Amazon Author Rank: Useful or Useless?

It is not unusual to see authors, especially those who are just starting out, comment on their Amazon sales ranks online. Sometimes, they are thanking their loyal readers for raising their rank, or they are making self-deprecating comments about how Amazon sales figures keep them from getting a big head.

Authors’ sales ranks have long been displayed in Author Central, the portal that is used to create and maintain their author pages within Amazon. Now, however, that rank is visible to the public.  Readers can visit the Amazon Author Rank and see who is at the top of the Amazon bestseller list  – by the hour. Why would we want to know that? According to Amazon:

Explore these pages to find the best selling authors in your favorite genres. Been thinking about reading something a bit different or need some help selecting the perfect gift? Dive in and discover a host of popular authors who are delighting other readers. Make your reading choices with confidence thanks to Amazon Author Rank.

The logic seems to be that knowing what everyone else is buying is a good way for us to decide what to buy. That logic is not entirely sound. For one, it weighs quantity over quality. I know – there is no simple way to measure quality. Saying that something is worth buying based on its popularity does not guarantee that the buyer (in this case, the reader) is getting something that is worth buying (or reading).

For a lot of people, what they buy on Amazon is determined by price. The Author Rank is determined (it seems) by the number of copies sold. That suggests that a lot of works by lesser-known authors are purchased because of their attractive price point. At least one of the authors on the top 10 (she’s #7) for Literature & Fiction is self-published author M. Leighton, who sells her ebooks for $3.99 or less. That price is going to be quite attractive to price-conscious romance readers. Of course, #8 is Ken Follett, and the Kindle edition of Winter of the World is $19.99. It’s also a new release in a series. That makes the high price point a little easier to swallow.

Whether or not the Author Rank will have any effect on the book buying habits of Amazon customers remains to be seen. At the moment, it seems to be useful for two things. First, it gives insight into the book buying habits of Amazon shoppers. I don’t know what it means exactly, but I can’t help but think there is something significant about the fact that E.L James is #2 on the Literature & Fiction list (and overall), while authors like Toni Morrison and John Steinbeck don’t even crack the top 100 (they rank #64 and #25, respectively, on the Literary Fiction sublist). Don’t get me wrong – there are some good people on that list. I’m just surprised by the names that are left off.  I’m also surprised that the author of a book that was written in 1999 (The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky) is #1 on the Classics list. Huh?

The Author Rank is also going to be a new source of anguish for authors. Thankfully, these authors have a sense of humor, too.

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