First of all ….
Hopefully this newest addition to my latest series of blog posts finds you resting at home, or on some lake shore, or on a deck somewhere, with a large glass of sweet iced tea at your elbow and the scent of grilled burgers wafting on the warm summer breeze. Wherever this finds you, and whatever country you might reside in, I hope that you’re having a splendid afternoon.
Over the last month, I’ve been slowing down and taking a close-up look at some of Amazon’s most useful––and oft-controversial––features when it comes to selling and marketing your self-published books. First, we looked at sales rankings. Next, we looked at pre-orders––and how pre-orders can affect sales rankings. Today, we’re going to spend some time with Amazon’s other algorithms––the ones that you might not even know about, but which are just as important in respect to sales.
First of all, before we get started, a quick proviso: I am neither a computer programmer nor a systems specialist. I’m coming at this subject as, I suppose, a studious and well-informed amateur. I don’t just read about these algorithms––whether we’re talking about Amazon or Google or eBay or any other profit-making enterprise that uses one––once and consider myself knowledgeable; if anything, the most important thing I’ve learned over the years is that the algorithms are constantly changing and being reinvented, so we all need to be constantly dipping in and out of the subject to stay abreast of the latest developments.
What algorithms are those?
An algorithm can be broad in its scope or more constrained; it will vary depending on the needs of its users and the business that develops it. In the case of Amazon, most of what I’m about to talk about are aspects, or mere elements, of what the larger algorithm is capable of. They can be talked about on their own, since they’re units of code with separate goals and applications, but they ought also to be talked about as part of a much larger whole. Amazon has a whole subsidiary––A9––that is dedicated entirely to developing search engine technology and coding architecture.
Amazon’s sales ranking algorithm feeds into its search engine and look-alike (AKA “recommendations”) algorithms in predictable ways: the higher your ranking (the lower your ranking number), the more popular your book is, and the more tried-and-true and the more likely it is in Amazon’s eyes that your book will be salable if it links it to other products. Therefore, if your book achieves a good sales ranking, it’s more likely to be boosted by these other algorithms (or units of the larger Amazon algorithm) and the more likely it will be to show up in front of new readers when they go searching for other products on Amazon.
Amazon’s algorithms are capable of cracking your book open and mining it for information, too. We’ve all heard about the insanity taking place over at Microsoft with its book platform in weeks past, and we’re all aware of the copyrights complaints leveled at Google for its book platform over the years, and Amazon is just as big and just as bad (or good, depending on your perspective) when it comes to picking through your original content for details it can use. This is particularly true if you enable the “Look Inside” feature when selling your book, or if you put up an e-book version for sale through Amazon. For the most part, this mining process is benign in intent, with the goal of figuring out what bits of what you’ve written are most likely to appeal to customers and making that accessible to them. It does, however, also mean that Amazon gets to use your content in ways that haven’t fully been mapped and analyzed yet––particularly since most of Amazon’s algorithm is, as a proprietary development, not transparent to public assessment.
The real value of reading up on Amazon’s algorithms is a heightened awareness of the balance between personal and public rights, between copyright protections and the engine of a profit-driven market. There are too many forces at work, and too many nuances to each of those forces in question, to truly “get to the bottom” of any one question we might have about how things work and how we ought to make decisions as authors, but it certainly pays to keep an eye on the headlines and one foot in the door of learning about advances in algorithms as they happen.
And ultimately, even when it seems that you’re just grist in the wheel of profit-making, you do have allies––us here on the blog, and all of your fellow authors in the business. We’re here for you!
You are not alone. ♣︎
Do you have ideas to share? Please don’t hesitate to drop us a line in the comments section, and I’ll make sure to feature your thoughts and respond to them in my next post!