This article is reprinted with permission from the North Carolina Writers' Network, www.ncwriters.org, and the author, Charles Fiore and originally posted on Thursday, February 11, 2021.
It had been a while, years even, since I last checked the status of my books on Amazon. When I finally took a look recently, I saw a lot of strange things. These oddities were easily resolved, but I thought it might be worth sharing what I found—and how I fixed it—in the off-chance it’s been a while since you checked your own books on Amazon. If you haven’t looked recently, you might want to.
When I searched for the novel on Amazon, the paperback product page appeared with a list price of $920.99 [sic]. While I found that somewhat flattering, let’s be honest: not even my mother would pay a thousand dollars for one of my books.
It also showed a pub date of January 1, 1642. Again, I’m old, but I don’t predate the founding of The College of William and Mary (est. 1693). My first thought was that perhaps the book was now out of print; publishers sometimes pulp remainders for tax purposes. But Livingston got back to me right away and assured me Green Gospel was still in print and available for sale at the reasonable price of $10 (after a decade, hey, a bit of a discount may be warranted).
So, I checked up on my products. Amazon offers an “Author Dashboard” that allows authors to easily update all of their books in one place. To access your own Author Dashboard, go to https://author.amazon.com/home and sign-in (or create an account). From there, you can “claim” the books you wrote so they all appear together on your dashboard.
I wasn’t able to fix these issues from my dashboard; my products were showing correct prices and pub dates on my dashboard, but not in my Amazon search results. So I reached out to customer service, here. They have an option for speaking to someone on the phone, and I asked for a rep to call me. They called me back within minutes.
With another of my books, my issues were resolved within an hour. The customer rep removed the bogus product page that showed the bad price and pub date, and now when I search for the book, the correct version with the correct price and pub date appears at the top of the search results.
With Green Gospel, it’s been more of a process. After 24 hours, the correct product now appears in my Author Dashboard and on my Amazon Author Page. However, searching for my book on Amazon still turns up the bogus product page with the inflated price. For my other book, the rep needed help from his supervisor to make it right; I may need to call back to fully resolve this issue with Green Gospel, and politely ask the rep to take it higher up the chain.
All this begs the question: why is this happening?
In both cases, independent bookstores, certified “Third Party Sellers” on Amazon, had posted these bogus product pages for my novels and, because they were trusted Amazon sellers, their product pages were getting prioritized in the search results. In a just world, the actual product pages would come up first, but we all realize by now that, despite this e-commerce behemoth’s many advantages, and disadvantages, justice doesn’t appear anywhere on Amazon’s mission statement.
What happens is, these indie bookstores list all of their stock on Amazon. So they tend to crank through their available inventory when listing it for sale online. To save time, instead of listing each book they carry by the book’s ISBN—which would be the sane and ethically correct thing to do, even if it took more time—they just assign an ASIN to each individual book and then, because ASINs require pub dates, they make up any date they want—Jan 1, 1642, for example.
Of course, this practice is terrible for authors and publishers. If someone reads my third novel, and likes it enough to want to go back and read my first, I want them to be able to find my first novel new for the publisher’s listed price of $10, not used for $1,000 from some online-only bookstore. Even if this reader buys it for a grand, I certainly don’t see any of that extra $990 above sales price, and neither does the publisher. Only the bookstore would stand to profit, after whatever cut Amazon takes.
Sadly, this is a wide-ranging practice, and I know that I am not the only author who’s dealt with this over the past year or two.
The only piece of the puzzle I haven’t figured out is why these third-party sellers listed my books for such a high price? My guess is that because Amazon works entirely on algorithms, and every product on Amazon has its own product page, the algorithm favors product pages with the highest listed price (and favors third-party sellers with high ratings). So a product page for Green Gospel listed at $1,000 from a highly rated third-party seller would come in way higher than its real product page, which lists the book at $10.
The third-party sellers figure, hey, best case scenario, someone is gullible enough to pay that; worse case scenario is they open the product page, click on “Bronze Classics,” the name of the third-party seller, and even if they don’t buy my book, they might buy something else from this retailer who shows a five-star, 96% satisfaction rating over the past twelve months.
It’s nefarious and bordering on illegal, in this author’s opinion, but no matter how much I encourage folks to buy my books from indies, plenty of people still prefer to buy their books on Amazon. Which as a reader and customer, honestly, I understand. As authors, though, we can’t ignore it or assume best practices. And we need to make sure our products are showing up on Amazon in a way that benefits our publishers and ourselves—the actual creators of these products. At any rate, unfortunately, in today’s literary ecosystem, keeping an eye on your books on Amazon is now a necessity.
Still, I’ll keep encouraging everyone to buy from their local bookstore. Because really, that’s the best answer, in the end.
Charles Fiore has served as the communications director for the North Carolina Writers' Network since 2011. He is the author of, most recently, the novel Coyote Loop (Adelaide Books, 2021). Visit him: LCFiore.com.