Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Understanding The Tools Of The Amazon Trade

A recent discussion on the Kindleboards forum along with some recent comments here indicate there continues to be misunderstanding around Amazon's category tags as well as its "also bought" lists (aka alsobots). This week I'll not only try to demystify how these tags and lists work in general but explore how their behavior changes when a book is listed as free and how those changes may or may not have an impact on the paid side. Even if you understand the basics, there may still be a surprise or two lurking in their behaviors.

Today we'll look at category tagging and talk alsobots on Saturday.

Books And Kindle Catalogs: There Is A Difference

Amazon gives Kindle books greater visibility than print books by pushing Kindle books through two separate catalogs: the Kindle catalog and the Books catalog.

The Kindle catalog excludes books that are only available in print and displays the Kindle version as the default for any title that gets clicked on.

The Books catalog includes books that are only available in print and displays the print version as the default for any title that gets clicked on.

While there's a lot of commonality between the two catalogs in how they work to display bestsellers and most popular books, there are also some important differences in how a book might behave in each catalog. These differences, some of which we'll discuss below, are at the heart of many of the misunderstandings around category tagging. If you didn't realize until now there are two separate but equal catalogs your Kindle book could be displayed in, don't feel bad -- you're not alone.

Another thing to realize is that even if your book is ranked in the Top 100 of more than 1 genre or in more than 1 catalog, it's very possible for only 1 of those Top 100 rankings to be displayed. DON'T PANIC. Your book will display in the appropriate bestseller lists, which is what matters.

Number Of Categories

Perhaps the biggest misunderstanding is around how many categories Amazon allows a book to be in. Do you know? I bet many of you answered 2. That, however, isn't the full answer (and has nothing to do with the change in number of categories allowed that took place over a year ago).

Amazon allows a book to be in only 2 categories in the KINDLE catalog. KDP Customer Service will work with you to place a book in additional categories in the BOOKS catalog. I won't debate the ins and outs of whether 2 or 3 or 4 or 16 is the appropriate number that should be allowed as Amazon limited the number to 2 last year for a reason. Something wasn't working for them either from the customer satisfaction side or the technical side, and Amazon has been pretty adamant about the restriction since. I also won't debate the fact that some larger publishers are allowed 1 or 2 more categories than the rest of us (however, see the exception at the end of this post). I can't very well cry that it's unfair that publishers are offered that perk when the ability to pulse my book free is a perk that those same publishers either don't have, don't want or don't exploit.

The main difference in visibility between the Kindle categories and the Books categories is that a customer browsing from their Kindle or app will see only the Kindle catalog and be able to find your book in only those 2 categories. That means if you want the maximum amount of exposure, the Kindle categories you choose need to be dead on. Treat the Book categories as nice-to-haves but not essential. I made this very mistake and talk about it here (under the "Category Tagging" head).

Conversely, get on as many Books categories as the KDP Customer Support team will let you have. Just don't request more than 2 Kindle categories and they will likely be quite accommodating -- up to a point.

Exploiting The Categories

Of course you want your book in categories that make sense for it. Of course I'm going to use one of my books as an example ;o).

SECTOR C is a near-future medical thriller. Although the categories I've selected for it are arguably not the most appropriate, they are the best on offer. Why the Books categories differ from the Kindle ones, I haven't a clue and am as frustrated by it as you.

You'll note the book has the maximum 2 Kindle categories plus 4 Books categories. When you choose the categories, drill down as far as possible across the genres. Why? Because everywhere you see a blue link is a potential Bestseller or Popularity list where your book could show up. The more granular you go, the wider your exposure.

Note that on your product page, Amazon will only ever list the entire category line/breadcrumb/ thread/chain/whatever. For instance, while my book may be #2 in Medical Thrillers and #10 in Thrillers, someone coming to your product will never see that it's #10 in Thrillers. They will always see:

Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,352 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)

This isn't a bad thing. While it might be convenient for you to know the book is #10 without having to visit the Thriller Bestseller to find out, the reader is already on your page, sees the #2 ranking and makes their decision to buy or not. It doesn't matter that the #10 ranking doesn't show on your page; it only matters that your book shows up in the #10 spot on the Thriller Bestseller list -- which it will.

*Note: SECTOR C was the #2 Medical Thriller for much of January. 


If it makes sense for your book to straddle two genres, be sure to put it in both of those genres in the Kindle catalog so readers using their Kindles can browse to it from either genre.

There's an exponential increase in visibility when you exploit more than one genre category. For instance, I could have chosen to put my book into 2 science fiction categories:

Kindle Store > Kindle eBooks > Science Fiction > High Tech
Kindle Store > Kindle eBooks > Science Fiction > Adventure

That, however, would mean my book might rank #3 in High Tech and #5 in Adventure but one step up from each of those subcategories is the same Science Fiction Bestseller list where it's #10. It wouldn't matter whether there was only 1 subcategory or 50, the book would appear on the overall Science Fiction list regardless.

With both a Science Fiction path and a Thriller path covered in its Kindle categories, SECTOR C has the potential to be listed in the both "Tech" subcategories, the major Science Fiction and Thriller categories, the even more major Mystery & Thriller category and on the overall eBooks lists.

Now, Amazon will helpfully add your book to the same Books catalog categories if there's a direct match available. If there isn't, bots will scan your title and blurb and see if they can figure out the closest match. Sometimes the match is right, sometimes it isn't. If it isn't right, don't be afraid to email KDP and ask that they change that path to one that's more appropriate. Remember, they won't change it to a third Kindle category but they will usually make accommodations for a third Books one.

For instance, Amazon kindly added SECTOR C to Medical Thrillers in Books when I asked them to:

Books > Mystery, Thriller & Suspense > Thrillers > Medical

Unhelpfully, there is no corresponding Medical Thriller category for the Kindle catalog.

So what do you do if you find a Kindle category you'd like you're book in but you can't choose that category from your Dashboard? First, if you have it in 2 Kindle categories, you need to remove one of the category tags from your book. Next, choose "Unclassifiable" and then email KDP Support, providing them the exact path you'd like for your book, such as:

Kindle Store > Kindle eBooks > Science Fiction > High Tech

Your book should be moved to the revised category within a couple of days. Note that KDP Support will not remove a category for you that you can remove yourself.

What Changes When A Book Is On A Free Run

Something you may not have realized is that when your book goes free, it no longer shows up in the Books catalog.

Carried further, it means your book will not have a ranking on its product page for its Books categories.

Taking that one step further, a free book can have at most only the 2 Kindle category breadcrumbs/chains associated with it. Don't bother looking for any more.

And Of Course...

There are always exceptions. I never asked for additional categories for Vet Tech Tales, yet the Amazon bots automatically added a similar and additional Kindle category to the book, breaking its own rules.

Why? I suppose if I knew the answer to that I'd be working for Amazon ;o).

1 comment:

Eres said...

your blog is invaluable! thank you so much!