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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
This blog first appeared in The Vincent Zandri Vox (http://vincentzandri.blogspot.com/2011/06/tag-me-tag-you-blues.html?spref=fb):



Oh man, you'd think those crazy asses who predicted the world would end on May 21 actually only got the date wrong by a little over a week. This past weekend when Amazon decided to pull their tags on E-Books (you know, those descriptive words you add to a title so that browsers can find them more easily when shopping), a whole bunch of my colleagues and cohorts immediately saw the four horsemen riders of the Apocalypse shoot down from the heavens and along with it, the end to what seemed like a very profitable run in Kindle E-Book heaven.

Add to that some unexplained lackluster sales across the board, and you have legions of indie authors contemplating their final meal: Will it be meatloaf or fried chicken?

I'm of the opinion that yes, tags are important. But I'm not of the opinion that tags alone create monumental sales. What creates great sales are the tried and true 4 rules of the indie games, or any variety of publishing game for that matter:

1. Great Cover
2. Great Product Description
3. Great Price
4. Great Book

After that you add in social media marketing, a virtual tour, a trailer, and just plain writing more great books, and you have yourself a career that should earn you steady sales that will increase with time, according to how fast your tribe of loyal readers grows.

Tags are cool because I can tag another bestselling hard-boiled mystery author and she can tag mine, and when John Q. Public goes to my Amazon page for THE INNOCENT or THE REMAINS for instance, they also see her name and then perhaps we both get a sale. But there are other ways to tag on other social media sites like Crime Space and Edgey Christian Fiction and even still on Amazon, so long as there is a paper version of the novel available.

Some people believe that the loss of tags is really the result of a conspiracy between the Big 6 publishers and the chiefs at Amazon to do away with the popular indie titles. I don't believe this is the case, because one, it would probably constitute something illegal like a payoff or payola, and two, why would Amazon shoot their hugely successful indie publishing program in both its feet just to give in to a dying white elephant?

Others believe the tags will re-appear one day soon since it must be a glitch that destroyed them in the first place (such as a Lady CaCa, excuse me, GaGa, download). This is possible I guess. Some have even been reporting that sales numbers aren't showing up and that rankings are dipping on a disproportionate scale with actual sales. Now there's a fantasy I really want to believe since I too have dipped somewhat in the ranks this week.

But you know what? Sorry Charlie, that's freakin' life.
And you know what else? Don't put all your eggs in one fragile basket. Amazon is cool, but it's only one store. Chime in on some NOOK fan sites, or sell more books off your website or your publishers website. Give some E-Books away for God's sake. The point is not to be caught with your pants down in this business. A lot of people have been asking me why I'm still writing journalism, and this tag business is precisely why.

Ok, so answers...we all want answers.
Well, I don't have any, but here's what I have to offer:
My gut reaction is that the tags will never return. And that the reason Amazon has limited product descriptions for indie novels from 7 to 2 is because the indie books are proving more popular than the company would ever have believed them to be. That said, I believe they are trying to level the playing field a little to give the higher priced novels produced by the NYC legacy publishers more of a fighting chance. The biggy novels make up a huge portion of Amazon's sales, and like Obama's stimulus packages, they're trying to light a fire under some of the same old, same old mega authors . That's what I believe anyway.

But here's what else I believe:
That tags or no tags, the most popular indie authors (and my publishing house has at least three of these authors...) will realize a 20% to 30% decline in sales this month, but that decline will be short-lived as other ways to tag and to market will inevitably put these players back on top. If nothing else, these top players will once more reach the top by simply following the aforementioned golden rules. They will also write new material, unaffected by one store's attempt at leveling a playing field that truly isn't meant to stay level.
 
G

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1. Great Cover
2. Great Product Description
3. Great Price
4. Great Book


Yup, this seems to be the common rules to follow and mentioned often because it's true.
 

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Tags come back or tags gone for good, I'm ok with either scenario.

From a programming standpoint though Amazon could simply require that one be an Amazon Verified Purchaser of the item being tagged. It wouldn't completely prevent the system from being gamed but it would make more sales for Amazon and the authors :)
 

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I think Amazon benefits too much from non-purchaser reviews (for all kinds of items) to limit other feedback like tags to verified purchasers. I know I go to Amazon instead of, say, Sears, to buy an appliance--in part because I know I can get the largest amount of data. People will often say "I bought it at X (not Amazon) and this is a much better deal and I love it!"

As for tags, I seem to have benefited from them, but never expected them to last forever.

Back to the WIP.
 

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I never bought into the tagging thing. I always went the route of the four primary points you've listed, and a lot of hard work promoting and marketing my stories, getting reviews on book blogs, touring with my books, giveaways, newsletters and all the rest that keeps me working ten hours days as an author.

Oh, and let's not forget writing. Write a book, write the next and then the one after that. Keep em rolling, that's what I say.

Tags were always disfunctional on UK amazon anyway. They appeared and disappeared between browser refreshes.

I've also noticed that Amazon US no longer lists the % of people who bought X in that little four book listing they have on book pages.

http://www.amazon.com/dp/B004P5NQ0W/

It just has a list now.

Amazon are always changing things. I wouldn't be surprised if tagging came back at some point.

Felicity
 

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Good post Vincent,

I think tags are either gone for good or they will come back in some other form which won't be as helpful to indies (perhaps only by verified purchasers as suggested above).

However, I doubt that any indie "gaming" of the system is a factor in this.

Rather, I think that "boycott tagging" and other such behavior surrounding high-priced Big 6 titles is the culprit.

I imagine it's a sop to the Big 6 from Amazon to smooth some ruffled feathers after the launch of their various imprints, the signing of Eisler and Konrath, and the hiring of Larry Kirshbaum.

Sales are a little down as a result - I'm seeing a 10-20% dip in the US and a much bigger one in the UK, but as Vincent said, we will find other ways to make that up, and that's not such a bad thing.

Dave
 

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It seems that those authors who have used tags have seen a decrease in sales in the past week (including me.)  Which brings up two points:

1) There is an obvious benefit to using tags (both for the authors and the readers).

2) Is Amazon losing money because of these lack of sales, or are readers buying the same amount of ebooks, and using another method to find the ones they want?
 

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Discussion Starter · #11 ·
Great responses guys...I guess I feel that whether the tags help or not, there's no better marketing source for a writer than to simply keep writing good books and getting them out there...:)
V
 

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I think Amazon is continually tweaking.  I've both suffered from it, particularly recently, and benefitted from it, as Daughter of Time in particular rocketed up the charts right out of the gate.  I think it's easier with B and N sales and rankings, because they seem so completely inexplicable that I don't even try.  It's because Amazon gives you real time data that doesn't make sense that's half the problem :)
 

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swolf said:
It seems that those authors who have used tags have seen a decrease in sales in the past week (including me.) Which brings up two points:

1) There is an obvious benefit to using tags (both for the authors and the readers).

2) Is Amazon losing money because of these lack of sales, or are readers buying the same amount of ebooks, and using another method to find the ones they want?
1) I'm not sure the benefit is always extended to the reader if the tags are fuzzy. For example, you write a book that has in it two people who fall in love so you tag it as "romance." However, it's not really a romance novel.

2) Amazon isn't displaying fewer books to readers if it's no longer using tags, just different books. If the tags were actually helping sell, then I suppose they'd see a decrease in sales. If not, then I doubt there is any impact. And it's possible if instead of tags they are using some other way of selecting books to display they might even see an increase in sales.
 

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1. Great Cover
2. Great Product Description
3. Great Price
4. Great Book


Those are necessary, but not sufficient. A consumer still has to have a reason to click on something that will take her to the book page. If a book has those four items, how will anyone know? Are there books with those items that are ranked #987,352? How would we know? I'd add visibility to the list. There are various ways to get that visibility.
 

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dgaughran said:
However, I doubt that any indie "gaming" of the system is a factor in this.

Rather, I think that "boycott tagging" and other such behavior surrounding high-priced Big 6 titles is the culprit.
Or maybe it's not an either/or, but a little of both? I liked tags because they helped me find books better than searching on a key word. I hope they come back, but if they don't, meh, I'll live.

At any rate, I do feel like they were in a very small way helpful to me many months ago, and I have sympathy for indies just starting out right now who aren't able to use it as a tool to help readers find their books. But like others here have said, there's much more to getting discovered than just tags.

1. Great Cover
2. Great Product Description
3. Great Price
4. Great Book

Those are necessary, but not sufficient. A consumer still has to have a reason to click on something that will take her to the book page. If a book has those four items, how will anyone know? Are there books with those items that are ranked #987,352? How would we know? I'd add visibility to the list. There are various ways to get that visibility.
We can't forget luck. If one influential blogger discovers a book, it can snowball into something epic.
 

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Tagging had little no effect on my sales from what I can see, so I'll not miss them myself.

I completely agree with the four main things you need:

1. Great Cover
2. Great Product Description
3. Great Price
4. Great Book

Books that have these four elements will continue to sell well, those that don't will fade... and quite rightly so.  
 

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Tags are the cause of sales decreases?  

I can't be sure, but I doubt it--at least alone.  Sales at Amazon (or any other retail outlet, online or off) are affected by too many moving parts to pin it down to one thing.  

Sales fluctuate. The buying public is finicky. We're looking at very unscientific data and making big assumptions.  

I wish there was a "perfect formula" because I'd follow it.  Keep writing.  Keep your head down. Good luck.
 

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"However, I doubt that any indie "gaming" of the system is a factor in this."

Agree. Amazon is not going to let independents wag the dog on this. If tagging is selling books for them, it's unlikely they care what independents do with them.
 

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Asher MacDonald said:
1) I'm not sure the benefit is always extended to the reader if the tags are fuzzy. For example, you write a book that has in it two people who fall in love so you tag it as "romance." However, it's not really a romance novel.
Tags don't make anyone buy anything. All they do is get a book in front of a potential reader's eyes. From there, it's the other stuff that makes the sale. So if a book is tagged with 'romance' (by the author or anyone else), and that's what the reader is searching for, but the sample shows it's not a romance, then it's probably not going to generate a sale.

For the most part, the tags describe the book. It's in no one's interest to tag a book with a misleading word.

Asher MacDonald said:
2) Amazon isn't displaying fewer books to readers if it's no longer using tags, just different books. If the tags were actually helping sell, then I suppose they'd see a decrease in sales. If not, then I doubt there is any impact. And it's possible if instead of tags they are using some other way of selecting books to display they might even see an increase in sales.
If they've removed the ability to search on tags, then yes, they are displaying fewer books to readers. Because it's logical that there would be subset of books that would only reach the threshold of being displayed to the readers via the tag search. With that search gone and nothing to replace it, then the total number of different books displayed to the readers would have to shrink.

Now, that doesn't necessarily mean less sales. Perhaps readers are still spending the same amount of money on a smaller set of books.
 

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Wow. I had no idea that they removed the tags - I was out of town. Then I got back, and my sales had gone kerplunk for days. They're moving back up again, but I couldn't figure out why I wasn't selling as much - for no discernible reason. All this time I seriously had NO IDEA that tags were doing me any favors at all. Perhaps they really weren't, and that drop in sales was a fluke and a coincidence, as evidenced by the fact that it appears to be on its way to correcting itself.

Here's a disheartening story about something that REALLY has no impact on sales WHATSOEVER...my website. I lost my domain name earlier this month, due to a Godaddy screw-up, and had to begin again under www.nellgavin.net. I'm getting, like, 16 hits a day now. Or 5, sometimes. It's really sad. I used to get tens of thousands of hits every month because the whole site is set up for people looking for info on Anne Boleyn, and I was on Google Page 1 of the search word, "Anne Boleyn." Hot stuff, no? No. I'm still selling the same amount, and have been since early May when I lost my website. At least the cost of upkeep is deductible as a business expense...
 
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