Despite its empowerment of indie authors, Amazon remains a common source of frustration. It's a baffling creature, bristling with mysterious algorithms, pages of written and unwritten rules, and vague policies which are inconsistently applied.
Is it any wonder that Amazon is the subject of countless misconceptions?
Although Amazon can be miserly with information about its policies, research and experimentation allow us to dispel some of the myths that surround it. We've collected ten common misconceptions and mistakes that torment authors and debunk them below. Have you fallen prey to any of these myths?
Note the books with less than 10 reviews in the above image. There's even a book with no reviews in the list. That's a very common occurrence, and it neatly puts this misconception to rest.
So how did this myth get started?
Also Boughts are primarily (but not exclusively) determined by the number of buyers two books have in common. Books with more reviews tend to have more sales, and books with more sales are more likely to have been purchased at the same time as other books. That means that books with a high number of reviews have an advantage over books with fewer reviews.
But that's not the only factor in play, or every book's Also Boughts would be dominated by JK Rowling. Also Boughts will favor books purchased closer together in time, books in the same or related genres, and other factors known only to the software developers Amazon keeps chained in the basement.
However, that's unlikely for two reasons. First and foremost, Amazon avoids dependencies on other companies and platforms. It is unlikely that they would allow their fraud prevention to be dependent on the good will of a third party like Facebook. Secondly, there are many factors that Amazon can weigh that rely solely on data they own:
- mutual reviews/review swaps
- reviewer appears in author's Amazon address book
- author/reviewer sent packages/gifts to the same third party
- common purchase history
- same timestamp present in long URLs
- review posted within 24 hours of the book's release
- review was left from the same IP address
- reviewer has had other reviews deleted
That's just scratching the surface. Amazon's data is key to their success, and they have a lot of it. There is no need for them to venture outside their own walls to obtain information about which users might have a social connection. (Note: A possible exception to this is Goodreads, which is owned by Amazon and shares data with it.)
Consider also that the reviews which Amazon has incorrectly purged represent an infinitesimal fraction of the reviews left on Amazon each day — and countless numbers of those reviews were left by people who know the author as social media acquaintances. Friending someone on Facebook does not mean their reviews will be deleted, and locking down or deleting your social media accounts will not prevent your reviews from being removed.
Amazon Executive #1: “What should we tell people who want to post erotica?”
Amazon Executive #2: “Nothing too explicit.”
And Executive #1, having misunderstood the directive, writes the most vague, general guideline possible: “What we deem offensive is probably about what you expect.”
Any content that wanders too close to that unhelpful guideline without actually violating Amazon's rules may be condemned to the “erotica dungeon” (as it's known to authors of erotica and steamy romance). The books are deemed too racy for the general public, and so they are suppressed in searches. Customers may opt to view the hidden titles, but the link to do so is easily overlooked, and that decreased visibility can be devastating to sales.
There is no indication on the book itself that it's flagged for content, which may leave the author baffled about their poor sales. However, tech savvy individuals can view this information through the Amazon Advertising API (where the “IsAdultProduct” field indicates flagged titles), and others can view it through Aaron Shepard's handy Sales Rank Express utility (where it's listed as “Safe” or “Not Safe”).
Covers are nearly always the reason for a book being tossed in the oubliette, and submitting a slightly edited version and requesting a re-evaluation is often enough to lift the Adult flag. Unfortunately, Amazon's screening is random and inconsistent, so relatively innocuous content may be flagged while covers that are clearly violative of Amazon's rules sail through untouched.
However, you may […] continue to distribute your book in physical format (including print on demand books), or in any format other than digital. — KDP Select Help, Exclusivity
KDP's pricing help states: “You must set your Digital Book's List Price (and change it from time-to-time if necessary) so that it is no higher than the list price in any sales channel for any digital or physical edition of the Digital Book.”
One might interpret this to mean that ebooks may not be offered for free under any circumstances if Amazon is charging for it. However, multiple staffers at KDP have confirmed that this does not violate their rules:
Yes, you may offer your eBook for free or have it as a giveaway on your website. As long as we can see that this book is not on KDP Select, there will be no Terms & Conditions in violation. — Chantelle C., KDP Support
Check your books: you may be earning only half of your potential royalties.
However, this is referring to Amazon's practice of refunding the difference when a customer finds a product elsewhere for a lower price. It does not refer to Amazon enforcing its requirement that books sold through KDP must be at or below the price of other retailers, and at least 20% below print edition costs. Looking at historical versions of that price matching help page, we see that it originally referred to televisions and cellphones, then just to televisions, and was finally abolished in 2017.
I've confirmed that Amazon has price matched books to permafree as recently as last week. However, this is entirely at Amazon's discretion, and they have proven increasingly reluctant to match free books.
Essentially, Amazon wants all affiliate links to be traceable to an originating website. Affiliates that break this rule may find their accounts abruptly terminated and their commissions forefeited, as several email-based ebook discovery services found to their dismay in 2015.
OVER TO YOU
That wraps up this month's look at Amazon myths and misunderstandings. What self-publishing myths have you encountered? Let us know in the comments below!10 Amazon myths that sabotage #IndieAuthors - by @johndoppler Click To Tweet