Bestseller lists have received their fair share of criticism, and I’ve now seen firsthand how these Amazon Best Seller lists are ripe for abuse. They open the door for clickbait titles (like the one for this post), misleading book descriptions, and disingenuous author bios.
I’m not a bestseller. Maybe technically, but not really.
There are a number of variables at play, and they all impact Amazon’s bestseller lists.
Whereas something like The New York Times bestseller lists aggregate weekly sales data from thousands of brick and mortar and online stores, Amazon updates their rankings hourly—from a single sales channel. This allows for “snapshot best sellers”, like when I sat at #1 for a couple hours. This was during the second day of my sale. It simply means for a very brief time (not enough to watch a single installment of The Lord of the Rings), more people bought my story than any other in the category.
Categories: Paid vs. Free
Amazon divides best seller lists into two main categories: Paid and Free. Obviously, as I was doing a two-day promotion giving the story away, it was in the Free column. But it was still listed as a bestseller. Seriously though, should it really be considered a best seller if you’re giving it away?
(The answer is no.)
More Categories: Genre
It’s common practice for bestseller lists to focus on genres. In their print edition, The New York Times has eight bestseller lists according to genre and format (hardcover, paperback, etc.). It has another six lists online. Amazon has 24 genre lists. When combined with Paid vs. Free, that makes 48 lists. That’s 48 potential new bestsellers every hour of the day, seven days a week.
Bestseller lists have always been an area of contention and criticism. Depending on the source, the can be more about marketing than actual sales.
Even that holiest of grails, The New York Times (which is not without its own controversies), has admitted it is not only possible, but rather common practice, for authors and publishers to game their system.
Strategic bulk or other purchases made by an author or an entity working on behalf of an author with the intention of skewing the lists happen with frequency.
It’s not only disingenuous, but patently absurd, for me to claim to have had a bestseller. Even though, Amazon would tend to disagree.