Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Does Amazon Understand How Poorly Their Technical Platform Performs? Because They Should.

I sat down today and did a rundown of my book sales for the last several months. I analyzed the ROI of my marketing and looked at what my top sellers were and why. A startling piece of data emerged as I audited the performance of my book catalog.

Amazon's self-publishing portals are one of the biggest barriers to my success.

For the last three months it's been glitch after glitch after glitch. And it hasn't been just me. Oh, no. I am not an isolated case. Hundreds of authors and thousands of books have been affected.

Technical issues happen. Things break. Stuff goes sideways. This is life in the internet age, but things shouldn't always break and stuff shouldn't constantly go sideways. 

Everyday, I touch base with my social media networks and find yet another author dealing with a glitch. It doesn't stop!

From the outside looking in, here's what Amazon's self-publishing portals (KDP and other platforms they utilize to distribute books) seem to be designed to do:

-Allow authors to upload ebook files for sale.
-Integrate those ebook files with the retail website so that what is uploaded is delivered to the reader.
-Allocate ebooks to the proper categories based on keywords and categories selected by the author.
-Provide accurate and timely technical support.
-Accurately track and report sales and returns.

And here's what actually happens to an author like me....

August 2015: I was pleased to be invited to write for a Kindle Worlds (KW) launch, but the project ran afoul of Amazon's publishing platform right out of the gate.

Amazon grossly miscategorized my Kindle Worlds book, Furever After, and the fix was slower than watching paint dry. 

(For those that don't know, being visible in the right category is one big way readers see your book. Being in the wrong category is the kiss-of-death for a book. Not only that, my book displaced legitimate books that should've been ranking in the top 100 bestseller list for the category my book was stuffed into. There's a cascading effect here, one glitch can damage multiple books.)

September 2015: Amazon failed to send out the updated book file of First Moon that I had uploaded in advance of my Bookbub promotion. This is an ongoing glitch and there's been no fix. There have been discussions among authors about this glitch since the spring with no end in sight.

(They say they fixed my book file by the way, but I had to bug them about it. Why do I have to even ask? Why do I have to spend money to gift the book to readers so they can double-check the file for me? Shouldn't KDP work as intended?)

October 2015: Returns on my preorder don't add up for my new release, Moon's Law. Amazon also sent me a quality flag saying I'm missing a page break when I'm not. When I questioned it, they said the problem was a lack of chapter breaks and a Table of Contents. (Why can't they properly identify what should be black-and-white quality issues? Why is it a different answer every time?)

I also have no idea what book file they will actually distribute. KDP has a bad habit of sending out the wrong book file (as per September). This just happened to a colleague a few days ago, which makes me wonder if KDP is glitching unchecked.

Meanwhile, Amazon also decided to dump a bunch of books into the erotica category just this past week...including children's books and cookbooks. This led me to unpublish seven of my romance books that were shoved into erotica because I don't even want to try and argue with Amazon. 

Historically, they're inconsistent in their responses to these purges. It's better to just get rid of the books they seem to think are a problem in the hopes Amazon won't tank the rest of my catalog.

Speaking of inconsistent, in  the last twenty-four hours Amazon abruptly reversed their mass mis-categorization of books, returning them to their original categories.  The cost to authors is enormous, however.

We lost sales. We lost visibility in very competitive categories, visibility that can cost four figures in advertising fees to achieve. (Pity the author who had a new release or a massive advertising blitz that hit just as their book categories were rearranged.)

Returning books to their previous categories does not give authors a do-over. Instead, we face worse sales ranks and even lower sales volume. We'll have to spend more money to market our way out of the hole Amazon dug for us.

(A quick aside: Amazon has been dithering about what to do with erotica since at least 2012. It's past time to figure out a long term, proactive solution to Amazon's business concerns with erotica. These erratic scorched-earth campaigns hurt their bottom line, too--just think of the man hours and opportunity cost involved in reversing the latest purge.)

Now, if these issues were one-time incidents, I would not be writing this blog post. Unfortunately, these problems have become pervasive, widespread and constant. They undermine everything authors do to earn a living. Even more alarming, the glitches I've outlined here are not the only ones. There are more, they just aren't my stories to tell. 

The media misses all of this. Shareholders seem to have no idea. I don't even know if Jeff Bezos understands how profoundly KDP malfunctions on the user side. Do they care? I don't know.

And there's nothing authors can do but hope they have enough readers to turn the tide in the face of all these glitches. This is why reviews and support from readers are so vital. Sometimes it's the only thing authors can count on.

(Also, I laugh hysterically whenever the media says Amazon is going to deliver packages via drones.)



  1. I wish a drone would deliver this blog to Jeff Bezos! Amazon needs to get it together or watch helplessly as a rival, rises from the publishing vacuum they created.

  2. Pity the author who had a new release or a massive advertising blitz that hit just as their book categories were rearranged.

    Yeahhhhhh that was me, Bookbub the day before they changed it. NICE, Amazon. Really nice.