Wednesday, April 15, 2009

The books that don't exist on Amazon

Many, many bookdealers list on Amazon, and most of Ibooknet are among them. Amazon started off life selling new books, and its transition to selling used and rare books as well has not been without problems.

To give Amazon its due, it has tried to wrestle with the complications caused by a rigid system which only allowed the upload of books with an ISBN (thereby condeming hundreds of thousands of books to the netherworld that was Z-shops). Z-shops are now history, and the bookdealer can now upload any book by creating his own listing.

On other bookselling sites, what you upload is what you upload: so if you upload Agatha Christie's Nemesis as Nemesiss, Nemesiss is what will appear on the site. Amazon is different. It overwrites whatever title you upload a book with the title it has on its database (the matching is done via isbn or similar). It is this database that booksellers can add to or alter.

You might think that that solves all problems: and maybe it might if humanity were perfect. However, a random trawl around a popular title on Amazon (you might want to try Jill's Gymkhana by Ruby Ferguson) will show that humanity has problems when it comes to adding book data to Amazon: look at the tricky question of who actually wrote the book - was it Ruby Ferguson or Caney (the illustrator)? Added to this is Amazon's insistence that you must enter the correct date on which a book was published, and with a popular book that was reprinted several times you will have entry after entry for what is really the same book. You really don't want to try looking for a copy of The Silver Brumby's Daughter, by Elyne Mitchell.

Some people don't like this. They don't like it at all: so much so that they have decided to create listings highlighting the pointless duplication. If that was all they'd done, the problem would not be so serious. What they've also done is edit listings others have already created. Do a search on Amazon on duplication and you will see what I mean.

Many of these listings have been created quite legitimately and were correct: it is not necessarily the fault of the bookseller that other, virtually identical, listings have been created. If you've created a listing for the Beano Book 1977 and someone has changed the title for you to Duplicate Listing 1977, it isn't going to show up on a search for Beano. You won't sell the book, and until someone tells you what's happened to your listing, you're going to remain in happy ignorance.

You would think that Amazon would be worried about this: the descriptions are obviously completely inaccurate; some are defamatory; and there seems an obvious problem with a system that is supposed to be policed. To make an alteration to a listing you submit it to Amazon and a couple of days later you are told whether or not your changes are acceptable. The fact that all these changes have been passed ought to be telling someone, somewhere in Amazon that all is not well.

And they don't do a great deal for those booksellers who have been affected either. Amazon's response to far to complaints has been to ask which listings are affected. If you are a bookseller with 20,000 listings, this means checking each one individually on Amazon to see what has been affected, and of course as the guerrilla hasn't been stopped in their tracks, there's absolutely no guarantee that they, or anyone else who takes it into their heads, can't immediately alter back something you've changed. Checking every single listing every single day doesn't seem the best use of a bookseller's time, and it is of course throwing all responsibility off Amazon's shoulders straight back on to the bookseller.

The person or people making the changes should be easy enough to trace and remove from Amazon, but the main problem that Amazon need to address is policing additions and alterations to book listings. These have to be submitted to Amazon, and they should be checked by people who have been carefully briefed about what to be wary about: Duplication by No Author you might have thought would have rung a bell, but no.

So far Amazon's actions have been less than helpful. Watch this space: Ibooknet are not giving up and going away.

1 comment:

Juxtabook said...

Amazon's main problems seem to stem from their inability to listen to their customers, whether they are marketplace sellers or members of the public buying items from the site.

It falls down at the first point of contact as customer services often seem to know less about the way the site works than booksellers who ring or email with a quesry. The sugestion that booksellers affected by the listings vandalism should let Amazon know which of thousands of listings are affect is a fine example of this.

Customer services also seem to have little ability to liaise with the technical side of Amazon. Problems remain persistantly misundersood, and practical solutions are rarely forthcoming. It is a shame because there are many good things about the Amazon sites and if they would just work with their sellers more closely then the whole experience would be improved not just for the sellers but also for the customers.

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