they always find their footing eventually. I’m optimistic that they’ll hammer out the kinks in time.

      Until then, we need to be persistent and professional about bringing this issue up to Amazon:

  36. Your explanation makes so much sense, John. The clouds have parted and there is light. Even if it is from a bulb purchased from Amazon 🙂

    And it seems, if this is right, pre-orders are worth doing well in advance. Thank goodness.

      1. The frustrating thing about pre-orders is that Amazon seems to freeze your rank on launch day. All the sales show up in KDP, even though the sales rank isn’t counting them (because it’s already factored in), but after getting 20 to 100 new sales on launch day, the rank doesn’t flicker, sometimes it gets even higher, for about 48 hours, then it slowly starts to adjust and come down. Something wonky is going on there.

        I like the early visibility of preorders but I’d probably rather achieve a better rank all at once on launch day, rather than an average one that’s spread out.

  37. Still all Double Dutch to me! And I’ve read several chapters in a book about this. Thankfully I don’t obsess about rankings. No point if I don’t understand it or even where to look!


    1. Metrics like these are just trivia compared to the real business of writing, marketing, and engaging with fans. It’s a safe bet that the majority of successful authors have never bothered investigating the formula behind sales rank.

      Still, it’s nice to understand why our ranks may be wobbling all over the charts. Being able to explain the behavior takes the sting out of a downturn in sales, and might even give you an idea on how to steer it in the right direction.

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