October 11, 2012

How to drive authors insane in one easy step


Amazon went live with a new feature in their popular online shoe and q-tip store this week, something they’re calling Amazon Author Rank.

As with their existing and obsessively watched (we’re as guilty of this as anyone) book ranking system, the new author ranking system shifts hourly, and is based on sales of every book by the author. Likewise, as with the book ranking system, the author ranking can be broken down by book vs. e-book sales, as well as by genre. Unlike the individual book rankings, however, which scale down into the millions, where a single sale can shift a book’s ranking by four orders of magnitude in a day, the public version of the author rankings are capped at the top hundred.

Behind the scenes, however, all authors can see their ranking at Amazon’s Author Central, and by some reports it can be a gruesome number to behold. The list will still be volatile, but some names aren’t likely to be bumped off these public charts anytime soon. And while the system is new, there are already a few conclusions to be drawn from the rankings as they stand.

1. Being published by Amazon is a very good way to sell e-books on Amazon.

Each e-book author list is populated with the usual names, your George R.R. Martins and E.L. Jameses, but among those are quite a few names I, as an only-very-infrequent browser of ebooks and an Amazon refusenik, hadn’t seen before. Very often these are authors being published by one of Amazon’s new ventures — 47North, for instance, being their science fiction and fantasy undertaking. I’m certainly not in a position to comment on the worth of these books — one is written in part by Neal Stephenson, whose work I enjoy greatly — but it is possible to say that their success is a direct result of aggressive pricing on these e-books paired with blanket advertising across Amazon (and on New York City Subways, buses, etc.). Being published by a monopoly has undeniable perks. Making this new list is one of them and displaying that fact might actually have informed the decision to create this list.

2. Rankings appear to be based on recent sales.

Steig Larson is closer to the bottom of the public ranking, while E.L. James and Sylvia Day are at the very top. This may be to increase fluidity of the list as a whole, or may just be an artifact of the way Amazon has been indexing their sales numbers.

3. Author photos are somehow always hilarious.

They just are. You know it’s true.

4. Amazon is branching out into the anxiety medication business.

There’s no other explanation. Amazon would like to give every author in the country, excepting those who’ve written memoirs about heaven or books with Bill O’Reilly’s name on them, an ulcer and stress baldness. Unlike the book rankings, very few authors are actually on these lists. but that will in no way prevent anyone who’s ever written a book from checking these things obsessively.



Dustin Kurtz is the marketing manager of Melville House, and a former bookseller.