37 Replies to “The Amazon Algorithm Myth”

  1. Great post, David. In gaming we’d call that guy’s con an ‘exploit’, meaning he exploited holes in the system. I’m sure Amazon has closed those particular holes by now, but as we both know, there are others being gamed in broad daylight. :/

    1. You probably won’t be hugely surprised to hear he was pumping out 20 page “books” under KU1 and then pivoted to this wheeze when Amazon rolled out KU2. And then when Amazon closed the Google Play loophole he switched to selling courses to authors.

      Amazon could have stopped him in his larval state, of course…

  2. My spider senses went off reading this post. With a little googling I indeed verified the man you speak of. I had watched a “webinar” hosted by creator of Book Review Targeter. Nothing but an upsell to his paid course to “learn the algorithm”. Didn’t know he was this shady. Inclines me cancel my subscription to BRT given I’ve only secured maybe three reviews out of that service anyway. The owner seems to always be pitching stuff like this.

    1. As I said above, everyone can make a mistake. It’s not like this info was the top of Google search results for his name. But I think… mistakes like this are more likely when affiliate status is not disclosed.

  3. I believe I know who you’re talking about and I’ve been aghast that some of the people I respect in the industry conducted webinars on his behalf and promoted him and his course. Great post as always.

    1. Everyone can make a mistake, but I’d argue the first mistake is not disclosing your affiliate status. When you do that, when it’s out in the open, that allows your audience to make an informed decision about your endorsement. It also, I’d argue further, encourages you to vet things you are promoting a little closer. (Which you probably should be doing anyway…) And that’s aside from the law/regulations surrounding such endorsements.

  4. Way off the topic of this post, so I hope you’ll forgive me. I’ve been anxiously awaiting your post on the issue of the page read stripping. I saw on Twitter a while back that you were working on it, but have never seen it posted. As one of the innocents caught in that debacle of justice, I’d really like to know what you think really happened.

    1. Yeah sorry that’s delayed – with the new rules and accounts appearing to be zapped I wanted to wait a little and let the dust settle. I will return to the issue though for sure.

      1. Thanks. I pulled my books from KU, but a friend of mine in a writing group just got zapped for another 140k reads. I’d really like to know just what Amazon is thinking on this. And barring that, your thoughts on it!

        1. Well, all Amazon is saying is that they have determined they are fraudulent page reads but they won’t provide any evidence for that or entertain any appeal. We are just supposed to trust that the system for making this determination is perfectly accurate, even though Amazon isn’t able to perfectly measure the length of a book, nor how many pages were read!

  5. Other folks are applauding the calling-out of yet another shady practice, which I also applaud. But I’m most grateful for the pushback on the mythologizing that goes on around algorithms! Most of them are probably like weighted sorting algorithms. Not mystical at all! Computers can sort many strands at once – being a knitter, I think about sorting the universe of yarn, by color-weight-fiber-softness-saleshistory…. all at once, then adding in weights for that particular customer’s purchase history. No clue what Amazon does, but it isn’t alchemy. No fairy dust, no personal bias. It’s just fancy sorting. Thank you for calling that out as well!!

    1. I was actually going to use the analogy of the sorting hat in Harry Potter, until I realized I had neither read Harry Potter nor seen the movie, and then envisaged a horder of Potteristas converging on me after I got some beloved detail wrong…

  6. there’s one guy who targets authors every week with his ‘trainings’. yup, that’s what he calls them. really they are sales webinars with the purpose of selling things (courses, systems, secrets, etc ) to writers. and it’s like success is just around the corner if you just buy this one course or that one course. every week. before he got into this niche, he was internet marketing guy. guess he still is. only he’s found a real deep pool of suckers.

    1. I don’t know what I Liked on Facebook to trigger this, but a few months ago I started getting assailed by all these internet marketer ads – courses on how to design your own courses, and if that wasn’t meta enough, the big success story was the guy himself and how much money he had made selling you his course on how to have a course. Hey, at least they aren’t writing ebooks…

  7. Amazon is rigged. The scammers are also rigged. It sounds odd, but when you get up high it makes sense.

    I recently complained to Amazon and I got the distinct impression that their cistomer complaint section was outsourced to India and ran off of scripts whose whole argument is ‘Amazon is not rigged, you might neet to change your keywords’. I ended the communication by tellingthem that they might be under a duty of care to warn people that might committ 1-5 years of their lives, maybe the best years, playing the book game and getting nothing. Its a serious risk for which Amazon itself is the biggest scammer.

    My argument is that Amazon itself is a scam is based on experience, but also the understanding of power. Success on Amazon is power and power change upsets any status quo and so Amazon itself literally controls that.

    My experience is thus, I had 10 books as part of a non-fiction series and put them on the Kindle Unlimited thing. First month I got 4000 page reads. Over the year it pottered along, but I slowly increased my books to 64. I know, you might think scam, but its not, that is simply how my book series works and its not only legitimate but a great match for how Amazon works, in theory. However, reads did not go up as you might expect. Essentially I get about £20/month, regardless. If createspace does well, Kindle does poorly, and vice versa. Its not just that I have 64 books like its about volume, its also about choice. They break down and offer wider choice. When I had 10 books the choice, breadth of what was covered was more limited and so it is only natural to think that as choice goes up that reads would go up as people that didn’t find the choice when there were 10 would go away, but now there are 64, they might find something. However, as a series I can understand that when a search is done only 1 title comes up. There are technically 2 series, and one is split in two making 3 distinct series blocks. However, all this gets into Google via the descriptions, and so you might expecct more sales as people search in Google, and find your information and go to Amazon.

    Bottom line, no matter what, all I get is £20/month. Why? Because its power. They control power. Tat power being the power to not do a regular job, to say to plebs in the working class, hah, i’m a writer, who are you, the power to live in hotels and not in some house where the neighbours want to live in your night attire, or play their radios loud all day long. Amazon controls that.

    I recently got angry and made a complaint. As said, I came to the conclusion that they outsource complaints to India and have people that listen listen listen and then say, maybe you need to change your keywords and its a competitive market, maybe there are more choises and books now?

    The thing is, my series is high quality. It might sound like a scam and I am awware of that and so gave Amazon some licence for only showing 1 book at a time instead all 63 spamming the results. THe copvers are all the same as well, its not like they are trying to look like a range of different books. I always think of it as a Netflix series. You might not like it, but if you do, you are very likely to read the whole series.

    However, there comes a point when any intelligent mind can only question the total non-correlation with volume and reads.

    I just released another book, it got one read. Mostly they get 1 read, liek a quality checker is checking that I am not writing treasonous things. Somethimes none. But why not 100 reads? Is as likely in the long run, 2-3 years, as 0-1. Amazon does have millions of users and my books are actually high quality.

    Simply put, the observations dont add up. I told the woman this is called circumstantial evidence, and she told me I should look at my 6 keywords.

    I wonder if people commit suicide because they fail at the gold rush that Amazon allegedly offers.

    My opinion is that they control each author, limiting them to £10/month or and then, if they fit their political correctness criteria, they might set you free with entry to the top 100 of any given list.

    Its a serious issue if you are sitting there pondering whether you have wasted your life. I can see books that are constantly in the top 20 that dont even have reviews or come from authors with 1 book they did in a weekend, one book I see has a 1 star review and its still always there, and I never am.

    I dont do marketing or promotions or anything, and I understand that that is part of it, but even so, if you can see crap books floating in the top 100, a place your 64 quality books never get to, you have to start asking quaestions.

    The thing is with 64 books I could actually be earning good money. But I am not, and its not chance.

    I understand that poeple might want to stop that, haters etc. But the fact of the matter is that I have a quality product that I have spent 7 years producing and it 100% legitimate and better than a lot of comparable stuff, and all it gets virtually from day 1, 2-3 years ago is about £20/month, regardless of increas in numbers and also an increas in a reader bases.

    Thats all I have to say. Point is, Amazon itself is rigged. Your article on the algortithm myth really touches home with me, but I think you miss the point, its rigged. Amazon success is power and they control that power, simple as that. They simpley dont want random people suddenly earning big money. It gets to the point where in my opinion, Amazon is like an employer. You can send them your CV, ie your books, but they wont employ you, ie £1000/month+ unless you fit their criteria.

    I doubt that Salenger could have written one book, To Kill A Mocking Bird today and had it become a number one best seller. First of it would not be politically correct for other reasons, but also, it simply would not get passed the Amazon algorithm. Technicall it might, but my point is, the idea that someone could write 1 book and become powerful is simply a myth. Amazon might choose to propmoter the exception to the rule, but its simply wont happen. So you have to wonder, what is a good book? Its like nature vs nuture. Amazon has the power to create the classics of tomorrow. Books that dont get found in the algorithm, dont get found.

    Its all rigged, by Amazon.

    1. J.D. Salinger wrote Catcher in the Rye.

      Harper Lee wrote To Kill a Mockingbird.

      All businesses are something of a crapshoot. Building a better mousetrap does not work without marketing, and marketing can fail for non-obvious reasons.

  8. Interesting blog post, got me thinking about people trying to game systems. I got an email today asking me to buy X book to get $5000 dollars worth of bonuses. This is the book – even has the bonuses mentioned in the title: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07FF2R3VT you got to another website with an order id and you get the bonuses. I’m wondering how much this is a problem for niche non-fiction.

    1. Pretty sure that’s against the TOS. But then there is at least one of those authors listed who would stoop to anything so…

    2. Yep, TOS on bonus content clearly says this: ”

      Primary and bonus content must meet all program guidelines (e.g., bonus content in KDP Select titles must be exclusive). Translated content must be high quality and not machine generated. Disruptive links and promises of gifts or rewards are never allowed.”

      https://kdp.amazon.com/en_US/help/topic/G202018960

  9. There is an issue you may have missed… algorithms can only “count” numbers. Amazon’s prioritizing of titles that are selling (easy algorithms to construct) misses ALL professional reviews and, instead, publishers have to enter into co-op advertising deals for hot titles to make sure they get prioritized. Until PW, Kirkus, Library Journal (not to mention Oprah, NY Times, et al) add numbers to their reviews, there is no way for Amazon to add those reviews to algorithms – and every time I have brought this up with Jeff Belle and folks there, they have no response – and I’m getting the idea that perhaps it is in their interest not to fund such review evaluation affixing numbers – why? Because the publishers getting a starred review in PW KNOW – under this failed system – they have to enter into more costly co-op advertising with Amazon.

  10. You’ve heard of “What Would Jesus Do?”

    Well, when it comes to authors I’ve never heard of opining about Amazon algorithms, I ask myself, “What Would David Say?”

    Then I ignore them, because their version usually includes something illogical, like the bestseller list being based on something other than books sold.

  11. David, your post was good – but I was hoping you’d discuss wjat you know about the algorithms themselves. Is that yet to come, or have I missed it, or is that a course you offer?

  12. Good Afternoon David. Love the no nonsense post. Gagged on a couple of responses though. LOL. Your book, Let’s Get Visible put me on the path to what small success I’ve managed. I recommend your books often, did so this week in a blog in response to a ‘guru’ without an ounce of common sense. I get offers to monetize my sites and refuse out of hand. I notice those grand self-marketing gurus never come on your blog or mine to defend themselves. But then would blow their cover.

    Those hinky gurus will keep lining their pockets with author dollars because many are hoping for that Golden Goose. I preach sticking to basics, write, publish, promote. But it has little appeal and no glamour.

    Good Sunday to you, but prolly it’s Monday where you live.

  13. Had to see who the clown was throwing so much shade on successful authors.

    Gaming the system is part of the game, including manipulating zons multi faceted algos. Adapt or die, thats the only mantra required on the zon.

    This guy prolly never even broke 100k in a month on zon but tryna act like hes an expert LOL. The real players dont teach bruv, they act!

    I understand we live in an outrage culture where ppl with too much time and little success like to bring others down to their level, but there are so many more serious things to be outraged about.

    How about the US is in 6 pointless wars bankrupting the country?

    How about the federal reserve is a private corporation that creates money out of thin air and loans it out to the govt at interest enslaving us all through debt based fiat?

    How about theres currently a massive genocide going on in myanmar and 1MM people are being harrassed/killed for no reason?

    But nah this loser is salty bc some people adding a few bonuses at the end of their stories.

    You should really get some perspective gramps. I always thought old ppl were wiser but I guess not.

    1. Dang, you got me! I also have nothing whatsoever to say about the Hindenburg disaster and I seem to be WEIRDLY SILENT about the London Beer Flood of 1814. Perhaps I’m a paid agent of the Horse Shoe Brewery.

      1. “Outrage culture” is an interesting term.

        People became outraged with the monarchy and fought them. Some were outraged with slavery and rose against it. There was this thing where a few got worked up about child labor…

        Some always want the status quo. And they don’t get their way because education will prove why it’s wrong.

        Strangely enough, people can fight oppression, resist, share information, and still care about the scams that affect our little lives. I mean, I guess people could have just let penny stocks and pyramid schemes ruin those foolish enough to believe they made anyone except the con artists money, but alas, their ‘profitable businesses’ were ruined.

        So cruel. I guess those guys were all jealous.

        Stuffing is against Amazon’s TOS. And they’ve made it even MORE clear now, since it was so confusing before. Like, why wouldn’t you force feed readers the same crap over and over? How unfair to ask that anyone stop! It’s good business!

        Those books are getting taken down because readers were fed up and made that clear to Amazon.

        Deal with it.

    2. “Gaming the system is part of the game, including manipulating zons multi faceted algos. Adapt or die, thats the only mantra required on the zon.”

      Funny, my mantra is “Character is what you do when no one is looking.” It’s served me well. But you do you, I guess. Have fun getting your account yanked.

      “there are so many more serious things to be outraged about.”

      Then isn’t it fortunate that most of us can be outraged about more than one thing at a time?

    3. In 10 years I’ll still be earning a nice living publishing books on Amazon…and you’ll be on your fifth scam, likely separating old widows from their retirement funds, bruv.

  14. Dave, have you any idea if a book is published on KDP, they quickly unpublished (to get the ASIN for marketing purposes) does it affect the algorithm when you republish, or does it reset? I’m planning on a rapid release and don’t want to screw it up. I emailed them, and as you probably already assumed – they skated the question.

    1. I don’t know the full effect of that but I wouldn’t risk it – plus you are probably starting the clock on Hot New Releases. I think Amazon’s system places some stock in that first month’s performance and decides how much to get behind your book. Unpublishing it might not be the way to go. Can you use a redirect or something instead?

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