Tuesday, 13 October 2015

What do Goodreads ratings say about sales?

I have long maintained from my own data that there is a pretty close relationship between the number of Goodreads ratings a book has and its total sales. PROVIDING that the books are of a similar age and the same genre.

Others have disputed me. So I've been out to gather data.

Many authors don't like to talk about sales figures just as many don't like to talk about money. That's a position I respect and understand. I don't share it.

The scatter-plot below is 'number of Goodreads ratings'  along the bottom and 'sales in English' along the side.

Click for detail.

Red circle = 2011 book. Pink square = 2012. Blue diamond = 2013. Green triangle = 2014. Asterix = 2015.

Black circles are anonymous data from 2011+
Black squares anonymous data from before 2011

They are all for fantasy books.

The ratings to sales ratio is pretty stable. If you multiple the number of Goodreads ratings by 7.7 you come pretty close to the number of books sold in English (all formats).

About half of the authors I invited to supply their data decided not to, including all the ones who sell more than I do (Though Peter V Brett has threatened to send me some data points when he returns from his world tour). So this graph may change for the higher numbers. Perhaps if a book breaks out of the genre sales bin it finds a demographic less (or more) likely to rate on Goodreads.

One noticeable outlier (blue diamond in the lower section) has the possible explanation (suggested by the author) that it sold a lot of very cheap e-copies that may be sitting on Kindles waiting to be read. Books on special offer are sometimes snapped up and saved for later. Also, most of his sales were in the UK. Perhaps the British use Goodreads less.

So there you have it. Some evidence that when the book is traditionally published and has a decent number of ratings (say several hundred to make the effects of any manipulation insignificant) you appear to be able to guestimate sales pretty well!

This will of course vary from genre to genre: with the likelihood of the demographic to rate on Goodreads). And with time: books published before Goodreads, or when Goodreads was smaller, will be under-represented by ratings.

Although the ratio will change with genre and age it seems very likely that if you take two books from the same genre and the same period that if one has twice as many ratings as the other it will also have twice as many sales and that that prediction will be pretty accurate.

The annotated points in easier to read form.
(click for details)


  1. Very interesting. It would be nice to have even more books to verify this, but as a reader who has often wondered about sales, this is a great way to estimate the sales of my favorite books -- specifically English sales.

  2. Thanks for sharing this Mark. Interesting stuff -- I've often wondered about this very question. The multiplier for my books seemed more like 6 than 7.7, but admittedly, I was just eyeballing...

  3. Thanks for sharing this Mark. Interesting stuff -- I've often wondered about this very question. The multiplier for my books seemed more like 6 than 7.7, but admittedly, I was just eyeballing...

  4. Interesting article. I guess it gets a bit chicken and egg but it would be interesting to see if goodread ratings correspond with sales too. eg if the rating goes up is there an upswing in sales and vice versa?

    Curious to see the possible effect of an ebook promo. I know I have stacks of ebooks that may potentially never be read but the impulse to buy a cheap book that doesn't take up physical space is always hard to resist.

  5. I looked at this and thought, 'it probably doesn't work for newly released books with a lower number of ratings.'

    Just got a look at an early Royalty Statement (drastically different than a Royalty Cheque) and it's spot on.


  6. I'd really like to see how this relates across audiences and what the difference is between genre and literary fiction, or maybe more specifically, I have a gut feel that books for smaller, more 'specialised' audiences might be more affected by this and the big middle of the road mainstream best sellers might be less affected by this.
    Also would be quite interesting to see how mainstream advertising affects this.

  7. This doesn't work for me, Mark. Using books (all fantasy epic) published between 2011 and 2015, the ratio was between x11 and x22...and that was just for US sales, not English language worldwide. I have often wondered if being a woman writer affects ratings and reviews.

    1. Interesting. Out of more than a dozen authors you're the first to report a significant difference. Even the outlier reported in the blog turned out to have over-estimated his sales.

      It would be interesting to have more points and to check any male / female difference (Kameron Hurley provided data that fit the trend and she's female). When dealing with smaller numbers (and your post 2011 books have hundreds of ratings rather than thousands) we can expect more volatile behaviour, though I expected any bias on top of that volatility to be in the opposite direction to the one you indicate.