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Rank, Risk, Reward: Amazon Sales Rank

Rank, Risk, Reward: Amazon Sales Rank

Peter Valley is a large-volume Amazon seller who sells in all categories although books and media make up a significant percentage of his inventory. I learn so much from other sellers and recently read his new book Amazon Autopilot: How to Start an Online Business with Fulfillment by Amazon and Let Them do the Work for his perspective on how he sells successfully on Amazon.

In his first year, 2007, Peter sold over $138,000 worth of goods on Amazon. His business model is strongly influenced by Tim Ferris’ The 4-Hour Workweek (a big influence on me, also) and he talks about the ways he puts his business on autopilot so he can travel and have a life outside of work.

I was intrigued by his examination of ranking and asked him to share an excerpt from his book with all of us. Ranking is confusing for new sellers as everyone gives different answers. Because Amazon doesn’t share how rankings are figured or the volume it sells in individual categories, we can only guess. Most sellers create their own “rules” or philosophies based on experimentation and experience. Ultimately you will, too.

Cracking the Code on Amazon Sales Rank

Among the biggest mistakes I see Amazon sellers make is misunderstanding sales rank: Either ignoring it altogether, or overemphasizing its role in buying decisions. I wrote this article to get down to the question of sales rank: What it is, what it’s not, and how to interpret it accurately for maximum profits.

The Definition of Amazon Sales Rank

For every category (excluding, for some reason, many consumer electronics items), there is a number in the product description called “sales rank” that aims to capture an item’s popularity.

I can define Amazon sales rank in one sentence:

“The period of time since an item last sold.” 

That’s it.

What does that mean? It means that starting from one hour after an item sells, its rank will start to rise until it sells again. The longer the gap between sales, the higher its sales rank grows. When the product sells again, it will drop significantly and then begin to rise again an hour later.

Amazon does not disclose their algorithm that determines sales rank. This article shows how I interpret that number using other information on Amazon.

The sales rank “safety zones” for each category.

I’ll give most of my focus here to interpreting sales rank for books and media, but I made a chart (this link goes to an easier-to-read PDF) to help Amazon sellers of all products answer this question: Should I buy, or should I pass? Or more accurately: Is there a demand for this product?


To make this chart, I calculated the top 1%, 5%, and 15% in sales rank for each category. Once you decide your comfort zone (Are you risk tolerant? Risk averse?), you can use this chart to know at a glance if a potential purchase likely to sell sooner, or much later.

For example, the top 1% is safe territory in any category. You can read from the chart that a sales rank better than 15,000 in Patio / Lawn / Garden is in the top 1% (at least at that moment), and buy with comfort knowing it will almost certainly sell.

What’s important is to have a buying formula that works and stick to it. When I’m out sourcing, I don’t like pausing to make small decisions hundreds of times throughout a day. I like to know the numbers I need to see on my scouting app if I’m going to buy, and then go on autopilot.

That’s where your formula comes in: Are you going to be a risk tolerant buyer, and purchase items outside the top 10% (or outside the top 30%)? Or play it safe every time, aim for quick turnover, and keep it in the top 1%? That’s where this chart comes in. Know your target percentage bracket, know the sales rank you need to see in each category, and go to work.

How I made the sales rank chart

The formula for arriving at the numbers in this chart was simple:

  1. On Amazon, I used the drop down menu to select a category.
  2. I left the field blank, and hit “Go.”
  3. The number of results is the number of items for sale in the category.
  4. From there, I determined the top 1%, 5%, and 15%.

You can print these out and keep them in your wallet (or just memorize them) so you have a quick reference for interpreting sales rank when you’re “in the field.”

Wait: It gets complicated.

How can this chart mislead you? Here’s how: The top 10% in Books means something entirely different than the top 10% in Grocery. We’re going to look at some familiar categories to illustrate.

Amazon has listings for:

950,000 movies (VHS and DVD);

4.5 million CDs, cassettes, and vinyl.

Calculating the top 10% of products selling in these categories brings us to these rankings:

95,000 in movies;

450,000 in music.

This is where it gets complicated. I know I sell a lot more movies ranked worse than 200,000 (way outside the top 10%) than CDs ranked 200,000 (inside the top 5%). I read this as Amazon simply selling a lot more movies than CDs, which makes a lot of sense. This is an example of how relying on a sales rank “safety zone” can be deceiving. Some sellers might fight me on this point, but in most instances I wouldn’t touch a CD ranked 450,000, but never hesitate to pick up a DVD ranked 95,000.

A book ranked 100 on Amazon could be selling 500 copies a day. However a case of vegan raw food bars ranked 100 could be selling 75 units a day. Different categories, different sales volumes, same rank.

The same holds true for percentage brackets. The top 0.01% selling DVDs on Amazon might average 200 units a day. In Lawn & Garden, that same 0.01% bracket might average 20 units. People buy more DVDs than garden hoses. Pretty simple.

How relying on sales rank alone can be deceiving.

There is debate about how much sales rank should factor into a buying decision. On one end, those who say that the only thing that matters is your profit margin, meaning if a book costs 25¢ and it’s going for $25 on Amazon, they’re buying it — even if the sales rank indicates it hasn’t sold a copy in five years. On the other end are those who need solid proof a book is in heavy demand before they’re spending one cent, no matter if a book is selling on Amazon for $500.

What do I think? Operating in either extreme is just a function of laziness. Particularly in books and media, there is a (somewhat subjective) formula you can apply to determine if a book has a small but steady niche demand, or it is merely obsolete. It’s not all left to the whims of “the market.” By asking a series of questions one can ask to assess if that copy of “Algorithmic Architecture” ranked 3.2 million is just steadily selling one copy a year, or is so irrelevant it will literally never sell another copy for the rest of time.

I developed eight factors I use to separate the obscure and valuable from the merely obsolete. Going into that formula may be outside the scope of this post, but the message here is: Sales rank isn’t everything. Look at ALL of the available evidence to make a determination as to the potential for an item to (eventually) sell.

How I was a victim of sales rank myths for years.

I started out selling books on Amazon very part time in 2007. For literally the first four years I considered any rank worse than 500,000 to be the black abyss of sales into which books would vanish and never be seen from again. Fact was, I didn’t know how to interpret that number, and how often a book ranked 500,000 was actually selling.

This myth was reinforced by most of what I’d read, which advised not to touch anything ranked beyond 1 million at the absolute worst, if not 500,000.

The reality check came when I started a small side business publishing. This allowed me to see exactly what a sale of a single copy did to sales rank, and track exactly what one, two, and three days without a sale did. What I learned was mind blowing.

A single sale will cause any book to jump to a sales rank of approximately 100,000. Maybe 70,000, maybe 120,000. Two sales in a day will bring it up to around 30,000. The actual rank can be on either end of these estimates, depending on how many other books have sold that day on Amazon.

None of what I publish sells well enough for me to be able to offer personal tes­timony beyond what two copies sold in a day translates to. But the available info says that a book ranked steadily at 5,000 is selling about 11 copies per day. A book with a steady rank of 100,000 is averaging a little more than one copy per day.

After a sale, the rank starts its downward decline. If no other copies sell, the next day the rank will be approximately 250,000. After two days, the rank will hit somewhere around 400,000 (again, ballpark figures here).

Most Amazon sellers still believe in the “sales rank abyss” I spoke of, and put it somewhere around 1 million. As in: “Anything ranked worse than 1 million will never sell and is a waste of your time.

If 500,000 means that a book sold three days ago, what does 1 mil­lion mean? Keep in mind almost none of the Amazon literature I read will advise you to buy books ranked worse than 1 million. Let’s take a closer look. How long ago did a book ranked 1 million sell?

Have a seat.

A book ranked 1 million sold about ten days ago. That’s it.

Picture holding two books. According to your scouting app, the book in your right hand has a rank of 100,000. The book in your left, a rank of 800,000. Both will cost you 50¢, and sell on Amazon for $10. Most sellers would run to the counter with the 100,000-ranked book. Most would pass on the 800,000-ranked book. But the only thing that separates them is about five days.

The folly here is that there is no such thing as “a book ranked 100,000” or “a book ranked 800,000.” There are only books with those ranks at that moment. That 100,000 book could be 800,000 in a week. And that 800,000 book could be 100,000 in five minutes. Sales rank only tells you one thing: How long it’s been since an item last sold.

 In conclusion

This is a brief look at demystifying sales rank. Both ignoring and being a slave to sales rank will hurt you as an Amazon seller. Print the charts, study them, then read the feedback (as expressed in your sales) to know what works for each category.


To oversell my point, four weeks ago I sent in a shipment of 110 books (salvaged from a university library dumpster) with an average sales rank of 4 million (only four were ranked better than 2 million). From this shipment, I’ve sold four books in four weeks – books that most sellers will tell you “will never sell.”

I will add to Peter’s article that you never know exactly when the next sale will be. Is a book on its way up to 5 million or will it sell a copy tomorrow? That is really hard to tell sometimes which is why it is important to have rules and stick with them. It would be so exhausting if we had to deeply analyze each buying decision or relied on any one inventory item to make our money.

That being said, my “rules” have evolved over time. I, too, have sold highly ranked books (mostly textbooks), but I’m currently working to have a bigger inventory of fast-selling books and smaller of long-tail. There is no wrong or right with this – just what YOU are comfortable with, your level of risk and your available dollars that can sit in inventory for a while.

From my own experience, my book is – as of this writing – ranked 123,777. I normally sell about 20-25 copies a month on I’ve seen the rank crawl up to 400,000+ and drop down to under 80,000.

I would remind everyone reading this that Amazon is constantly adding new product to its catalog. If you are going to use Peter’s chart or your variation of this chart, you’ll want to update your numbers on a regular basis. While books are by far the biggest category, other categories are gaining momentum as more and more people turn to Amazon for all their shopping needs.

As you can probably tell from this article, Peter has a strong point of view. I did not agree with everything he writes in his book – I steer clear of activities that Amazon might frown on – but I learned new sources for inventory, ranking and how to make a trip pay for itself with FBA. You can check it out for yourself. He offers 30 pages from the book for free here: Amazon Autopilot: How to Start an Online Business with Fulfillment by Amazon and Let Them do the Work. As a final note, I am not an affiliate of Peter’s and receive no compensation from him for writing this story or for any book sales from it.

  • Gary
    Posted at 15:25h, 13 March Reply

    Does sales rank include all sales from all merchants, or just sales by Amazon themselves?

    • Cynthia Stine
      Posted at 07:30h, 14 March Reply

      Great question Gary. It includes sales on by all merchants including Amazon itself. So when someone buys my copy of a book versus the new version from Amazon, it counts as a sale and affects sales rank.

    • Nate
      Posted at 13:16h, 30 April Reply

      How does this work with toy?

  • doug lorman
    Posted at 19:06h, 13 March Reply


    great info you provided on your blog. you have added another level of complexity to my buying decisions, but of course that is what it is all about!

  • rosie
    Posted at 22:59h, 13 March Reply

    This article was revolutionary insight into the often overlooked or misunderstood sales rank. Thanks, I am now ready to dig deeper.What a great site!

  • Barbara Brengel
    Posted at 13:43h, 15 March Reply

    Hi Cynthia, thank you so much for your always thought-provoking and comprehensive information. It’s encouraging to know that we won’t have to spend decades reinventing the wheel to learn what you are willing to share with us just to get us going faster and with more appropriate knowledge. That’s it – just a big thank you!

  • Barbara Brengel
    Posted at 16:07h, 15 March Reply

    Hi Cynthia, audio CD just sold and because of just finishing your article I went to FBA Inventory, Inactive, curious to see the Sales Rank which was 205,000. Then I had the thought, is this the rank after customer purchased CD or when I sent the item in. I sent the item in the first week of December. I like buying items with medium and long tail so there is always cashflow coming in. I am going to assume the rank is the selling rank but would like to see what the rank was when I purchased it compared to when it sold.

    • Cynthia Stine
      Posted at 10:40h, 18 March Reply


      I’m afraid rank is only a snapshot in time. There is no way to go back and find out what a rank was when you bought it versus after it sold. The rank of 205,000 that you saw was after it sold which tells me that this is a fairly slow selling CD, plus the fact that you sent it in December and it just sold now.

      When I’m experimenting on rank in a new category or one where I don’t have a lot of experience, I will take note of my “experiments” to see when they sell. For example, if I buy a CD at some high rank, I’ll make a note of it and then when it sells, I’ll note that to myself. I bought a bunch of CDs at a book sale for 10 cents a piece which makes for an excellent and inexpensive test for me. I noted the ones with the highest, a middle and a relatively low rank to see when they sell (so 3 or 4 CDs, not all of them). I once bought some fancy shampoos in beauty for what I thought was a relatively low rank – WRONG! It took nearly a year to sell even one unit. Ideally you want to be the only FBA seller for that item so it is more likely you will be the next sale. Also, I usually price near the merchant prices for these experiments. In other words, you don’t want to be testing too many factors in your experiment when you are testing rank.

      Hope this helps!

      • Bret
        Posted at 14:11h, 06 May Reply

        Hi Cynthia,

        Actually you can access your historical sales rank data using tools like 3Camels. (
        Under the Sales Rank tab, you can find data that has been collected for perticular ASIN’s. If the ASIN you’re looking at doesn’t have the data, just give it time and they will begin collecting it within a few days of your attempted viewing.

        Hope this helps,


        • Cynthia Stine
          Posted at 07:38h, 07 May Reply

          Good point! The original blog post was written before CamelCamelCamel believe it or not….


  • Chris K.
    Posted at 21:28h, 16 March Reply

    Cynthia, Great information and thank you, first and foremost. Above, you mentioned that you have eight (8) factors that dictate whether or not you buy and item or not. Can you please explain what those eight (8) factors are in order of importance and why. Thank you for all your insight. We are blessed by all the information that you are sharing.

    • Cynthia Stine
      Posted at 10:33h, 18 March Reply


      The guest author for this post was Peter Valley. In his book, he talks in more detail about his eight criteria/factors. My personal factors include what Amazon is selling the item for; if Amazon is selling the item, the rank, how many other FBA sellers there are, the condition of the item, and what the other sellers (FBA and merchant) are pricing the item at. I can’t really prioritize, they are all important when deciding whether or not to buy an item. If the item is a book, condition plays a greater role than a toy or baby item which are new by definition. Obviously my purchase price is important – can I get my margin? Size and weight sometimes matter – particularly with Amazon’s new fees based on size and weight. Hope this helps! Cheers, Cynthia

    • Peter Valley
      Posted at 15:34h, 26 March Reply

      The factors I consider important in making a buying decision are:

      Sales rank
      Department (books, etc)
      Amazon’s sale price (which is always the ceiling)
      Number of merchant fulfilled offers in same condition (either new or used. Only relevant if an item is poorly ranked)
      Number of competing FBA offers.
      Number of units for sale within each offer.
      Net profit.
      What the item will cost me.

      Thanks for reading.

  • Susan
    Posted at 03:22h, 02 April Reply

    Cynthia: In toys, whats the highest # FBa sellers you will compete with? And kitchen? Thanks!!

    • Cynthia Stine
      Posted at 10:29h, 02 April Reply


      It is not so much the number of FBA sellers as where they sit on price. For example, if there are 10 FBA sellers but the lowest or next-to-lowest price is acceptable to me, then I’ll go ahead and send in my item. What more commonly happens is there will be a lot of FBA sellers and many of them will have low-ball prices of $4 or less for that item (say a book). If an item is selling fast, I’m more likely to tolerate several low-ball sellers because I believe their items will be gone by the time mine gets to the warehouse. If it is ranked higher, I’m less tolerant. What I do, basically, is look at the rank and look at the sellers. If I believe that my item will come up for sale in a month or two, then I’ll send it in. If I believe it will take six months or longer before I can get my price, I’ll often put the item back down unless the margin is so high it is worth the wait and storage fees (like a textbook or an art book). I realize this is not a hard and fast answer. That’s why it is so important to have accurate and current information when buying inventory. I can look at the data and make a decision based on the best information that I have at that moment. Kitchen is harder because I don’t sell as much in that category. I do know that a “good” or low rank in kitchen is generally selling fewer units per day/week/month than the same rank in books. In other words, a rank under 1000 in books is generally selling hundreds to thousands of units a day. A rank under 1000 in kitchen is selling closer to dozens to a hundred units a day. I’ve sold everything I’ve ever sent up, but I still don’t have a feel for how quickly something will sell like I do for books. The best strategy is to have plenty of margin in the item so you can afford to wait a few months for it to sell.

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  • btr
    Posted at 01:00h, 01 May Reply

    I tried your formula to get the amount of items on sale in a category and it did not work. did I miss something?

    • Steve
      Posted at 08:04h, 10 September Reply

      This is a little late, but here is a good way to get all the main category numbers. Select “All Departments” for the category drop down. Type in some random characters in the search box; for instance “adfkjaslf”. Hit the “Go” Button. Clear out the search box and then hit “Go” again. In the top right of the page, you will see a link with an arrow next to it that says “Choose a Department”. Hover over the arrow, and you will see all the main categories listed with the number of items in parenthesis. Hope this helps.

      • Cynthia Stine
        Posted at 13:42h, 10 September Reply

        Thank you for sharing that tip!

  • Peter Valley
    Posted at 01:48h, 06 May Reply

    I just double-checked to make sure Amazon didn’t change anything since I wrote the article, but this method will still work. The only exception is the Toys category. Oddly, Amazon doesn’t seem to want people to know the number of items in this category. Otherwise, just look for the number of items at towards the top of the page.

  • John
    Posted at 18:40h, 13 May Reply

    This is a great post! I bought your ebook a while ago (back when it was under a different name- or was that a different book? – I think it was called “FBA recipe for success?”) This formula used to work but unfortunately this no longer works in many categories including toys, video games, home and kitchen, books, clothing and accessories, collectibles, software, pet supplies and appliances. This makes things challenging. Do you know how to find the number of products in these categories? Thanks!

    • Cynthia Stine
      Posted at 22:25h, 13 May Reply


      My book is called “Make Thousands on Amazon in 10 Hours a Week!” so you probably bought a different book. This post that you are writing about was written by Peter Valley. According to him, the formula works for most categories except toys. I’m not sure if there is an alternative, but I will look into it.


      • John
        Posted at 07:19h, 14 May Reply

        oops… sorry about that. I just looked it up and see that I did read a different book back then but there was a chapter with similar information on sales rank and the book cover had the cute-cartoonish character like yours does, so I got mixed up. Sorry for the confusion.

        I used to use this method (and still do in the categories that they provide the information), but it seems Amazon changed this with a lot of their categories. I’ve been looking for a way to find the total number of products in these categories ever since. I will now be following this blog. Thanks for the information!

  • Phebe
    Posted at 02:25h, 30 June Reply

    Great idea to bring along a Sales Rank Chart while you’re out shopping. I just created one for myself in Excel with formulas to break down the Top 1%, 3%, 5%, 10%, and 15%. That way I can easily update it by plugging in new numbers as the catalog changes.

    As of this posting, YES, Amazon provides this information in ALL categories, including Toys. (Several people above indicated they were having trouble with this.)

  • Jake @ Jobs For Teens
    Posted at 08:31h, 18 July Reply

    Hi Cynthia,

    Great post on sales rank – I find the charts particularly helpful and I always have trouble gauging how good or bad a sales rank is based on the category.

  • Tony
    Posted at 06:30h, 07 September Reply

    Hi Cynthia

    Just to be sure I’m reading this correctly, you (or Peter) suggests the sales rank for any given product is a unique number between 1 and the total number of products in that category?

    So if Toys & Games had 1,000,000 results and the item had a sales rank of 10,000 that sales rank would be unique to that product?

    • Cynthia Stine
      Posted at 09:48h, 09 September Reply


      To clarify, what Peter is saying is that Amazon doesn’t have “ties.” There won’t be 3 items with the same rank even if they are each selling the same number of units that particular day. It has a complex algorithm that it uses to determine rank. So something that is 10,000 today might be 100,000 next week based on sales. But when it is 100,000, it will be the only one at that particular rank that day and in that moment. That is why I refer to rank as a “moment in time.” It is constantly changing.

      Hope this helps!

  • justin l
    Posted at 18:00h, 10 September Reply

    I’m not following the logic of the rank is a measure of time between now and when the product last sold. For our clients, I closely monitor many products’ sales rank every hour and these products are selling throughout the day. At some point during the day, even a moderate selling product will have just sold and at that moment it will have been the most recent purchase in the category, but it never makes it into the top 5% of sales rank.
    We see a close correlation between rank and sales, but the recency of the last purchase does not appear to be correlated other than recent sales are valued higher than past sales but the volume of sales is a more correlated factor.

    • Cynthia Stine
      Posted at 10:45h, 11 September Reply


      You are correct in that sales volume is one of the measures that impacts rank. I apologize for not being clear. For an item to make #1 or even into the top 5%, it needs to not only have sold recently, but it needs to be selling frequently as well. To use my book as an example, the rank fluctuates among 30,000 to 200,000 at any given time. I generally sell about 20-30 units a month. Depending on when you look at my book on Amazon, you might think it is selling faster or slower. When I sell multiple units in a day, it will drop a lot, but the reality is that over the course of a month I’m selling about a book a day on

      Hope this helps!


  • Dan
    Posted at 21:10h, 02 November Reply

    Hi Cynthia,
    I am putting my spreadsheet together now. Looking at baby, I see 759k products listed today. That would mean 1% is 7,596. Reading the article which was created 8 months ago, indication is that baby only had 195k products. Am I looking at the right number? Is it possible there are that many more products 6 months later? Also looking at the category Toys, I don’t see a product count listed at the top like some other categories.

    • Cynthia Stine
      Posted at 13:59h, 03 November Reply


      It is absolutely possible. Amazon is growing by leaps and bounds. The book category adds about a million or more a year, just to give you an idea. Your best bet is to do what you did – check with Amazon. With baby, a huge percentage of the items (about 70K) are apparel which we can’t sell, just keep that in mind. I regularly send in items up to 50,000-60,000 in baby and they sell fine. The majority of my items are under 40,000. For toys, if you go all the way to the bottom and click “include out of stock” then you’ll see that there are over 2.5 million items in that category. Five percent would be around 125,000 which correlates with my experience. I generally like to buy at 75,000 or less but I have a few items up there that are higher ranked and they sell even though it takes a while. My first year I bought a toy around 75,000 and was surprised when it sold in about a week. At Christmas time everything is accelerated. A 75,000 at Christmas is selling more units per week than a 75,000 in March. Which is not to say I advocate buying a bunch of higher ranking toys. Lower is obviously faster selling. I’m just letting you know the range within which I buy.

      Good luck!

  • Maria Gitin
    Posted at 19:58h, 25 December Reply

    This article was super helpful as my first book from a textbook publisher comes out in February. I was going up and down with the ranking, not understanding how my book could move by a thousand in a day. This is really helpful, and also lets me know that the book is doing well. Thanks!

  • Karyn Bonti
    Posted at 18:09h, 03 January Reply

    Amazon has 32 million books on it. Someone who sells has a best seller rank of 3,200,000 is in the top 10% for sales. Someone who has a sales rank of 320,000 is in the top .1%. IT IS A LIE TO SAY SOMEONE WHO HAS A BEST SELLER RANK OF 3,200,000 DOESN”T HAVE SALES. A BEST SELLERS RANK OF 3,200,000 IS IN THE TOP 10% AND HAS A LOT OF SALES. SOMEONE WHO HAS A SALES RANK OF 320,000 IS IN THE TOP .1% A LOT LOT LOT OF SALES!

    • Cynthia Stine
      Posted at 12:21h, 06 January Reply


      I appreciate your perspective and would agree with you if the category were any other category than books. I write my blog based on my personal experience and share what I’ve learned. This means my blog is subjective. I’m not a liar. Someone with a best-seller rank of 3,200,000 probably does have sales – but they may be years apart. I’ve sent in books at ranks near 3 million and they’ve not sold even though they’ve been up there for two or more years. In my world, that is a losing proposition and I don’t recommend that my readers send in books that are ranked that highly unless the return is so spectacular it is worth the wait.

      A colleague of mine, for example, sold a book that was originally ranked at 10 million when he listed it. It was merchant fulfilled since he knew it would be years before it sold. He finally sold it three years later. For him, this particular book was worth it. He does not base the success on his business on long-tail sales like this, however. Turnover is important to making a viable income from this business as opposed to a hobby.

      If you have had a different experience selling highly ranked books, I’d like to hear about it and share with the community.

    • Karyn Bonti
      Posted at 23:15h, 08 January Reply

      It would be weird to say that 32 million people don’t sell books and only 10,000 do. That’s ridiculous! 3.2 is the top 10% for sales rank when their are 32 million books. I actually think if you check amazon’s website, there is over 45 million now!

  • Karyn Bonti
    Posted at 23:16h, 08 January Reply

    3.2 million that is. 3.2 million is the top 10% when there are 32 million books!

    • Cynthia Stine
      Posted at 21:56h, 09 January Reply


      I’m a little confused by your recent comment. I sell books at much higher than 10,000 rank – up to 1.5 million – on a regular basis. What I’ve learned is that books that are around 2.5 million and higher take a long time to sell – like years. For me, I try to keep my book ranks under a million because I want turnover in my inventory. If a book has a high value, I’ll take it on even though it may take months to years to sell.

      While 3.2 million is in the top 10%, you have to realize that there are a lot of books on the Amazon catalog that people don’t read and/or may never read again. Think about encyclopedias or books that are updated regularly like textbooks and almanacs. Some books are faddish and then fade – think about celebrity tell-alls and stuff like that. There are a zillion versions of classics, for example, and many people don’t care about Pride and Prejudice from 1950 when they can get it brand new today for $5.99 unless there is something super special about that older edition (there usually isn’t). I don’t mean to be a downer here – I’m just sharing my experience. I highly recommend that new sellers load up on books that are under 1 million in rank and go higher only when the return is worth the long wait.


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  • Peter Valley
    Posted at 10:46h, 12 February Reply


    The author of the post here.

    I think you miss an important point: While Amazon may have 32 million books in its catalog, only 13 million of them have ever sold. This also means only 13 million have a sales rank (the rest show no sales rank). So to be in the top 10%, a book would need to be ranked 1.3 million or better. Sorry for the confusion.

    Peter Valley

    • Karyn Bonti
      Posted at 19:29h, 13 March Reply

      Wow! I thought people were much bigger consumers than that! Oh well.

    • Jo
      Posted at 12:28h, 11 August Reply


      Is this 13 million just a guess from you or Is there any way that we can see the amount of sold books against the amount of total books ourselves? Just to make our calculations more accurate.


      • Cynthia Stine
        Posted at 17:53h, 11 August Reply

        Hi Jo, will tell you exactly how many items are in each category. All you need to do is go to the category (vs. searching for an individual item), scroll down the page and look on the left. You will see numbers by each subsection. For example, books has “arts & photography,” “biographies & memoirs,” and so on. Keep scrolling down until you see a checkbox that says “Include out of stock.” If you click that button, all the numbers you see will cover every single listing on If you only want listings with inventory, don’t click that box, obviously. Since Peter wrote this post, the number of items in each category has increased significantly so don’t be surprised if your numbers are a lot bigger than the ones he used in his post.


  • Trevor
    Posted at 10:20h, 21 February Reply

    Hi Cynthia,

    What is the 1-15% risk range for Kitchen and Dining? I know it’s a small sub-category of Home and Kitchen, but I would love to get clarification before I go in on any deals in the 1000-2000 range.

    • Trevor
      Posted at 11:11h, 21 February Reply

      Never mind…I answered my own question. I dug a little deeper and found a solution in the archives of Bob Willey’s forum.

      If you type “-sdfdsf” into the search field for any category or sub-category, you will get the total number of listings. in the case of Kitchen and Dining, it’s 3,000,000, so it looks like it would be

      30,000 or lower for top 1%
      150,000 for top 5%
      450,000 for top 15%

      • Cynthia Stine
        Posted at 15:15h, 24 February Reply


        Awesome! Thanks for sharing. 🙂


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    Posted at 16:10h, 08 September Reply

    By Golly I think I’ve got it! Is the figures that if someone has a sales rank of 1,000,000,000 and sell one book a month mean that they sell one book a month in all of Barnes and Noble stores. There are 800 Barnes and Noble stores and if they sold 1 a month in each store, it would be 800 sales a month. If the book is $10 then you made 8,000 dollars. SWEET!

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  • Tracie L.
    Posted at 12:20h, 17 February Reply

    Thank you Cynthia for this super article! My first Amazon FBA bombed because I didn’t do the sales rank study. Now my inventory just stuck there like it’s dead zombie. Very frustrated when everybody is touting about how great selling on Amazon is when there are so much you have study on the market before you dive in. I would stay away from FBA until I know exactly how to crack the sales rank code on Amazon. Apparently if your product is not on the first page then forget about the quick sales. I believe the sales rank is prob. the most neglected aspect of Amazon FBA for the beginner sellers…..

    • Cynthia Stine
      Posted at 13:12h, 17 February Reply


      I agree with you that this is not a business to be entered in without some research. That’s why I recommend that new sellers immediately get the tools I use (a mobile scouting app and an Amazon listing tool) and use them when buying new inventory. I started my business with my own inventory out of my house. It was a safe way to make early mistakes and there were quite a few books I ended up destroying later that I would never buy today. In my book and video I show people what makes a good deal and how to use sales rank as one of your determining factors when buying new inventory. Unfortunately, sales rank is not the best indicator either. It only tells you how recently something sold which doesn’t tell you how long it will be until it sells again. Since I started the business great tools like have made it easier for me to see historical data over a year’s time rather than just today’s rank. Good luck to you Tracie – persistence like yours is important to success, too!


  • Steve
    Posted at 00:36h, 11 June Reply


    Thanks for your article. I’m a somewhat experienced Amazon seller, and a data scientist, and I feel compelled to point out some of the misleading content generated by you and Peter in this post.

    I was just reading the comments, and I don’t think you actually answered Jo’s question from August 11, 2014, at 12:28 PM. What Jo actually asked was how you get to the denominator of the the numbers in your sales rank table. 110,000 @ 1% implies that 11 million items was the total number of books used (110,000 / .01 = 11 million). Now, there is a separate issue in the fact that Peter mentioned the total number of ranked books, and thus the total number of books that have sold on Amazon was 13 million, but I assume the discrepancy between 11 million and 13 million is the result of the passage of time between when the chart was created and when Peter’s comment was made.

    However, the much more glaring issue with your response to Jo’s question is that you responded by telling Jo how to find the total number of active (items with inventory) and inactive (i.e. out of stock) items in a particular category. That is a completely different data point entirely. In fact, an item could have sold in the past (i.e. have a rank) and actually be inactive currently. Or, it could be active, it just depends. Whether an item has a rank or not has nothing to do with whether or not its currently active. Its active if it has inventory, and its inactive if it doesn’t, thats it. It says nothing about whether or not it has a rank (i.e. has sold or not).

    So, the question remains, how did you get the denominator used in your sales rank tables? There is no way that I know of to find the number of items that are ranked, unless you’ve done it programatically by pinging every single item in a category and returning the item in the category with the largest sales rank. I assume that is not how you did this so I think you readers would all love to know how you go the denominator.

    On another point, I’d like to point out another glaring contradiction in your article vs a comment you made. In the article you said “I can define Amazon sales rank in one sentence: The period of time since an item last sold. That’s it.” Then in the comments, when Justin astutely pointed out that if this were in fact true, any time one of your items sold, if you could check its sales rank immediately after it sold, it would be ranked at #1. I think all of us that have sold on Amazon know that when our items sell, they don’t shoot up to #1 sales rank. And if your definition were true, that’s what would happen. So your definition is therefore dis-proven by counterexample. You even said in your response to Justin, “For an item to make #1 or even into the top 5%, it needs to not only have sold recently, but it needs to be selling frequently as well”. Um, okay. Do you see how that directly contradicts your definition in the post that sales rank is “the period of time since an item last sold, thats it”. If that were it, then sales volume wouldnt matter. But obviously it does. Even if the amount of time since it last sold was the only factor in the sales rank calculation, it would still be untrue to say literally that the sales rank is the amount of time since it last sold, b/c that number would be a measure of time. The measure, whatever it is, needs to actually be ranked against other items in the category. That’s why its called rank and not some other nebulous name to refer to the actual measurement. Amazon doesn’t want us to know how they calculate the measure behind the sales rank. That’s the whole point of obfuscating it into a rank!!!

    • Cynthia Stine
      Posted at 09:23h, 16 June Reply


      You are correct in the fact that the catalog is constantly expanding. The number of books in the book category is way over what it was when the first article was written, for example. This is why it is important to keep updating your personal sales rank charts. I do it a few times a year. As a data wonk, I’m sure this entire article was excruciating for you because it is speculative and based on guess work and observation. Amazon won’t tell us how rank works so we do the best we can to reach numbers that translate into dollars for us. Despite its flaws, I hope this approach will help you as well.

      Peter’s approach to sales rank is one that I’ve found helpful in my own scouting. I generally find that products in the top 5% of a category will sell – usually in a reasonable amount of time (within 2 months). By coupling my personal sales ranks (usually in the top 1% of a category – up to 5% in some) with Amazon’s CamelCamelCamel tool, I can get a pretty clear picture of whether or not a product will sell. When I wrote this blog, CamelCamelCamel did not exist. It is a hugely helpful tool for showing sales rank history over time. You can see at a glance for yourself how one sale can dramatically change the rank for a product. After a while selling in a category, you will be able to look at a chart and make a reasonable guess as to how many sales a day/week/month there are for that product. To your specific points:

      1) We used all ASINs in a category for the gross/total used by Amazon in a category. This is based on the fact that MOST ASINs do have rank of some kind. Not all, of course. It is not perfect. Using only active ASINs makes more sense in a huge category like books where there are a ton of dead items that will never sell. Not perfect, of course, because some of those ASINs are out of stock, etc., as you point out. For other categories, I use the gross number of ASINs and I’ve never had a problem with something not selling as long as I stay under 5% in that category. It might take a while but it sells and I learn from that experience whether or not I want to keep selling that ASIN.

      2) The conclusion you drew from my post that one sale=#1 sales rank is mistaken and I’m sorry for any confusion you and others may have had. Velocity also plays an important role in rank. One sale WILL drop a book from the millions down into the ranks of less than 1 million. And then it starts climbing up again. If you check the next day after a sale, the rank has increased and will continue to do so every day until it sells again. This is what I meant by rank telling me when it last sold. The higher the rank, the longer it has been. My own experience tells me that a book over 1 million is usually selling less than 1 unit per month. As a reminder, this blog post was written before CamelCamelCamel so everything we sellers did (it was like the dark ages my friend!) was guesswork…based on observation. CCC has helped verify our observations and give us more confidence as sellers when buying something new. This blog post and its charts (constantly updated) have been proven to be effective when checked against CCC data. I use the rank charts to tell me that I’m interested and whether or not a product is a possibility, and then CCC to tell me if the rank I’m looking at is consistent or a fluke based on a recent sale. This is particularly helpful with seasonal items where it may sell a lot at a particular time of year and then much less the rest of the year.

      Back to velocity: to get to below (approximately) 500,000 in books, for example, requires multiple sales close together. How many? How often? Amazon is not sharing. I only know these numbers because I am an author on Amazon and I know I have to sell more than one book a day to get below 100,000, for example. My rank is currently 70,000 and it was much harder to drop from a steady 80,000 (ish) to 70,000 than 300,000 to 100,000. I am currently selling MORE than 2 units a day, but not quite 3 a day on average. If I were the number 1 book on Amazon, I would probably be selling hundreds of books a day, maybe thousands. This is what I know about books. At Christmas time, I was selling more than 3 units a day (more than 100 a month) AND my rank was around 80,000. Obviously, a lot of other books were selling better than mine at Christmas even though my sales were very good. I spiked at Christmas and yet my rank is better now largely – I think – because I’m still selling consistently. A lot of books sell a lot at Christmas and then fade away. My book has been selling consistently for 3+ years. Also, please note that my numbers are only new units. Plenty of people are selling my book used which also gets incorporated into rank. It may be that my book is actually selling 4-5 units a day new + used. I have no idea. I sell my own Kindle version so that’s not worked in to rank like it is for other books.

      In food, pets and other categories that are much smaller than books, I can tell you that velocity is different. 70,000 in food is not the same as 70,000 in books in terms of units sold per day. It is still a good rank, though. Toys sell a lot more units per day at Christmas than June, obviously, even at the same rank. Rank 500 in June is fewer than rank 500 in December.

      I hope this clarifies things for you.


  • Steve
    Posted at 22:28h, 21 June Reply

    Thanks for your detailed response Cynthia.

    Unfortunately, I think the plot was lost a bit. The question I had, and which Jo had too, is much simpler and remains unanswered. That is, simply, how are you going about counting the number of **ranked ASINs** in any particular category? For example, the 11 and 13 million number you and Peter used. How did you get to that number? Because there’s no way we know of to filter by ranked items on Amazon’s site. Was it a guess? If so, was any other data used to help make the guess?


    • Cynthia Stine
      Posted at 11:24h, 22 June Reply


      I go to the category on and add up all the active offers to get the gross number of ASINs. There is usually a check mark on the bottom left-hand side of the page where you can choose just active ASINs. This varies by category.

      Each category has its quirks when adding up the number of unique ASINs. Books will have lots of ASINs but each version of a book has its own listing (officially). If you look on the left-hand side of the main page, you will see where they show you the breakout among hardcover, paperback and Kindle versions. Also, you will see the breakout of gross number of used, new and Kindle offers. I click on the used number because that is what I sell – used books with an occasional new. There are over 27 million used book ASINs on If I were to add in the New and Kindle offers, the number would be distorted because there is cross-over between New, Used and Kindle…obviously.

      1% = 270,000
      5% = 1,350,000
      10% = 2,700,000

      In books, I stay below 5% most of the time because I want items that will sell faster. My own personal experience with books closer to 3 million is that they can take well over a year to sell. This is fine for a high-dollar book I bought for 50 cents, but not for a $5 item I want to sell for $20.

      In grocery, there are just over 900,000 active listings currently (add up all active offers). I generally sell at 80,000 or below. So in books I sell under 5% and grocery 10%. Why? Because it works for me. Each seller needs to determine for themselves which ranks they prefer. Breaking rank out into 1%, 5% and 10% is helpful BUT it is not set in stone. You can buy higher ranked items and they will probably eventually sell. If you have 1 or 2 units of that item, you are probably OK with a slower sale if the return is really good. I do that in books all the time. What using the percentages do is answer for you the question “Is this a good rank?” If you are looking at a grocery item that is 100,000, it is an OK rank but you have to understand your sales will likely be slow….unless there are exceptions. For example, is this Halloween candy? Then you might want to use CCC for historical data. You may see that in October this product is ranked 100. This is where your good sense as a seller has to step in.

      Hope that helps!

  • Steve
    Posted at 17:40h, 25 June Reply

    Hi Cynthia,

    Really appreciate the help, but unfortunately we’re still talking past each other : /.

    We already know how to count the *active* and *inactive* items in each category and understand each category is a little different in terms of getting those numbers.

    Jo and I are asking how you got the total *ranked* items for Books. Peter said there are only 13 million *ranked* books and your table implies 11 million was used for the total number of books. We assume the 11 million you used was *ranked* books only because even at the time of your post there was waaaay more than 11 million *active* books. How did you guys get the 11 million *ranked* books you used in the table. The same question pertains to the 13 million number Peter mentioned in his comment. We just assumed the 11 and 13 million numbers both reflect *ranked* books and the difference is a result of the passage of time and the number of *ranked* books increasing.

    Does our question make sense now? Just to summarize, we already know how to count *active* and *inactive* items but neither of these were used for your sales rank % in the books. If you reverse the math in your table for books you get to 11 million and since there are way more books than that that we assumed, in conjunction with Peters comment that you’re only counting *ranked* books, that the 11 million you used was a *ranked* books count.

    We just want to know how in the world you count *ranked* books and how you got to 11 million!

    Make sense?

  • Peter Valley
    Posted at 15:18h, 29 June Reply


    This is Peter Valley, author of the post and I think I can clear this up. I haven’t read the entire exchange but I think I can get at your two main questions.

    As to your first question, regarding how I arrived at the total number of books that have sold one copy (i.e. the total number of books with a sales rank), that one is pretty simple: I process a TON of books, and at the time of this writing, the highest sales rank I had ever seen was 11 million. So that’s how I arrived at that number.

    Lately, I have seen ranks approaching 16 million, so if I were to rewrite this post I would change 11 million to 16 million. Not an exact number, but if there was a rank, say, over 17 million, I’m confident I would have seen it by now. Make sense?

    As to the second question, the defining Amazon sales rank as “the time since an item last sold” is of course a simplification of a very complex algorithm. That is a mostly accurate definition for all book ranked worse than roughly 100,000 (i.e. 99% of all books on Amazon), and not as accurate for books in the top 1%.

    The reason is that books jump to a rank of *about* 100k when they sell a single copy (assuming they started out ranked worse than that). So the rank drifts upwards from there after the sale.

    The figures become more muddled when a book sells more than one copy in a day. Then we see ranks of 50k, 30k, etc. Above roughly 100k, it stops being a calculation of how long since the book ha sold, and becomes a measure of how many it has sold *that day*.

    Hope that makes sense. You can email me directly at fbamastery [at] gmail.

  • Peter Valley
    Posted at 15:19h, 29 June Reply


    This is Peter Valley, author of the post and I think I can clear this up. I haven’t read the entire exchange but I think I can get at your two main questions.

    As to your first question, regarding how I arrived at the total number of books that have sold one copy (i.e. the total number of books with a sales rank), that one is pretty simple: I process a TON of books, and at the time of this writing, the highest sales rank I had ever seen was 11 million. So that’s how I arrived at that number.

    Lately, I have seen ranks approaching 16 million, so if I were to rewrite this post I would change 11 million to 16 million. Not an exact number, but if there was a rank, say, over 17 million, I’m confident I would have seen it by now. Make sense?

    As to the second question, the defining Amazon sales rank as “the time since an item last sold” is of course a simplification of a very complex algorithm. That is a mostly accurate definition for all book ranked worse than roughly 100,000 (i.e. 99% of all books on Amazon), and not as accurate for books in the top 1%.

    The reason is that books jump to a rank of *about* 100k when they sell a single copy (assuming they started out ranked worse than that). So the rank drifts upwards from there after the sale.

    The figures become more muddled when a book sells more than one copy in a day. Then we see ranks of 50k, 30k, etc. Above roughly 100k, it stops being a calculation of how long since the book has sold, and becomes a measure of how many it has sold *that day*.

    Hope that makes sense. You can email me directly at fbamastery [at] gmail.

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  • melissa
    Posted at 10:34h, 22 December Reply

    think this info about sales rank safety is still valid since this was written in 2013?

    • Cynthia Stine
      Posted at 13:46h, 30 December Reply


      Amazon’s product base has grown so the numbers have changed. My colleague Stephen Smotherman updates this ranking on his blog every month or so. You can get the latest here:


  • jeck
    Posted at 13:48h, 28 January Reply

    i see much products which have 3 different ranks, in sub category like:
    Amazon Best Sellers Rank:
    #331 in Computers & Accessories > Computer Components > Memory
    or like:
    #2,955 in Electronics > Accessories & Supplies > Cell Phone Accessories > Portable Speakers & Audio Docks > Portable Bluetooth Speakers
    #3,197 in Electronics > Home Audio & Theater > Wireless & Streaming Audio
    #4,315 in Electronics > Home Audio & Theater > Speakers
    what means a rank like this
    its there are a way to know if this is good item to sell ????

    • Cynthia Stine
      Posted at 17:46h, 28 January Reply

      I would follow the same rules as for the broader category and sell items that are ranked 5% and lower.

  • del wong
    Posted at 02:48h, 08 February Reply

    Sales rank and charts ala camels I liken to performing a tea-leaf fortune reading.

    Wouldn’t you rather want to know the amount of a particular book title/condition sold in the past week? past month? past 3 months, six months, or a year of sales?

    You monitor the names of sellers of a particular book and if they suddenly “disappear” from the listing, we assume a sale has been made IF AT THE SAME TIME PERIOD THE SALES RANK also dropped (inverse logic, right?) by a “huge” amount. A refinement would be to do the infamous “999” unit buy to figure out the exact amount of stock that every book seller has. And constantly monitor for any downward changes (if previous scans pegged just 1 book stock available then if that seller “disappears” assume a sale has been made). This would hold valid for multi-channel sales too.

    So now instead of a nebulous “sales rank” we have instead an actionable profit metric.


    • Cynthia Stine
      Posted at 15:03h, 12 February Reply

      Since I wrote this post, new technologies have come along that give a much clearer picture of an ASIN’s performance. Amazon still doesn’t give this information away, but you can make better and better decisions than just a few years ago.


      • Sapna
        Posted at 00:14h, 08 August Reply

        First of all I want to thank you Cynthia for the most informative article of how the ranking works and the over all picture that a seller needs to have. This has helped me immensely. I must have read your article multiple times to make sure I am not missing any point.

        I know there are lot of methods available now days to do the research, but still I would like to know how do you find the total number of sellers in a particular category. I did to follow your method to collect the number by number of search results. But my numbers are too off when compared against your reference sheet. To me this does not seem right, coz over the period of time the number of sellers are only going to increase. Am I missing something.. 🙂 ? seeking help !

        • Cynthia Stine
          Posted at 19:48h, 21 August Reply

          I’m afraid I don’t have a way to determine how many unique sellers are in a category.


  • Lisa
    Posted at 22:29h, 03 July Reply

    Perhaps the ‘high dollar value’ of a book ranked around 3.5 million (for example) is the inherent reason why it takes so long to sell. How do you determine the value of an item other than what other sellers asking for it? Just because they’re asking a lot doesn’t mean they’ll get a lot hence the reason the item takes years to sell. Conversely, the really fast selling items often have so many sellers and low ball prices it’s seems tough to make a profit. Very tricky to find that sweet spot; looking for it takes spending a healthy chunk time and money.

    • Cynthia Stine
      Posted at 19:55h, 21 August Reply

      It is hard to find that sweet spot, but it is there. You should also look at the tricks that work in the other categories as well like bundles.


  • Anthony
    Posted at 01:03h, 26 July Reply

    Excellent .. Amazing .. I’ll bookmark your blog and take the feeds also…I’m happy to find so many useful info here in the post, we need work out more techniques in this regard, thanks for sharing.

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