Friday, April 12, 2013

Gaming the Amazon System

by L.J. Sellers, author of provocative mysteries & thrillers

Writers are by nature creative people, and while pursuing marketing and success, they can be quite inventive. But some practices are more like gaming the system, and it's hard to tell where the line is between clever and deceitful. 

The newest trend I've noticed is the republishing of the same book. What I see happening is that familiar books that were competitive on Amazon's crime fiction list, dropped off the list, then came roaring back with a new pub date and a high profile.

What's the advantage in unpublishing an ebook and republishing it? If you price it at $.99 and list it on a bunch of promotional sites and newsletters—or do an Amazon giveaway—the book will jump in sales and get picked up by the algorithm. And because the publishing date is new, the book will likely get ranked in the "hot new releases" list...despite the fact that it was available for years and has a hundred reviews. The reviews stay attached to the print version (which stays published), then the author just emails Amazon and asks them to link the print version with the "new" ebook.

Thus, several of the top "hot new releases" on Amazon's police procedural list are not new at all. This seems like gaming the system, and now that I've mentioned it, I'm sure more authors will try it. But I suspect Amazon will catch on and find a way to stop it.

And maybe they should. The practice seems deceptive. We all have the ability to upload new versions of our stories at any time without unpublishing them, so there's no good reason to click that unpublish button. (Or none that I can think of.) But in the digital world, unpublishing is just a matter of pausing, or taking the file off the market for a while, so in theory, you could keep your book "new" all the time.

What do you think of this practice? And if I'm wrong about what's going on, tell me.

24 comments:

  1. This is just plain wrong. It's not called "Hot New Re-Releases" and it really is deceptive to make an old release look new.

    The Missings was on that list. Legitimately. I was very pleased. Now I've got to wonder.

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  2. As a reader and a wannabe I am still trying to figure out how to find that good e-book on amazon.com. Frankly, I don't trust their best sellers list. Some of them aren't good reading at all.

    (There is the time, of course, when I bombed a book while reviewing it for the publisher and it made the best seller list for weeks.)

    I have found a lot of good reading from authors who are promoting their books. And then there's the other thing. I read the descriptions and if it sounds interesting, I read the reviews. I think I can pick out the author's best friends and see what the other reviewers have to say.

    Finally a comment, I have read books from most of you on this blog and I do enjoy them. Thanks.

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    1. Thanks, Marilynne.

      I think you are probably more discerning than the reader who just grabs a couple of the books at the top of some list because they trust they must be good or they wouldn't be there.

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  3. I don't normally look at the Hot New Releases list, but when POE hit it yesterday, I noticed that at least one of the books in the Top 100 had been around for a while, but had a recent release date. So I wondered if this was actually the first time it had been released as an ebook.

    Using subterfuge to great numbers very quick may seem like a good idea sometimes, but it is not worth the headache down the road. Better to just let the book speak for itself and hope for the best.

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    1. Thanks for stopping in, Rob. There are two at the top of the list that were published more than a year or so ago, and I haven't looked further, but there may be more.

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  4. I wonder if people end up buying the book twice because it's "new" again. I'm guessing if you unpublish, then republish a book, it has a new ASIN, making Amazon think it is a new book. After all, you can't base it on the title, since titles aren't unique.

    Maybe Amazon's algorithms need adjusting.

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  5. I went to a new publisher so many of my books have been or will be republished. They all go through a new round of editing and get new covers, but if I pubbed on my own I don't think I'd do that. I'd rather post new books but I also want to keep my books available.

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    1. I also had my books republished by a new publisher, but that's a different scenario. I don't think that's what's happening here.

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  6. What we're seeing is a 'gaming of the system.' It's like the agents who charge a fee. Unscrupulous people exist. (Isn't that why we write this kind of fiction? To expose them, to achieve justice at some level.) But the truth will out, and the e-market is a long form. The get-rich-quick-scam approach will not be profitable over the long haul, on many levels.

    Word-of-mouth is still the best marketing tool. People who are scammed aren't going to keep a cycle of sales or a ripple effect going for the scammer.

    Thanks for the post.

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    1. I would hope that not many readers are scammed by this. It's mostly about manipulating the sales/ranking algorithm.

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    2. But in the end, that is exactly what happens. More visibility because of an enhanced ranking, more readers to buy something because of manipulation.

      Maybe I'm just a bit too crabby this afternoon because I've been cleaning and would like to get to something more important, but this is one more of those dishonest and unworthy things and I'm getting tired of them. Beginning to remind me of my days in the mortgage banking business...

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  7. I'm surprised that authors do this. It never would have occurred to me to "republish" my books so that they appear to be new releases.

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    1. It occurs to people whose books sold well in the beginning and made the top three in the hot-new-releases list. The top three on that list get promoted on the top overall crime fiction list, so the exposure is terrific and sales go even higher. They're trying to recapture that momentum.

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  8. Wow, a great new way to get noticed (that's sarcasm, folks!).

    Unfortunately, for me, it's like cheating in a sport (doping in cycling; taking a short-cut in a marathon; making an intentional bad line call in tennis). You get the picture. And part of the thrill of winning is doing it under the rules, dang it.

    So I'll pass on republishing, even though it might cost me money, and recommend the same for other authors. Your reputation is too important a thing to mess with.

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  9. Thanks for commenting, Richard. I can understand how an author could rationalize doing this. Because few readers will mistakenly buy the book again, and it's easy to ask "What's the harm?" The only real harm is to the new books that really belong in those spots.

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  10. This is in the same category as people who pay for 'Reviews' - when they get caught they look like scammers and have to rush to their own defense AND readers who hear about it discount their future work AND fellow writers who are dishonest try it AND fellow writers who are NOT dishonest feel ripped off AND...

    Same as when people got together on Goodreads to give terrible ratings to books whose authors they didn't like OR...

    If there is a human system in place, a dishonest human will find a way to scam it.
    ABE

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  11. You should check out the legal thriller hot new release list. It's rampant there.

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  12. How is it any different than the long-time traditional publisher practice of repackaging/reprinting old titles to imply they're new releases?

    Many readers caught on and learned to check for original copyright dates, but plenty more bought what they were purposely misled to believe were new books by favorite authors, then discovered old dogs disguised as new tricks. And it was the authors who were condemned for the cheat, not publishers.

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    1. That practice by publishers is even worse! In this case, the titles (and often covers) stay the same, so readers aren't usually duped into buying the book again.

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  13. In my experience, the titles are usually retained, but the covers veritably always changed. Repackaging for rerelease all but mandates it.

    How publishers are worse, I don't understand. Initiating what is a deceptive practice doesn't epitomize worse, when writers eventually do the same.

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  14. It would never occur to me to do this. I value my integrity and reputation too much to even consider something like this. It's like cheating, and I would think the readers who bought the 'new' book not realizing it's one they already have would be mad.

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  15. I've noticed the same thing in real estate. After a few unsuccessful months listed, a home or condo is removed from the market, often at a time when the homeowner doesn't want showings anyway, like over the holidays. After a long stint on the market (say, over 100 days) the listing had started to look stale; like there was something wrong with it. The listing is then 'refreshed' and shows as new to the market.

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  16. LJ, thanks for a thoughtful blog. It seems that with many of our favorite authors now going the independent or self publishing route, the old rules for marketing no longer apply and writers do whatever they can to remain in the public eye. I'm not sure this is a bad thing in a competitive market but I also am unable to say whether or not this is unethical. Food for thought, as always.
    Best regards,
    Pam Stack
    Host
    www.authorsontheair.com

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