Thursday, November 11, 2010

Thoughts On Tracking Sales With Amazon Sales Rankings and Other Ideas

Amazon must have hired a behavioral psychologist to consult when they dreamed up the idea of Amazon Sales Rankings. Authors become conditioned to monitor sales rankings like Pavlov's dogs. At times it seems to me the folks at Amazon are having a good laugh at our expense.

Precisely what purpose do the Amazon Sales Rankings serve? I am not sure if the rankings actually mean anything to non-Amazon employees nor am I sure exactly what purpose the rankings serve for Amazon other than the rankings appear to be one of the variables used in the search process when a customer does a search for a given topic or genre using the Amazon search engine. If this is true, then rankings are in fact very important to a book in terms of sales as the better the ranking the more the long tail effect of Amazon will be engaged.

Amazon Sales Rankings can be fun too if your book is selling. It is neat to see a high ranking for one of your books. While not quite the same, it is akin to having a child do well in a history fair or have a great game in a sports contest. You created the book and nurtured it along through the publishing process and if it is selling, you have probably invested a good bit of time into marketing and promoting the book.

How accurate Amazon Sales Rankings are for estimating sales? I am not good enough at either math or statistics to determine to any degree of accuracy a co-relation between sales and rankings. Morris Rosenthal on the other hand has invested a good bit of time and effort into this and has posted several times on his website about this specific topic including a recent posting about the impact of Kindle book sales on sales rankings.

My interest in the rankings is twofold. I want my books to come up as high in the search lists as possible, preferably on the first page of books listed in the search. This means more exposure and more sales which of course means better rankings and I believe a continued preferential listing in the search results. The other is part of my ongoing attempts to better understand what marketing efforts on my part are the most effective. 

While I still continue to monitor Amazon Sales Rankings, I know spend more time monitoring my actual reported sales via my Member Dashboard at CreateSpace and LSI. Even with regular updating by both CreateSpace and LSI, it is very hard to measure the impact of marketing efforts for a single promotion or marketing strategy.

Amazon seems to regularly place orders for multiple copies of several of my titles at once in order to maintain a limited stock on hand to promptly fill orders. This practice does not reflect an increase in sales ranking. Also complicating matters is a sale could take place by a third party vendor selling a used copy. 

To make matters even more complicated, two of my titles with CreateSpace have started selling reasonably well on Barnes & Noble, or at least I think so as these sales are reported as Expanded Distribution sales by CreateSpace.

If only there was some software capable of making sense of it all and providing the author with a weekly e-mail informing you which of your marketing efforts was working and producing the largest impact on book sales as well as additional helpful feedback such as this marketing effort does not produce direct sales but is building a base of potential customers and when combined with this effort, results in an excellent number of sales. Since no such software exists, I continue to do the best I can and work to build as broad an author platform as I can.

I have learned a great deal the hard way and while I continue to make mistakes, I am still enjoying this thing called self-publishing and enjoy sharing what I have learned with other authors. Perhaps someone will weigh-in on this topic and share some information with the other readers of this blog.

In the mean time, I will still be checking my sales rankings once a day and comparing the information to the data from my updated sales information. I even check my RankTracer report that does its best to predict sales based on sales rankings from Amazon (it just doesn't include my expanded distribution sales). I guess this has something to do with my love of dogs and Prof. Pavlov.