Novelrank – Doing more harm than good?

It’s been a funny old week.

What should have been a time for celebration at seeing Sugar & Spice break into the top five in the Amazon Kindle UK store was soured by someone who claimed the whole thing was a fraud.

Their reasons?

Apparently they had looked us up on Novelrank, a rather intriguing website which purports to be able to give accurate, real-time sales figures for any Kindle title across any Amazon domain across the world.

Impressive stuff!

Except for the small matter of accuracy.

You see, according to Novelrank, Sugar & Spice sold a grand total of 299 e-books over the first two weeks of March. So averaging about 150 a week. That’s just over twenty a day.

Now that’s nothing to be sneezed at.

Except, in the first two weeks of March Sugar & Spice was in the Amazon top ten, and had just reached the top five!

According to Novelrank, these are our sales figures as of 10.30 pm Sunday March 19.

Amazon.com

Last Sale: 1 hour
March Sales: 221*
February Sales: 198*
Current Rank: 584
Reviews: 0
Reviews 0
Sales Rank Stats chevron down
Best Rank: 167
Worst Rank: 24,579
Std Deviation: 5,718
Average Sales Rank chevron down
Overall: 4,329
Today: 908
Week: 866
Month: 1,024

Amazon.co.uk

Last Sale: 0 hours
March Sales: 396*
February Sales: 444*
Current Rank: 5
Reviews: 0
Reviews 0
Sales Rank Stats chevron down
Best Rank: 3
Worst Rank: 261
Std Deviation: 79
Average Sales Rank chevron down
Overall: 84
Today: 5
Week: 4
Month: 9

* Sales Estimates are underestimated and actual sales may be much higher.


The last line above is theirs, I stress, not ours.

Actual sales may be much higher” ?!

This is a top-five ranking book across all genres! I should hope so!

Yet according to Novelrank we have sold just 617 e-books across both sites in the past nineteen days and twenty two hours!

Now this  does not bode well for the future of e-books.

If it’s true, and a top-five seller is managing an average of thirty sales a day then clearly e-books have no future.

No wonder I was called “at best a pretentious manipulator of the truth” for suggesting Sugar & Spice was doing well!

In fact, the truth is Novelrank is under-estimating our sales figures by more than a staggering 1500%!


So what went wrong with novelrank? I contacted them and posed that question directly.

This is the official position from novelrank’s creator Mario Lurig.

NovelRank makes it very clear that they are sales estimates, and the FAQ states that they are dramatically underestimated for books that sell more than 100 copies a month.


NovelRank watches SALES RANK fluctuations, and thus at very good rankings, it is very hard to determine a sale (it’s a very big guess to say how many books must be sold in an hour to maintain say a rank of 100).


I’m sorry that people don’t read, and I’ll see if there is anything else I can do to make it clearer when this threshold is passed.

For the record, the exchange is also recorded in the comments thread on the novelrank blog (http://www.novelrank.com/blog/) on the March 17 posting.

Now let me be clear this is not an attack on Novelrank.

It must be said Mario responded immediately and in person to my concerns, and has already revised the wording on his site to get home the points made above.

So no lasting harm done.

Or is that the case?

It begs the question:

How many other writers out there have been thinking about taking the plunge with e-publishing, but have looked at the alleged sales figures of the high-ranking sellers and thought, “Is that it? Big deal! Why bother?

Worst still, perhaps,consider this:

How many agents or indeed publishers have seen high-flying indie authors apparently with a hot property doing well on Kindle, only to check Novelrank’s famously accurate sales figures, and spent the rest of the day reminding colleagues why the e-publishing revolution is all a figment of some deluded wannabe’s imagination?

And how much worse still if that author has told the agent his sales figures, as part of a submission, only to have said agent check with Novelrank and dismiss the author as a liar…

Hopefully that’s never happened, and hopefully it never will.

But why would an agent question Novelrank’s figures, any more than anyone else?

It begs the question, what exactly is the point of Novelrank if it can’t give the figures that matter?

As authors we have direct access to our own sales figures. We know how many we are selling.

Novelrank purports to offer that same information to everyone else.

But surely no-one, apart from the author, is much interested if a book is ranked 100,000th and their sales are in single figures.

It is only the sellers in the higher ranks that will be of interest to third parties, and especially agents and publishers.

Yet these are precisely the figures Novelrank, by their own admission, cannot get right!

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  1. Great article, and thanks for sharing. I had no clue who Novelrank was, and I guess now I’m glad I don’t. Unfortunately it is people like that who “appear” to have inside knowledge who do the most harm. Hopefully by putting out articles such as yours the “disclaimer” they put on their figures will also be read.

    • Thanks, Linda.

      As per discussion below, Mario is taking our concerns on board and hopefully a few months down the line Novelrank will have resolved the issues.

  2. Mark, I’ve been following that discussion on the YWO forum thread and I agree with you. Novelrank’s innacurate sales figures serve no useful purpose. I ran most of the amazon UK and US top ten through novelrank about a month ago and was dismayed at the low sales figures. Then I read Stephen Leather epublishing blog and started to follow your discussion with interest. SL actually published his amazon figures for a couple of months on one of his sites and it was clear that ebooks are huge. Looking at JA Konrath and others anecdotes of sales also added fuel to the fire regarding the sales volume of kindle books on amazon.
    Why can’t novelrank fix the sales figures? Credit to Mario (love the pic by the way!) for his speedy response but the comment about not my fault if people don’t read is hilarious.

    • Ruby, your “dismay” sums up one of our key concerns: that prospective Kindle authors get the impression it’s not worth the bother.

      Stephen Leather just passed the 10,000 mark for sales for The Basement, and that’s just this month’s sales!

      UK Kindle sales are pretty insigificant compared to the likes of Amanda Hocking, Konrath, etc, but still a worthwhile and fast-growing market.

  3. Very good post and so true!

  4. Yeah, they’re idiots I tackled them about the inaccurate figures attributed to my book too. I’ve given up with them now.

    The tables don’t lie though and that’s all that matters.

    Mel

    • Mel,
      I’ve responded to every email I’ve ever received and always make NovelRank open for feedback so I can improve the ratings. I’m sorry you feel I’m an idiot and you ‘tackled’ me.

    • As above and below in comments, Mario has responded directly. Let’s hope you two can get together and sort things!

      BTW, bought Impeding Justice and Final Justice for my Kindle but not had a chance to read them yet.

  5. Just to add to the discussion and put this into context… sales figures for March are:

    8,293

    😉

  6. I’ve also noticed that NovelRank’s estimates are underestimates. I take it as an added bonus when I go check the actual numbers.

  7. I designed NovelRank not for ‘top 5’ authors, but for the rest of us selling less than 100 books a month. That was always the audience. It also allowed me to see if a book in a particular niche gets enough sales to warrant writing in that space. I used NovelRank for my 2nd book and just that purpose.
    I can’t change how people perceive NovelRank, and I always knew there was a risk when adding the ‘sales estimates’, but I still hold that the value is not the numbers as much as:
    – Seeing the effects over time of different marketing strategies
    – Pushing info (rss feeds) so authors and publishers can spend time doing what they are good at (writing and marketing)
    – Gather some actionable stats and figures out of the data that is collected that helps authors sell more books

    I’m NovelRank’s biggest fan, not because I made it, but because I use it every day and it serves a purpose for me. It became NovelRank because I thought, and was right, that others may enjoy it to. I hope you still find value in the service, and appreciate you reaching out to me before posting.

    Cheers,
    Mario Lurig
    Creator, NovelRank

    • As said in the text, Mario, it was not an attack on the idea, just questioning its value.
      You say, “I designed NovelRank not for ‘top 5′ authors, but for the rest of us selling less than 100 books a month. That was always the audience.”

      But the public seem unaware of this, as comments on this thread and elsewhere show.

      Top-selling UK author Stephen Leather said earlier on facebook: “Today I have sold my 10,000th copy of The Basement this month! And Novelrank shows my monthly sales at 427.”

      I won’t repeat the rest!

      At the moment Novelrank users, not unreasonably, assume all figures will be accurate.

      Perhaps you could fix it so when ever a book over the accuracy threshold is looked up a prominent notice is displayed alongside the specific rating about this issue, rather than hoping someone will read the disclaimer elsewhere?

      • Mark,
        Oh no, don’t take my write-up as a defense. I retweeted about your article because it is a valid discussion.

        Any author selling well who wants to improve NovelRank should send me ACTUAL sales numbers for months that NovelRank was tracking, and I can use that to improve the estimates.
        Since I’m not a top 1000 seller, I don’t have enough concrete data to make the estimates more than educated guesses (and the closer to the real numbers I get the more likely people will argue compared to now). So I need authors like you to help. 🙂

        • ‘sales estimates’ ‘educated guesses’ ???
          Either it’s accurate or not. If you don’t have the data keep out of it.
          Who is being served here? What’s the use? I really do not get it!

    • geraldhornsby
    • March 20th, 2011

    I think I’m with Mario here. Amazon very famously don’t publish actual sales figures, so anyone with a brain will understand that Novelrank figures won’t match real sales figures. If an agent or anyone else in the business tries to ‘prove’ something with Novelrank, then I suspect they won’t be worth dealing with.

    • You could be right about the agent. Here in the UK There still seem very few agents here in the UK who even have a decent web-site, and fewer still who accept submissions by email.

      But at the end of the day agents are just people doing their job, and they use the net to keep informed.

      Many may see e-books as a potential threat to their livelihood, rather than something to embrace. Others may dismiss e-publishing as no more significant than POD.

      Regardless, information that is put out about other people and their work ought to be as accurate as possible.

      In this respect I’m delighted Mario is addressing these issues.

  8. In sincere defense of NovelRank, I think Mario said it all when he implied “NovelRank is for the rest of us” and maybe not for the top few authors. I’m also with Gerald Hornby when he states that he wouldn’t think it wise to deal with an agent who depends on such sites when deciding whether or not to pursue an author. Those top few writers should be reveling in their success. Congrats! I hope to join you soon. For the time being, I love having a place like NovelRank available to me where I can quickly check approximate sales numbers for my book. If I want set-in-stone sales numbers I take the time to go get those official stats. I know that these are not official numbers, and I have a choice whether or not to use a site that doesn’t claim to have the ability to be 100% accurate.
    As a matter of fact, I contacted NovelRank to question a discrepancy of less that 5% between what NovelRank was showing as opposed to Amazon’s figures. As it turned out, when there is a return of any book, e-book included, Amazon’s numbers go down, but Novelrank is not notified of those returns. I understand that this is not the problem being complained about here in this thread, so no need to call me to task over that. But Mario,I was extremely impressed when you responded personally and quickly to my concern. So, from “the rest of us”, Thank You! I’m sure you’re not getting rich by providing this service. I am very happy the site is there, flaws and all.
    Once again,”The Constant Outsider,” Tom.

    • Thanks, Thomas. We too have been extremely impressed with Mario’s fast amd professional responses to the issues raised, both publicly through the comments thread and privately via email.

      Mario has asked us to put the word around to all higher ranking Kindle authors to get in contact with Novelrank with their figures so he can make the necessary adjustments.

      I think most e-book authors will have no problem with this, and together we can help bring accuracy to novelrank for all titles.

      By doing so we can, together, help change the perception of e-publishing as a trivial side-line of the real publishing world, and show clearly that e-books are a fast-growing market and most definitely here to stay!

  9. So, what are Sugar and Spice’s actual month-to-month figures? As someone about to release his own ebook, I’d love to know where the numbers started and how they’ve progressed (not that I expect mine to do anywhere near as well).

    • George, I’m just on the final chapters of your manuscript (I’m a beta-reader for Wearing The Cape, being published on Kindle next month) and once it gets noticed I have no doubt your sales figures will soar above ours, in the US market especially.

      We put S&S on Kindle in November, but despite this was too late to get it noticed by the Christmas market and sales plodded along at insigificant levels, and much the same in January. Only in February did things pick up noticeably, and then a tipping point was reached as word spread and we soared up the charts towards the top twenty, then top ten, and finally top five.

      On current sales levels we expect to sell between 12000-15000 for the whole of March. Feb figures pale by comparison.

      But with an article promoting S&S on CrimeTime yesterday we ma well get a sales boost from that.

      Bottom line is, the more you sell, the more you sell, because new buyers with new Kindles buy what’s hot, and most will probably not look beyond the first page of the Kindle ranks.

      If you are a reader buying into an unknown author’s work then logically you choose one that other people appear to like.

  10. Thanks Mark! You’re certainly right about the way Amazon works. People buy what other people like. Although they can be fickle–I have only one book in Youwriteon’s Top Ten right now, and it’s something completely different.

  11. Hey I’d like to thank Mario for all his work, and for his responsiveness. And to his credit, I thought he was fairly clear on his site about how the accuracy can be way off when you breach a certain threshold.

    • Terence
    • June 22nd, 2011

    Very simple and infallible solution–you want to know the sales of your book? Ask your publisher. They have the exact number.

    • Infallible? Wish that were ture, but all the evidence suggest otherwise.

      Check out this link and then follow through the links to Kris Rusch.

      http://www.thepassivevoice.com/06/2011/publishers-are-under-reporting-ebook-sales/

      We have first-hand for trad-published authors in the Kindle top ten that they have NO IDEA how many ebooks they are selling because the publisher ony gives out information quarterly.

      As per Kris Rusch observations, the figures then given may be wildly inaccurate and understated. Needless to say the publisher then pays out on the understated figure and pockets the rest.

      Criminal or incompetent? That’s for a court to decide at a later date.

  12. This is a very interesting discussion, and brings up a point I’ve been wondering about for awhile: how can authors of Kindle books know for sure that Amazon is including all of their sales in the reports?

    I’ve read several times in several places that when a Kindle book has ranked within a certain set of numbers for awhile — say, fluctuating between 40,000 and 130,000 — it tends to stay that way pretty much forever, unless the book suddenly becomes a hot property for other reasons.

    I’ve had a Kindle book up there for nearly a year, and though more and more people are becoming aware of the book through my marketing efforts (and I continually get comments about it), the sales rank continues to ride the same numbers continually.

    Also read a number of months ago that Amazon has lobbied to free itself from paying taxes, which is a little unsettling in itself. I’d be curious to find out if there’s any way to make them account for all the sales they make.

    • Forest Martin
    • September 24th, 2012

    What am I suppose to be understanding about the RSS results. How to read it properly? My book: “With Edwards in the Governor’s Mansion: From Angola to Free Man” was published May 18th, 2012. How does my book enter the Novel Rank domain, and How does it make it to Number One?

    • mick smith
    • February 6th, 2013

    Novelrank has always made it clear that when it comes to the top books, it can’t track Amazon figures accurately. At the lower ranks it is accurate. Your book is a top five bestseller. Get over it. And stop trying to claim someone (who I do not know incidentally) is a fraud when he isn’t. You’re just coming over as a very pathetic, vindictive idiot!

    • Actually, Nick, at the time this was posted, almost two years ago, that wasn’t at all clear. Some idiot on the youwriteon forum accused US of being fraudulent by claiming the sales we had because THEY used Novelrank and decided WE were lying.

      That was what instigated this post. Both we and several other top-selling authors were being called liars because people were looking at Novelrank figures for our books and seeing numbers that bore no relation to sales.

      Mario has since made it clear on the Novelrank site that the higher rankings are not accurate.

      Pathetic, vindictive idiot for setting the record straight? You have a strange view on life, Nick.

    • janewj
    • February 7th, 2013

    A very interesting discussion – thanks. Novel Rank appears to have disappeared today. Bit of a shame – I find it quite addictive 🙂

      • Mario Lurig
      • February 7th, 2013

      It was just being moved to a bigger, dedicated server. 🙂 It is back now

  13. Late to the party, very, but may I say this was a very interesting discussion.

  14. Heya exceptional website! Does running a blog similar to this require a lot of work?
    I have absolutely no knowledge of computer programming but I had been
    hoping to start my own blog in the near future.
    Anyhow, if you have any ideas or techniques for new blog owners please
    share. I know this is off subject however I simply needed to ask.
    Thanks a lot!

    • Herb
    • August 7th, 2013

    Just got the results for the first partial month’s sales of my first ebook. Novelrank said 28, Amazon actually sold 85. It also doesn’t show POD sales. With Amazon rankings in the 10000 to 20000 range consistently, and no correlation between Amazon movement and Novelrank, I think the algorithm needs some major tweaking for even medium sales books..

  15. Hello mates, its enormous piece of writing on the topic of cultureand fully defined,
    keep it up all the time.

  16. Not sure why this has appeared in the comments section! It came up as a pingback and now it’s here?

    Sorry. As incompetent with IT as ever!

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