Amazon’s war on indie authors? (Kindle bestseller rank changes)

Amazon’s war on indie authors? (Kindle bestseller rank changes)

I don’t always post every time Amazon gets weird – because it happens a lot. Mostly, they will get their act together and fix the problem… but sometimes they don’t. Sometimes, small changes indicate big site-wide policy changes that can negatively affect indie authors.

And it’s only the very big sellers, with experience, that notice issues with their book launches when things don’t pan out the way they’ve always done in the past. So here’s the scoop (as of January, 2022): authors are reporting a significant delay in rankings, which means trying to schedule a bookbub deal or promotion has no impact in rank until days later.

Dubious Speculation: some authors are speculating that Amazon is trying to push down spikes in rank, so that the steady, trusted sellers will stay on top *despite* competitive products outselling them. So for example, the top romance charts which are usually filled with indie titles, are overwhelmingly (right now) traditional titles.

Even though the indies are selling more copies.

Which would mean, sales rank doesn’t really represent sales.
Or there are different rank categories.

Or that longterm sales cement a “standard” baseline rank which carries more weight than a large number of sales in a short period.

It’s probably just a bug…

So firstly, this could mean nothing – Amazon glitches sometimes. Maybe it’ll be fixed. Don’t make plans around this information, but be aware of it so you don’t overreact.

And this doesn’t necessary mean that Amazon is supporting trad publishers and holding indie authors back on purpose (despite the clickbaity title). But there are two responses: ignore it and hope it goes away, and accidentally gaslighting authors who are suffering real consequences; or call it out, and shine a light on the problem – something I try to do with my platform – so that authors can make their own informed choices.

Amazon may simply be trying to dampen the effectiveness of rank manipulation – selling a lot of volume at once. It’s a powerful tactic that has been one of the main reasons self-publishing authors are able to compete and outperform in Kindle’s ecosystem, by driving volume to get more visibility.

Email blasts and newsletter promo sites have already been going downhill for years, which is mostly an issue of organic reach: there’s too much content, and platforms find ways to limit or protect their users from spam or promotions. A bestseller launch campaign would normally include organizing a lot of promotions and email swaps, to get as many sales as possible during sales week.

But that’s a lot trickier now, if Kindle will dampen or push down the rank boost, so that your title remains below a certain threshold. Possibly, probably, Amazon doesn’t care that much about books, or self-publishing authors, which is only a small portion of their total income, and like I said, they may not be doing this intentionally.

Though, if they are, I can see their reasoning. Imagine if a bookstore’s window display was filled with popular bestsellers, rather than the higher-priced products with professional covers. Is it a bookstore’s right to choose and curate their recommendations? Is it their responsibility?

Indie authors get upset about how the New York Times bestseller list curates its results: which means, even if you sell more than enough copies to qualify, they don’t *have* to include you. It’s not inconceivable that Amazon would attempt to clean up their bookstore by making it more difficult to break into the bestseller categories through short-term sales volume.

It’s already been widely accepted that a good book launch involves a gradual increase in sales volume, so that you can get a rising wedge rather than a sharp spike. The problem is, most authors can’t sustain sales without a discount deal.

The discount is not the feature

A free or 99cent book launch deal, broadcast widely on newsletter promos, can move the needle, because many people may overlook flaws like an unprofessional cover design or lack of reviews, and be motivated by the limited time discount. (And even if you have an amazing cover and tons of reviews, seasoned authors sometimes run free or discounted deals to reach new readers; or to hook readers into a long series).

It can bring more visibility, and cost less than paid promotion. But it’s much harder to keep that momentum going long term, especially at full price. Which means, that it’s unsustainable. The only solution is advertising, on Facebook or Amazon, with a daily budget… and for most authors, that’s too expensive to maintain without losing money. (The authors making a good living, have cracked this secret formula for their own books… though sometimes books find success on their own).

Regardless, being able to schedule and promote a book launch and expect visibility of a certain sales rank based on past performance, doesn’t seem to be working any more.

*If* this is a real change that Amazon decides to continue, and our ranks will be slower to move, then the big, safe publishers and Amazon will split and keep more profits, and give less to us nimble small fish. (Although, technically, there are a bunch of full-time, indie publishing whales making literal millions from Amazon; so when the shift goes in favor of trad-published books, it means authors everywhere are getting paid much less).

For *most* authors, this stuff isn’t a huge concern. Things might not work as well, or the same as they did before, but unless you’re launching new books multiple times a year, you probably won’t notice. You should still plan a launch that involves selling as many books as possible, even at a lower price/profit, to try and boost your rank and even hit #1 in a few categories for bragging rights.

But you should also seriously consider your book’s basic conversion ratio (does your sales page clearly communicate the benefits and features; does it let the right audience know the book is for them; is the audience and premise clear; is the cover design glorious while clearly communicating the right genre; does it have enough reviews?)

All of these are bare minimums: most authors freak out about changes on Amazon or think book marketing is impossible, when the truth is they don’t have a product anybody wants to buy. Fix that problem first. Make your book attractive and desirable. Be open to changing your opinions when you aren’t seeing the results you want.

I’m just sharing this so you’ll understand if things don’t go exactly as you expected.

The first, most important thing to do is fix your core offer, your product, your landing page.

Once I finish my YA vampire series (finally) I’ll invest whatever I need to on new covers and new blurbs.

And then I’ll keep tweaking ads until I can get them to run without losing money. Some of my books don’t do that well. It’s easy to write them off, or give up and focus on new projects. But old projects can always be revived (unless readers hate them and the reviews suck; but more likely, a book just hasn’t found the right audience yet; or you haven’t found a *way* of promoting them profitably.)

It’s a complex, alchemical formula that may take a lot of study and experimentation.

But really, what else is more important than helping your book reach more readers?

PS. In case it isn’t clear yet, no I don’t really think Amazon is going to war with indie authors: but they also don’t care much. This has been going on for weeks and high profile authors are still getting responses from Amazon that say there’s no problem. The confrontational title on this post was needed to get people to pay attention, and organize, because nobody else is looking out for indies (a war implies a common challenge or problem, the need to take action and mobilize).

So while I hate that people are sharing or responding to this post as “sky is falling” knee-jerk inflammatory content, I hope people who know me will read the nuance. *Usually* the best response is to stay calm, wait it out, and adjust. But sometimes it takes a lot of people making some noise before Amazon takes a look to see what’s up.

If you’ve personally had a book launch affected by this, there’s private Facebook group to discuss: Zon Tanked My Release

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