Amazon can be an indie author’s best friend.
It can also be insanely frustrating and confusing.
Take the Amazon bestseller lists, for example. One of the best ways to exponentially increase the momentum of your book is to make it onto a bestseller list—and with hourly updates to the top-selling books in hundreds of categories, becoming an Amazon bestseller is so much easier than becoming a New York Times bestseller. And yet the results in terms of sales can be just as powerful!
But Amazon is a giant corporation and things are constantly changing as they try to find new ways to make money; serve shareholders; and get all of us, everywhere, to buy more stuff. It can be exhausting to keep on top of all the changes to policies, algorithms, author opportunities, and more.
Recently, Amazon rolled out yet another new feature that affects how indie authors can market or promote their work. It’s called Amazon Charts, and it’s an evolution of the popular hourly bestseller lists—and also an evolution of the longstanding weekly lists that appear in newspapers across the globe.
So what is Amazon Charts and how does it affect indie authors? Let’s take a look!
Basics of Amazon Charts
At its core, Amazon Charts isn’t so different from the bestseller lists that appear in the New York Times, USA Today, and others.
It’s a weekly list of popular books from the past week. Each Wednesday, results from the previous week (ending Sunday) will be posted at https://www.amazon.com/charts.
But that’s where the similarities end, really.
Traditional bestseller lists just reel off a book’s title. Amazon Charts gives you much more information (and that ubiquitous Buy Button): title, author, publisher, agent, free sample, customer reviews, trivia about the book, and more. It’s a much richer experience than the typical list.
More importantly, it overhauls how the list itself is created from available data.
Most of today’s bestseller lists are exactly that: lists of the books that have sold the most copies in the previous week. Even Amazon’s current hourly bestseller rankings are similar: they list the books that have sold the most copies in the past hour.
Amazon Charts, in contrast, lists both the books that have sold the most copies and the books that are being read the most.
And yes, there’s a difference!
Sold vs. Read
Typical bestseller lists give a breakdown of what books, in print and digital forms, have been bought the most in the previous week.
On Amazon, bestseller lists incorporate the books that have been purchased the most (on Kindle and in print) in the past hour, broken down into very specific categories. This is awesome for indie authors—if you’re in a relatively uncompetitive category, you can quickly dominate the rankings and exponentially increase your visibility and, therefore, your sales.
The new Amazon Charts, though, views things differently. There’s still a section for the “most sold” books—which now includes statistics from Audible.com for audiobooks in addition to the normal print and ebook sales stats—but there’s a new section, too: Most Read.
Amazon has access to unique statistics about how much of a book is actually read, courtesy of its Kindle integration and especially the Kindle Unlimited program. It can also find out how fast readers are plowing through a book, how many don’t bother finishing a given title, and so on. Similar stats are available for audiobooks through Audible.com
The new Charts takes advantage of this! In the Most Read section, you see the top 20 books people have actually read that week—regardless of whether they’ve bought the book or simply borrowed it on Kindle Unlimited. Stats are compiled from Amazon.com, Audible.com, and Amazon’s brick-and-mortar stores as well as books borrowed from subscription programs like Kindle Unlimited, Audible.com, and Prime Reading.
Page counts, time spent on an audiobook, and more—they all count.
Right now, the Read and Sold categories on Amazon Charts are pretty similar, showing most of the same titles, but sometimes in a different order. How this changes in the future will be interesting!
Amazon plans to leverage the reading stats available in other ways, too. New categories in Charts will include “most anticipated” books based on the number of pre-orders received, as well as “un-put-downable” books—books that readers are devouring quickly.
Impact on Indie Authors
So what does all this mean for indie authors?
Honestly, right now, not a lot.
The top 20 books on both the Read and Sold charts, for fiction and nonfiction alike, are all traditionally published titles. And given that the only categories broken out by Amazon Charts are Fiction and Nonfiction, that’s not likely to change the face of bestsellerdom like the individual category lists did. Big books represented by big companies will probably dominate Amazon Charts for some time.
But that doesn’t mean that Charts aren’t useful for an indie author.
For one, if you want to make the leap to traditional publishing, you can use the agents listed on the most popular books to help you target your outreach there.
Perhaps more useful is the ability to see what kind of books are really resonating with readers right now. If mermaid romances suddenly start appearing on the “un-put-downable” list, to say nothing of Most Read, then you might want to dust off that old YA mermaid adventure you trunked a few years ago and get it out there.
More important still is what the inclusion of borrowed books (through Kindle Unlimited) and audiobooks means for the shape of the publishing industry. Other companies don’t have access to the same kind of stats that Amazon does—it would be impossible for the New York Times to issue a bestseller list based on how many page-equivalent units people have read—so if this metric takes off, it can help solidify Amazon’s ability to crown new winners in publishing.
It also establishes ebooks and audiobooks as legitimate, important contributors to the book ecosystem—audiobook sales and plays now count toward an important industry statistic, whereas before they were kind of off in their own little corner.
This means that it’s more important than ever for indie authors to make their books available in every format possible—you have to be offering print, digital, and audiobook formats in order to reach the most readers possible, particularly as these three areas flourish, wax, and wane independently.
It’s possible that Amazon might start including Goodreads statistics in future versions of Charts, too. And this makes reviews and rankings even more fluid—and important. The mere fact that popularity and engagement among actual readers is now being factored into a weekly influence chart could have a wide range of ripple effects down the road.
How to Leverage Charts
Okay, so Amazon’s hourly bestseller rankings by category are far more likely to affect your career as an indie author than the new Charts system.
That doesn’t mean you don’t need to pay attention!
Keep an eye not just on what’s selling, but take advantage of the new insights into what’s being read. Use this as a form of market research for your next book offering.
Check in every so often to see what’s trending. Cover art, topics, titles, themes, and more can give you ideas for how to fine-tune your next book—and for how to market your current titles.
And keep an eye out for updates to Amazon Charts. Given the huge amount of data the company has at its disposal, it’s only a matter of time before even more insights start getting incorporated into the Charts feature. Will we see category breakdowns soon? Stay sharp!
Amazon Charts overhauls the traditional weekly bestseller list to make reader engagement more obvious and important. Borrow these insights to help boost your own book’s sales!
For more on what bestseller status means for your writing career, check out these articles: