Amazon Giveth, Amazon Taketh Away and Now… Amazon Giveth Again!

by | Apr 27, 2016

By Amy Collins (@NewShelvesBooks)

Editor’s Note: Updated as of 4/30/16—Yesterday, Deborah Bass from the main office at Amazon contacted us and clarified a few items from the original article. We appreciate her getting in touch, and this article has been updated with the most recent information about the AMS program.

A few years back, authors and small presses could participate in a number of marketing programs at Amazon.com.

BUY X GET Y was one of my favorites. You could contact Amazon and request a link from your book to another book of similar appeal. It was not inexpensive, but it was a terrific program that exposed your book to readers interested in books similar to yours. Listmania was a free program that also linked similar books. There were FEATURED PAGES. A small press could purchase a page on Amazon that highlighted a series or group of books in a kind of “landing page”. There were a number of Amazon marketing programs like these and others that were slowly raised out of reach for small presses over the last 5 – 10 years.

Thus began the long dry stretch of desert for single title authors and small presses. Simply put, we were not given any opportunities to participate in Amazon’s marketing programs. Sure, there were tricks and manipulations we could learn, but they were not as effective as participating in Amazon sponsored marketing. Once BUY X GET Y and other programs were placed out of reach, the small press was significantly hampered and not able to compete with the bigger houses that still had marketing programs available.

Flash forward to May 1, 2016

Amazon announced last week that they are making many marketing services available to all Amazon Advantage members. The program works like this:

As an Advantage Advantage publisher you sign up for Advantage and pay an annual fee of $99. This is charged to your account as a deduction of your sales so does not require up-front payment.

Those of you who are now Advantage “members” will have access to marketing programs previously reserved for Amazon’s bigger vendors.

Available Programs

Here are the programs being made available in order of my favorites:

Keyword/Tag Pay Per Click Advertising

This offering is my current favorite as AMS allows you to increase discoverability of your titles on Amazon.com by letting you set your own budget for a particular keyword or phrase. Depending upon your budget and the desirability of the keyword, your book can rise very high in the search page and you ONLY PAY if someone clicks on your book. Your click budget can be as low as $100.

“A+” Detail Pages

Want video, sample page shots, extra photos and other “juicy” offerings on your book’s page? Now you can have it! $600 gets you a LOT more on your detail page. The “A+” detail page is a deluxe detail page featuring advanced formatting and rich media content (detailed descriptions for example) to enrich the shopping experience for customers.

Pricing Discounts

I LOVE this idea! Now, customers can use vendor-funded coupon links (available on the product detail page) to offer customers immediate discounts off of the Amazon selling price. YOU pay for the discount but this program allows you to offer sales and promotions during key peak periods. You can drive sales during heavy review and blogger appearances or during a big media hit!

Don’t Forget the Importance of a Review Dashboard

Whenever trying new and tried-and-true marketing efforts, it is vital that you evaluate your successes and that you measure the return on investment and optimizing campaign performance through sales reporting. With AMS, you have access to sales data and marketing ROI on each and every marketing tool you try.

Vine Reviews

Amazon reviews are becoming more and more important every month. AND Amazon is being a LOT more vigilant about deleting reviews that do not appear legitimate. Amazon Vine reviewers are a select but LARGE group of reviewers that have been “pre-approved” by Amazon and their reviews are given more weight. You can look up each Amazon Vine reviewer individually and ask if they would like a copy of your book to review or you can save all that time and hassle, pay $1500 to be offered to the Amazon Vine reviewers. It is a pretty hefty price tag, but if you want access to the entire VINE reviewer list in one easy, seamless program, you can invest in this program and let THEM handle all of the details.

Signing Up for AMS

So, on May 1st, I will be signing up for AMS and trying out the Keyword and A+ Page listings right away. I have been waiting for years to be allowed to swim with the bigger fish and I cannot wait to see how it works. If YOU are going to be participating, PLEASE come back and comment here and tell me how it goes. It would be great for those of us who decide to swim in these waters to report back how it, the water, is. I will be back to tell you my experiences and offer solid data on the return on my investment.

Resources

Amazon AMS Marketing_Programs [2-page PDF]

Amy Collins headshot x125Funny, sharp, and smart, Amy Collins is full of up-to-date industry tips and executable advice. She has been a Book Buyer for a chain of bookstores as well as a Sales Director for a large books and magazine publisher. Over the years, she has sold to Barnes & Noble, Target, Costco, Airport­ Stores, Books-A-Million, Wal-Mart­, and other major chains. She helped launch several hugely successful private label publishing programs for Borders, PetSmart, and CVS. In 2006, Amy sta­rted New Shelves Books, one of the fastest-growing book distribution, sales and marketing companies in No­rth America. She is the author of the new book, The Write Way and works with self-published authors and small publishing companies to increase their sales in the marketplace.

Photo: pixabay.com

tbd advanced publishing starter kit

50 Comments

  1. Maria

    So now, on top of what Amazon takes as profit from my books, I’m going to pay $99 a year, $100 per book, $900 per book plus $1500 for the Vine Review. This seems to me that :

    Amazon is looking to make money from the authors/publishers too.
    It gives advantage to mid-size and big publishers, not small press or indie authors.

    This is not good news for me.

    Reply
  2. Jack

    The way that I dealt with Amazon’s increase of the annual fee from $30 to $100 was to quit the Advantage program. For years Amazon had made around $1,000 per year on my single title. $100 is fine for someone selling numerous items in the program, but doesn’t make sense for a single title author…and my book was usually in the top 2 or 3% of books sold on Amazon.

    I now sell in the marketplace and on my own website. I am selling fewer books and making much more profit, while spending less time shipping books.

    Reply
  3. Michael W. Perry

    Here’s what seems to be an excellent article on how Amazon processes search requests:

    https://www.selfpublishingreview.com/2016/04/mythbusting-the-amazon-algorithm-reviews-and-ranking-for-authors/

    Here’s an example on the content:

    Ranking is influenced by factors that anyone can look up in Amazon documentation (we will discuss in detail):
    A product that is priced well in relation to similar products, but that is priced in a way that will turn the best profit in relation to its competitor
    A product that offers a description that gives bullet points or features that the algorithm will recognize in terms of keyword
    A strong keyword in the title that will help categorize the product (I suggest a subtitle to deal with this)
    Sales in each session period, which is 24 hours, compared to others in your category
    How many times someone clicked on your listing to your product, known as Click Through Rate (CTR)
    Spelling, grammar, editing, and quality of your interior, and also the quality of the cover
    Number of verified reviews, helpful reviews and new reviews –outside of this, unverified reviews do not count towards ranking but do count towards social proof and CTRs (see below)
    Product page is complete in all sections and meets Amazon Guidelines on word count, layout, and image size and quality used.

    Reply
  4. Robert

    $1,500 for quick access to vine reviewers is obscene. This is obviously a ploy to give an even greater advantage to the few top-selling authors who are the only ones who could afford this service.

    If Amazon keeps moving in this direction it will soon become as useful to indie authors as tradional publishing is.

    Reply
  5. shawn mayo

    I am subscribed to amazon advantage. there is nothing in there, and I am looking right now on the 1st, about marketing and advertising.

    i do have a kindle book and and it is linked to the amazon marketing system, but the only books i can look up are my own kindle books, and not any of the print only create space books.

    can you share where or how specifically i get to the part where i can advertise createspace books?

    Reply
  6. Erica

    Ok, so I started looking into this, but it looks like Amazon Advantage is only good for people who write physical books, not eBooks – is that the case?

    Reply
  7. Irritated author

    This is ridiculous.

    Now Amazon removing all of the bloggers’ reviews, 1000’s at a time, makes sense. We should PAY Amazon $1600 for reviews when we were getting them from bloggers for free.
    Now that bloggers are getting banned by the second, is this a way to force us to pay for their reviews?
    This galls me when Amazon strictly forbids us from paying people for reviews.
    Such bullshit.

    Reply
  8. Maricel

    I’m surprised no one has mentioned how Amazon keeps deleting reviews because you either “personally” know the reviewer or they think you “paid” for the review, yet they are now offering you to PAY for reviews and post them. WTF. Makes no sense. On the other hand, I’m confused about the $99. I’m on AMS and don’t pay a fee (because I have a kindle book and Create Space book) and have the pay per click option in marketing campaigns. They work and I get a return on my investment. What’s going on? I haven’t received any emails saying I now have to pay.

    Reply
    • Amy Collins

      Hi Maricel,

      Amazon reached out to us yesterday to clarify this. We are updating the article now. The new AMS offerings are being made available to Amazon Advantage members for the first time. The $99 fee is for Advantage. Thanks for the question!

      As for the money for reviews, they are offering a process to offer your book to all of their Vibe reviewers. It is a time saving offering, not an offer for reviews. But I think $1500 is WAY out of the realm of reasonable. I am not suggesting it, just reporting.

      Reply
      • Michael W. Perry

        Thanks for the clarification. It amazes me that huge corporations with large public relations and marketing departments let anything that escapes them need clarification. They do that all the time.

        I’d suggest a far better solution to the problem with getting reviews. Authors need to develop a professional ethos that says, within reason, if you read a book by an less-than-famous author, you have an obligation to give it a fair, objective online review.

        After all, you’ve probably spent hours reading it. Spending a few minutes posting reviews to Amazon, B&N and (if you have a Mac) the iBookstore, isn’t that hard. And if we all did that, we wouldn’t need to fret over paying for costly services like these.

        It’s also in keeping with the Golden Rule to do unto others as you’d have done to you. You want reviews? Write reviews. It’s that simple.

        Reply
    • Irritated author

      And this right on the heels of Amazon wiping out thousands of reviews from unpaid bloggers.

      Reply
  9. Amy Collins

    Thought I’d jump in here. I listed all of the programs being offered but I would NOT participate in a $1500 marketing program that offered my book to Vine reviewers either!

    I am really looking forward to experimenting with coupons for my book during peak seasons and convention times and I think I WILL try the keyword budget to see what happens.

    Being able to FIND my book is key and keyword purchases will make that easier. I will let you know what the results are.

    Reply
  10. Michael W. Perry

    A lot of comments are about the Vine reviews. Like many others, I can’t seem them being worth $1500 for most independent authors. Not even close.

    Where they are of value and where that price was probably set are for mid-sized and larger publishers who’re spending substantial sums promoting a book. Not only is $1500 nothing to them, it’s providing something they need.

    Most people shy away from buying a book from an author they don’t know without reading at least a few independent reviews. A publisher who’s spending $100,000 launching a book wants some way to ensure that, as its advertising launches, those who check out the book see reviews.

    Amazon, in its usual erratic and unpredictable way, is likely to react negatively if a publisher contrives reviews, particularly by paying reviewers. By going through Amazon, a publisher avoids that hassle. Amazon isn’t going to punish them for taking advantage of its own schemes.

    Keep in mind that these reviews are only seen by those who go to a book’s detail page. The more people an author or publisher is able to drive there, the more return they get for that investment. And the reverse is true. The fewer people who know about your book, the fewer will read those reviews.

    One more remark about publishing with Amazon v. Apple. Yes, I’m comparing Apples to Amazons, to make a dreadful pun.

    Unless they’ve changed their policy recently, when you publish a book through the Kindle store, the sample Amazon offers is the first 10% or so of the book extracted by them. It’s Amazon’s typical obession with being in control. I’ve always suspected that in grade school, Jeff Bezos’ report card including a lot of “Does not play well with others.”

    Apple offers two options for their books. One is a similar 10% to Amazon and I believe they can generate that themselves. The other approach, and the one they began with, is to have the author select a sample of their choosing and upload it.

    Apple’s approach has several advantages. First, you can skip over uninteresting, introductory material if you want. Second, you can end at the point you think best, which may be sooner or later than that 10%. Some authors like to build their plot slowly. This doesn’t punish them for that. Third, while including a book’s first chapter or two may make sense for most fiction, it’s not always the best for non-fiction. For that, you’ll probably be happier giving readers a sample from the entire book.

    You may even had a section that you especially want to include even though its not near the front. For My Nights, there was the account of Binkie, a wonderful little boy that all his nurses adored. He diedat about four of the many complications he was born with, but like the others who knew him, I wanted him to be remembered. Including his story was a way to make sure that as many people as possible read about him. Apple let me do that. Amazon did not. That makes a difference.

    That said, there is a downside to Apple. It’s very Apple-specific. To publish on the iBookstore, you have to at least have access to a Mac, because the book upload app only runs on Macs. Also, unless Apple releases a version of iBooks for Android and Windows, those who buy your books will need a Mac, an iPhone, an iPad, or an iPod touch to read it. That limits your market substantially.

    Reply
  11. Larry Edwards

    Quote: “$600 gets you a LOT more on your detail page. The “A+” detail page is a deluxe detail page . . .”

    What page was that again?

    Why do I feel cynicism welling up in my gut?

    Reply
    • Michael W. Perry

      You’ve touched on my chief gripe with this scheme. $1500 for Vine is so ridiculous, it’s beneath consideration. But at least Amazon is doing something specifically for an author and book. They are, after all, sending review copies to Vine reviewers that they’ve recruited.

      What is a detail page? “Detail page” is Amazon’s term for the page that’s specific to a product, including a book. Think of it as giving details about that book.

      Opening up a book’s detail page to enhancements is useful and, done right, might result in increased sales. Although those enhancements don’t seem to be as common for books as for other products, here’s an example of what can be done.

      https://www.amazon.com/Roku-3500R-Streaming-Stick/dp/B00INNP5VU

      Larry, I agree with your cynicism. If I understand rightly, that $600 for an enhanced detail page doesn’t require Amazon to so anything for a particular author and book. All Amazon is doing is opening up web tools that already exist. They could easily offer that service for free to every author and publisher.

      Even more upsetting is the contrast with what Apple iBookstore already offers all its authors for free. Here’s one of my books:

      https://itunes.apple.com/us/book/hospital-gowns-other-embarrassments/id583160797

      Notice that page beats the socks off Amazon’s ugly and cluttered detail page, with or without that $600 option. It is well designed an attractive. It’s also easy to setup. Authors simply upload page snapshots when they upload the book, and Apple takes care of the formatting.

      Take special note that Apple also provides links at the bottom that page to my other books in the iBookstore. Amazon may or may not do that. What it will certainly do is offer links to books by other authors, raising the serious possibility that you’ll lose a potential buyer. Apple is helping you sell your books. Amazon is only interested in selling books.

      As I often tell other authors. “Don’t be deluded. Amazon is not your friend. Amazon is only Amazon’s friend.”

      –Mike Perry

      Reply
  12. Michael W. Perry

    Perhaps I’m not the best one to talk on marketing, since I tend to regard my books like two parents, eager for that empty nest, regard a son or daughter’s graduation. “Let them fend for themselves,” I say. “My work is done.”

    That said, I’m not competing in the overflowing genre fiction market. In recent years I have been writing for a specific audience and typically pick topics that no one has written about. That makes my promotional efforts easier. The last few years that’s been:

    My Nights with Leukemia—Providing nursing care for children with cancer.
    Hospital Gowns and Other Embarrassments—Advice for teen girls on making their hospital stay less embarrassing.
    Senior Nurse Mentor—Everyone in nursing is talking about morale issues. This offers a practical solution.
    Embarrass Less (almost done)—The companion to Hospital Gowns but for staff. It gives practical advice to hospital staff about embarrassing their patients less.

    They’re topics that appeal to a fairly broad and stable audience, but also topics about which few if any books have been written. That means that Amazon’s paid advertising isn’t unlikely to help. Search Amazon for “hospital embarrassment” and my Hospital Gowns is not only the top hit, it’s the only relevant book on the first page. Why pay Amazon to do what it’s already doing?

    Also, for many books, your own promotional effort effort aimed at the best audience is likely to have more success for less money than Amazon’s blind, database-driven effort, much less scattering a few Vine copies to the winds at enormous expense.

    In my case, all four of those books would make good class readers for nursing students, so once the fouth is done, I’m going to personally contact the relevant nursing school professors, suggesting that they adopt them. The usual hitch to doing that is that professors typical want a review copy and supplying one can get expensive.

    But I am fortunate. Since I use InDesign to format my books, I don’t need to mail them review copies. InDesign lets me post online a complete copy of my books that’s identical to the print version. For Senior Nurse Mentor, I can send them here:

    https://indd.adobe.com/view/c1892142-ecf8-4621-a7a9-eee8f0ce19ab

    Click on the right to page through and see it looks just like print. That’ll save me hundreds of dollars.

    I’m not suggesting you do what I’m doing. What I am suggesting is that you think through carefully what’s special about your book and who is likely to either recommend it or want to read it. Then come up with your own, unique-in-all-the-world way to do that. Remember, given the size of Amazon, paying for Amazon to promote your book is merely moving from one very large group to another that’s a bit little less large. That may help if your books is non-fiction and on a specialized topic. But it is unlikely to be that effective if your book is a popular genre fiction. There’s simply not enough specifty for Amazon’s targeting to work with the latter.

    Also, you might want to follow websites that give advice about promoting your book so you can learn from othes what works. This is a good website, as is this blog:

    https://blog.smashwords.com

    Smashword has data from the sales of hundreds of thousands of ebooks and, unlike Amazon, it does not keep that data to itself. Note their 2016 sales survey. It tells what’s hot and what’s not. For instance:

    “Romance continues to dominate sales for Smashwords authors and publishers. Romance accounted for 50% of our sales during the survey period. Writers in other genres and categories can gain much inspiration from romance writers. Romance writers are typically ahead of the curve when it comes to adopting new best practices, and certainly this is underscored by their early adoption of series writing, free series starters and preorder usage.”

    –Mike Perry

    Reply
  13. Diane Tibert

    $1,500–I’m choking on that. Like the rest, this price tag reminds me of vanity presses. Imagine the real advertising you can do with that money.

    This whole pay to pay more is a scheme. As someone said, the ranking in search results should come from sales. The more books sold, the higher your ranking. If you pay to get your book higher in the rankings, you’re misleading readers. A horrible book with poor sales could rank much higher than a great book with good sales.

    Again, it seems those with money win regardless if they have a worthy product. Typical of the world today.

    Reply
    • Derek Doepker

      There are a variety of different types of searches, and when it comes to relevance, many books with poor sales actually outrank those with better sales in the current state of things. Just type in any keyword and you’ll see the top results aren’t the bestselling.

      Is this how it “should” be? Well there’s no right or wrong as some authors could argue that it’s unfair for self-published authors who would then have no chance to compete against the big names.

      Either way, with the right amount of advertising, a horrible book could still outsell (and therefore outrank in popularity) a better book. It’s not a matter of fairness, it’s a simple fact of business. The good news is, a horrible book would eventually get crushed in the reviews and eventually the cream typically rises to the top.

      As someone who went from being a no-name broke valet parker sleeping on an air mattress for several years to working my way up to multiple #1 bestselling books, I didn’t do it through a fat pocket, but rather by adopting the attitude there ALWAYS is a way to make things work regardless of whether or not things are fair.

      As someone who coaches authors, I believe a much more empowered approach isn’t to complain about how things “should be” but rather look at reality, and constantly adjust according to what is. If one wants to complain about injustices in the world, I’d invest my energy into fighting child slavery and not Amazon search algorithms.

      The time authors spend typing up posts here complaining about what Amazon is doing could have been spent actually doing some marketing, sharing an email with their readers, or working on the next book.

      Isn’t it more productive to be creating value for people than to be complaining about the price of a service that’s yet to even be made available and demonstrated?

      We can all empower ourselves as authors by taking a proactive “What can I effectively do with this?” attitude instead of “This sucks and I wish it were different” attitude.

      One doesn’t see the positive opportunities available in almost all circumstances if they’re stuck in a “the world is out to get me/indie authors” mindset.

      Reply
      • Diane Tibert

        Wow, you’re something. I read and comment on The Book Designer’s posts because many times, this site has something of value. Basically, you’re telling me I shouldn’t waste my time here. What you’re really telling me is that I shouldn’t read and comment on anything you post, Derek.

        Amy Collins wrote this article. Why are you commenting on everyone’s comments? Do you have nothing better to do than defend an inflated price for a poor service?

        That’s great that your marketing worked for you and you’re selling loads of books. But that doesn’t mean I don’t have the right to voice my opinion about something I see as a ‘rip off’ like other authors here do. I’m not going to sugar-coat it and say it’s wonderful when it’s not.

        If I had $1,500 to spend on reviews, I’d advertise for reviews myself and pay each reviewer $50. I could post that offer to my website and a few other places I regularly visit and I’d have my reviews with ease. Why would I a pay a middle-man for that service? That’s Amazon’s position in this case. Hiring a middle-man always costs more.

        Now I’m off to continue work on my next book. Maybe you should do that too instead of commenting on comments to a post you didn’t write.

        Reply
        • Derek Doepker

          Diane, if you got the impression I’m telling you not to read or post here, then perhaps I could have been more clear in my communication. I’m all for reading and posting here, or else I wouldn’t be doing so myself. :)

          My comments are more about the nature of the posts where I was specific about posts that are “complaining,” and not complaining in a way that is going to change anything. Essentially, we haven’t even seen this thing roll out and already people are crying about it being a rip-off. What good will this do any of us?

          The simple question when is to ask, “Is this adding value or constructive?”

          I also never specifically pointed you out. I’m also all for you having the freedom to express your opinion. I would never say not to, only to consider how much it’s moving you forward in your life.

          I said when “authors type up posts complaining” – and this is anywhere and everywhere on the internet. Heck they don’t even need to post it, but just mentally complain to themselves.

          The point of my post is not pointing the figure at any individual, but rather pointing the finger at a “complaining mentality” that doesn’t get anyone anywhere. Not to be confused with legitimate constructive feedback such as actually emailing Amazon with your concerns to let your voice be heard.

          Reply
          • Derek Doepker

            Another point I want to make clear with regards to “Why are you commenting on everyone’s comments? Do you have nothing better to do than defend an inflated price for a poor service?”

            I’m commenting on people’s comments because it’s about adopting a mindset of success. I’m inviting authors to consider their mindset in how they respond to what Amazon (or the world) throws at them. I’m committed to empowerment, so it’s worth my time to empower individuals to adopt a mindset that will lead them to success.

            I have no interest in defending Amazon’s prices, only their right to charge what they want. If you want my personal take, I would tell most authors to hold off on things like $1,500 for Vine reviewers unless it was really shown to be beneficial – which I doubt it would be.

            The price does seem crazy to me, but I don’t say it’s a rip-off. It’s a completely neutral stance. It’s not good or bad, just a price that may or may not pan out to deliver a worthwhile ROI.

            It’s sort of like going to a restaurant, and then one day you see they added a $100 lobster dish to the menu. Does it make sense to be upset about it? Of course not… one may simply choose to order their regular favorite dish and there’s no forcing one to get the lobster dish. (BTW I’m well aware it gets a little more complicated when saying others who do get the services have a competitive advantage, that’s another story for another day)

            Now some may say I’m “complaining about people complaining” however the key difference is my intent behind my comments is to make a constructive difference in getting authors to adopt an empowered mindset. It’s challenging authors to consider “What can I focus on that’s within my control?” rather than “What can I complain about that’s not in my control.”

            Amazon isn’t a friend nor an enemy. They’re simply a business, and you may wish to use or not use their services as it fits your business as an author. Or if they’re not doing what you want, you can simply discontinue to use their services as is your right.

            My intent would never be to upset for its own sake (although I argue we only upset ourselves when we take something personally), but I’m more than happy to ruffle some feathers because I know people need to be shaken out of their dis-empowering mindset.

            Does this clarify things for you?

        • Carolyn McCray

          The Vine Reveiwer issue is more complicated than it looks on the surface.

          1st point, you cannot in any way shape or form EVER buy a review. That directly is forbidden in Amazon’s TOS and could have your book taken down and even your account closed, banished from Amazon forever.

          2nd point. Due to fake reviews, Amazon has gotten super picky about those reviews posted so even if you do go out and recruit a bunch of reviews, they may not survive the vetting process and get taken down. A Vine reviewer is pre-approved so any reviews you get through that system would stay on your book forever.

          3rd point. Vine reviewers have fans which follow their reviews. So not are you getting a review, but also a possible audience following that reviewer.

          4th point. Vine reviews are also monitored by Amazon’s publishing branch so a good review from a top reviewer might get you noticed by an editor.

          Is it worth the $1,500? Probably not. At 2.99 you make 2.00 per book so you’d have to sell 750 books to make up that cost. I think the number would probably be less than an extra hundred books, but I could be wrong, so I’d love to hear from anyone who does decide to do the deal. Forking out the money is each individual author’s decision to make based on solid ROI. Amazon isn’t ripping anyone off if it is their decision to make.

          Vanity presses took thousands of dollars and gave nothing back really except for a $10 paperback. These presses made promises they simply couldn’t keep (like getting your book into bookstores etc). Amazon has a fixed fee to get your book sent out to a list of pre-approved reviewers. Nothing less. Nothing more. To compare the two is apples and zebras :-)

          Reply
      • Michael W. Perry

        “There are a variety of different types of searches, and when it comes to relevance, many books with poor sales actually outrank those with better sales in the current state of things. Just type in any keyword and you’ll see the top results aren’t the bestselling.””

        True. When I lived in Seattle, I talked to one of Amazon’s lawyers about its search criteria. I also tried to get Amazon software developers I met to leak a few secrets, although to no avail. The most I got out of one is the suggestion that I not trust the results.

        The lawyer was quite willing to defend one criteria that sends a book (or any other item) up or down the search results. That’s how much Amazon will make on the sale. That can get bizarre.

        About three years ago, I looked at the pricing for a specific make and model number of Bluetooth headset, searching specifically for the maker and model number. All were turning up around $120. But I remembered that lawyer’s excuse for Amazon excluding the better deals. Yes, she told me, the search results themselves may never reveal the best prices for something, but if you click on other links, such as ‘bought instead,’ you can find it. Those aren’t filtered by profit. So I began clicking on other links and, sure enough, I found that specific headset being sold by its actual maker for $40 less than the search results Amazon was displaying. So sheer deception in the pursuit of profits is one factor. For a time, I toyed with the idea of horribly overpricing my hardback versions to send them up the search results, where readers would discover my far better priced trade paperback.

        Another criteria represents a more honest effort on Amazon’s part. For books, that’s to attach special value to words in the title and subtitle under the reasonable assumption they matter most. Search engines such as Google do much the same.

        Try it with some of your books or books you know about. The search results really do seem to favor words in the title or subtitle. That’s why, particularly if you are writing non-fiction, you should choose the title and subtitle with care. Make sure it includes words people are likely to use in their searches. One of mine is a good example:

        My Nights with Leukemia: Caring for Children with Cancer

        Notice that it includes all the critical keywords for its subject: leukemia, children and cancer. If I were to do it over again, I’d probably slip in one more, making the subtitle Nursing Children with Cancer, since that is what it is about.

        In my opinion, the two pre-publication moves that give your book the best chance of success are:

        Select a title and subtitle with extreme care. Keep the title short and easily remembered. Be sure to put critical keywords in the title and subtitle. For non-fiction, that’s the subject. For fiction, make the title appealing and, if you’re doing a series, make that the subtitle, such as “Book 6 in the Time Thief Series.
        Make the cover appealing. That’s the ‘quality or not’ aspect visitors will see first. Take the time to make it good, and that reflects well on your book.

        Remember, advertising will only get potential buyers to a book’s retail page. From that point on you have to give them reasons to buy.

        –Mike Perry, Inkling Books

        Reply
  14. AJ Lape

    Is this for KDP Select only?

    Reply
      • Vikk

        I have joined Advantage but when I go the advertising section and I have to enter AMS, I can only do ebooks. How is that you can do Createspace print books when they say it isn’t allowed?

        Reply
  15. Carolyn McCray

    1st off this pay per click has been available to kdp select for a while now and it has horrible ROI, but love to hear what your experience is.

    As to a more detailed landing page I don’t see it helping convert to sales. There’s ton of research that longer time on a page does not equal more sales. You actually want a quick impulse sale, so again, I’ll be interested to see your results especially given the high price tag…

    Reply
    • David Kudler

      My experience with AMS/KDP Select is that if you target very specific titles — keyword searches are your friend there — and keep your bid low, the ROI is actually pretty good. It just takes a while to make it work.

      I’m actually looking forward to advertising my print book through the program.

      Reply
  16. S. J. Pajonas

    I keep looking at the costs associated with this and my head is spinning. $99 to start (yes, they take it out of your profits, but still…), $1500 to be offered to Vine reviewers, $100 minimum budget for ads, $600 for a better detail page? Omg. You really gotta be making good money already to consider some of this stuff, and then WHY would you need all this from Amazon? This seems like a huge rip-off and just another way to fleece up-and-coming authors. How about just letting us keep our legitimate reviews? Sigh.

    Reply
    • Michael W. Perry

      Wow, $1500 for having Amazon set up Vine reviewers for your book. Not a good deal at all, and I’ll explain why.

      I was a quite successful Vine reviewer until Amazon and I clashed over whether I could mention my Tolkien book in a review of another Tolkien book. Its policies at the time were woefully inconsistent. I was faulted for doing that in the U.S., but on my still top-rated UK review, doing so was perfectly OK for Amazon-UK. My review is still there eight years later with the link to my book intact. Detailed and helpful, it’s probably made Amazon thousands of dollars in additional sales.

      Unless the Vine program has changed, which I doubt, Amazon is making a fortune setting up these book reviews. The program is simple. Every few weeks Vine reviewers get an email with their review opportunities. They include electronics costing hundreds of dollars. Those are typically gone inside a minute.

      The book offers linger on and some were probably never filled. I don’t recall a single occasion when I didn’t get a book I requested. There were so many, often a hundred or more with each mailing, that they offered little appeal. The cost/benefit ratio for conscientious reviewers like me just wasn’t there. I’d might spend five and a half hours reading the book and another half-hour reviewing it for a total of six hours. And for what—a book costing perhaps $12. That only $2 an hour. No incentitive at all.

      That means that your takers are likely to be the book-collecting sort who grab them because they’re free, glance through them quickly, and then toss out a quick review. If you’re lucky, it might be positive and well-written. Generally you have to be a good writer to make Vine reviewer status. But that review might be negative and, in any case, it won’t be very deep. With only rare exceptions, the financial reward simply isn’t there.

      Again with the disclaimer that the situation may have changed, you’re almost certainly not getting much in exchange for paying for these Vine reviews. Amazon doesn’t have a stable of talented reviewers which it pays an amount sufficient to get a professional review—say a $100 or more. Amazon’s only expense is mailing these reviewers a free copy, that’s perhaps $15 each. If you manage to get 10 reviewers, which would probably better than most authors get, Amazon’s cost is only about $150.

      In short, this $1500 is way too much for what a reader gets. The parallel to vanity publishers, where you pay for promotionals that are of little value, may be even closer than I realized when I made my earlier posting.

      There needs to be an authors-helping-authors way to stimulate reviews independent of Amazon’s pricey scheme and one that does not attract Amazon’s fury.

      –Michael W. Perry, author of My Nights with Leukemia: Caring for Children with Cancer

      Reply
      • Jas

        Hi Michael.

        As a current Vine reviewer, I can say that the format of the program has changed greatly. No more monthly newsletter or VFA newsletter. But many of your concerns are still valid. While Amazon tries to recruit good reviewers to their Vine program, they cannot control what they choose to review or how well written and detailed future reviews are.

        Reply
      • Mandy Ward

        “The book offers linger on and some were probably never filled. I don’t recall a single occasion when I didn’t get a book I requested. There were so many, often a hundred or more with each mailing, that they offered little appeal. The cost/benefit ratio for conscientious reviewers like me just wasn’t there. I’d might spend five and a half hours reading the book and another half-hour reviewing it for a total of six hours. And for what—a book costing perhaps $12. That only $2 an hour. No incentitive at all.”

        Indie Authors are expected to SELL their book for $2.99, the $12 book is usually a trad pubbed Print book. Can you imagine putting a years worth of work into something and being expected to price it at $2.99? And you think that $2 an hour isn’t a big incentive? Try being an author.

        Reply
        • Michael W. Perry

          “Indie Authors are expected to SELL their book for $2.99, the $12 book is usually a trad pubbed Print book.”

          Vine would ship reviewers a print copy. That’s why I gave that $12 price. The books weren’t drafts, so I suspect some reviewers were selling their copies. But that wouldn’t make them much, even if they just glanced through the book and did a review in a half hour. I commented on that to make clear that, although Amazon is charging $1500 for Vine reviews, virtually none of that goes to the reviewers.

          “And you think that $2 an hour isn’t a big incentive? Try being an author.”

          That I know all too well. I’ve been a tech writer and editor since the mid-1980s. That paid well-enough since as an engineer I could handle the technical, but it was dull work. I’ve been editing and writing more interesting books since the mid-1990s as well as writing, editing and publishing since 1999.

          I enjoy it because I’m pursuing ‘mind share’ rather than income. When I lived in Seattle, I juggled three part-time jobs to support my writing. Most were at evening events. That worked well enough. In the evening I was too tired to write and the work let me meet lots of people. For one job, Bill Gate’s step-mother was my boss, so I talked to her numerous times.

          Those books I listed illustrate my pursuit of mind share. They are based on my experience on the nursing staff of one of the country’s top children’s hospital. Sixteen months working nights on the Hem-Onc unit caring for kids with leukemia led to My Nights. I wrote it to encourage nurses to take on high-risk specialities. Ten months working on the Teen unit gave me the expertise to write Hospital Gowns and the soon-out Embarrass Less. A major slice of my work there was caring for teen girls bed-bound after major back surgeries. Since I was a guy, that’s my expertise with embarrassment, a subject that hospitals finally seem to be discussing, I hope in part thanks to my book’s prompting. Senior Nurse Mentor is based on that same experience. While I was working there, the hospital became so faulting-finding of its nursing staff, just after I quit, almost a quarter of them left in a mass exodus. My book describes what that feels like and offers a solution, a nursing speciality dedicated to nursing morale.

          As you can see, all are books that have the potential to improve nursing as a profession and make hospital stays less trumatic. That matters to me enough, Senior Nurse Mentor is free on the iBookstore and would be free on Kindles if Amazon allowed that. I’m not trying to get rich, although with some 30 books on the market I do have a steady cash flow. I’m trying to change things that need changing.

          Another suggestion for those doing their own promotion. Look for ways to cross-link your book to other interests. For instance, quite a few people who boat love books on boating. So if you’re written a thriller, romance, or mystery set on a boat, trying promoting it with boaters. You’ll be beating your head against the wall trying to promote it among the book’s genre readers. There are so many such books you’ll be lost in the crowd. But if you appeal to boaters, you’ll have far less competition.

          The same is true of locale. If your book’s setting is where you live, then those who live there will be interested for the local color and that may create enough word of mouth to sell it elsewhere.

          I’ll never have the time, but were I a mystery writer, I’d consider writing novels set at a major university that takes in its culture. (Recall the BBC’s popular Inspector Morse.) Or maybe even some set at several of the high tech firms. Their obsession with secrecy would make a great backdrop. That second idea was inspired by yesterday’s shooting at Apple.

          Writing for a major organization like that means that those who works there might find it interesting. That’s tens of thousands of potential buyers.

          The latter two suggestions flip the promoting around. Choose a theme and locale for your books based on how they can be promoted later. Write always thinking ahead to sales.

          –Mike Perry

          Reply
    • Derek Doepker

      I was pleasantly surprised at how affordable the starting rate is at $99. The other things like $1,500 for Vine reviewers seems like it wouldn’t be worthwhile as there are plenty of ways to find legit reviewers.

      “Rip-off” is a matter of relativity. Authorship for profit is a business, and even a couple thousand dollars is a relatively small investment for marketing compared to virtually any other type of business.

      At the end of the day, whether it’s over-priced or not is a matter of whether it delivers an ROI. Until it rolls out and is tested to see what kind of returns it gets, it’s logically impossible to say one way or another.

      Reply
      • S. J. Pajonas

        Considering that no one I know personally has had success with the KDPS Ads, I don’t have high hopes for this either. And I call it like I see it. Paying $1500 to get in front of Vine reviewers, when you can’t even get a clear ROI from that, is nuts, in my book. I’ve been in this long enough to see when a large corporation is preying on the little people, and this has that flavor, for sure.

        Reply
        • Derek Doepker

          The $1500 is a crazy amount to get in front of reviewers. No way I’d pay that much for something without much upside, but then again I’m careful not to judge what is worthwhile to another author who has fat pockets and finds it makes their life easier. One would be wise not to project their own sense of value onto another.

          I’ve had some success with getting a positive return on KDPS ads although it’s hit or miss. So just because some authors haven’t seen a return doesn’t make this a universal truth. Plus there are even benefits to taking a slight short-term loss for long-term gain.

          I’m excited to see if these updates changes anything for the better. And if not, no harm no foul. No one will be forcing any author to use these services.

          Reply
          • S. J. Pajonas

            Thankfully not! But I’m in at least a dozen author groups on FB and I have yet to meet anyone who says those Amazon ads have good ROI. And if you’re doing well enough to pay these fees, I strongly suspect you don’t need them in the first place. If you use them, good luck to you! Doesn’t change my stance on this.

  17. Amy Collins

    Since this posted earlier today, a few things have come to my attention:

    AMS offerings from Amazon are (for now) available to US Amazon, CS and KDP folks only.

    For more details, the URL for the announcement and further information is:
    http://www.ams.amazon.com

    More to come!

    Reply
    • Richard Bamberg

      Hmmm, Amy, I don’t see anything about the new program at that weblink. It’s the usual logon for any AMS account.

      Reply
  18. Sandra Beckwith

    This is really helpful — thanks for breaking it down, Amy!

    Sandra Beckwith

    Reply
  19. Bill delaney

    I agree with Mr. Perry. It is a ridiculous rip off. Writers will do anything to be noticed. I will live with my 100 total books sold rather than pay my own Damn distributor for “exposure”. Sheesh, writers,wake the heck up.

    Reply
  20. Michael W. Perry

    The title might be more apt if it said Amazon taketh and taketh and taketh. Specifically, I’m referring to this: “As an Advantage or CreateSpace publisher you sign up for AMS and pay an annual fee of $99.”

    Sorry, but I see no reason to pay for features that should come with the publishing itself. Some cost Amazon little or nothing—such as placement in search results. Besides, for the sake of authors and readers, those should be driven by popularity not payoffs. Others require additional payments on top of that $99 AMS fee. Why should authors have to pay to be able to pay yet again?

    More and more, Amazon is looking like the vanity press of 15 years ago. Remember those? In addition to their usual inflated fees for simply being a (unsaid) gateway to Lightning Source, there were charges for this and charges for that. Naive authors, desperate to get in print, were bled to death.

    Keep in mind that the marketing opportunities described above cost Amazon almost nothing to administer. Everything takes place on their huge server farms with authors providing all the labor. There’s no need—other than greed—for that $99 charge. Amazon could easily offer these services free to all their authors.

    Authors frustrate me. I come from an engineering background, where people are shrewd. You can’t be sloppy and vanity-driven when you’re building a $250 million bridge. All too many authors seem to lack good sense and get taken for every pay-to-play scheme that comes down the pike.

    This illustrates that all too well. It’s probably succeed because all too many authors seem to have “Rip me off” tattoed on their backs. They get taken and learn nothing. Then they get taken again. It’s sad, particularly when writing earns most of them so little money.

    –Michael W. Perry, co-author of Lily’s Ride (YA novel)

    Reply
    • Derek Doepker

      I see a lot of emotional responses and accusations of this being a rip-off almost as if Amazon is taking advantage of authors.

      Speaking as an author, I’m grateful for anything that could be useful in my marketing efforts, but am savvy enough to test it to see if it delivers a return.

      It’s too early to say whether this is a rip-off or not. If a $100 investment leads to $101+ in income, then it delivers a return and isn’t a rip-off. If $10,000 marketing campaign leads to $10,001 in return, it isn’t a rip-off. And so on.

      One can’t look at any price tag and determine if it’s a rip-off or not without looking at the end results – which have yet to be seen.

      If these marketing tactics don’t deliver a positive ROI, then naturally intelligent authors won’t use the services. If not enough authors are using the services, Amazon may wise up and adjust to create a more equitable deal for authors.

      You can’t fault Amazon if some authors aren’t business savvy enough to calculate their expenses vs. return in any type of marketing endeavor.

      Side note, one of the things I write about in my books is overcoming an entitlement mentality which is all over the place when looking at “shoulds” as if the world/Amazon owes us anything. They can do what they want, and authors can play or not play along. Nothing is to be taken for granted.

      Reply
  21. Pamela

    Fascinating article. Thank you, Amy. I spend most of my time writing, not marketing (fancy that!) and need great informative pieces like this to help me make decisions on my marketing strategy. I couldn’t help but think of the airlines, though, when I read how Amazon is ‘giving’ back marketing promotions. Like with an airline, you can now either sit in the too-small middle seat in the back of the plane, or if you pay additional fees, get a more-comfortable window seat toward the front of the plane.

    Reply
    • Michael Alan Peck

      Does anyone have a link to the original announcement or the registration page? (Apologies if it’s obvious, and I’m missing it.)

      Reply
        • Michael Alan Peck

          Thanks, Amy. However, it looks like that links just brings me to my dashboard. Not a big deal, though: I’m sure we’ll be hearing plenty more about it by May 1.

          Reply
        • Ann

          Amy, Have you heard or seen how we can sign up for the $99 version of this?
          The link brings me to my regular dashboard with nothing new that I can see.
          Thanks.

          Reply

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