Gabrielle Bisset

Monday, December 17, 2012

Why Amazon Rankings Are Meaningless

As an indie, I spend a good deal of my online time around other indies, sometimes just reading their posts but other times in conversations. Often those talks are about how much or what they're doing to promo their books in a world still dominated by NY. Quite often, Amazon's rankings are mentioned and there's a bit of unhappiness about the difficulty in getting rankings that will help get a book seen.

I've long believed Amazon's rankings were pure, unadulterated bullshit, but for the longest time I had no proof. Very few people wanted to believe my claims because they flew in the face of everything people were saying. I heard that the algorithm was complex and no one really understands it. I heard explanations for why a book should be higher or lower. I've heard it all. Still, I remained a skeptic.

Then this summer I unpublished a book from Amazon. I didn't want to keep the original Vampire Dreams aside the newer Vampire Dreams Revamped, so I took it off sale. I did this in early July. After some issues with a return recently (yes, 5 months after I took the book down), I found out that Amazon had sold the book until September 4 in the US. That seems really slow for a major online seller when it comes to simply deactivating a book from sale, but so be it.

So Vampire Dreams hasn't been for sale since September 4 in the US. At its highest, the book sat in the 700s back in September 2011, and for a long time it sat in the 1000-3000 range. It literally was the little book that launched it all, not the least of which was Vasilije's character, who now stars in the Sons of Navarus series. That little book has done right by me thousands of times over.

It seems it's still doing so, if Amazon's rankings are correct. Keep in mind that what I'm about to say refers to a book that HASN'T BEEN FOR SALE for over three months (and hasn't been mentioned by me in public in terms of a book for sale for over five months).

This was the ranking of the book on December 13 at 4pm (I've inserted the word up in brackets because Amazon indicates a rise in ranking with a green arrow that doesn't seem to be showing up):
Vampire Dreams (First in The Victorian Erotic Romance Trilogy)
#104,148 in Kindle books store (paid) [up] 3,937 ranks today (updated hourly)

This was the ranking of the book on December 13 at 5pm:

Vampire Dreams (First in The Victorian Erotic Romance Trilogy)
#99,471 in Kindle books store (paid) 8,614 ranks today (updated hourly)

How many authors would love to see their book rise by almost 10K ranks in one day, almost 5K in one hour, without doing anything--no talking about the book, no promo, no nothing? Oh, and I mentioned the book ISN'T for sale anymore, right?

Something is definitely wrong with this ranking system, but most importantly is that it's junk. A little more investigation showed me that on October 13, 2012, this book that shouldn't exist according to Amazon (and which I'm seeing no sales for after September 4, 2012) was all the way up at #73,257. Again, I ask: how many authors would love to see their books that high in the rankings?

The lowest this book has ever been is #114,526. That occurred on December 2, 2012. And now it seems to be climbing in the rankings despite the fact that no one is buying the book.

So a book that isn't for sale, can't be found on Amazon's site, and shouldn't even have a ranking is doing better than over 900,000 other books on the bookseller's site. Of course, if I asked Amazon or any of their apologists, they'd have some convoluted reason to explain the book that doesn't exist rising in the ranks. Most likely, it would involve the magical algorithm and quickly be as interesting as reading the small print on my credit card agreements.

The problem with claims about a book's ranking for x number of days/hours/minutes whatever, its price, etc. is that this book is not for sale, hasn't been for months, and still rises in the ranks as if it's available. The fact that books in its genre sell more or less shouldn't matter to the status of a book that isn't for sale.

Amazon's rankings should be considered meaningless. It appears they're entirely made up. For all those authors who fret about the rankings, please don't. Your books may be selling or not selling (probably due to Amazon's fictitious sales rankings, unfortunately), but don't worry about the rankings. You can't do anything about them. Really. They're truly fiction.

In fact, I'll go one better. Not only do I think the rankings are made up, but I think Amazon decides who will rise and who won't based on what they think should be popular/what they want to sell. More on that when I get more data. Trust me. I'm on the case.


Lori Cameron said...

Gabrielle your are so right that AMAZONS ranking system is meaningless. And yes they will decide who goes up and who goes down. I deal with amazon 7 days a week for an online Kitchen Store and we continually watch those ratings. It is just ridiculous but how do you fight it? You don't you just ignore and role with the flow. I understand what you are saying and agree.