Amazon is Now Punishing Authors for Running BookBub Promotions

Amazon is Now Punishing Authors for Running BookBub Promotions Kindle (platform) Self-Pub

It is SOP in 2017 for authors to buy space in a BookBub or other sales promotion email so they can boost their ebook sales, but given how Amazon is letting its bots run amok authors might want to reconsider.

There are numerous reports on KBoards from authors who have had an ebook "rank-stripped" within minutes of a BookBub promotion email arriving in readers inboxes.

For example:

Our VEIL KNIGHTS series promo got rank stripped on a 99c BB promo just a few weeks back.

and

Welp, I had a bookbub today for a 3 year old permafree wide book. I was at maybe #475 in the free store at the start of the day, before the email went out. I'm already rank stripped. Fingers crossed that my ranking is restored.

and

I have a Bookbub today. I was at #4 free. This is the only time really that I check ranking.

Well, the ranking is gone.

Thanks, Amazon.

The problem is automation run amok.

Amazon's bots can't tell the difference between an author running a legitimate promotion and a scammer who is gaming the system. As a result, Amazon is punishing authors for the crime of promoting their books.

Edit: "Rank-stripping" is the term for when a book is removed from the best-seller lists. This hurts the author by reducing their visibility, and thus costing them sales.

Some books are only punished for a few hours, but not all, and to make matters worse, Amazon waits a week before telling authors they've been punished for using BookBub.

If your rank isn't returned in a couple of hours and it's really strip-stripped, the 'naughty' mail won't come for another WEEK. Unless you're proactive. Then they'll send you boilerplate naughtiness in reply.

I contacted Amazon before starting this post, and have not received a response.

Some have tried to justify the punishments by saying that Amazon doesn't want sales spikes, but that makes no sense given that Amazon has a competing email promo service run by Goodreads. (Curiously, there are no reports of a Goodreads-promoted title being de-ranked.)

While Amazon might not have intended to punish authors who use BookBub, that is the result of the system Amazon built. And frankly, it is an inevitable result given that Amazon is a firm believer that they should never hire a person if a bot can fill the role.

Obviously that concept just is not working, but there is little chance of Amazon responding to the fundamental problem and hiring more people to run the Kindle Store.

Edit: Amazon has responded:

Amazon monitors a variety of activities to detect efforts to manipulate sales rankings. While we don’t disclose the methods we use to detect this type of abuse, our focus is on suspicious activity, not any particular promotional program that publishers and authors may use. As always publishers and authors are responsible for any third-party marketing activities used to promote their books, and so are strongly encouraged to make sure these activities don’t manipulate our services. If a publisher or author believes there has been an error, they should contact us directly and we will investigate.

image by Micah Sittig

About Nate Hoffelder (11082 Articles)

Nate Hoffelder is the founder and editor of The Digital Reader:

“I’ve been into reading ebooks since forever, but I only got my first ereader in July 2007. Everything quickly spiraled out of control from there. Before I started this blog in January 2010 I covered ebooks, ebook readers, and digital publishing for about 2 years as a part of MobileRead Forums. It’s a great community, and being a member is a joy. But I thought I could make something out of how I covered the news for MobileRead, so I started this blog.”

14 Comments on Amazon is Now Punishing Authors for Running BookBub Promotions

  1. Serious question: is there any hard evidence that rankings matter? I’ve bought 2000+ e-books, the great majority from Amazon, and I’ve never deliberately looked at a book’s ranking and don’t believe a ranking has ever influenced a purchase decision. I’m only a single data point so this means nothing by itself, but am I really so atypical?

    Where I could be affected is via Amazon’s emailed recommendations and “also boughts” so if the bots actions are also impacting these a – new to me – author might loose out, though I suspect that this loss would be much less significant than the gain from visibility on Bookbub.

    A final question: is it only free books that are being impacted? I can’t see why Amazon should suspect scamming if real money is being paid (unless the books are mostly being returned, when it is a scam.)

    • Obviously Amazon thinks that it matters. Why else would punish stripping that ranking, much less track rankings in the first place.

      No offense but I’m guessing they know more than you.

    • Sales Rank decides placement in all the various charts on Amazon, as well as lots of other visibility on site. It also triggers huge email blasts the higher you go. Rank is important. Stripping rank is a big punishment – you disappear instantly from the charts and become pretty much invisible to the wider recommendation engine on Amazon.

  2. Obviously Amazon thinks that it matters. Why else would punish stripping that ranking, much less track rankings in the first place.

    No offense but I’m guessing they know more than you.

  3. Sounds like this is BookBub’s problem and they should either fix it or close shop.

  4. I think the answer is for authors to create a database of their readers, maybe using email to communicate. Then, instead of having a rush for a free/discounted book, the author can selectively roll out the deal. Also, the author could sell their books directly, save a bunch of money, bypassing the silly Amazon DRM.

    There is at least one author I know of that uses this technique, where you get a free ebook for signing up for the email list, and you continue to get freebies and offers for purchase.

    I think there are many benefits to authors, or any business, from direct communication with customers, bypassing Amazon or publishers.

    • BookBub and others should also consider targeting deals to specific users, so that it all doesn’t pop at one time. I see too many books from these kind of sites that are of zero interest to me, they should also let users define their interests a bit better.

  5. @randy lea “bypassing the silly Amazon DRM”

    KDP authors are in no way required to use DRM

  6. Thanks, my bad. I have heard authors complain about their DRM before, but that’s been quite a while ago.

  7. I went to look up a guy’s stats using kindlespy, because he was promoting a course on marketing – it seemed sensible to see if he’d actually made any sales before I did the course – and he’s been rank stripped…

  8. After a 3-day paid promotion for a discounted book bundle back in July, I was rank stripped and had my Pages Read also stripped. While Amazon returned my ranking after a week, they refused to return my pages read, which was over 1 million pages. I have repeatedly sent emails and have gotten absolutely nowhere. They accused me of manipulating page reads, which I absolutely have not done! As of this date, they have refused to answer my emails. I’m heartbroken and out thousands of dollars.

    • Contact the BBB first. Report them. When they fail to respond, make sure they get dinged. Make sure anyone you know does it as well. Make sure you get a finding that shows they didn’t do anything to justify their actions. Then enter the proceedings to get your money. Don’t hesitate. After you have them failing to respond to complaints, you’ll have evidence of bad faith.

  9. Hi Nate,

    I don’t think this is accurate at all.

    I’ve had direct reports of something like 40 different authors who were ranked stripped. Most shared comprehensive details of what promo was involved.

    1. Some were in KU.
    2. Some were wide.
    3. Some used BookBub.
    4. Some did not use BookBub.
    5. Some were free.
    6. Some were paid.
    7. Some used other ad sites.
    8. Some used no ad sites.
    9. Some only used FB ads.
    10. Some only used AMS ads.
    11. Some only hit their list.

    The only pattern I can see, after thoroughly examining the data, is that all these books were visible in the charts. That’s leading me to suspect there is something malicious at play, rather than a fraud detection system gone awry.

    Some are theorizing that Amazon is targeting BookBub or wants to force people to use AMS. The evidence simply doesn’t support that.

    • Here’s my guess based on your comment. If I were a nefarious bot (which I’m not) and I wanted to make my clicks look legitimate, I would also target books in the Top 100 to obfuscate my records. I would choose them at random and cycle through a few each day. For Amazon, it’s really NOT THAT HARD to think like a scammer and then prepare for that. But once again, they’re more likely to shoot first and ask questions later because they hold all the cards. I feel bad for the people who get caught up in the bot nets and then can’t convince Amazon they were a free-swimming fish before that happened. I really wish they would listen instead of turning off communications and walking away.

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