Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Ethics and Amazon Best Seller Campaigns

I recently learned much to my chagrin that certain practices encouraged by the owner of Outskirts Press in his book Sell Your Book On Amazon are considered unethical. This has forced me to try to clean up the mess I created for myself with considerable time wasted in the process.  I had listened to the author's advice and written reviews on books that were similar to my own and then signed both my name and used the Amazon insert product link to create a link to my book's product page.

I never wrote any negative reviews, I have put too much work into my own books to trash another author's book, and own the books I reviewed. It simply never occurred to me that using the insert product link was an abuse of customer trust.  After learning this practice was frowned upon, I have been going back and deleting the link to my book's product page on each of the reviews I wrote.  I have left my name on the reviews with no information concerning the fact that I have authored several books. I feel like leaving a pseudonym is not fair, whether the review is positive or negative, people should know who the real author of the review is.

This has led me to think about the different Amazon features available to authors in a different light than before. Aaron Shepard talks about ethics and Amazon in version 2.0 of his book Aiming at Amazon. One of the recurring themes in these passages is honoring the trust of the customer. He is absolutely right on many different levels in this regard, making me just grimace over the fact that I had not thought things out more carefully before I engaged in what I now know to be unethical conduct.  Shame on me.

This has led me to consider the so-called Amazon Best Seller Campaigns.  I am very happy to say that I never engaged in that particular activity, both because I could not afford it financially and because it seemed like a scam.  It is and in more ways than one. The consultants who charge an author to put on such a campaign is essentially just taking money from the author. Once the campaign is over, the book will fall in sales rankings drastically and it is doubtful the author, if self-published, will ever sell enough books to recoup the money spent.

More importantly though, the author has scammed potential customers. Trust is key.  The customer is going to part with his or her hard earned money and in return for that money, the customer wants to be able to trust the transaction is what the author, or seller, claims it is. I have never purchased a book because of its Amazon Sales Ranking and don't know anyone who has.  But the title of "Amazon Best Seller" has gotten my attention about some books that I might not have otherwise considered. I know I don't want to be deceived and should treat all of my potential and actual customers the same as I would want to be treated.

Better late than never to realize these considerations must be part of how I do business on Amazon. I did not deliberately deceive anyone and am taking steps to clean up the "mess" I made for myself - it will take time - I wrote a lot of reviews.

I encourage other self-publishing authors to consider thinking about the ethics of how they use Amazon's many features and not make the same mistake I did. I also want to thank Aaron Shepard for taking the time to share his thoughts on ethical practices in using Amazon and for publishing them in his latest version of Aiming at Amazon.