Breaking the Code: Amazon Best Sellers Rank

Don't let Amazon's confusing Sales Rank system overwhelm you. Use it to maximize your picking power!

When I'm deciding whether or not to pick a book to later resell on, there are 3 major factors I regard.

  1. The current prices that the book is being offered for.
  2. The condition of the book.
  3. The Amazon Best Sellers Rank of the book (also known as the Sales Rank)
The first two are pretty easy to interpret. 
If I were to sell this book at the current lowest price being offered, minus what I'm paying for the book and any Amazon fees, what profit would I make? Is this book worth picking?
The condition of the book also affects how much it might sell for. Obviously, a book in "Like New" condition will likely sell faster, and for more dollars, than the same book with all kinds of damage.

But that third item, that Best Sellers Rank, that can be a bit more tricky. Amazon is secretive about the algorithm used to determine a book's rank, so exact statistics on the correlation between sales rank and actual number of books sold over a certain period of time can be hard to ascertain. One thing is sure, the lower the rank number (meaning the better the rank), the more popular that book currently is. A book ranked #20 is selling a lot faster than a book ranked at #2,000,000.

Doing some research on various blogs and forum discussions can give us a few estimations on sales and rank. An excellent thread from 2007 on the Amazon Seller's Forum gives us some estimates (although the popularity of Amazon and the number of products available has grown significantly since then). Other blogs, mostly aimed at authors who want to estimate the sales numbers of their own books, give us some other food for thought. 

A few things to keep in mind are that these are estimates and there are no guarantees. Books with astronomical rankings can sell surprisingly quickly. A book ranked towards the top of the charts can inexplicably stagnate on your shelf for weeks, especially if there are a lot of other merchant offering it. Whether we're talking baseball or book ranks, past performance is no guarantee of future results.

Because books with higher sales numbers have their rankings updated hourly, while books ranked in the millions are only updated monthly, you can see how these estimates can easily get skewed. Now factor in the idea that apparently Amazon has reintroduced the concept of "historical performance" to their rankings (something they removed back in 2005 or so), and you really can't pin down any exact numbers.

Fortunately, for the Part Time Picker's purposes, we don't need exact data, we just need some solid estimates to decide whether a book were considering is worthy of a pick. A higher ranked book, which is likely selling more copies, can also probably be priced a little higher. If a book is only selling once every year or so, you want to be the lowest price available when that rare buyer does show up. But if a book is selling dozens of copies a day, having the absolute lowest price isn't as big of a concern.

Amazon has over 10 million books ranked at this time. A book gets a ranking by selling at least one copy. Books that have listings but have never sold any copies have no ranking. So even if a book is rank 9,000,000, it has sold at least one copy through Amazon before. 

So here is my own little chart of how frequently things might be selling based on rank. Combine this info with a book's lowest selling price and condition and you can make some educated guesses as to how quickly you can turn your picks into cash. 
Remember, when I'm talking about a book "selling once a week", I'm talking about combined sales from all Amazon merchants. Just because a book is selling a lot of copies, that is no promise that your copy will be among those sold. Your competing with Amazon as well as all the independent sellers.
  • Sales Rank #1 - 1000: These are the best sellers, likely selling at least 100 copies a day! The top books sell thousands of copies a day. These are usually very new releases and fetch decent prices, even in used conditions. If the price is right, books ranked this good usually sell the same day they are listed. However, these books aren't often found in the dollar bins at the thrift store.
  • Sales Rank #1001 - 100,000: These books sell several copies every day, on average. Some might sell as many as 80 a day. If a book has a rank below six digits, it'll likely move within the week, if not the very same day. Check that price, check the condition, and go for it.
  • Sales Rank #100,001 - 250,00: These books sell a copy every day or two. A lot of books in these rankings are over saturated on the Amazon marketplace, so make sure the lowest prices aren't too low.
  • Sales Rank #250,001 - 500,000: Books in this range probably sell once a week, give or take. Not the kind of book to put into deep storage, but don't expect a sale right away.
  • Sales Rank #500,001 - 1,000,000: Books ranked under one million probably sell at least once or twice a month. Books can fluctuate within the rankings pretty fast in this zone, though. Still a good score if the price is decent.
  • Sales Rank #1,000,001 - 2,000,000: For a lot of folks, if a book doesn't make it in under a million, it doesn't make the cut. For me, when a book is in this ranking (and above), I really start to factor how much profit is at stake. A book with a ranking over 1,000,000 will likely sit on your shelf for a month or more, so is it worth the storage space?
  • Sales Rank #2,000,001 - 5,000,000: These books likely sell only a few copies every year, if even that. At this point, a book should have a large monetary upside to compensate for the likelihood that you will be storing it for some time before any potential sale. For books with these ranking numbers I make sure my copy has by far the lowest price available. 
  • Sales Rank #5,000,001 - 10,000,000: Good luck with these. If it has a rank number, it has sold at least one copy (and with these numbers probably only one copy total) at some point, so there is hope. Books with rankings above 5 million are your big-money longshots, so make sure they are worth the patience and storage space they are likely to need. 
Again, these are just my own guidelines for my Part Time Picking business. Other factors should also be considered, such as how many other sellers are offering a book, your own storage availability, how often you might find books with great rankings, your feedback reputation, and how much profit is needed, per book, to be worth you time and energy. 


  1. Is it possible for a book's ranking to go from over 1 million to about 90K overnight? Something sounds fishy with that!

    1. A single sale can have a dramatic effect on sales rank. This is normal. It will drift back to the original rank if no more books are bought.

  2. That is a big jump. I suppose if a book had a huge jump in sales in one day. Possible situations like that would be if a book or author got a promotional bump from an article or an appearance, or maybe a book goes from "pre-sale" to "for sale", so many folks waited for the official release date. Remember, 1 million is still in the top 10% of all books for sale on Amazon.
    Thanks for the comment.

  3. If 1 million is the top 10%, is 500,000 the top 5%?

    1. If my math is correct (which is never a given), yes, a book ranked 500,000 is in the top 5%. I recently read that Amazon has over 17 million books in its database (although the highest number ranking I've seen is 14 mil). That means a book ranked 500,000 is in the top 3%!

  4. Where does the scarcity of the book factor in? It seems like the assumption of these rankings is that there is ample supply. A book that is not in good supply may sell infrequently, but is still a good item to list. Is there some way to determine from the Amazon numbers a rough estimate of scarcity?

    1. The only way I know to determine the possible scarcity of a book from it's Amazon listing is by checking how many other merchants are listing the book. A book with hundreds or even thousands of folks selling copies is obviously more common than one with just a few other copies being listed.
      Of course, there is no way to tell what the demand for a book is. Is this book with few other sellers scarce on Amazon because there is no demand for it?

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