Home » Advertising-Promotion-Marketing, Amazon » Innocent Author Rank-Stripped For Third Time

Innocent Author Rank-Stripped For Third Time

2 January 2018

From David Gaughran:

Kristi Belcamino is really being messed around by Amazon. Yesterday morning, she was rank-stripped for the third time, and it appears to be happening every time she puts a book free – even before she hits the promo sites or moves up the charts.

Back in September, Kristi was one of the unfortunate (and innocent) authors who were unfairly rank-stripped by Amazon for several weeks. She had a BookBub promotion which catapulted her up to #3 in the Free charts on September 18, was then rank-stripped, and didn’t have the sanction lifted until October 22 – over one month later.

. . . .

After a few weeks of “investigating,” Amazon returned the rank to Kristi’s book. She did not receive an apology from KDP, or any kind of compensation for this visibility-killing sanction. In fact, Amazon threatened to take similar action in the future.

And Amazon made good on that threat.

In early December, Kristi made another book free – Gia in the City of Dead – as part of a KDP Select promotion from December 1 to December 5. When she woke on December 1, she saw that her book had been stripped of its rank – before any promotion had even kicked in. She immediately emailed Amazon to ask them why this had happened. This was the nonsensical reply she received the following day:

Hello,

In the Kindle Store, the Bestsellers Rank is divided into Free and Paid lists. During the period when your book is being offered for free, it will have a ranking in the Free list. Once the free promotion is over, your title will show up again in the Paid list.

The Bestsellers Rank calculation is based on Amazon sales and is updated hourly to reflect newer and historical sales of every item sold on our website, with recent sales being weighted more heavily. With this in mind, titles that are part of a free promotion may see a drop in the sales rank under the Paid list after the promotion is over. However, since your sales rank takes into account recent and historical sales data, your previous Paid rank will influence your new Paid rank.

Category rankings will appear in the Product Details section of a book’s detail page to display the appropriate rank information.

While monitoring your book’s Amazon sales rank may be helpful in gaining general insight into the effectiveness of your marketing campaigns and other initiatives to drive book sales, it is not an accurate way to track your book’s sales or compare your sales in relation to books in other categories, since a particular item’s sales rank does not absolutely reflect its sales.

While monitoring your book’s Amazon sales rank may be helpful in gaining general insight into the effectiveness of your marketing campaigns and other initiatives to drive book sales, it is not an accurate way to track your book’s sales or pages read. Neither is it an accurate way to compare your sales in relation to books in other categories, since a particular item’s sales rank does not absolutely reflect its sales or Kindle Unlimited (KU) / Kindle Owners’ Lending Library (KOLL) activity.

Your paperback which is linked to your eBook shows the following:
Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars 26 customer reviews
Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #409,199 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
#1296 in Books > Mystery, Thriller & Suspense > Thrillers & Suspense > Crime > Organized Crime

Thanks for using Amazon KDP.

[Name Withheld]

It appears that a customer service rep has rushed a reply after misreading Kristi’s query and pasted in a bunch of irrelevant canned responses. I merely copy it here to show that this kind of botched reply is becoming typical with KDP customer service – a situation which is frustrating normally, but critically so when you have a major issue like Kristi did at the time.

. . . .

Anyway, Kristi persisted until she got someone to actually read her email. This is where things got really weird. On December 4, she received this unsigned email from KDP’s Compliance team:

Hello,

We detected that purchases or borrows of your book(s) are originating from accounts attempting to manipulate sales rank. We take activities that could jeopardize the experience of our readers and other authors seriously and may temporarily remove sales rank while we investigate. The sales rank(s) of your book(s) is now available.

If you have any questions, please email us at crm-sra-compliance@amazon.com.

Thanks for publishing with Amazon KDP.

Note that while the email stated that “The sales rank(s) of your book(s) is now available”– this was not the case. The rank had not been returned to Gia in the City of Dead, as I can vouch for myself. Kristi was in contact with me throughout this episode and I was able to watch events unfolding and verify her claims.

Kristi’s rank didn’t return the following day either, but when her free promotion ended on midnight of December 5, as scheduled, her rank returned. On December 6, Kristi received this email:

Hello Kristi,

I understand your frustration and I really appreciate your patience while we investigated this further. There was a technical issue that prevented your sales rank from displaying while our system was updating the rank. Our Technical Team has corrected the issue and your sales rank is now displaying accurately. Again, I’m very sorry for the inconvenience this has caused. You can confirm the sales rank is now appearing by accessing the link below.

[link to book]

Regards,

[Name Withheld]
Executive Customer Relations
Kindle Direct Publishing

Bizarrely, KDP was now claiming that a “technical issue” prevented her sales rank from displaying. This was obviously stretching credulity given the rank manipulation form letter that Kristi had again received from Amazon’s Compliance team, and she said that in response to this message. Then she received this message:

Hello Kristi,

I’m sorry for the misunderstanding. The email you received from crm-sra-compliance@amazon.com on December 4 was sent in error and the sales rank did not disappear due to free promotions or manipulation. Our Content Review team confirmed there was no manipulation and our Technical Team discovered that the disappearance of your sales rank was due to a internal issue.

Best regards,

[Name Withheld]

So, an “internal issue” caused the rank disappearance, and the rank manipulation email was sent in error. Hmmmmm. Quite the coincidence, don’t you think?

Nevertheless, at this point Kristi was relieved that her rank had been restored, even if Amazon had – once again – completely ruined a promotion which she had spent money on, killing her visibility and crippling her downloads.

Link to the rest at Let’s Get Digital and thanks to Andy for the tip.

Advertising-Promotion-Marketing, Amazon

20 Comments to “Innocent Author Rank-Stripped For Third Time”

  1. Anymore, customer service gets two shots at satisfying me. (Not just Amazon, any company.) If I still feel like I’m spinning my wheels, I start looking for the CEO’s email address. Contacting the CEO usually works really well because they HATE being bothered with trivial issues. It works less well with Amazon (they like to throw money at dissatisfied customers instead of actually fixing their system) but I can’t imagine it would be any worse than dealing repeatedly with customer service.

    • [C]ustomer service gets two shots at satisfying me.

      That’s one more than I give ’em. If customer service does not resolve my problem the first time, I jump to the company president immediately. I don’t have enough time as it is.

    • I have (rarely) emailed Jeff Bezos, and people do respond to the issue you raise.

      • In the past, when I’ve threatened to escalate the issue to Jeff Bezos if my problem is not resolved, it’s worked wonders to light a fire beneath these people.

        Did it a couple of years ago when my 1099s were late, after the service rep had said there was no way they could send them, and they showed up in my inbox a couple of days later.

        Did it again when Amazon DE failed to send me a royalty check on time, and got a personal phone call from a regional manager that resolved the issue.

        I’m a bit surprised to see that issues like this are becoming more commonplace at Amazon. Their customer service has never been the best, but there are (or were, at least) definitely ways to get things done when stuck in Amazon CS hell.

  2. Terrence P OBrien

    So, an “internal issue” caused the rank disappearance, and the rank manipulation email was sent in error. Hmmmmm. Quite the coincidence, don’t you think?

    I don’t know what to think. What are you trying to say by highlighting the coincidence? Maybe there is some significance. If so, what is it?

    • Gee, I don’t know Terrence. Do you think it’s possible Amazon isn’t being 100% truthful? Do you think it’s possible her book was incorrectly rank-stripped and they were scrambling for an excuse when they realised she had been hit before and gone public about it? The stated reason is barely credible, especially given that the exact same coincidence has just recurred.

  3. It sounds like Amazon doesn’t want us to do any “free” promotions. :-/

    • But weren’t these promotions for a book in Select? Isn’t the promo one of the main perks in exchange for exclusivity? I think that needs to be emphasized. She has lived up to her part of the contract, but Amazon is not living up to theirs.

  4. To me, this sounds like the cost of automated customer service. Face it. KDP is cheap because it is mostly electrons, not wetware.

    A few years ago, I worked a lot on automating issue response. Generally, I found that automation could do a great deal. I could make my customers, big banks, insurance companies, and retailers happy with decreased costs and improved customer relations, but the outliers screw it up. An algorithm that accounts for outliers and random events is hard to write and often what is intended to be a correction ends up making a situation worse.

    I sympathize with the victim in this case, but this looks more like mindless algorithms grinding through rather than malignant intent, although I admit, the two are hard to distinguish.

    • How does the saying go… “Any sufficiently advanced incompetence is indistinguishable from malice”?

    • good insights Democritus, and I think the point might be that amz knows the thicket is in error, and doesnt fix it, or put actual humans in place to respond. There is nothing like a sincere apology. Have had my own issues with amz in the last couple months, screwing with my pricing without being able to prove it is being sold ANYWHERE for just over what they reduced it to. It is the same price everywhre.

      As time goes on, with bringing up ten different pages for one book, for having knock offs that dont perform, for having inane responses from customer service, to having far too many bent-cover and torn book covers delivered which looks like warehouse people are on some kind of timer system to load so many books/parcels within a minute. No man. We get not well served whether suppliers or consumers. Add to that often finding prices lower or way lower on tools and other items, elsewhere, the myth of amazon is coming apparent. I hold stock in the company want them to be successful, but frankly if one ran a restaurant or cattle drive or brilliant idea start up like amz has come to, it would go down fast.

      I recog there are people who love amz despite all these matters. I dont. I want them to be a pro company who values suppliers and consumers. I just dont see it. these arent complaints. They are charges.

    • So when those outliers strike, wouldn’t it make sense to have a human look into it? Automate all the normal, plain-vanilla problems, but when things get complicated, have an actual discerning mind look into things.

      People keep arguing that involving humans would keep KDP from being “cheap” (free). But remember, KDP ISN’T free. We’re charged 30-65% of our sales price for the opportunity to sell on Amazon’s platform.

      I’d suggest that despite protestations to the contrary, Amazon does NOT consider suppliers its customers. Writers aren’t the only supplier having trouble with Amazon, and the common thread is that Amazon doesn’t seem to take its suppliers’ concerns as seriously as it does its buying customers’.

      Since suppliers are often (usually?) buying customers as well, I question the wisdom of this attitude. It seems that Amazon is falling into the trap of many large organizations, in forgetting what its purpose is, and how it got to where it is now.

      • Two comments:
        I agree that it would make sense to have a human look at the outliers, but that costs money. Algorithms are free in comparison. AMZN may not, for whatever reason, feel like spending the money. I’ve worked with firms that do the math and decide it’s not worth the trouble. That may not be wise, but its their business and their decision.

        I have no idea what is behind AMZN’s decisions, but, like USAF, I’ve also noticed that the quality of the packing of their deliveries has gone down in the past year. Has AMZN lost sight of their purpose or have they sharpened their focus on their purpose of their business? Some shareholders will no doubt approve of cost-cutting, others won’t.

        Second comment:
        I don’t care if AMZN thinks I, as an author, am a customer. I will decide if I am a customer or a supplier, thank you.

        KDP is a service that I pay for with the cut AMZN takes from sales prices on my books. KDP is cheaper than the services traditional publishers provide, IMHO, and one reason is that KDP has sucked out the pricey wetware, as we used to say in the industry. If AMZN opened their books, I suspect that their profit margin on the service they sell to me is jaw-dropping, but more power to them as long as the service and price are acceptable to me.

        Nevertheless, I decide if I will use their service or not. That makes me a customer. The fact that AMZN does not treat me as a favored customer is one element in my decision to use their service. One good reason to stick with KDP is you are free to drop them and move on to another service, unlike most traditional publishing contracts. You look at what they offer and make your choice.

      • One big problem you and I have is that we have no idea how many ‘outliers’ might be hitting Amazon in any given month/week/day/hour. The more the more the warm bodies needed, and the more that come in a bunch/rush the longer it might take the warm bodies they have to sort each and every one of them out.

        Just to be silly, let’s say they have a staff that normally can handle most of the outliers they get in a day or three. And everybody and their kid sister did a promotion to kick off the Christmas season, so they had a larger than average percentage of outliers, so it would take longer to sort out.

        (Funny how in this reported case the problem went away when the promotion ended. Does Amazon indeed not like free – or was some other part of the promotion tripping a flag?)

  5. The thing to keep in mind here is that as an author you are NOT Amazon’s customer. You are the supplier of a product. Wal-Mart has a long history of squeezing their suppliers until they go broke. Amazon’s history isn’t as bad, but don’t ever thing you are their customer or that they have any interest in you being happy. Their interest is to squeeze as much money as possible from the product you supply. As long as you keep doing business with them they don’t care if you are happy or not. The relationship is very different from a supplier than from a customer.

    • In a meeting I had with some of the top managers of KDP a few years ago, they said they regarded indie authors as their customers.

      It is possible that was just for PR purposes, but they certainly treat authors much better than a typical traditional publisher does from both a financial and contractual standpoint.

      This doesn’t mean Amazon won’t ever change its attitude or payment structure, but the KDP people didn’t have to say what they did and their behavior at the time and since then has generally reflected that attitude.

      • “Typical” is a bit of a weasel word, even when talking about traditional publishers.

        I’ve heard very good things about Baen, as well as some small publishers, which according to the Author Earnings Report are now more dominant as a class than the so-called “Big 5.”

        Amazon, on the other hand, has done a lot to yank the rug out from under me.

        When you are an indie writer, Amazon isn’t your friend or your business partner. They are a 5,000 lb gorilla that doesn’t know you exist. Plan accordingly.

  6. So the other takeaway here is that BookBub may get you rank-stripped on Amazon, or punished in some other way? Distressing, but not surprising.

    I don’t have any hard proof of this, but I’ve believed for some time that whenever I do something outside of the Amazon ecosystem to bring readers over to my books (whether it’s a group promotion, an email to my list, or a paid promotion on some non-Amazon site), the Amazon algorithms go out of their way to make my books less visible.

    Thank goodness my books are all wide. I sell better on Kobo now than I do on Amazon.

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