It feels like a long time since I had a news item on the ALLi News Column that fully focused on the company most of us will deal with most often if not exclusively. In part that reflects Amazon’s drift away from its original core focus of books. But Amazon is still the subject of a conversation every author needs to have with themselves. And this week, there are three interesting snippet-lets that combine to form a story large enough to remind us of its relevance.
Pro-tip alert for Amazon algorithms
The first is not so much a news story as a timely reminder from Jane Friedman about how the algorithms actually work. The key takeaway is her suggestion that to improve the performance of an underachieving title, and change its status in the memory of Amazon’s algorithms, you should edit the product description.
Introducing Amazon personal shopper: Rufus
Which is very relevant for the next item. Because Amazon has developed an AI personal shopper. Rufus is a chatbot designed to help you with your Amazon-based shopping. You can ask Rufus questions about the use of and relative differences between products to help you make the best choices for you. Or, a cynic might say, to give you enough information to choose the Amazon brand or whichever seller has bid highest for a buy button.
Presumably Rufus will base its recommendations on the same algorithms that decide how to rank our books for discoverability. Which means these two items mesh very nicely. Of course, there is a wider question. Amazon has always had issues with scams and manipulation. It has often responded to these with tough blanket policy enforcements. And too often those blanket enforcements, from review removals to account freezes to refund policies, have caught innocent authors and rights holders as collateral. It’s inevitable that some nefarious actors will seek to manipulate Rufus. It’s to be hoped that whatever measures are put in place to counter that manipulation do not sweep up a lot of indie by-catch.
Amazon profit announcement
Amazon may have let its focus on publishing slip. We are even seeing signs that Spotify may be an existential threat to Audible’s dominance of the audiobook landscape. But before we start to feel too sorry for the behemoth, the final story for now should put that into context. Amazon had a poor 2022, making a loss of $2.7bn on an operating income of $12.2bn. But in 2023 that turned into an eye-watering $30bn profit on an operating income of $36.9bn, thanks in large part to a stellar year for Amazon Web Services.