How often do you check your book’s Amazon sales rank per day?
Does checking your Amazon sales rank make you more productive or less productive?
As an author, you feel compelled to check your sales rank because that’s the only way you know if your book is selling. You visit Amazon several times a day to find out if your book’s sales rank has improved. While this may take just a few minutes of your time, it does cut into your ‘flow’ … sometimes with devastating consequences to your morale and book marketing efforts.
Psychologists refer to this kind of conditioning as variable reinforcement. Dan Ariely – author of Predictably Irrational describes the concept as under:
I think it has something to do with what the behavioral psychologist B. F. Skinner called “schedules of reinforcement.” Skinner used this phrase to describe the relationship between actions (in his case, a hungry rat pressing a lever in a so-called Skinner box) and their associated rewards (pellets of food). In particular, Skinner distinguished between fixed-ratio schedules of reinforcement and variable-ratio schedules of reinforcement. Under a fixed schedule, a rat received a reward of food after it pressed the lever a fixed number of times—say 100 times. Under the variable schedule, the rat earned the food pellet after it pressed the lever a random number of times. Sometimes it would receive the food after pressing 10 times, and sometimes after pressing 200 times.
Thus, under the variable schedule of reinforcement, the arrival of the reward is unpredictable. On the face of it, one might expect that the fixed schedules of reinforcement would be more motivating and rewarding because the rat can learn to predict the outcome of his work. Instead, Skinner found that the variable schedules were actually more motivating. The most telling result was that when the rewards ceased, the rats that were under the fixed schedules stopped working almost immediately, but those under the variable schedules kept working for a very long time.
In effect, Amazon, with it’s Amazon Sales Rank feature is training authors to visit the Amazon sites often in the hope of a psychological boost (in the form of an improved sales rank.)
We launched this feature just a few days ago and have been delighted by the response with many authors signing up almost immediately.