Wednesday, April 22, 2009

More on Amazon

Like many booksellers I legitimately use the 'update product info' button to correct errors in Amazon's catalogue. This is important because it stops customers being disappointed by the wrong edition, a hardback instead of a paperback, an edition by a different publisher etc. Sometimes author's names are not as they appear on the book, or as they are known, and this needs correcting. Last night I corrected four books. For the first time ever one of my updates was refused. The stock email from Amazon was:

Thank you for using the Catalog Update Form to send suggestions
At this time we cannot accept the correction you have submitted for one of the following reasons: - Could not verify - Incorrectly formatted - Provided URL did not confirm - Some data on high-profile items is not editable

So what contentious aspect did I try to change? Well they had the author's first name as 'editor'. It is actually Allan but 'editor' is not even likely. Clearly they have gone from letting whole sale rubbish through as changes which amounted to vandalism, to banning changes which anyone with any commonsense about books must see was right. Why can't changes be reviewed by a human? If that is too expensive how about authorising those with merchant accounts to make changes as merchants can be more easily dealt with by Amazon if they misused the system.

As I have been writing this another of my updates has been refused for a book with only one edition and one publisher but Amazon list the wrong publisher. My correction is declined for the same generic reasons above.

My advice to Amazon buyers would be that if it is really important to you to have a particular edition, or format, or illustrator, or any other variable, then use the enquire facility to check with the seller before ordering. They have the book in front of them and can tell you exactly what it is.

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.
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