Saturday, August 20, 2011

Damned with faint praise. Or something like it.

Damned with faint praise

I was stuck on what to write for this week’s offering but as usual something came up, and it wasn’t that quesadilla I had for lunch. It is a wondrous age we live in, and it seems that for good or for ill, something new is developed every day. So it is that there is a new development that the authors in our audience --- particularly the mid-list folks who, imho, provide the solid backbone of the publishing industry --- might want to be made aware of. Amazon is slowly adding a feature, or element, or whatever you might want to call it, on their book title pages titled “What Do Customers Ultimately Buy After Viewing This Item?” and which consists of a list of four or five titles, accompanied by the percentages of buyers who bought another book to the exclusion of the one they were originally looking up. This is to be distinguished from the “Customers who bought this book also bought” (emphasis added) feature. No, the “ultimately buy” feature tells the world what percentage of the audience looked at your book, found it wanting, and bought another book by someone else instead! It’s kind of like sitting in the autograph room at Bouchercon and hoping that someone will come up to your table, and just as someone does, their friend says, “oh, let’s go meet ______ ____________ instead.” It’s not being done with every book by every author, and, at least as far as I can tell, it’s only being utilized by Maybe the Brits have thicker skins, though I don’t think so: I learned of this feature from a British author, whose novel had received the implicitly rough treatment, and the author was, uh, not happy.

I don’t think that this new feature is going to be welcomed with open arms by authors on either side of the Atlantic. Am I wrong, here? What I sense is a suggestion to the effect that if you’re looking for something to read, you might find something you like better elsewhere, and we have a jury of your peers to tell you so. As for the authors themselves, I could see this busting up some friendships. I mean, if you have ten books published, and Amazon is noting with each one that a certain percentage of people would rather buy a book by, say, Author A, that might create a problem. I really don’t see how it helps anything, either. It’s might be intended as a sort of “Recommended If You Like” referral, but it isn‘t, and they have one of those already with their “ People Who Bought this book also bought“ feature. It strikes me as more of a “Why would you want to read this when you could read that?” Or to put it another way, it’s almost like an article in your neighborhood newspaper which states that while your wife might still love you, she would rather be tupped by your next door neighbor, as would seventy per cent of the women on the street. Oh, and your Kindle books aren’t safe from this thing, either.

So what do you think of this? I would include a link to an example of this, but I don’t want to embarrass anyone, even indirectly. But have you seen this? Have you been a --- I hate to use this term, but there is no other --- victim of it? And should Amazon, UK or US or otherwise, get some feedback about it? What say you?


  1. I hadn't heard of this before now, but I don't think it's too serious. They're not advocating you not buy this book. They're just saying, if you looked at this book and decided not to buy it, here's something you might like instead. I look at it the way a bookstore employee might suggest something else if they suggested one book, then you read the cover copy and half a page and decided you didn't want to buy it. "Maybe you'll like this better."

  2. Joe, there seems to be a lot of factors behind this being a good idea or not. If you look at the opposite side of this feature, it could be a great tool. What if the percentage was heavily in your favor, not only on your book's page but on other novels where the visitor chose yours instead? Although the concept is a bit shaky on the surface, if you have a strong cover, plot description and compelling reviews, this could be a cool feature and work in your favor.

  3. I haven't seen the feature. On the surface, it sounds somewhat redundant in conjunction with the "people who bought this also bought" feature even though they are slightly different.

    As an author, I would have thought this would be a feature made available to Amazon authors privately.

    As a consumer, I'm not sure I would use "buy this instead" features because I don't shop this way. I usually have a fairly good idea of what I'm looking for and I'm not going to plunk down money on a book until I know author X is reliable. I also know my tastes seem to run differently than most, so just because X is more popular, doesn't mean I'm going to like it.

    But I DO frequently use the "also bought" feature, particularly with non-fiction.

    In a sense, it could also generate competition between authors--which could be good, pushing authors to do their level best, or bad, if it led to ill will (I'd hope not).

    As far as thick skin, that goes with the business.

    BK Jackson

  4. I have seen this on other retail sites and have not given it much thought. I tend to lean toward the reviews of others over the fact that someone else bought something other than what I'm looking at.


  5. I haven't seen it, and don't particularly like Amazon's introducing the feature. Then again, unless my book happens to be doing very well, I'm not fond of their ranking books according to what's sold in the last twenty minutes, either. Joe Moore raises a good point--it depends on which side of the fence your book winds up.
    I guess that Amazon, sort of like the government, will do what it decides to do unless there's a groundswell of disapproval. For now, I'll watch and wait. But thanks for bringing this to our attention.

  6. I think they should include non-book purchases too. Like if someone bought one of my books, then purchased a wilderness survival guide, a laser sight for a M4 rifle, and a one way ticket to Alaska that'd give a better idea of the impact the story had on the individual.

    Of course if they purchased those from Amazon's Afghan stores, I might need to take a bit of a vacation.

  7. Thank you one and all as always for your interesting and thoughtful comments, which run the whole gamut from like the idea to not so much. The reason that this struck me goes back to the days when I was a wee lad buying records. This was before cassettes, CDs, 8 tracks, and the like, so there was no internet, or amazon. The local record store had a couple of clerks. One would look down his nose at you when you brought your selection up to the counter, and tell you, "You would really be better off buying The Seeds. Jefferson Airplane is lousy!" The other guy would smile and say, "Jefferson Airplane. Cool! You might try Quicksilver Messenger Service, too!"
    "Ultimately bought" on Amazon reminds me of the former guy; "Also bought" reminds me of the latter.

  8. Could it be an Amazon marketer worded the phrasing wrong? It just seems ODD that they'd put a plug like that in place.

    It's just WRONG!!

  9. I agree, Kathleen. It doesn't help anything and I think it has the potential to harm. Their intent should be to sell books, not to steer a potential buyer away, which, the more I think on this, is what it appears to be designed to do, intentionally or otherwise.