People tell me, as Pericles Commission nears release, to ignore the book's Amazon ranking. Which I didn't even know existed until people told me to ignore it.
So this made me find out about Amazon rankings. As far as I can tell, the advice is right; Amazon ranking appears to be a poor implementation of a bad idea. The concept is that every single book is stack ranked based on sales. And not only sales, but using a projection algorithm based on buying trends.
So my humble debut historical mystery is stack ranked in the same group as, for example, the latest Twilight. Because, you know, it makes perfect sense that teenage girls who're into emotionally dysfunctional vampires will also want to read an ancient murder mystery, right? Also, the same people want to read the latest textbook on calculus and Shakespeare's Hamlet.
You could make this work, I suppose, if you stack ranked within genres. So that ancient mysteries were ranked only among themselves, and dysfunctional vampires only sucked each others' blood. But even then there's a problem because the 7th book in a successful series comes with an existing audience. A book late in a series could totally outsell a profitable newcomer and yet still underperform on expectations.
So what does this ranking system measure? Actually, nothing, except perhaps a profitability projection for the bookseller.
Surprisingly, it seems nobody can tell how many copies of any book have actually been sold. The publisher knows how many have been shipped to stores, but not how many have left the shop. Books are sold on consignment; the store could in the future return some to the warehouse. There's a system called BookScan which does measure sales in something approaching real time, but it doesn't monitor all stores.
So for months, until there's an audit, nobody knows the sale numbers!
(I stole the blog post title from a letter written by Roger Bacon in the 13th century, entitled On The Nullity Of Magic.)