Amazon sells books in both print and ebook formats, but, frankly, most indie writers generate the bulk of their revenue from ebooks. Since most indie writers make the majority of their money on Amazon, this means the most indies are generating income from Kindle sales, borrows or page views through Amazon’s Kindle Unlimited subscription service.
Over time, as various authors have compared notes on sales, some general statistics have been developed to indicate what the different Kindle sales rankings actually mean in terms of the number of units sold. I’ve broken those sales rankings into seven distinct tiers, which are described below.
Note that these numbers are approximate, and may vary from day to day. Nevertheless, they provide a useful model for understanding Amazon’s sales and may be useful for planning purposes, as well.
Tier 1: 1 – 10
You’re selling an ungodly number of books and probably making six figures per month from just a single book. You’re also killing it in borrows and page reads from Amazon’s Kindle Unlimited subscription service.
Sales: More than 60K books per month.
Tier 2: 11 – 100
You’re selling ten thousand or more books and probably making mid to high five figures per month for an individual title. Again, borrows and page reads will kick in additional revenue. The highest charting indies may move into this territory briefly, but generally won’t be there for long.
Sales: More than 16K books per month.
Tier 3: 101 – 1000
You’re selling thousands of books per month. At best, you’re doing low five figures. Even at the high end of the ranking, you’re still making a few thousand per month. Best-selling indies who end up in this territory for even a relatively short period may end up making more money than most traditionally published writers ever see. Borrows and page reads are a significant revenue stream.
Sales: More than 3K books per month.
Tier 4: 1001 – 10,000
You’re a real writer making real money, selling hundreds to low thousands of books per month. Borrows and page reads are still a significant revenue stream. This is where best-selling indies tend to hang out, especially if they have a large portfolio of books for sale.
Sales: More than 400 books per month.
Tier 5: 10,001 – 100,000
You’re selling 1 to 10 books per day, which adds up over time. At the lower rankings, you may be getting some revenue from borrows and page reads, but most of that will have dried up at the higher rankings. A lot of indie books settle into this tier and steadily earn money for writers. This is probably the bread and butter tier for most indies. Once again, having multiple products is the key to success when books are in this tier.
Sales: More than 35 books per month.
Tier 6: 100,001 – 1,000,000
You’re making a few sales per month. Don’t quit your day job. The settling place for indies who need to learn more about marketing.
Sales: About 2 sales per month.
Tier 7: 1,000,000+
You’re basically not really selling at all. This is not a good place for a book to be. Ever.
Sales: A sale every once in a while, maybe.
Why are tiers important?
During an intense marketing effort, such as a launch, an ebook tends to naturally reach a particular tier in terms of sales. Amazon’s own internal algorithms even take into account different factors, such as honoring slowly rising sales more than temporary spikes, and try to optimize where the book should be in the sales rankings.
After a time, generally at the 30, 60 and 90-day marks, an ebook ages enough that sales generally fade a bit and it drops to a lower tier. What you’d really like is a book that, even on auto-pilot, settles into a high-enough tier that it continues to bring in significant revenue with little or no ongoing marketing.
Best-selling author Hugh Howey’s book, “Wool,” after five+ years in publication, has settled in at the high-end of Tier 3. This means that he makes money month after month with little to no advertising. The book also leads readers to the next two books in the trilogy, which means that the sell-through makes him even more money.
If you’re marketing your ebook, what you really want to do is to create a campaign of some sort that generates slowly rising sales rather than a sudden spike. Likewise, you want your ebook to reach the highest level possible so that 1) you make a boatload of money, and 2) your ebook eventually settles at a lower tier in terms of sales, but continues to generate real revenue.