The Amazon Addiction

This article first appeared in the October 2005 edition of the New Jersey Romance Writers’ Heartline Herald.  

            Come on, ‘fess up.  You do it.  A fan/friend/third cousin on your mother’s side of the family just e-mailed to let you know that your latest book is up on Amazon even though it isn’t going to be released for another six months. And so it begins — the Amazon Addiction.
            You immediately rush to the site and search out your release only to find your novel hasn’t generated enough interest to earn a sales rank.  So what’s an author to do about her unloved child?
            For some, it becomes a quest much like the Holy Grail, checking Amazon daily in the hopes of finally seeing some movement.  Querying authors of similar books to see how sales compare.
            Berta Platas, author of Cinderella Lopez which is slated for release in March 2006 and hit the Amazon list a few months ago confesses, “. . . I’m not addicted to the numbers.  Really, I’m not.  So . . . I’m tracking our anthology. It’s doing decently. But is it decent enough?  So I put in the ISBN for somebody who’s really racing. . . Then I add ISBNs for friend’s books, since I have 25 slots I can fill. Every day I log on to see how my book is doing. . .  But I’m not addicted. I can quit anytime. Honest.”
            Do the numbers change so radically that such frequent checking accomplishes anything?
            Amazon updates its numbers on an hourly basis so you may see the sales rank change quite often.  But the numbers at Amazon can be deceptive for a number of reasons.  First, it is my understanding that the sales rank number does not reflect just actual sales, but also popularity of the item based on searches conducted by users as well as the number of books ordered in one sale.
            I decided to test my understanding.  Checking the sales rank on my two latest releases, DANGER CALLS and TEMPTATION CALLS, I found that the books sat at 359469 and 418471 respectively.  Would my single order drastically change the rank?  After placing an order for 5 copies of TEMPTATION CALLS, I watched the number rise to 78605 by the next day (and this was nearly two months before its release date).
            Hmm?  What would multiple orders do to the sales rank on a book? I wondered.  DARKNESS CALLS is sold out and so only used copies are available.  When I began this exercise, DARKNESS CALLS had a sales rank of 244261.  After ordering five books from 5 different vendors at Amazon Marketplace, the sales rank jumped to 12181 within the hour.
           Amazon numbers are, therefore, apparently ephemeral and affected by an assortment of factors.  Agent Caren Johnson of the Peter Rubie Literary Agency notes, “I never check the numbers. . . Instead I check sales reports and royalty statements.”  This opinion was echoed by Editor Stacy Boyd of Silhouette.  “I tend to get my sales info from the point of sales data collected by our company, as well as figures from Waldenbooks and other chains.”
            What is clear is that with hourly updates, an author lucky enough to appear on television or have a news article featuring them can rush to Amazon and determine whether or not that appearance/article has achieved an increase in their Amazon number.  Caren Johnson concurs.  “Amazon numbers are a great way to gauge public interest in your book, which is helpful, especially when you have a marketing campaign you’re starting or the like.  Then you can see what is most effective for driving sales to your book.”
            Can the Amazon sales ranks be extrapolated as an indication of the actual position of your book in the marketplace?
            In his July 2000 article in Time magazine, Richard Corliss noted that “(t)he Amazon sample can be misleading since the taste of its buyers doesn’t always match that of bookstore browsers.  Self-improvement texts do better . . . romance novels far worse.”
            Does that principle still apply?
            A recent check of the New York Times Bestsellers versus the Amazon Top Sellers revealed that not one romance had apparently made it into the Amazon Top 50. So how did romances fare on the NYT Bestseller list compared to the Amazon Sales rank?  See for yourself in the following table: 

NYT Bestseller Rank

Amazon Sales Rank

            Title

           Author

#3 Hardcover

241

SLOW BURN

Julie Garwood

#5 Hardcover

205

POINT BLANK

Catherine Coulter

#1 Paperback

613

NIGHT TALES: NIGHT SHADE/NIGHT SMOKE

Nora Roberts

#3 Paperback

3008

PAYBACK

Fern Michaels

           In addition, it is my understanding that for category novels, most sales occur through bookstores and direct sales and not through Amazon.  What about other paperback novels?  Estimates from various sources indicate that anywhere from 5% of 15% of sales are generated through Amazon.  Silhouette Editor Jessica Alvarez notes, “Amazon numbers represent only a part of our distribution and the final national result is much more important to us.  Still, it is interesting to see how books perform at different retailers and how the rankings can shift from place to place. “
           So what’s the moral of this story?  Whether or not your book has sold well is best determined by the sales data and royalty sheets provided by your publisher.  However, Amazon can gauge increased activity related to your book.
           Not to mention that it is such a rush when your Amazon Addiction lets you see that the sales rank on your novel has broken through to the top 1000.  How do I know?  I’m a recovering Amazon Addict!

Copyright 2005 Caridad Pineiro Scordato

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