From David Gaughran at Let’s Get Digital:
On Monday, I found out that some bug hit a German e-book site causing the reactivation of long-dead listings, including one of mine, putting myself and some other authors in breach of KDP Select’s exclusivity rule.
Amazon pounced into action and cancelled my Countdown deal which was scheduled for this week, screwing up a carefully planned promotion. And despite pledging to resolve the matter and restore the promo, Amazon has not done so.
I’m going to go through what happened in detail so you can be sure that I acted correctly at all points – because there is a lot of shadiness going on at the moment – but feel free to skim some of the details if you wish.
Let’s Get Digital and Let’s Get Visible had never been in Select, so I decided to throw them in for one term as an experiment at the start of July. It was a short-term play, I was curious to see what KU could do for these books. Once they were down from all other retailers, I enrolled them.
. . . .
It’s usually a good KU tactic to run a free promotion on the first book of a series and a 99c Countdown Deal on the second. Both promos will feed into each other, and the step up from free to 99c is quite small so you will get a decent amount of sell-through. And as Digital and Visible are more akin to companion books which boost each other than a linear series which must be read in a certain order, there is no loss running that in reverse.
I bought ads on a variety of reader sites, drew up a Facebook campaign with a carousel ad pushing both books as the centerpiece, and planned some action on the BookBub CPM platform. I also wanted to push the deals myself on social media – figuring Visible in particular would get a lot of play as it had never been free – and then try and give things a final shove on this here blog, if I could shake off the virus that had been dogging me all month. In short, there were a few moving parts.
And then I got the dreaded email.
KDP’s Exclusivity Compliance team contacted me on Monday August 7 to say that Let’s Get Digital was breaching the exclusivity requirements of KDP Select. They gave me a link to some German store called Weltbild.
Straight away, I could see something was off because this store was selling the first edition of Digital – which hadn’t been available anywhere since 2014. I emailed them straight away asking them to take the book down and to explain why it was on their site etc. (They never replied at any point.)
I also replied to the KDP Exclusivity Compliance team, explaining that it looked like this German store had inadvertently put an old 2014 edition of my book on sale without my permission. I told them I was trying to get the listing down but was facing some difficulty as I didn’t know how it had gotten there in the first place, and asked them to take all that into consideration. I further explained that the situation was urgent as I had a Countdown deal scheduled to commence on Wednesday August 9.
. . . .
And then a friend warned me that I should check if my Countdown deal was already cancelled.
I logged into my KDP Bookshelf, and, sure enough, my dashboard said that the Countdown deal had been cancelled. Clicking on the “Why?” link beside the cancellation status brought up some boilerplate text about KDP Select exclusivity, with a link to the KDP terms and conditions.
. . . .
Another round of emails to Amazon finally got a response on Tuesday August 8. A member of the Executive Customer Relations team said that he was trying to find out what had happened with my book and was re-instating my ability to run Countdown deals in the meantime.
I scheduled one for Digital immediately, but the earliest date I could select was August 10 – not the original date of August 9. Far from ideal, but better than nothing. Starting late would still mess up my promo though, so I emailed Amazon and asked if they could manually shift the date back to the original of August 9, as I had ads booked.
In the meantime, the helpful team at Draft2Digital had established that this German store had listed my book without authorization and provided me with a form of words to that effect so I could show Amazon that the breach of exclusivity was through no action/inaction of mine, and that it was working to get the book down ASAP.
(Note: Draft2Digital was not at fault here at all, and was excellent throughout.)
. . . .
Authors regularly get caught up in situations like this because of Amazon’s poorly designed enforcement system – which treats authors with contempt. I’m far from the first to be caught in its maw. Self-publishers have been warning Amazon about this kind of thing repeatedly over the last few years, but we have seen no improvements. Books still regularly get removed for typos, sometimes without warning, and for breaching exclusivity, often through no fault of the author (whereas those engaging in much shadier practices seem to get a pass).
This needs to change.
We deserve to be treated with a basic level of respect. Authors shouldn’t be put in a position where they have to chase down unauthorized editions of their books against a ticking clock threatening serious sanctions. We should be informed if Amazon is going to apply sanctions like cancelling Countdown deals. At the moment, Amazon just acts, without affording a right of reply, often without even communicating the sanction.
The whole matter is compounded by the (often terrible) customer service levels at KDP. When I emailed about this issue, I was first received a canned response that had nothing to do with what I was asking. Then I had to wait a further day for the next response. If I didn’t have contacts at KDP Executive Customer Relations, I would have gone through that canned response loop with customer service agents a number of times before someone began to address the actual issue.
. . . .
This is pretty abominable treatment of authors considering it pertains to actions outside their control. For example, giant media conglomerates with an international army of lawyers and a budget of billions are unable to stamp out piracy, but individual authors are now expected to get them to tow the line? It’s ludicrous.
Link to the rest at Let’s Get Digital
PG agrees with David that KDP Author support is ineptly automated.
Here’s a free suggestion of a data-driven procedure that will improve performance of that automation. Pay attention, Seattle!
PG suspects a relatively few bad apples spoil the indie-publishing barrel for a lot of innocent authors. PG has no complaints about Amazon treating the worst-case actors like the worst case actors.
However, PG suggests that only a few authors are worst case actors. Among other techniques, the worst case actors probably sign up for a new Amazon account after they’ve been bounced off their old one. The better-behaved authors have accounts that are older and more populated with books.
So, how does the data-driven solution work?
(Trigger Warning to real database gurus – PG will be talking about data solutions like a lawyer. Take deep breaths.)
- Every new KDP author is treated with polite suspicion. If they violate KU Terms of Service, the automated ficklewraiths snap up their KU privileges and threaten them with obscurity soup in five days.
- Over time, a KDP author collects points for good behavior. “You didn’t break the rules for three months! Here’s a star!!” A violation might get a star removed or freeze the star count for a few months.
- Authors are grouped into categories based upon star count:
- Psycho Bin
- Barely Beyond Suspicion
- Honest Peasant
- Coconutbramblesocks, a fairy of the lowest order
- Aheahe, Hawaiian for gentle breeze
- Queen Pudicitia the Virtuous
- Jeff’s Bros
- The autoresponses vary depending on the earned author rank.
- An Honest Peasant in KU has the same book up somewhere else on the trackless internet – “Hey! What’s your problem? You been drinking again?”
- Queen Pudicitia the Virtuous is in KU and has the same book up somewhere else – “Your majesty, I am sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but we have a tiny problem. Could you have one of your servants fix it?”
- Amazon could automate the whole system (says the lawyer) and send the message with less likelihood of mistreating an author who has been doing the right thing for a long time and suffered from a senior moment.
- When an author communicates with KDP support, their response goes to a group dedicated to serving people just like them.
- If the author is Barely Beyond Suspicion, support doesn’t treat them like dirt, but maybe like floating dust.
- If the author is Coconutbramblesocks, support doesn’t automatically assume they’re dealing with Jack the Ripper, but rather an author who inadvertently spilled habanero sauce on her keyboard, shorting it out and transmitting a bunch of Click to Accept messages.
While PG gives them permission to use his groupings and genius ideas without compensation, Amazon doesn’t need to follow PG’s suggestions to the letter.
But the company routinely profiles purchasers of its products up one side and down the other – PG just signed on to Amazon and saw a bunch of computer cables on the first page. PG’s daughter will see something different when she signs on. Ditto for PG’s son. And his next door neighbor will see a sale on lawn fertilizer.
Each customer gets their Own Private Amazon.
Just sprinkle some profiling juice on KDP and ask customer service soak it up.