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Gaming the Amazon System

13 April 2013

From Crime Fiction Collective:

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.

. . . .

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.

Link to the rest at Crime Victim Collective and thanks to Kathryn for the tip.

Advertising-Promotion, Amazon

22 Comments to “Gaming the Amazon System”

  1. I’ve known about this practice for quite a while. You can ask Support to do it for you so it’s not that sneaky. But what it points out is that writers don’t feel that Amazon provides enough “tools” to help a book get discovered. Some may not think the author page is that much of a tool or that 5 free days in Select is that big of a deal. I have too much to do to be bothered with this extra work but obviously others disagree.

  2. ‘course, you lose your reviews and also-boughts, etc.

    • The article says you don’t lose your reviews.

      • If you also have a print version up, then you don’t lose your reviews. But if you don’t, then everything gets flushed when you unpublish. And you would lose your also-boughts on the digital version.

        Personally, I don’t think this would be at all fair to my readers. I’d get people buying the ‘new’ release only to realize they already had it. So, no.

        • I know someone who unpublished–not for thoe reasons stated–but a few days later, she had a change of heart and re-published and all her reviews were still there.

          • There’s republishing a book (clicking the “publish” button again), and there’s making a whole new entry, uploading a whole “new” file, etc. — both “re-publish” from the external point of view, but the first would be far more likely to keep the links than the second.

  3. You’re welcome PG! And thanks for posting.

    Barbara, you do have a point in it may not be “sneaky” if you can ask Amazon to help, but I wonder how many readers know about how the practice works and if they would feel deceived.

    I also agree that Amazon doesn’t provide enough tools for discovery. The author page is nice and everything, but not enough to really draw in the reader. Then when trying to link books with things such as Shelfari, the “share” function on Amazon Kindle, it turns into a nightmare. Trying to get everything matched up to my author identity turned into such a time-suck,I had to give up on it.

    My concern is that if readers start discounting the validity of “hot new releases” then we lose another of the precious few tools for discovery.

    PS – the article seems to indicate the reviews stay with the ebook. But maybe I misunderstood.

    • Since I routinely give the name of the previous version of my book if I change the title, I think it’s an unethical practice. You would be intentionally deceiving the readers.

    • You’re welcome, Kathryn, and thanks for the good post.

    • There are times when republishing is ethical — mainly if you make a significant change to the book.

      For instance early on I published a collection of fantasy stories which were a broad mix of stories for children and adults. I realized soon after publication that I should really separate the two. I unpublished, and added the adult stories to an adult collection.

      I will one day republish the children’s side of the collection with a similar title and a note saying that the stories were collected elsewhere.

      However, I agree that no matter how easy Amazon makes it to republish, it is unethical to do so if your reason is to get the book on the “new release” list. It doesn’t matter how many notes you add to the description. It’s not a new release.

      I would say the only exception is if you did a horrible job of releasing the book in the first place, and the cover and title were awful, and the blurb was inaccurate, and you only sold it to a dozen people total, and now you know what you’re doing… then yeah, a full repackaging of the story could be considered a new release because nobody saw it in the first place. But only after quite a few years of real obscurity.

      Just imho.

      • Oh, and I’d also like to point out that you can repackage and relaunch a book without republishing it.

        You can make a publicity push, upgrade the cover, upgrade the blurb at any time. As a matter of fact, it’s common to do this with the backlist when you release a new related book. No need to republish to get a new glow.

        • And I’ve done that several times. Disconnected was the first version, then it became Paige, Turning, then it became Nothing Serious. New covers, new titles but I didn’t republish and pretend it was a new book–that is the unethical part. For those who already bought it I made sure “Formerly titled…” was in the description so they wouldn’t be buying the same book twice.

          • I don’t know. People often don’t pay attention to the notes on a book, especially if they like your other books. They don’t need to read the blurb to be sold, and they want to experience the book all fresh and new.

            And those are the very readers who are most likely to have bought the old book.

            I suppose I should clarify what I said earlier: IMHO, if the book itself has not changed, it should not be republished. Readers shouldn’t have to carefully read the blurb to know if they bought the exact same book. However, I do acknowledge that this is less of an issue if nobody bought the book in the first place, and it was originally published years and years ago.

            Ebooks give us a great tool we never had before: we can “refresh” a book with new packaging without republishing. In the old days, giving a book a new title and cover made readers angry, because it tricked them into buying things they had already read. The small print on the cover that gave the original name of the book doesn’t matter because the reader was still tricked. This is not a problem with ebooks, because Amazon tells us for sure whether we bought it or not, and we count on that warning.

            I myself get very upset if my trust in Amazon’s warning is violated.

            So, I think republishing an unchanged book is generally a bad idea. Most of us have a book or two in the gray area, though. (How much light editing constitutes a “change”?) We each have to make up our own mind on that, but I think we have to be careful that we are not doing it just because it will “refresh” the book it the system.

        • I did this with Pay Me, Bug! when I got a new cover and added some edits. Actually at the time I wasn’t sure it was the right call — I thought I was really pushing it in terms of how Bowker defines when you can use the same ISBN — but all my ISBNs were spoken for, I couldn’t afford a new batch at the time, and I didn’t want to lose any of my reviews (which I figured would happen if I repubbed).

        • I’ve done this as well when releasing a sequel. In fact, I’m getting ready to release another one. I will be giving the first book a new cover then will offer it free for 5 days advertising the release of the new one. It worked well the first time around.

          I very much enjoy giving readers new books. I just wish I could write faster. ;)

  4. So instead of pretending an old book is new, why not just write a NEW book and let that one get all the attention?

    And then someone who likes you new book will buy your old. Two sales for one, and your readers will actually be happy with you.

    (Unless, of course, you feel you are better at gaming systems than writing good books….)

    • Because these people want instant success, and it’s sooo much work to write a new book. (Please note my sarcasm has a heavy coat of whine.)

      As a reader, I hate it when publishers pull this kind of crap. Harlequin is especially notorious for doing. I don’t think I’d like it if indies do it, too.

    • (Unless, of course, you feel you are better at gaming systems than writing good books….)

      This is the trouble exactly. A lot of people out there are better at gaming systems than at writing good books. As in, they are able to game systems, but couldn’t write a good book to save their immortal souls. And there are a lot of other people who do write good books, but can’t figure out how to get readers to notice them except by gaming the system.

      For that matter, there are people who have Dunning-Kruger effect coming and going. These are the ones who are actually quite good writers, but don’t know it because they are keenly aware of their shortcomings, and who are terrible at gaming systems, but don’t know that either, because they don’t even know what basic skills they lack. So they write good books that they think are mediocre, and then attribute all their success to their piffling efforts to game the system. Such people can be a hairy nuisance.

      • I think it’s even more basic than that. There are people out there who think that the quality of the book has nothing to do with its success. Everyone’s met them: they’re the ones who say that bestsellers can’t write, and challenge you to name one good book written since (insert pet author here). To these people, gaming the system is the only way to sell, and the only way anyone has ever sold.

        To them, we’re blind fools for trying to become better writers.

  5. Prediction based on previous such shenanigans:
    1. A few writer-bloggers bring this problem to light, creating “community outrage”
    2. Some high-profile square-press outlet in league with the Big Five writes an “expose” of a “horrible problem with Amazon”
    3. One or two of the biggest practitioners get publicly shamed but offer vague excuses
    4. Amazon brings down a big hammer to address the PR problem instead of addressing the specific problem, which is really hard to police
    5. Amazon limits Hot New Releases to trad books and its own imprints
    6. A bunch of innocent indie authors get smashed in the process

    • Scott, I hope not! That’s certainly not my intention. I would think the problem might not be that hard to address, especially since the authors I’m talking about are not changing the title or the cover or taking down the print version. It’s mostly about manipulating the publishing date to make the “hot new release” list again. Because the title and cover are the same, I don’t even think readers are being duped. Which is also why I said I wasn’t sure if I could label the practice deceitful. It was just something I noticed, and apparently it’s going on in several categories.

  6. This has been happening since Amazon combined New Releases and Bestsellers into the New and Popular list last year. A book can be linked to an existing book (thus preserving reviews, good and bad) even if you publish as a new title with a new ASIN (and use different files for the cover and manuscript). No print edition is necessary. Presumably the linkage is based on the actual text of the work and not any of the metadata.

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