For Publishers and Authors: How To Fix Problems on Amazon.com

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Annoying, isn’t it? Dmitri Barvinok shares our best practices for grappling with Amazon’s errors.

Amazon.com is one of the largest platforms for book distribution in the world, but the automation necessary to keep the behemoth running has resulted in many headaches for book publishers and authors. Below are the strategies the Front Edge Publishing team uses to navigate the mighty Amazon:

First, make sure you have inexhaustible patience.

At Ingram Lightning Source’s 2018 Indie Days Conference, publishers from around the U.S. expressed their frustration at the difficulty of fixing issues or inaccuracies on Amazon.com product pages. Even representatives from the Big Five publishing companies bemoaned their lack of access to helpful Amazon support. This suggests nobody in the industry has an easy, immediate fix. Instead, Front Edge Publishing staff have compiled a variety of strategies to assist readers and authors.

Amazon.com product page displaying ‘Temporarily Out of Stock’ 

One of the most common customer support complaints to Amazon.com stems from a specific Amazon.com product page displaying a ‘Temporarily Out of Stock’ message above the purchase button. This message frustrates authors and publishers because it frequently appears on product pages for books that are available through just-in-time or print on demand (POD) printing. Amazon.com’s virtual stock, the inventory-management concept that books can be printed at the time of ordering, is designed to assist distributors by allowing them to sell inventory that they don’t have to store in a warehouse. However, due to constantly changing Amazon.com algorithms and the challenge of maintaining a global ecommerce site, virtually stocked goods don’t always appear as such.

Front Edge Publishing solutions to this issue include:

  • Issuing a metadata refresh
    Sometimes, a ‘Temporarily Out of Stock’ message appears because Amazon.com did not correctly receive the metadata associated with your book. Metadata refers to all of the information about a book that is not the book content itself. This includes related ISBNs, marketing descriptions, suggested retail pricing, and much more. Resending a metadata feed, whether through your distributor or by updating a small section of the metadata you provide to Amazon.com will prompt Amazon.com to review the book’s metadata again, which can result in an updated product page.
  • Making sure the book is available from a variety of retailers
    Front Edge Publishing print books are available from Amazon.com, BarnesandNoble.com, the Front Edge Publishing bookstore and various reseller sites like Books-A-Million.com. If your books are available from a variety of retailers, Amazon.com issues will not be as disruptive to your sales. Barnes and Noble and your own bookstore may not be able to provide the Amazon Prime experience, but they will allow readers to purchase the book. If you run your own online bookstore, consider setting up special discounts for books with Amazon.com product page issues to offset your customer’s inability to use Amazon Prime for your book. 
  • Creating informative landing pages for readers
    You don’t have to worry about your biggest fans. They will find a way to purchase your book even if they can’t use their Amazon Prime benefits to do so. When working on Amazon.com fulfillment issues, we’re more concerned about readers who may not click away from Amazon.com because they’re unaware that the book they want is available elsewhere. They may not place an order on the Amazon.com page due to the ‘Temporarily Out of Stock’ message. If these customers go to Google and search for the book, they may only see the related Amazon pages at the top of the search results and conclude that the book is unavailable. That’s a lost sale. One strategy to help these readers is to create a keyword-laden landing page that attempts to catch the attention of Amazon.com shoppers looking for availability information. For example, the Solus Jesus landing page uses the keywords out of stock, fast shipping, new release and others to get the attention of readers searching for information before directing them to alternative ordering options.
  • Enrolling Kindle versions into the Matchbook program
    Creating eBook versions of your books is vital for keeping up with publishing trends, and Kindle editions are particularly helpful for Amazon.com issues. Not only do Kindle pages get synced with their corresponding print editions, providing additional purchasing options even on ‘Temporarily Out of Stock’ pages, but enrolling your Kindle book into the Matchbook program allows readers to get discounted or free copies of the Kindle edition after they’ve ordered the print edition, even if that print edition hasn’t shipped yet. This keeps readers engaged with your content while Amazon.com figures out their order. Consider setting up Kindle Matchbook to provide free eBook copies while a book page has ‘Temporarily Out of Stock’ messaging and add this information to the related landing page.
  • Updating retail discounts for individual books
    Industry leaders like Ingram and trade publications suggest that updating the retail discount for a book may be a tool to help reduce availability issues like ‘Temporarily Out of Stock’ notices. Retail discount refers to the discount percentage a retailer enjoys when purchasing products to resell. A full trade discount, recommended by many when selling on Amazon.com is 53% or more of the suggested retail price of the book. Note that updating a book’s retail discount to 53% is not a guaranteed solution, as the book may still encounter issues on Amazon.com. In some cases, it’s also not an appropriate solution in terms of royalty sustainability for the author or publisher.

Amazon.com product page displaying ‘This item is only available from third-party sellers’

A book sales page on Amazon.com may provide fulfillment through a reseller, and not Amazon.com directly. This can cause issues for both POD publishers and Big Five publishers, as reseller sales don’t always result in royalties for the author of a book. This is an ongoing issue and stems from a recent Amazon.com change regarding its policy for buy button ownership, a move that is widely considered to be harmful to the publishing industry. Being the publisher of a book is no longer enough to maintain ownership of the buy button. 

Front Edge Publishing solutions to this issue include:

  • Following security practices for advance reader copies (ARCs) and review copies
    One of the biggest issues associated with third-party resellers is the risk of a reseller selling a book that did not originally generate royalties for the author. Usually, this means a reseller is selling a promotional copy, ARC or review copy. That’s why Front Edge Publishing follows best practices for ARCs and review copies, including the use of secure digital ARCs, not-for-resale banners on the covers of advance copies, and careful selection of review copy mailings. By following these practices, Front Edge Publishing ensures that even if a reseller does sell a Front Edge book, they originally had to purchase their copy from Front Edge Publishing partner print-binders, which generates an associated royalty for the author.
  • Keeping authors and readers informed while continuing to apply fulfillment solutions
    One frustration associated with third-party resellers is an inability to control the listed price on Amazon.com. Authors and publishers are very sensitive to the suggested retail price they charge to their readers, and the delicate balance between maximum author royalty and reader accessibility is easily disrupted by third-party resellers charging more than the suggested price. That’s why it is important to continually inform authors and readers of fulfillment issues and alternate purchasing pathways. Many of the strategies discussed above, such as metadata refreshes, can also be effective at fixing Amazon.com product pages displaying the ‘This item is only available from third-party sellers’ message.

There are many issues to consider when selling on Amazon.com. In fact, there are even some strategic advantages to keep your book off of Amazon.com in the first place. That’s certainly one way to make sure you never have to deal with product page problems.

Do you need help fixing Amazon.com problems?

Amazon.com fulfillment and product page issues are an ongoing problem in the publishing industry. This page will be updated with additional information and strategies as the situation develops.

Front Edge Publishing uses proprietary software to track Amazon.com sales page issues as they arise in order to initiate the above strategies as early as possible. Would you or your publishing organization benefit from early detection of Amazon.com sales page issues? Sign up below to receive beta and launch information for the Front Edge Publishing Distribution Monitoring Tool. This mailing list is strictly for beta and launch information. We do not spam.

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About Dmitri Barvinok

Director of Production Dmitri Barvinok works on the digital development, print layout and distribution of new books. He coordinates Front Edge editors and designers and works with the BookEdge software suite.