There’s no question that Amazon dominates the way books are sold in America. The online retailer accounts for over 50% of all print sales and over 70% of all e-book sales. Some see their power as a negative influence, but there are two sides to every story.
Amazon also brings a positive benefit to the publishing industry, which includes constant innovation and a willingness to address bad actors using their system. An example of this issue is a recent overhaul that Amazon made to its book categories.
If you’re unfamiliar with categories, consider them like shelves of books on Amazon’s website arranged by genre. They’re made up of a category, subcategory, and placement category. For example, History > US History > 19th Century. There are broad categories for all types of books, such as:
Literature & Fiction
However, Amazon likes to take their category system to an extreme level in order to help readers find exactly the book they want to buy. Examples of these quirky categories include:
Pacific Islanders Biographies
Canning & Preserving Cookbooks
Children’s Boats & Ships Books
British & Irish Dramas & Plays
Military Mystery Thrillers
Catholic Christian Saints
Inner Child Self Help
There are over 10,000 peculiar book categories on Amazon. When shoppers understand how to browse the category system, it makes the process easier to discover new books. In addition, there are completely separate categories for e-books versus print books. Plus, a book can be placed into several separate categories at the same time.
More importantly, each distinct category has its own Top 100 Bestseller List, which reflects the top-selling books on Amazon’s website over the past 24 hours. It’s not a “real bestseller list,” though, because it is updated every two hours. That means a book can appear and disappear on the same day. In essence, you could be #1 at 3:00pm and drop down to #11 by 5:00pm.
Some categories, such as the broad fiction and nonfiction categories, are very competitive and hard to rank within the Top 100. However, the more obscure categories, such as “Children’s Boats & Ships Books” or “Inner Child Self Help” have a lot less competition. Thus, it’s easier to make the list or even hit the top spot.
If your book appears at the top of a category “Best Seller list,” then Amazon displays a bright orange badge next to your book cover that says “#1 Best Seller in Category X.” This Best Seller badge can be seen all over Amazon’s website, including search result pages, book details pages, Amazon ads, and the top of the Best Seller category pages.
Many authors view this “Best Seller” exposure as free marketing that helps drive more book sales. However, I disproved this viewpoint after experimenting with being #1 in a category for multiple weeks and never seeing any extra sales increase. But, I digress.
Author fascination with book categories brings us to a real problem of bad actors using Amazon’s system in an unethical manner. Specifically, some authors have been trying to game the system by moving their books into unrelated, obscure categories hoping to win the #1 slot and get a “Best Seller” badge.
Some authors constantly change the categories for their books or move their books into irrelevant genres hoping to trick Amazon’s system. If successful, these authors claim their books are a “#1 Bestseller on Amazon,” believing they can fool people into thinking they sold more books than they really have.
In reality, though, you can be a #1 Best Seller on Amazon and sell less than 15 books a day. Such a tiny amount does a disservice to the word, “bestseller.”
Obviously, this shady behavior makes a mockery of Amazon’s website and erodes reader trust in the system. Over the past few years, the problem has gotten out of hand.
Fortunately, Amazon recently addressed the issue and made a complete overhaul to their category listings. Per their new guidelines, below are several updates that you need to know:
1. If you’re a traditionally-published author, your publisher will still select the categories for your book. So, you will have to accept whatever they choose.
2. If you’re a self-published author using Amazon’s KDP system, you can now choose only three Amazon categories for the e-book and print versions of your book. In the past, you could choose up to 10 categories. But, those days are over.
3. Amazon reserves the right to change the categories of your book at any time to ensure a positive customer experience. The categories that you select and the categories shown online may not always match.
4. The biggest news is that Amazon is no longer accepting requests to add or update categories. After you make your initial selection, you can’t make more changes.
5. Amazon may add your book to additional or different categories to improve the customer experience.
6. After you add or update your book categories, Amazon will review your changes to ensure they provide a positive customer experience.
7. Amazon will not tolerate inaccurate or unexpected categorization that misleads or manipulates readers. Your book categories must comply with all guidelines.
I applaud Amazon taking action to shut down attempts by shifty authors to game the category listings. The system is now a more level playing field for everyone.
However, this means you need to be aware of the new guidelines for selecting book categories and understand how to choose correctly.
My online course, Mastering Amazon for Authors, has been fully updated within the last 30 days to include all of the new information about categories. You will find step-by-step video tutorials that explain how to select the right categories for your book. The process involves less guesswork and is easier than ever.
If you’re planning to self-publish a book on Amazon and want the latest information on marketing, advertising, and uploading your manuscript correctly, you will love my course.
Amazon is always innovating and looking for ways to improve their publishing and book-buying experience.
Click here to discover how Mastering Amazon for Authors will help you stay on top of everything you need to know.