Fixing Book Rankings

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Margo
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Re: Fixing Book Rankings

Post by Margo » August 30th, 2012, 2:48 pm

Hillsy wrote:The customer is always right, right? - but doing so in the manner of a prize idiot.
If the titles were in the bestseller list, several hundred customers per day were purchasing the titles. But those customers are wrong?
Hillsy wrote:Taking the facts as reported (B&N knocking some books down the top 100 list so they don't appear on recommndation lists for customers) - I don't think this is censorship.
It's not about taking them out of personal recommandations lists. Taking them off the bestseller list can't do that, because the recommendations are based purely on sales (not ranking) to people with similar buying habits. What removing them from the list does do is deny the title visibility with people who actively shop off the bestseller lists. As someone who has actually been on these lists, I can tell you placement there is worth a LOT of money.

If we're good with B&N taking the actual bestsellers off the list, I assume we are also good with them...say...selling spots on the list. For instance, St. Martin's can pay $100k to have their latest title show up as the #3 title on all of B&N for 2 weeks. Without, of course, telling the readers that the placement is paid rather than based on actual sales. So long as it's the right kind of book, I'm sure. Preferably a thriller written by a traditionally published man, not a romance from a self-published woman (though one of the authors recently hit was a fairly well-known romance author with several small presses). And if it hasn't occured to anyone that there's a gender issue at work here, I suggest getting more familiar with the recent happenings with PayPal, AllRomance, BookStrand, the Amazon filter, etc.

And now, I think I'm going to leave this topic alone as it is pretty much a repeat of the PayPal sweep six months ago, aimed at romance this time instead of erotica. Maybe they can go after violent thrillers next time and work their way toward offensive books like The DaVinci Code (because a LOT of people were offended by that one. Not me, but the customers who are offended are always more right than the customers who aren't).
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Doug Pardee
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Re: Fixing Book Rankings

Post by Doug Pardee » August 30th, 2012, 3:51 pm

Margo wrote:So smut includes erotic romance with no naughty words in the title and a cover tamer than most romances? Interesting.
It's probably a matter of expedience. They probably blocked "erotica." I wouldn't expect B&N to have someone who sits around making judgment calls on what's an acceptable cover and what isn't, even if BN.com did have its act together, which it doesn't. Heck, they can't even respond to complaints about inappropriate postings in their customer book reviews.

In my view, it's not reasonable to expect much out of BN.com. It's flailing around like a drowning man, and with the same effectiveness. Although BN.com was "born" about a year after Amazon, it's never turned a profit. In general, the more it sells, the bigger loss it reports. B&N finally quit reporting BN.com financial results separately; the last quarter they reported (3Q2012), BN.com lost $93.7 million... in three months that included last Christmas season. BN.com appears to be grossly understaffed, and I've seen the site be seriously crippled for an entire weekend until someone came in to work on Monday morning and fixed it.

B&N is fighting for survival*. Worrying about "fairness to authors" is probably a ways down on their priority list.

* B&N's bookstores are still a solidly profitable business. It's everything else that's dragging the company down into the red, but B&N doesn't see their future as one of simply running bookstores.

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Mira
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Re: Fixing Book Rankings

Post by Mira » September 1st, 2012, 12:00 am

Doug, you said:

'B&N is fighting for survival*. Worrying about "fairness to authors" is probably a ways down on their priority list.'

I agree they are fighting for survival, but I disagree that they have more important things to worry about. I think they are being really dumb if they alienate authors in any way. I know B&N is more allied with Traditional Publishers, but alienating the indie community is a terrible business move. Indies are very outspoken on the net, and negative impressions can spread fast. In addition, B&N is soliciting business from indie authors, and it's nuts for them to alienate any market right now.

Indies rely on the accuracy of the rating system, so this would make them very uneasy. In addition, erotica authors are a strong community, and it would be unwise to alienate them as well.

Manipulating rankings brings author trust into jeopardy, and that is a very bad move right now. B&N should be very concerned about negative word of mouth through the web.

They have other options, this is a bad one, imho.

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Re: Fixing Book Rankings

Post by LurkingVirologist » September 1st, 2012, 7:41 pm

Margo wrote:
Doug Pardee wrote:
Margo wrote:it's B&N manipulating their bestseller list.
I'm a regular participant on the B&N forums, and I can guess that this is due to the regular pressure on those forums for B&N to "stop peddling smut to our kids."
So smut includes erotic romance with no naughty words in the title and a cover tamer than most romances? Interesting.

I think any company that tries to contort it's way through the truly byzantine maze of American sexual-content neuroses is just asking for trouble. No matter what you do, there is going to be a fraction of potential customers that accuse you of being the downfall of western civilization. Live with it. Besides, I assume from a purely sales-based perspective, the romance and erotic romance crowd (not to mention the twi-hards) are a much better customer pool then the Tipper Gore set.

Also, as Doug said, if their tech team can't figure out how to apply simple filtering based on account settings, that bodes doubleplusungood.
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Re: Fixing Book Rankings

Post by HillaryJ » September 1st, 2012, 9:36 pm

Hillsy wrote: 2) More importantly perhaps. Who does B&N serve? The reader, who (in numbers it seems) requests the company operate in a certain way. Or the Writer, who makes money through B&N and without whom B&N has no product.
Shareholders come first and foremost, as they do with any publicly-traded company. Lower-level knee-jerk reactions are probably most typically in response to customer feedback or loud voices.


I don't care for these types of actions as they do remove integrity from the listing, and I believe the adverse effect on authors is real. However, I am, unfortunately, not surprised by it.
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Margo
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Re: Fixing Book Rankings

Post by Margo » October 2nd, 2012, 8:49 pm

In case anyone was wondering how this turned out... One of the two authors hit with this in September indicated her sales never recovered. The other received an apology from B&N, who tried to make it sound like an accident despite the fact they were caught doing this intentionally once before. When they stopped manipulating her rank, her romance novella returned to the bestseller list.

A further update...yesterday they did it again, to the second author, the one who received the apology last month. Only this time, they removed SEVEN of her titles from the bestseller list, all pretty tame erotic romances, probably because they are embarrassed by the fact that she's a well-known erotica author.

Some are starting to wonder if it's intentional targetting of a self-published author at the behest of the trads.
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Re: Fixing Book Rankings

Post by Sommer Leigh » October 3rd, 2012, 8:34 am

Margo wrote:In case anyone was wondering how this turned out... One of the two authors hit with this in September indicated her sales never recovered. The other received an apology from B&N, who tried to make it sound like an accident despite the fact they were caught doing this intentionally once before. When they stopped manipulating her rank, her romance novella returned to the bestseller list.

A further update...yesterday they did it again, to the second author, the one who received the apology last month. Only this time, they removed SEVEN of her titles from the bestseller list, all pretty tame erotic romances, probably because they are embarrassed by the fact that she's a well-known erotica author.

Some are starting to wonder if it's intentional targetting of a self-published author at the behest of the trads.
This makes me sad, but I'm not surprised by it. Everyone wants erotica writers to write what they write, but no one wants to admit to loving them. It's a dirty little book store secret. When I worked at a B&N in college I would watch people stalk the teeny tiny erotica section like they were casing the joint. They would do drive-bys sneaking glances ten or twenty times. I once saw a woman with a big SF&F book open in front of her like she was reading while she was walking and just "happened" to wander in front of the E books and stand there with the book open while she stared beneath it to the books she really wanted. They want what they want, but they don't want anyone to know.

I hope that changes eventually and people can just read what they want to read without everyone goine into prohibition lock down.
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Re: Fixing Book Rankings

Post by Margo » October 3rd, 2012, 11:42 am

Sommer Leigh wrote:This makes me sad, but I'm not surprised by it. Everyone wants erotica writers to write what they write, but no one wants to admit to loving them. It's a dirty little book store secret. When I worked at a B&N in college I would watch people stalk the teeny tiny erotica section like they were casing the joint. They would do drive-bys sneaking glances ten or twenty times. I once saw a woman with a big SF&F book open in front of her like she was reading while she was walking and just "happened" to wander in front of the E books and stand there with the book open while she stared beneath it to the books she really wanted. They want what they want, but they don't want anyone to know.

I hope that changes eventually and people can just read what they want to read without everyone goine into prohibition lock down.
I agree, but what makes this particularly pathetic is that these are NOT her erotica titles. She writes those under a different name. These are her erotic romance (I know you know the difference even if B&N does not). I think the first issue is that the connection between the two names is well-known. So B&N is freaking out that a woman who ALSO writes erotica under a DIFFERENT name has so many romances in their bestseller list. How embarrassing--NOT. Someone should maaaybe point out to them that they also need to descriminate against Anne Rice's vampire AND inspirational books for her pen name erotica and against Piers Anthony's Xanth books. He didn't even use a different name for his erotica!
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Re: Fixing Book Rankings

Post by Sommer Leigh » October 3rd, 2012, 12:27 pm

Margo wrote: I agree, but what makes this particularly pathetic is that these are NOT her erotica titles. She writes those under a different name. These are her erotic romance (I know you know the difference even if B&N does not). I think the first issue is that the connection between the two names is well-known. So B&N is freaking out that a woman who ALSO writes erotica under a DIFFERENT name has so many romances in their bestseller list. How embarrassing--NOT. Someone should maaaybe point out to them that they also need to descriminate against Anne Rice's vampire AND inspirational books for her pen name erotica and against Piers Anthony's Xanth books. He didn't even use a different name for his erotica!
It does feel like they are scrambling to "control" the erotica situation. I get some of the concern - some of the covers are pretty explicit and all ages and walks of life see the best seller lists. It takes some control away from parents who want their kids to explore books but don't want them discovering the colorful world of BDSM on accident. Self-pubbing has made a situation that no one has had to deal with before, and I think everyone, the selling sites included, are trying to navigate the uncharted waters without alienating huge groups of buyers/readers. I think B&N is probably knee jerk reacting against their self-pubbers because it feels easier to target them than the consumer parents. It's not right, but it follows the same trends we've seen in other media throughout the years.

I followed the same issue several years ago when sellers were lobbying against video game designers/producers when sexy bits were showing up surreptitiously in games kids were playing (but had no business playing.) Anyone remember the great Hot Coffee scandal? It was ridiculous, but states started enacting these crazy laws forcing sellers to check IDs with HUGE fines for those who didn't comply (in some cases, as big or bigger than those selling alcohol to minors.) Bills were going up for vote to force video game makers to put ratings on their games with big warnings and flashing lights and written apologies to their offended consumers. People were cool with gratuitous violence and the ability for a player in Grand Theft Auto to hire a prostitute then beat her afterwards and take back their money, but one pixelized nipple and we're on the precipice of the great destruction of American innocence.

It took years and several big name games/companies to marry great storytelling with grown up content and a lot of pricy marketing aimed at adults so they were clear who the intended audience was. It took a lot of media exposure and big news outlets talking about the responsibility of parents to screen their kid's games instead of forcing the whole industry to make games so parents didn't have to parent.

I really believe that the big sellers, B&N, Amazon, Apple etc will find a happy medium between consumers and authors, but it'll take time for everyone to get there. Who knows what that'll look like? And I'm sure it won't be fair, but eventually we'll stop seeing them going to the extremes (with no consistency) to control the situation. I think the consumers will also get used to seeing these types of titles and it's not going to seem so scandalous after a while. But again, the authors are stuck waiting and they'll get screwed in the meantime.
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Re: Fixing Book Rankings

Post by Margo » October 3rd, 2012, 12:35 pm

I just found out from a business contact that B&N did this to several self-published FANTASY books last year, to remove them from the bestseller list. So it's not just that sleezy romance stuff. Until the conversation this morning, I didn't know how common it is to SELL spots on bestseller lists.
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Re: Fixing Book Rankings

Post by Sommer Leigh » October 3rd, 2012, 12:57 pm

Margo wrote: Until the conversation this morning, I didn't know how common it is to SELL spots on bestseller lists.
That really doesn't surprise me. They sell top display spots in bookstores, why not their lists? (sort of defeats the purpose of calling it a bestseller list, of course.)
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Re: Fixing Book Rankings

Post by MHPHILLIPS » October 3rd, 2012, 11:30 pm

It seems as though there are several topics within this particular post.

1. Whether a seller should manipulate its own top 100 list...
2. Whether it is ethical to do so, whether in favor of an author or not...
3. Whether what is represented on the top "whatever" list is appropriate for all ages...

Rather than rehash what every one else has said, I will just put forth a suggestion to separate out into different categories the top sellers in each respective division and place a "parental advisory" on those areas that are truly written for adults. This removes the sci-fi authors such as myself from fighting ranking levels with YA or Romance authors as well as Non-Fiction writers dealing with fiction writers. This system removes all three concerns and lets potential buyers see what books in their chosen category are selling well.

Personally, I can't stand giving ranking status to companies or individuals who have the financial ability to buy such a position. That ruins the stats and places them in a position of being fixed and prevents a book from a person with little means from moving up on honest sales numbers. Sure its done in many industries, but I find it appalling. The third item on my list is a subject all its own. A company need not cater to parents or single adults, but they should put into place a means or manner that shields young eyes from material advanced for their eyes as well as entice the adult who desires such material. As I indicated earlier, an adult warning on any title that the publisher/author has indicated as having adult material in it would be a consideration if it could be implemented in a way that does not harm the content maker. Probably a can of worms not worth bringing up. Once you try to appease one segment of the buying world, you may take a piece out of another.

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