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I have recently become aware of some contraversy surrounding "tags" on Amazom. Apparently the powers-that-be do not want indies to use them, because Big Pub is upset. What's the story here? I see posts on this forum about sharing tags. What does this mean? What advantages does sharing have? Essentially, what are "tags?"

 

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Tags are keywords used to describe the content of a book. If someone is shopping for "humorous romance" and that is one of your tags, you are more likely to show up in those search results. The more tags you have, the broader your reach. I don't know that trad pub's don't like tags, but they have been spammed with "too expensive for an ebook" and other boycotting tags that do nothing to help with searching.
 

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No, it's not big publishing which is upset. The way indies use them screws up the algorithms -- and that HURTS indies more than anyone else. But it also hurts Amazon's function as providing unbiased results.

Tags were originally designed to be one more clue as to what READERS think about books. They were also supposed to be for helping readers find books for things which were hard to search for in other ways -- like if a book has a certain theme or style or subject that isn't covered in a genre description or basic keywords. So if someone wants something unusual, they can find it -- like "christian paranormal" or "animal detectives."

I wrote a post on the larger issue here last week, Search Engines, eHow and Fiction Writing. You might get some short term gain by manipulating tags, but in the end, when you tag something you haven't read, you're damaging the very tool that allows indies to compete with the big time publishers.

(And yes, I'll get a bunch of malicious tags and ratings all of sudden for posting this, but the "helpful" tagging really isn't any better, unfortunately.)

Camille
 

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daringnovelist said:
No, it's not big publishing which is upset. The way indies use them screws up the algorithms -- and that HURTS indies more than anyone else. But it also hurts Amazon's function as providing unbiased results.

Tags were originally designed to be one more clue as to what READERS think about books. They were also supposed to be for helping readers find books for things which were hard to search for in other ways -- like if a book has a certain theme or style or subject that isn't covered in a genre description or basic keywords. So if someone wants something unusual, they can find it -- like "christian paranormal" or "animal detectives."

I wrote a post on the larger issue here last week, Search Engines, eHow and Fiction Writing. You might get some short term gain by manipulating tags, but in the end, when you tag something you haven't read, you're damaging the very tool that allows indies to compete with the big time publishers.

(And yes, I'll get a bunch of malicious tags and ratings all of sudden for posting this, but the "helpful" tagging really isn't any better, unfortunately.)

Camille
You're a little off base about the function of tags with regards to Amazon. It clearly states in their "What is a Tag" the definition of a tag.

Think of a tag as a keyword or category label. Tags can both help you find items on the Amazon site as well as provide an easy way for you to "remember" and classify items for later recall.
It also states on the same page that one does not need to own a specific product to tag it. In fact, Amazon encourages you to tag items that you don't own to help classify them. In the examples given, most tags are used to help organize items of interest and to target your own recommendations.

On the same page, Amazon now lists ways that tags shouldn't be used. And for the record, tags were around before the Kindle and ebooks.
 

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Can someone explain to me how tagging can really help? Or how does it help? Does it help???? I've spent all afternoon on the tagging loop, going back and tagging other people's books. Most of them are ranked in the hundreds of thousands. Hmmm....
 

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I hope someone will come by that can answer that, but I think we are all a little mystified as to how much good tagging does.

My understanding is that you put tags on your books so that when the customer looks for something under that word, your book will be one of the ones that pops up.  But there are so many books now as well as tagging threads that I don't imagine it is all that effective.

I think a lot of other criteria comes into play as well.  Reviews, number of reviews, quality of reviews, sales totals etc.  I'm sure these will affect the rankings of where you show up no matter how many tags you may have.  I put my initial tags on and then forget all about them.  If I happen to come across a book where I recognize the name from seeing postings here, I may stop and tag theirs...but other than that, it is really time consuming.  Hopefully someone knowledgeable will weigh in on this.  :)
 

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If you examine the ratio of tags to the success of a given book, there doesn't usually seem to be any. I've seen both high ranking and low ranking books with either lots of tags or practically zero tags. So if they have any tangible effect on sales, it's either very small, or very unpredictable.
 

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Frankly, the way people use tagging around here, it amounts to a superstition.

The thing to always remember is that things like tags and "like" buttons and reviews and ratings are all about the READER to Amazon. Sure having a tag on a book helps people to know the book has that particular element. (And it only takes ONE tag to do that.) And if you click on a tag, the items with the most tags will often be on the top of the results page (although there are other elements to it).

However, what Amazon is actually doing is collecting user data. They want to know what kind of reader thinks this kind of word belongs with which kind of book? Then when someone does a search -- one that may not even use the same words -- they have a picture of what you might be looking for, based on a whole web of information, including your past search history, the history of people searching on that or similar words, and what people viewed after searching, and what they bought, and what they also looked at, etc.

When that data is genuine, it allows Amazon to tailor every page to the customer and give them really good recommendations of books they are most likely to buy -- including unusual titles and especially small indie books. This is Amazon's stock in trade, and it's also the biggest ace in the hole indies have....

So when we go around tagging the heck out of books we haven't even read, we're shooting ourselves in the foot. All we do is make Amazon's data more cloudy. However, Amazon is very good at filtering out anomalies, so I suspect the main result is that it changes the look of the pages that Amazon shows the people who are doing the tagging. Their activities are being measured as an identifier of a customer demographic.

Sure, go ahead and give your books appropriate tags -- especially if there are elements that don't show up as obvious in the category or description. And tag other people's books you like with words YOU think are appropriate. If you tag as a customer -- letting Amazon know more about what a customer like you is like -- then you're doing us a favor. If you tag to promote, you're wasting your time and Amazon's time. Better to write or blog or do something constructive.

Camille
 

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Can tagging your book help? Yes, it can. Will it help a lot? No, it probably won't.

The tags make it so that your tagged books will appear in searches for a specific tag. For example, if i search for tags with "urban fantasy" and your book has that tag, it will appear in my search results. Where it appears will depend on how I sort my results. The results can be sorted by popularity, recently popular, recently tagged and newly added. You only need one tag to appear in the search.

This might or might not translate into sales. Think of tags as another way to get your foot in the door. The rest is going to depend on your cover, blurb, sample and other factors.
 

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daringnovelist said:
Frankly, the way people use tagging around here, it amounts to a superstition.

The thing to always remember is that things like tags and "like" buttons and reviews and ratings are all about the READER to Amazon. Sure having a tag on a book helps people to know the book has that particular element. (And it only takes ONE tag to do that.) And if you click on a tag, the items with the most tags will often be on the top of the results page (although there are other elements to it).
There are a number of superstitions about tagging. This is one of them. Tags have nothing to do with your opinions on a product. They are for categorizing products. The amount of tags does not put you on top of the search list. If you search for a tag , let's use wall street as an example, you will see the #1 book under the sort option recently popular has 35 tags while the #5 book has 64 tags. When you sort the list by popularity, most of the time the list is in order of tags. The default sort option is Recently Popular.

daringnovelist said:
However, what Amazon is actually doing is collecting user data. They want to know what kind of reader thinks this kind of word belongs with which kind of book? Then when someone does a search -- one that may not even use the same words -- they have a picture of what you might be looking for, based on a whole web of information, including your past search history, the history of people searching on that or similar words, and what people viewed after searching, and what they bought, and what they also looked at, etc.

When that data is genuine, it allows Amazon to tailor every page to the customer and give them really good recommendations of books they are most likely to buy -- including unusual titles and especially small indie books. This is Amazon's stock in trade, and it's also the biggest ace in the hole indies have....
If someone, anyone tags a book with genuine information does the source matter? I don't need to read one of your stories or books to assign it a general tag. In fact, Amazon encourages you to tag items that you do not own to help categorize them. This is listed in a number of places on their website and in the tagging FAQs.

daringnovelist said:
So when we go around tagging the heck out of books we haven't even read, we're shooting ourselves in the foot. All we do is make Amazon's data more cloudy. However, Amazon is very good at filtering out anomalies, so I suspect the main result is that it changes the look of the pages that Amazon shows the people who are doing the tagging. Their activities are being measured as an identifier of a customer demographic.
Some would say they are adding more data that helps Amazon's search engines. It's a matter of opinion. The only way to know for sure is if someone from Amazon says something one way or the other. If you look at a lot of their postings,

daringnovelist said:
Sure, go ahead and give your books appropriate tags -- especially if there are elements that don't show up as obvious in the category or description. And tag other people's books you like with words YOU think are appropriate. If you tag as a customer -- letting Amazon know what kinds of things readers like you think and like -- then you're doing us a favor. If you tag to promote, you're wasting your time and Amazon's time. Better to write or blog or do something constructive.
Again, tagging a book has nothing to do with like or hate. I don't have to like a science fiction book to call it a science fiction book. All I am doing is assigning it a general category. In this case, since I like science fiction books it helps me find the book again and any books with similar tags. As a bonus, anyone searching for science fiction books can find it.

I do have to like a science fiction book to tag it a great read. Tags like "great read", "good book" and others like them express opinions. I don't think those kinds of tags are appropriate. There are reviews, the star system and the like button for that.
 

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Kyrin, have you read Amazon's SEC filings and reports to the stockholders?  You might find it enlightening in terms of what their real goals are, and how their algorithms work and what their business plan is.

Basically, the customers, the vendors, the associates, everyone are mice in a maze to be studied.  Their stock in trade, contrary to popular opinion, is data.  Sure, the revenue stream is from the retail end, but the philosophy is that the retail is the tail.  The data is the dog.  (Like a tabloid magazine, they get their revenue from advertising, but their BUSINESS is gossip mongering.)

When it comes to indies, you've got to remember that Amazon doesn't see us as vendors, they see us as customers.  Even if we never sell a book to anyone but each other and our mothers, we provide them with money and they're going to encourage that.  Engaging in tagging clubs just puts us and our books into that category of data.  Fine for Amazon's money, not fine for us.

You said it yourself -- putting one tag on your own book to get a keyword associated with it is great.  Getting a thousand people to click on it is counter productive.  Amazon's algorithms will take it for what it's worth -- a show of interest by a special interest group.  They won't be fooled and it won't help you.

Camille
 

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kyrin said:
Again, tagging a book has nothing to do with like or hate. I don't have to like a science fiction book to call it a science fiction book. All I am doing is assigning it a general category. In this case, since I like science fiction books it helps me find the book again and any books with similar tags. As a bonus, anyone searching for science fiction books can find it.

I do have to like a science fiction book to tag it a great read. Tags like "great read", "good book" and others like them express opinions. I don't think those kinds of tags are appropriate. There are reviews, the star system and the like button for that.
I realize I should address this alone, because it shows you misunderstand what I'm saying....

I'm not saying that tags don't work as you say they do, I'm saying that there is much much more to it.

When you tag a book as science fiction, Amazon notes that you took an interest in the book. This has nothing to do with THAT BOOK, it has to do with you. Amazon tracks what every customer does, in much the same way that Google tracks searches and backlinks.

So lets just think about what happened when you tagged that book. First, you tagged it with something that wasn't necessary. The book undoubtedly is in the "science fiction" category, so tagging it as science fiction doesn't really do much - neither harm nor good. If the book involves time traveling space monkeys... that really would be useful to tag. And I'm going to assume that you did that.

But here is the thing ... now Amazon's profile of YOU has time traveling space monkey sf as something you are interested in. And it's going to use that data to assume other people with your purchasing profile may also be interested in it. But it's not too much of a problem, because you're unique, and it happens that 25 heavy duty chick lit readers have also clicked that tag, even though they don't like space monkey sf, OR time travel. So now your click maybe doesn't count so much. Maybe it's an anomaly. But the 25 chicklit clicks? That implies a "style/flavor" connection between romance and the space monkey tag.

Oh, and btw, there is now a loose association in the algorithm between you and the romance readers. It's probably too minute to make a difference to you -- but if you keep hanging out with those chicks on Amazon, checking out their books, etc, that assoication will get stronger and stronger.

One example of this kind of thing is the recent summer sale Amazon had. I heard a lot of people complaining about that ad on their product pages. I did not see that ad on their pages. Why not? Because Amazon doesn't see me as a "deals" customer, so they don't show me those ads. (However, they do show me adds for very old back list books that go on sale.)

Amazon pays attention to EVERYTHING you do.

Camille
 

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daringnovelist said:
Kyrin, have you read Amazon's SEC filings and reports to the stockholders? You might find it enlightening in terms of what their real goals are, and how their algorithms work and what their business plan is.

Basically, the customers, the vendors, the associates, everyone are mice in a maze to be studied. Their stock in trade, contrary to popular opinion, is data. Sure, the revenue stream is from the retail end, but the philosophy is that the retail is the tail. The data is the dog. (Like a tabloid magazine, they get their revenue from advertising, but their BUSINESS is gossip mongering.)
It would be enlightening. Amazon's current business plan is far different from its initial one. Its current plan will be different from the one it uses in the future. Amazon is constantly changing and evolving. That's one of the company's strengths. I don't know their current business plan but their last profit statement shows that they are very diversified. Maybe you can provide a link to all that information. Their real goal is simple, make money for their stockholders in the long term.

As to how their algorithms work, a lot of that information isn't revealed to the public. What information they do provide doesn't paint the whole picture. How something works on paper and in theory is a lot different from how it works in practice especially when we can't see the entire people. Even disclosures to stockholders will not reveal everything. Without looking at the actual code and seeing the behind the scenes stuff an auditor would see, it's all guess work on our part.

daringnovelist said:
When it comes to indies, you've got to remember that Amazon doesn't see us as vendors, they see us as customers. Even if we never sell a book to anyone but each other and our mothers, we provide them with money and they're going to encourage that. Engaging in tagging clubs just puts us and our books into that category of data. Fine for Amazon's money, not fine for us.

You said it yourself -- putting one tag on your own book to get a keyword associated with it is great. Getting a thousand people to click on it is counter productive. Amazon's algorithms will take it for what it's worth -- a show of interest by a special interest group. They won't be fooled and it won't help you.
I wasn't looking at it as an indie or a vendor thing. I also wasn't saying whether a person should or shouldn't use their time tagging. That's up to them. I believe a few tags are enough and you shouldn't spend a lot of time tagging. Others can and will disagree. That's fine.

Whenever someone talks about the evil tagging clubs / threads, they almost always exaggerate things. Recently, someone said there were some 15000 people involved in the tagging thread on this board and the active participants had thousands of tags. That's not true or honest. At most there have been around two hundred fifty participants in the thread and most (80%) do not actively tag. The people tagging do not spend every waking hour doing so, they do it when they have time. Another assumption is that people are tagging books blindly. People in the thread tag intelligently. I personally don't use tags that I don't want associated with my profile and tags that I'm not comfortable with.

I was merely pointing out that Amazon does not require you to buy or own that product to tag it. In fact, Amazon encourages you to tag items you do not own. I am also saying that a tags shouldn't be about opinion.

There is a lot to tags and how they work but there is a lot more to how Amazon's algorithms work. I think they are a lot smarter and more advanced than you give them credit for. They don't build an associations and recommendations from a single source of data. The recommendation page lists how they are built. The most important aspect seems to be buying an item. In the case of ebooks, this probably also takes into account sampling. Also, you left out that Amazon lets you change your browsing history and turn on/off parts of the recommendation system. You can even delete your entire browsing history. This helps to not only fine tune your search but to correct the data for their purposes.
 

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By the way, it might be good for some people to read How Recommendations Work and the new information about how the like button is being used.

One addition to my last post, you can see why Amazon recommends a product to you. There is a link by each recommended product and on the recommendations page. None of my product recommendations are the product of tagging a book. They all have to do with my past purchases and my wish list.

I do find it funny that I was recommended The Bellhound because I brought a book on astrology.
 

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kyrin said:
I do find it funny that I was recommended The Bellhound because I brought a book on astrology.
LOL. I've been in contact with Amazon on several occasions now because every time I log in to my account the only book in my "recently viewed" list is The Bellhound... and I've never looked at it (nothing against the book, just not my preferred genre)???. I buy a lot of books on Amazon for my Kindle, both indie and my old faves, and even though I have tagged books in categories such as sci fi and horror (which I rarely read), my personal Amazon recommendations are spot on for romance, chick-lit and suspense (which I always read). So my previous tagging isn't affecting my recommendations, but I'd really like to know how I can get my book to show up in everyone's recently viewed items! Now that would be useful ;).

BTW, I'm not accusing daringnovelist of doing anything untoward (I'm sure she has nothing to do with it), it's just an interesting aside to this thread (and I really would like to know why it's happening...Amazon doesn't have an answer).
 

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My U.S. sales figures:

Month - Books Sold
Nov 2010 - 4
Dec 2010 - 13
Jan 2011 - 7
Feb 2011 - 18
Mar 2011 - 59
Apr 2011 - 70
May 2011 - 149
Jun 2011 - 96 (so far)

I joined one tagging thread in the middle of February:

http://forums.kindledirectpublishing.com/kdpforums/thread.jspa?messageID=48700#48700

And one at the end of February:

http://www.kboards.com/index.php/topic,22473.msg928706.html#msg928706

Now, I understand it could be just a coincidence my sales increased when I began tagging, but tagging is a search feature, and will allow readers to find my books.

So, for someone to claim that tagging doesn't work, they're going to have to prove that to me.

For what it's worth, my UK sales figures have been tepid and flatlining since November. (Tags aren't shared between the US and UK)
 
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