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Discussion Starter · #1 · (Edited)
Bet you didn't expect to see me again. I left my books up. They go weeks on end with zero sales. I'd like to write, but it's kind of tough to muster the enthusiasm for reasons which will become clear in a moment.

I'm going to cut right to the chase, so let's have the favored few, the thousand-bucks-a-day keyword kings and all the members of the Bubclub gather 'round. I have conclusive proof this time that my book(s) are being suppressed in the search results. Feel free to conduct this experiment on your own. Oh, I'm sure there are those who will lie about their results, but that doesn't change the facts. I have video.

Open an incognito window. Go to Amazon and type Devils Demons and Dead Men in the search bar. You'll find that title is the fourth suggested result in the search bar, which is odd, to say the least. Examine the results. You won't find my book on the first page. Or the second. Or the third. You know why? Because my book isn't relevant. Even for its own title. Oh sure, you can find it if you only look in the Kindle store (it's the first result) but we all know readers don't do that. Interesting to note the first two results for my title in the "All" category are an audiobook and a print book.

Now go to Google and perform the same search. My book's Amazon listing is the #1 result.

Invisible on Amazon.

#1 result on Google.

Note one of the books that shows up in the search results for my title is called "Hooked." It's a best-seller! 15,000 reviews! Not hard to imagine why, since it shows up in the search results for other authors' book titles.

Why is my book not relevant? Because it doesn't sell. Why doesn't it sell? Because it's invisible. Even if a reader goes to Amazon and specifically searches for my book by its exact title (after say, discovering it during one of my exorbitantly expensive ad campaigns, perhaps) they won't find it. Why is my book invisible? Because it isn't relevant. Are you getting it yet?

The book isn't relevant because it doesn't sell. It doesn't sell because it's invisible. It's invisible because it isn't relevant.

While you're struggling to come up with a way to steer this devastating news back to my cover and blurb, let's examine some of the other things I discovered after making the mistake of going back to my KDP listings this morning.

My invisible book was the subject of a nine paragraph smear review by a competing author (who impersonated a reporter in order to conduct a fake interview) a few years back (took me over a year to get it taken down). Is it possible all my books have been sabotaged by other authors? We all know about the big mad that happens when Shane posts. Just ask the Facebag group admins.

Now there isn't a facility on Amazon that could be used to oh, I don't know, report a book so it gets penalized, is there? Nah. That sounds like a conspiracy theory!

Speaking of competing authors, there's a book on that smilin' bookstore that gets fifty reviews a day. I'll leave the math to you on how many sales that represents. Naturally this author shows up nowhere on the traditional best seller lists, nor does he claim to be a bestseller, despite his apparent five-figure unit sales every week. His covers are scribbles (that are similar to precisely zero other covers in the genre and convey zero information about what the book is about - kind of like the Hunger Games) and the writing is nigh unto unintelligible. We all know how reluctant most readers are to review our books. We have Bubclub members in this very group with expensively marketed books out for years that have a fraction of this guy's total. His videos get 300 views, if that. But he's apparently clearing six figures a week. Nothing to see here.

Is he cheating? Who knows? What we do know is he generates millions in revenue. And if he is cheating somehow he never seems to get caught. Meanwhile if I put a link in one of my books that skips too many pages, or God forbid, link to my own site... well you know what happens.

Just a hypothetical here. How do you market a book on a store where other authors cheat?

While we're at it, let's give a special shout out to everyone's favorite keyword tool. Just for fun I used it to build a list of 276 keywords and keyphrases for my MilSF books (high search volume, low competition). I made a little extra cash mowing lawns and walkin' dogs recently so I fired up a couple of AMS campaigns. These highly optimized keywords generated by the specialized (paid) tool generated a grand total of 25000 impressions, 21 clicks (at an average cost of 50c and up) and no sales.

So I grabbed a former Amazon Advertising executive's book and discovered relevancy applies to your ads too. You can't even buy relevancy. Apparently once your book is singled out, it never sees daylight again.

I'll be making a video of my experiment so there's no question as to what's going on. I can't wait to hear from the marketing experts and all their chirpy advice about how to sell a book that has been spiked. Or an entire catalog.

When I bring this up in the marketing expert groups on Facebag I get banned, but not before one of those friendly and talented successful authors™ takes a swipe at my sales rank. Classy folks.

Feel free to try that strategy here. Just be aware now I have hard factual evidence to back up my position. My books don't even rank for their own titles, and I can prove it. Black out.
 

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From a reader's point of view, I think Amazon's recommendation engine for books could be a lot better. For instance, the Kindle app recommends the same few dozen books to me over and over and over, day after day. It doesn't seem able to figure out that if I haven't clicked on a cover after 50 impressions, I'm probably not interested in that book.

The engine seems to have three main principles: first, it recommends top sellers in my favorite subgenres, and second, it recommends everything written by the last few authors I read. Then it tosses in a limited number of authors it sees as very similar to the ones I have read most recently. Rather than displaying just the first in series, it will display a bunch of those authors' books, so they fill up all the slots.

It's such a profoundly uncreative way to curate recommendations. At this point, Amazon has 20 of data about my reading habits. It could use that data, in combination with its incredible stock of books, to recommend a wide array of authors I would never discover on my own, but it doesn't bother. I do find that really frustrating.

From an author's point of view, a similarly weighted engine is probably responsible for what you're describing in search, Shane: bestselling books being recommended so heavily that it's hard for lesser-known books to get views.

I assume Amazon does stuff this way because it's what's most financially productive for Amazon. I doubt there's anything more complicated or nefarious going on than that. It is dispiriting, though. Book discovery could be wonderous on the site. Authors would benefit, sure, but so would readers.
 

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I think it's clear that success in indie publishing is a tough slog, and a lot of algos and other factors work against any given writer's success. The best thing most of us can do is try to carve out and claim our own tiny portion of the publishing universe and hope that we can keep those particular readers satisfied.

Throw in a goofy, teetering economy and massive competition for entertainment content, it's a recipe for discouragement.

Good to see you back, Shane. Your posts have always been thought provoking. Unfortunately, I can't give any decent feedback concerning your specific questions here. It's like the fabled "30 day cliff" -- which two years ago many said had been shortened to 15 days -- the algos controlling overall visibility are fickle.
 

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The engine seems to have three main principles: first, it recommends top sellers in my favorite subgenres, and second, it recommends everything written by the last few authors I read. Then it tosses in a limited number of authors it sees as very similar to the ones I have read most recently. Rather than displaying just the first in series, it will display a bunch of those authors' books, so they fill up all the slots.
And the fact that Shane's books are not in KU. Amazon in general doesn't really push books in front of readers if they're not fully in the ecosystem, as any wide author can attest to. It makes the ad push even more important and sadly expensive.
 

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Discussion Starter · #5 ·
I got confirmation last night in writing directly from Amazon that search results (and no doubt ad performance) depend on (among other things) "past sales history" and "popularity." There it is in black letters. If you aren't a bestseller, the hell with you. I think you'll find that all the services that promise you sales and readers have the exact same criteria.

That's a wrap for the Kindle e-book revolution(tm). Didn't even last 15 years. It is now traditional publishing run by a robot.

Memorandum to all the people who called me a conspiracy theorist when I pointed all this out six years ago and started building my own store: I was right.
 
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That is the downside of using popular keywords in a title.

However...

You are incorrect.

You come up first in Australia & the US (I assume other stores too, but I haven't checked) when I search your title within the Kindle store.

On general search? No, you're not on the first two pages. But in the "Kindle Store" you are the first result.
 

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Discussion Starter · #7 · (Edited)
Nobody searches the Kindle store. They go to Amazon and type the title in the search bar.

I have video of the search results.

For all intents and purposes the only difference between the results for "All" and the results for "Kindle Store" is my book is at the top of the Kindle Store results. So why is it omitted from the "All" store results? Well, Amazon just explained it to me last night. I've been publishing books on their platform for 11 years but they waited until last night to inform me my book doesn't rank, even for its own title, because it's not "popular" enough.

Whether it is deliberate or not is irrelevant. From a practical standpoint, there is no difference between the current state of affairs and the results of me never writing the book in the first place. The sales totals would be identical.

For the record, there are no other books with my title. It's the one keyword I should own outright, except I don't.

Strike Battleship Argent shows up for its own title. Why? It was a top 1500 book. Jacks Full of Aces, however, is invisible, even though it is part of the same series. Why? Because it isn't a top 1500 book. Oh sure, it has a 4.7 star review average, but that's not good enough. It stays invisible because that's what the robot wants.

But if you want the real entertainment go search my name. The first result is the Starships At War three-book collection. Argent outsells that title 600 to one. So which is it? Are the results based on sales volume and popularity? Or something else? Why would a book with 5 reviews be at the top of the results for an author with 36 titles published, 34 of which outsell it? Apparently the results aren't based on sales. Unless those results make one of my novel-length titles completely invisible, of course.

Or perhaps we can just use Occam's razor and conclude the search results are complete chaos. That would neatly and conclusively explain why authors can't get any traction unless they are spending $1000 a day on ads. Coincidence? I'll let you decide.

Feel free to keep giving Amazon the benefit of the doubt. But we've got conclusive proof directly from the source now. The chosen few authors who were allowed to succeed can no longer escape the fact it's not hard to be Cinderella when a trillion-dollar Fairy Godmother is turning your pumpkins into carriages.
 

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You seem confident that you've identified the culprit.

Will you change anything going forward (e.g. your launch process) to counter it?
 

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Discussion Starter · #9 · (Edited)
I am confident. I have video and confirmation in writing from Amazon.

My launch process is irrelevant if my books don't even show up for their own titles. Why should I have to counter manipulated search results? That's not what I signed up for. It's not what I was sold either. I was sold a level playing field, not a playing field I have to "counter."

My book is the #1 result (out of 59M) on Google for its own title. Why should it be any different on Amazon? Suppose I launch with a Super Bowl ad? "Buy Devils Demons and Dead Men on Amazon today!" Everyone runs to Amazon and can't find the book. How fast would that destroy my credibility and sales?

While we're at it, aren't you the guy who announced that if anyone started to succeed with AMS ads you'd swoop in and outbid them and take all their impressions? Gee, I wonder why Amazon set the ad program up that way?

You and your fellow incumbents are the ones who invented "outbid the poor authors for their own titles" aren't you? You know, where you bid on someone else's book listings and keywords so your book is shoved in front of readers who are looking for the other author's title? Then you bid up your own title to defend your own listings against the other incumbents? Gee, I wonder why Amazon set the ad program up that way?

It wouldn't be to make it pay to win, would it?

But hey, you won anyway buddy! Doesn't even matter what the book's about any more, does it? You could hire an elementary school class to ghostwrite your next book in crayon. As long as you buy enough readers Amazon will escort you right to the front of the line and make you a superstar. You're one of the favored few with a front-door key to the world's biggest money-sloshing private club.

Are you a good writer? Is it a good story? Who cares? The robot will keep stuffing your pockets with some more gibs me dat. Why? Because that's what you paid for. You get 100 five-star reviews a day just like Mr. Six Figures from earlier in the thread. You're that guy from the Twilight Zone episode. Every time you pull the handle on the slot machine you win. Every billiards shot clears the table. All your girlfriends are supermodels and you drive a Rolls Royce. And right alongside there's Pip, your plump cybernetic concierge with your loaded dice always at the ready in case you write another book.

None of the $1000 daily advertisers, reader buyers or Bubclubbers will ever know if their work could have stood on its own. The fact visibility was (and is) being manipulated is no different than an athlete being paid to throw the big game. The other team gets the trophy, but did they really win the championship?

Corruption and integrity go together like anti-matter and TNT.

I saw this coming in early 2016. Everyone shouted me down, called me names and took me off the party invitations list.

They were wrong, and now I can prove it.

But I look on the bright side. At least the points I scored and the wins I rang up were the result of first downs, blocking and execution, not a bought-and-paid-for participation sticker delivered by the ref before the coin toss.

By the way, how come you never show anyone your books? You aren't afraid some unscrupulous author might steal your keywords or report your book so it gets pushed down in the search results are you? That would be unfair!
 
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Wow. I was trying to be constructive by asking a question that might inspire solutions.

Good luck, Shane.
 

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Discussion Starter · #11 · (Edited)
While we're at it, let's look at this from another perspective.

If you put a search engine in front of a customer, and that search engine fails to produce the very thing that customer is looking for, you have failed. You cannot assert with a straight face that your customer is more likely to buy some random unrelated book, regardless of its bestseller status, over the book you know they are looking for.

Not only is your search engine a failure, it is providing an inferior customer experience. Your customer isn't getting what they want. The fact you are presenting them with page after page of products they have already told you they don't want is conclusive irrefutable proof there is an agenda at work. Your demonstrated objective has nothing to do with sales or customer satisfaction. I correctly identified this agenda six years ago because my sales numbers (and I am FAR from alone) didn't make sense then, and haven't made sense up to now.

You are failing to give the customer what they want. You are substituting what YOU want, and that calls the entire marketplace into question. You are deliberately hiding the product the customer is looking for.

One can only wonder what other agendas might be at work here.
 

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Discussion Starter · #12 · (Edited)
I was trying to be constructive by asking a question that might inspire solutions.
Well, like you said it ain't 2016 any more. We can see the marionette strings now. Come back when you've got something substantive to offer.

By the way, why would you be trying to inspire solutions when you've already publicly announced if we find something that works you'll buy it out from under us?

P.S. Just for fun I looked up Jacks Full of Aces on Google. #6 result. My title is a very common poker term, but I'm still #6 out of 1.4M responses. Same title is invisible on Amazon.
 

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Less attackiness please, Shane.
 

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I got confirmation last night in writing directly from Amazon that search results (and no doubt ad performance) depend on (among other things) "past sales history" and "popularity." There it is in black letters. If you aren't a bestseller, the hell with you. I think you'll find that all the services that promise you sales and readers have the exact same criteria.

That's a wrap for the Kindle e-book revolution(tm). Didn't even last 15 years. It is now traditional publishing run by a robot.

Memorandum to all the people who called me a conspiracy theorist when I pointed all this out six years ago and started building my own store: I was right.
Have you heard of de-indexing. I hadn't until Kathy Dee brought it up in another thread. There are 1000's of books published on Amazon everyday. If your book isn't selling it's slowly pushed down search results in favor of those new books. It slowly gets de-indexed. To fight this your book has to show relevance through sales OR a free giveaway.

Recently my book hasn't been selling and KENP reads dropped off the map too (there's a thread about it on this forum too), anyway, after Kathy Dee told me about de-indexing and suggested doing a promo to give my book some activity and get the Amazon algos to notice it again, I did a freebooksy and sure enough my book jumped back up to page 1 or 2 of my search terms.

Try it. Do a free promo to get your book noticed by the Amazon algos again and see if your search page position improves. It's pro-active and it couldn't hurt.

Dee
 

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Shane,
If I accept your research (and I have no reason to doubt you) I'm not clear on the point you are making. The ecosystem hasn't changed except in the way it is competitive. More to my point, what do you propose? The question about how you'd change your launch strategy is on target as, based on your research, you either need to do something different or give up entirely. As you say, it is as if those books no longer exist, therefore.... what? Clearly it tells me that being wide is the only sane way to do business as Amazon will continue to alter the alogorithm, to keep people from gaming the system (aka, learning how to promote effectively) if nothing else.

So please, step back from reiterating that you can prove this and lets talk about what to do, not the evil empire. Amazon, it's algorithms, its indifference to indie authors will always be givens.
 

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Discussion Starter · #16 · (Edited)
I'm not clear on the point you are making.
Among the points I'm making is the now established fact my sales, or lack thereof, were deliberately hindered despite my efforts to produce a quality product and despite all my other efforts, paid or otherwise, to market those products. Further, during the 11 years I wrote and published some 40 titles, those hindrances were never disclosed to me. I had to uncover them on my own.

One can only guess how long this state of affairs has existed. One can only guess at the numbers of sales and readers I lost as a result, even if we limit our attention to the one book. I currently have 35 other titles published. How many of them were and/or continue to be invisible? I know at least one is, and it is one of my best-reviewed works.

Given what I know now, the blowback my marketing efforts experienced comes into sharp focus. Years of ads. Thousands in expenses. Years of expensive cover remakes. Hundreds of thousands of words of sequels. Years of managing mailing lists. All followed by halting, sporadic sales that produced no discernible pattern. My numbers never responded predictably to my marketing efforts. My results were always confusing and haphazard. My readership never grew in any understandable way. Revenues never scaled. It was always like I was being restrained in some way. And it turns out my suspicions were correct.

Those suspicions were only amplified when I put together a list of 270-odd optimized keywords and ran AMS ads for those books with rather aggressive bids. After watching them gather a meager 8000 or so impressions I once again gave up. Again and again I watched baffling results manifest themselves following in some cases days and weeks of meticulous planning. Literally nothing worked. Now, I have sixteen titles in one of the most popular genres in literature and those books (three series including five full-length novels) go weeks and weeks with zero sales.

I am far from the only author to experience this.

Meanwhile, certain titles in my same genre rocketed to inexplicable success, like the six-figures-a-week title I mentioned earlier. How do you convince 50 total strangers to leave you a review every 24 hours? Furthermore, how do you do it with a gibberish story and a scribble on your cover that has absolutely nothing to do with your genre? I long ago rejected the idea those books had some magical gimmick or insight that allowed them to outperform the rest of their category 2000 to one, despite the protestations of the Bubclub and the rest of the incumbents. The self-congratulatory narrative on sites like this one is as predictable as the Rose Parade: Our books sell better because we are better. Of course that's patent bilge, but ultimately it doesn't matter what anyone thinks until we find the real mechanism at work, and now we have.

I now interpret this kind of lazy thinking the same way I interpret all magical thinking. There is a far more plausible explanation that doesn't involve any extraordinary genius, and that explanation is they are either cheating or they are enjoying a manufactured artificial advantage. Or both.

The obvious question then becomes "why are readers choosing only certain books from their favorite genre? Why does this book have 100 times the sales of the very similar book next to it?" Such results are statistically impossible, even if one author is markedly more talented or better at marketing. Human beings don't act that way. They don't respond to entertainment in lockstep.

I worked closely with the company responsible for a $14 billion animated television series. It gathered most of the ratings in its block of programming along with its companion show. But even though it was world-famous and came with a built-in audience of 100 million fans, that didn't mean the brand-new lower-quality show that followed it had zero viewers. Show business doesn't work that way. The newer show struggled compared to the others, but it didn't just dive nose-first into the ground and leave nothing behind but a scorch mark.

These questions were not limited to just my titles. The store is replete with such examples. And now I've uncovered at least a partial explanation. It's not hard to achieve stratospheric success when your book shows up in the search results for someone else's book, or hundreds of such books. Or thousands. Or millions. If there are three copies of my book at a brick and mortar store, and six hundred thousand copies of the next author's book, nobody can claim to be surprised when the latter outsells the former, nor can they claim to be surprised when the better-selling author announces his or her success is due to their superior planning and talent. Obviously they are just better. The first book failed to sell because the author sucks. Their cover sucks. Their blurb sucks. Look over there!

lets talk about what to do
I think a good first step would be to stop giving Amazon the benefit of the doubt every time an author points out their sales numbers make no sense. All the guessing over the years has encouraged people to stop thinking rationally and adopt all manner of bizarre and desperation-soaked theories about how to defeat "the algorithm" while the retailer continues to reassure us they are on our side.

And let's be clear: It was not we who crafted this suddenly antagonistic posture. We accepted what we were told on good faith and moved Heaven and Earth to succeed, only to find our efforts thwarted with neither explanation nor reason.

There is convincing evidence at this point that potentially tens of millions of hours of creative energy have been sent directly to ground. It will take considerable time and effort to rescue them.

Meanwhile, I am not ready to ascribe these developments to malice. I am far better convinced it is due to rank incompetence. Amazon has had fifteen years to advance electronic publishing, and they have done nothing except make it more proprietary and confusing while the market shrinks and authors give up. The recent development with their Android app is a key example. The buy button disappeared on two billion Android devices? Oh well. Research some more keywords and buy us some more customers.

They have made no effort at all to advance literacy, especially among children, and they have spent years on end euphemistically threatening authors with career-ending consequences if they dare to experiment with their work or their marketing. They even continue to maintain a web site where they assert authors are forbidden to discuss their sales numbers! The very idea that a publicly-traded company would suggest their or our financials are proprietary is shocking.

Finally, I think the self-publishing business is LONG overdue for a renaissance, and I think we have conclusively proven the concept of turning 90% of it over to one company is inadvisable. There's going to be a Great Escape in the near future. I think authors are going to insist on closer control of their works and their marketing and I think Big Tech(tm) is going to have no choice but to cooperate, lest they find themselves excluded from future growth. Google and Amazon have both made frantic attempts to take total control of books, and both did so with almost identical motives. For Amazon, books are the candies in the little bowl next to the cash register where they ring up all the purchases made by customers who were invited to their site by increasingly desperate authors. For Google, books are just another source of keywords to run ads against. They are two of the most profound examples justifying the existence of copyright laws. Were authors left unprotected, there is no doubt Google and Amazon and companies like them would destroy literature itself in the pursuit of quarterly profit growth.

I think an important opening move for authors to assert their independence would be to immediately petition the appropriate government authorities (by eminent domain if necessary) to wrest the .book domain away from Google and Amazon at once, and to put it in the hands of a neutral non-profit organization until such time as it can be properly utilized for the benefit of authors, readers, teachers, students and journalists. I nominate either the Free Software Foundation or the Electronic Frontier Foundation.
 

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You are chasing a ghost. Amazon’s algorithms work in the way they want to work, and they will favor any product they want to favor. It’s a business process. You can call it cheat; it won’t matter. It won’t help you either.
Basically, as with any algorithm, their algos are designed to optimize sales. How good they are at this; I have no idea. But the algo itself is just one side of the story. The other side is tweaking. Algos function based on input data. Some data is automatically extracted from history; some data is inserted by their marketing teams. Their marketing teams will manipulate everything the designers of the business process allow them to manipulate.
As an example (a theoretical one, because it’s not possible to fully understand an algo based only on results): reviews and rating. I chose this because it offers more input than your complaint. They are not using a simple average. They are using a weighted average. Basically, that allows to manipulate the final mark. If we consider three books, all having one ‘one star’ and one ‘five stars’, a favored book will have a four stars average. A book toward which they are neutral will have three stars average (here is pure algo decision, without human intervention). One that is considered an ‘unwanted competitor’ for the books they want to promote will receive a two stars average.
For books with many reviews, some will have only positive on the first page; some will have only negative reviews on the first page. It’s again their way of promoting what they want to promote. Everything I wrote is just a theoretical example, as no one knows how it really works.
As I said, it’s a business process, created for their purposes, not ours, and there will always be a bias. How much a company can push bias on its customers depends on its strength in the market. We can only look at Amazon’s size. In a normal economy, Amazon would have not been allowed to be both seller of their own products and service provider. For whatever reason, it was allowed.
 

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Have you heard of de-indexing. I hadn't until Kathy Dee brought it up in another thread. There are 1000's of books published on Amazon everyday. If your book isn't selling it's slowly pushed down search results in favor of those new books. It slowly gets de-indexed.
I'm suddenly seeing this from Amazon's POV: they've created a platform where anyone can publish anything, in perpetuity. What will search look like when people have been publishing on the platform for 70 years? How will a reader find a book called Dead End when there are three thousand books titled Dead End on the site? So Amazon has designed a way to send a bunch of those books to the deep stacks, as it were. People will have to search by title and author to find those buried books. It's frustrating from our POV, but I do sort of get it.
 

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Discussion Starter · #19 ·
Basically, as with any algorithm, their algos are designed to optimize sales.
Fair enough. Perhaps you can then explain how hiding the book a customer is looking for in favor of 20 pages of books they aren't looking for optimizes sales?
 

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Discussion Starter · #20 ·
How will a reader find a book called Dead End when there are three thousand books titled Dead End on the site?
They could start by not showing them Thirty Days in the Samarkand Desert with the Duchess of Kent by A.E.J. Elliott O.B.E. followed by 400 other results that aren't titled Dead End.

So Amazon has designed a way to send a bunch of those books to the deep stacks, as it were.
Fine. Notify the author so they don't have to eat the marketing costs of thousands of dollars in lost sales.

The problem of the "deep stacks" was solved thousands of years ago without computers, Internets or "artificial intelligence." In fact, there's an entire field of academic study devoted to it. If Amazon wants to re-invent the wheel, they can explain why to their shareholders. Meanwhile their incompetence and irresponsibility does not obligate me to shell out more money and more time to compensate for the fact they have entire buildings of computers, highly paid executives and PhDs that can't find my book.
 
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