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Amazon Is Less Great for Customers and Indie Authors

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Amazon. Wow! It was the internet phenomenon that revolutionized retail selling through its ease of use and customer service.* Amazon's web site was secure and intuitive for users.

Yes, there were problems with pirates selling fake brand name merchandise, but customer reviews and refunds helped identify and solve problems. The items customers liked best became easy-to-find bestsellers.

Best Seller: Try to Find It!

In May of 2015, things changed. Perhaps Amazon was hard up for revenues and wanted to charge sellers to feature their products. That seemed like a good idea for Amazon as a business, but it turned into a bad idea when it eliminated "Best Sellers" from its familiar drop-down sort menu. You can sort items by "Relevance," "Price: low to high," Price: high to low," "Avg. Customer Review," and "Newest Arrivals." Moreover, when you independently search on categories of products, Best Sellers do not automatically appear; "Featured products appear."

You can still sort by Best Sellers, but you have to look along the left-hand rail to find the Best Seller link.

Another feature customers loved was the ability to search "New and Popular." The current "Avg. Customer Review" search filter will give a product with one five-star rating priority over a product that has 1,000 ratings with an average rating of 4.9 stars. Which one would you rather see first?

Amazon got rid of the customer search features that made Amazon unbeatable. It is as if Amazon decided it no longer wants to be number one with customers and is opening the door to competitors willing to fill the gap.

Indie Authors Are Rethinking Kindle Exclusivity

Yesterday, I exchanged emails with my friend, award winning crime thriller author Libby Hellmann, about eBook promotions. Authors used to be able to buy ad space from book newsletter publishers like Book Bub, Ereader News Today, and Free Kindle Books & Tips, rise up the ranks, and have it mean something in terms of long-term and "halo" sales. But about a year ago, after Amazon made its changes, authors found that even though they might reach the number one slot in various categories, their Kindle books were not visible to customers who used organic search tools.

Here are two examples why. I ran a promotion for the Kindle edition of my nonfiction memoir, Unveiled Threat: A Personal Experience of Fundamentalist Islam and the Roots of Terrorism. Libby ran a broader promotion for her award-winning thriller Nobody's Child. She rose up the ranks in the much more competitive genre of mysteries. Unveiled Threat, after achieving an overall Amazon rank of 1,900 was #1 in the Kindle Store > Kindle eBooks> Religion & Spirituality > Islam. Nobody's Child, after achieving an overall Amazon rank of 100 or so was #5 in the Kindle Store > Kindle eBooks > Mystery, Thriller & Suspense > Mystery > Private Investigators.

When I cleared my browser and searched these categories on Amazon, I couldn't find either Kindle book. Again, that's because Amazon serves up "Featured" Kindle books, not the "Best Sellers." Most customers do not realize that in order to see the true Best Sellers in these categories, they have to specifically ask for them. For example, to find Nobody's Child sorted by Best Seller, a Customer must click: Kindle Store > Kindle eBooks, then find and click the link for "Bestsellers," and then click through to > Mystery, Thriller & Suspense > Mystery > Private Investigators.

What does this mean for indie authors who provided so much original inexpensive content with broad customer followings and helped make Kindle a success? For most of them--other than the very top sellers--it means the way to promote their books has changed. The old methods are less effective; Amazon customers cannot organically find them. Indie authors have less incentive to stay exclusively with Amazon and may explore going wide by listing their eBooks with Amazon's competitors, as Libby Fischer Hellmann has already done.

* It also helped that Amazon initially collected zero sales tax from customers in states that levy sales tax; it was up to customers to report and pay taxes owed, where applicable. Only Oregon, New Hampshire, Delaware, Montanan, and Alaska do not levy a sales tax. Today, Amazon collects sales tax from customers in every state in which it has a physical presence.

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