When I broke the news yesterday that Amazon had dropped ebook discovery sites like eReaderIQ from its affiliate program, I argued that Amazon had decided to end its relationship with sites it thought it no longer needed.
Hugh Howey has a different take.
Writing over on his blog, Howey argues that this had less to do with expediency than with Amazon's desire to control the user experience.
In 2013, Amazon tried to influence the number of free ebooks that affiliate partners were driving readers toward. In 2016, Amazon is trying to influence the discounted ebooks that affiliate partners drive readers toward. What’s happening? Again, I don’t think it’s about money. I think it’s about customer experience.
Amazon is in a constant battle with those who attempt to understand and maximize their use of Amazon’s rank and sales algorithms. There is a lot of money to be made by people who find chinks in Amazon’s armor. Some of these parties are outright scammers, uploading stolen ebook content in new packaging, taking advantage here of the simplicity of KDP self-publishing. A recent scam involved putting links in ebooks that drove readers to the back of the book, getting credit for an entire read in Amazon’s Kindle Unlimited program. ...
One of the unintended consequences of Amazon’s affiliate program is how powerful these email blast discounters have become in shaping the Amazon bestseller lists. In a way, these websites have introduced Barnes & Noble style merchandising on a storefront that has prided itself on not having any merchandising dollars or effects whatsoever. Remember, Amazon is maniacally focused on the customer experience. They practically invented the reader review. They rely on also-boughts (books purchased alongside other books) and shopping/browsing histories to recommend titles to readers. The bestseller list, they hope, reflects what readers crave. Their idea is that this will maximize profits in the long run, because readers will more often than not be happy with their purchases, enjoy the read, and so come back for more.
That's an interesting argument, but I think I can see a few problems with it.
One, as anyone in publishing will tell you, Amazon accepts/extorts co-op fees from large publishers. Those fees affect a publisher's ranking in some non-visible way, so you can't really say that Amazon has no "merchandising dollars".
Two, Amazon games its own best-seller lists by giving Prime members a free copy of the books it publishes. The program is called Kindle First, and we get the ebooks the month before the book is officially published. Check out the free titles for June, and you'll see that they have been boosted to the top of the best-seller lists. (I'm looking at the best-seller list right now, and the six free titles for June currently occupy the top six spots.)
Three, Goodreads implies in its own FAQ that it will eventually accept paid placement in its ebook discovery service:
How much does it cost to have my deal included in Goodreads Deals?
We'll announce pricing soon. Stay tuned.
Howey may think that Amazon worships the best-seller list as the expression of what its customers really want, but that is certainly not what I see. I see a company which is gaming the list now and has done so in the past.
So no, I don't think Amazon is focused on the user experience here.
How about you?
image by Cubosh