More on Amazon Rank Tracking and Ebook Sales
by Lucy A. Snyder

Ironically, just a month after I wrote my column about Amazon rankings and tools for tracking them, a far superior tracking site launched:  Many of you have probably already discovered it through other venues; if not, get yourself over there and start tracking your books!

NovelRank, like Titlez (my previous go-to tracker), is free.  But NovelRank has a depth that its competitors lack: on a single page, you can see how a book is doing across the French, Canadian, British, German, and Japanese Amazon stores, not just the American version.  Furthermore, it also tracks Kindle sales, which the Titlez creators abandoned.

But there's one NovelRank feature that really leaves everybody else in the dust: they've worked out the math to translate a book's rank into estimated sales.  Along with that, they offer fascinating Top Ten lists of various kinds. (Be sure to compare the numbers for the overall bestsellers with the numbers for the various top self-published titles).

NovelRank's creators believe that their sales estimates will be accurate within 1% for books that sell less than 100 copies each month, and they seem actively interested in obtaining alternate hard data from authors and publishers so they can improve their tool's accuracy.

I do still use Titlez; while NovelRank provides superior data for individual books, Titlez is much easier to use if you're mainly interested in seeing how a title or set of titles are doing in comparison to a bunch of other books.  That kind of at-a-glance general comparison becomes difficult on NovelRank if you're looking at more than about 6 books, whereas I can easily compare the current ranks of the 55 books in my Titlez list.  Furthermore, Titlez updates more quickly than NovelRank.

I'll be very interested to see how accurate the NovelRank sales estimates are, but it will be a while before I get the data for any kind of real comparison for my mass-market novels.  In August, I finally got a statement for the first quarter sales (January-March) for my novel Spellbent, so when Shotgun Sorceress comes out at the end of this month, I'll have to keep a log of my NovelRank estimates because I won't have any data to compare them to until probably June 2011.

I didn't keep meticulous track of my Amazon rankings during the first few months Spellbent was out, but already the NovelRank estimates are supporting an oddity I'd noticed from my sales statement.

The oddity?  Despite all the hype, ebook sales aren't nearly as hot as ebook proponents have made them out to be.

Now, I'm all in favor of ebooks, and I think that publishers who don't pursue ebook markets are making a huge mistake.  But to hear a lot of ebook bloggers tell it, ebooks are sweeping through the novel markets like a hail of burning meteorites, spelling doom for paper-bound dinosaurs.  And the numbers I'm seeing just don't support that Bookocalypse scenario.

I'd had access to CGP's numbers all along, and in general, about a third of the overall sales for my collections Installing Linux on a Dead Badger and Chimeric Machines have been to ebook buyers.  And while a third is certainly significant, it's in no way a majority.

Furthermore, my small-press titles mostly aren't available in bookstores, so I expected the ebook numbers to skew higher than they would if the books had been available to the general Borders and B&N readership.

So, I was really curious about how Spellbent's numbers would compare.  I knew there would be a slight problem in making a comparison because Random House waited a month before making the book available in electronic formats.  Consequently, my first three months of sales only represents two months of electronic sales.

According to my publisher-supplied numbers, Spellbent did well its first quarter. During those first three months, readers bought 17,356 copies of the paperback.

The ebook version? 335.

Let me repeat that: readers bought 17,356 copies of the paperback, and 335 copies of the ebook.

Even if I want to double the ebook sales number to generously make up for the first month when Spellbent wasn't available electronically ... it's still less than 4% of sales. If I go with a more reasonable 33% increase, it's more like 2.5% of sales.

The interesting thing, though, is that during those first three months, Spellbent had a consistently (and significantly) better ranking on Kindle than it did for the paperback.  So, it appeared that the book was selling well electronically -- and presumably, comparatively speaking, it was -- but the better ranking on Kindle didn't translate in any way to more electronic sales than paperback sales.

Right now, some of you are remembering my quoted estimate that, for mass-market books, Amazon sales as a whole tend to make up about 3% to 5% of overall sales.  So you might be thinking, "Hmm, well, if you're only talking about 5% of sales, wouldn't the Kindle sales make up a bigger part of that teeny slice?"

It would, and in that light, 2.5% of overall sales seems a whole lot more reasonable.  But the catch is that Amazon isn't the only ebook seller in the world, and the Random House numbers didn't break the sales down by vendor.

Which leads me back to the NovelRank estimates.  I've been tracking my books for a little over a week now, which admittedly isn't a lot of time to gather data, but it's better than nothing so we'll go with it.

During that time, the paperback version of Spellbent has had an average rank of 224,068.  Kinda meh. (The book's likely to be in sales doldrums until Shotgun Sorceress comes out).  The Kindle version, on the other hand, has had an average rank of 49,981. Respectable! ... or so it seems.

NovelRank estimates that, to earn an average rank of 224K, the paperback sold 6 copies.  To earn the seemingly much better 49K rank on Kindle?  4 copies.

Despite Amazon's declarations that it's selling more ebooks than hardcopy books, the numbers I'm seeing aren't even remotely spelling doom for our beloved paperbacks and hardcovers.

So, bibliophiles can put down their Xanax prescriptions; everything's fine. Ebooks aren't crowding out the "real" books ... they're just giving readers a delightful variety of options.  And that's a beautiful thing.

Order a copy of Lucy's debut novel - Spellbent
Order a copy of her second novel - Shotgun Sorceress
Order a copy of her fiction collection - Sparks and Shadows
Order a copy of her humor collection - Installing Linux on a Dead Badger
Order a copy of her Bram Stoker Award-winning poetry collection Chimeric Machines

Lucy A. Snyder is the Bram Stoker Award-winning author of the novels Spellbent and Shotgun Sorceress and the collections Sparks and Shadows, Chimeric Machines, and Installing Linux on a Dead Badger. Her writing has appeared in Strange Horizons, Weird Tales, Hellbound Hearts, Masques V, Doctor Who Short Trips: Destination Prague, Chiaroscuro, GUD, and Lady Churchill's Rosebud Wristlet. You can learn more about her at website.


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