Book Reviews, Business, Marketing, Writing Business

Manipulating Amazon’s Algorithms to Boost Book Sales?

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Last weekend, I was introduced to a new service called Author Trade which claims it can boost your book sales.  Now, I’m no rookie, I know  how hard it is to sell a book.  I know there’s no hocus pocus or pixie dust that can magically make your book sell.  I’ve read all the blogs, books and even attended webinars only to be disappointed.

But I can’t resist a publishing hack, so I clicked on the ad and was taken to a site where I saw the slogan, “Bringing Authors Together with Other Authors!” spelled out in bold letters.  Already, I didn’t like the sound of this.

How it all Works

Author Trade is a collective of authors buying and reviewing each others books to drive up their Amazon rankings.  Yes, they buy each other’s books!  The concept being, when anyone buys your book on Amazon, it immediately goes up the sales ranking giving it higher visibility.  Books with good sales are put on Amazon lists such as; Hot New Releases, Movers & Shakers, Top Rated and Most Wished For, just to name a few.  The idea being, more visibility, equals more sales.  In essence, this service can and will work but there’s more to the story…

As I investigated, I learned that in order to qualify for this service, your book must be priced at $0.99.  But that’s not all, there’s also a monthly $9.99 fee, after a free trial.  After you pay, you’ll be matched with authors in a similar niche but there’s no guarantee that anyone will purchase or review your book.

It Only Gets Worse

If you scroll to the bottom of the page, you’ll see they’re an Amazon Affliate, which has some authors believing that Amazon is somehow involved.  Just check out this thread on Absolute Write.  However the reality is, anyone with a website can open an affiliate account on Amazon.

Checking out the pages of the website, I saw testimonials from authors with no apparent last names.  Either these people don’t exist, or they’re too embarrassed to be associated with the company.  The first of many red flags.

As if that weren’t bad enough, here’s a direct quote from the site: AuthorTrade.com’s involvement is completely unknown to the public. Only you, your publisher (if you have one), and the author you’re trading with will know the secret to your marketing genius.

Hear that?  You’re not desperate, you’re a marketing genius!

Unlearned Lessons

Trying to manipulate Amazon’s algorithm isn’t anything new, in 2009, an author claimed he bought his way up the Amazon bestseller list by purchasing his book once a day.  He also rated and reviewed his own book as well.  Shockingly enough, he wrote a book about the whole experience, which was quickly removed by Amazon after the story got a little media attention.  He was also penalized by Amazon and all his fake reviews were eventually deleted.

Author Trade seems to be taking a page out this guy’s book.  Manipulating a website’s algorithm whether it be Amazon, Google or B&N has serious consequences, just read their TOS and Community Guidelines.

Why You Shouldn’t do it: An Opinion

Needless to say, if Amazon finds out what you’re up to, your book can and will be pulled from their site and you can even find yourself banned.  They don’t want blind quid pro quo on their site.  Many authors are already finding their book reviews on Amazon being deleted with little or no warning whatsoever.

There is a reason why Author Trade promises secrecy, because once readers find out there was a circle of authors buying and reviewing each other’s book, there will be a backlash.  Remember when John Locke wrote a how to book on self-publishing?  It was touted by many as the Bible of indie-publishing.  However, when it was discovered he was paying for reviews, several authors demanded their money back.  What he did was small potatoes compared to what Author Trade is doing.

Going Over to the Dark Side?

In several of my marketing groups, I’ve noticed the gradual acceptance of paid reviews and even paying for fake social media fans.  In fact, just several days ago, an indie author recommended a reviewer on Fiverr who promised to leave reviews wherever you needed them.  That wasn’t surprising, what I found shocking were the dozens of people thanking her and promising to check it out.

Number one, this is wrong and illegal!  If you pay for a review, you and the reviewer MUST give a disclaimer.  Why?  Because in the U.S. there’s a law about transparency.  However with AT, there are no disclaimers here, because technically, the reviewer purchased the book seeking a return on the favor.  Since no cash was exchanged, there’s no need for the disclaimer.  It’s a loophole that customers of Author Trade use to their advantage.

Secondly, what will happen when you stop using this program?  I’m gonna guess that your book falls right back down the rankings.  So what’s the point?  I don’t see this method being any better than the KDP Select program.  Sure it’ll get you visibility but then what?

Look, I know the Dark Side has cookies and all, but remember in the end, they always lose!

I’ve said enough, now it’s your turn, have you ever been tempted to do something questionable in order to get ahead in publishing?  Better yet, do you know of someone who has?  Dish in the comments section.

 

Update: Author Trade is now defunct but there are other people offering these types of services so I’ll leave this post up for future authors.

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7 thoughts on “Manipulating Amazon’s Algorithms to Boost Book Sales?”

  1. I’ve never been tempted to do something like this. It would be dishonest, deceptive, and manipulative. I’m not naive enough to believe that the best fiction sells best. Reading a few bestsellers should be sufficient to dispel that belief. Good books (admittedly a subjective term) can be difficult to find. Marketing makes books easier to find, but it does not make them good. We each have to decide the goals that are important to us and then choose what to do to achieve them. My choice, for what it’s worth, is to read the kind of books you like to read and write the kind of books you want to read. This isn’t a recipe for financial success, but that has never been my goal as a writer.

    1. I agree Dave, publishing isn’t a get rich scheme, it’s a career. If you want a long career, you need a good product, and excellent customer service. If readers find out you’ve been a part of a group of authors buying and reviewing books, they will crucify you. I hope authors will be smart and think about the consequences.

  2. If this site is an actual Amazon affiliate, then not only are they making $9.99 a month per author who is signed up, they are also getting a cut of every one of the sales that are made through links posted on the site.

    Being an actual writer really is the bottom of the food chain these days, isn’t it?

    1. Sadly, it seems so. I need to start selling something other than books, because this is not where the money is. Maybe I’ll start hitting the speaking circuit like most authors do. 🙂

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