AUPresses Session Notes: Amazon for Mere Mortals

by Laura


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Meredith Baker, Founder of Big River Consulting and Davida Breier, Director, HFS and Co-Director, Marketing and Sales, Johns Hopkins University Press shared their perspectives on how best to navigate the metadata challenges and maximize the likelihood of increased sales velocity when selling titles on Amazon during this AUPresses Annual Meeting session.

Amazon is Just Three Things: Databases, Warehouses, and Sales Velocity

Amazon defines sales velocity as the number and dollar amount of Seller account transactions during any given month. A high sales velocity is a key performance indicator for an Amazon account, so its A9 ranking algorithm analyzes sales results and increases the sales rank for products that sell well.

To maximize sales velocity, a Seller must have a cover image to surface, along with the following items that have the most influence on Amazon search results: keywords, titles, sub-titles, author names, series names, and categories index. As Meredith Baker notes, “Words in descriptions do not directly influence search results on Amazon, but words do influence Google search. Descriptions improve conversion rates, which increases visibility and sales velocity.”

Amazon Core Requirements+

Jeff Bezos launched an online bookstore in July 1994 called Amazon; understanding the algorithms utilized by Amazon to sell books will aid Sellers in increasing sales velocity. According to Baker, the following are key essentials in selling titles on Amazon:

  • “Inside the Book” increases sell through by 6.5%. Make sure all books are enrolled in the program;
  • Consumer reviews: more are better than fewer with high star ratings;
  • Series pages are an excellent way to promote multiple books in one location;
  • Kids books should be searched by grade level for schoolbooks or age ranges for home reading and should be included in keywords/description;
  • Keywords: Amazon allows up to 250 bytes for keywords, and;
  • A+ content increases sell through by up to 10%. Develop A+ content at the series level to set up multiple titles at once, use A+ content as a means of branding the publisher, and use A+ content to cross merchandise titles.

All About the Data

Publication dates must be correct by the release date. If the publication date is wrong, it will cause lifelong problems. Baker says, “Set the pub date at 30-35 days from in warehouse date. It is best to create an on-sale date, where the conversion rate is higher than a not yet released date.” Titles should be listed on Amazon six months prior to the publication date, providing authors and publishers time to promote pre-publication, giving Amazon the four-plus months it requires to complete its forecasting review to pre-order correctly, and ensuring that data is as close to final as possible. Baker stresses that, “Data for all formats (title, author name, description, etc.) should be identical, unless there is a unique feature to a given format.”  Baker recommends the following data management items to increase sales velocity:

  • Increase BISACs to get to three more specific Amazon sub-categories (not general);
  • Expand images under the cover image, and;
  • Advertise on Amazon

Source of Most Amazon Problems: Metadata, Metadata, Metadata

Davida Breier notes that Amazon is no longer book-centric; Amazon’s algorithms are designed to sell everything and books are now a small percent of sales. “Everything I am about to tell you assumes you, someone at your press, or your distributor has access to Vendor Central. A fresh ONIX feed or an order will fix many problems, but sometimes you have to contact Amazon to correct an issue. Authors will always find mistakes and problems before you will (usually at 5:15 p.m. on a Friday night).”

Breier states that the most common Amazon problems a Seller will confront are the following:

  • Paper, cloth, ebook, and/or audio not linking or two separate editions linking. This can be caused by multiple data sources (ebook/print) or slight differences in the data (e.g., using or not using an author’s middle initial);
  • Basic metadata errors. This can be caused by third party data feeds or trying to replace something on Amazon with nothing;
  • Amazon catalog errors. If a book is removed from a Seller’s catalog, ONIX updates might fail;
  • Price changes should be taken care of in a Seller’s ONIX, except when they are not. If the price change is made while Amazon is actively ordering, there may be problems;
  • Categories-Measure Twice, Cut Once. Know your BISACs and choose wisely;
  • Cover images. Add covers for all binding. If a Seller needs to replace a cover, Amazon will check the file to see if it is new. If Amazon rejects the new file, make sure the resolution is comparable to the old file;
  • Safewords can vary country to country and can inhibit or block searches and advertising. Amazon restricts many keywords and reviews others (e.g., marketing hyperbole, drugs, sexuality, false health claims);
  • Availability issues. Amazon cares about customer expectation first and foremost. Breier says, “Orders will cascade if stock is available (distributor, wholesaler, third-party seller) and explaining this to the author will be the hardest part. If orders are not in progress and there is demand, you can send a stock-up request;”
  • Author name errors can be minimized by using Author Central ( where books may be linked, approvals managed, and ranking and sales data viewed, and;
  • Copyright infringement issues may be reported to Amazon, which has become more Seller-centric over the past few years. Breier notes that, Amazon requires proof of infringement (e.g., plagiarism, trademark use, etc.).

Amazon is a key retail partner for many publishers, and the above insights shared by the panelists are aimed to help publishers “wrangle the behemoth.”

Article by guest contributor K. Page Boyer, Sheridan.

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