How to Improve Amazon (a View from the Publishing Side)

Image from ShutterStock.

Image from ShutterStock.


I love Amazon. As a customer, as a reader, as an author.

Yet, I see ways that Amazon could be even better.

Although I use Amazon frequently as both a reader and author, most of this post is from the publishing perspective.

I don’t intend for my post to come across as a complaint or criticism. Rather, I love Amazon, and I’m thinking, “How could I love Amazon even more?”


Yes. I know this because I and other authors have made several suggestions in the past, and Amazon has already made significant improvements.

  • KDP authors now have access to pre-orders.
  • KDP reports have improved significantly.
  • For weeks toward the end of 2015, Amazon had a large banner advertisement on their homepage announcing Countdown Deals.
  • The Kindle Textbook Creator now supports hyperlinks.
  • KDP authors can now send emails through Amazon to their Amazon followers when they publish a new Kindle e-book.

I could go on. And on.

I’ve shared my suggestions directly with Amazon in the past (and will share this post with Amazon, too).

One time, I even posted an extensive article on my blog about how authors can optimize a particular Kindle feature, and a couple of weeks later I received a phone call from a Kindle representative who had discovered my article and wanted to discuss my ideas. (Just one example of how Amazon has knocked my socks off.)

Amazon does pay attention. And Amazon is strongly oriented around customer satisfaction. That’s Amazon’s key to long-term success.


First of all, did you know that Amazon now offers services like painting your house, cleaning your home, mounting your television, mowing your lawn, fixing your computer, and much more? Amazon connects local top-rated professionals to customers in select cities. Customers pay Amazon, and Amazon offers a Happiness Guarantee.

150,000 books were published on Amazon in the last 30 days. That’s a rate of 1.8 million books per year. Very many of those books were self-published through KDP or CreateSpace.

Just imagine how many authors are interested in:

  • cover design
  • editing
  • formatting
  • translation
  • book promotion

And much more. We’re talking millions of dollars in author/publisher expenses.

Where do authors and publishers go for these services now? They go off Amazon.

One of Amazon’s big marketing rules is don’t drive traffic off Amazon hoping to drive it back onto Amazon later. Amazon wants to keep people on Amazon as much as possible. Kindle Unlimited and Amazon Prime keep customers at Amazon. Discussion forums keep readers and authors engaged on Amazon.

But many authors/publishers are leaving Amazon to find publishing services.

Authors can get limited services from CreateSpace, but it’s fairly expensive, it lacks interaction with the actual designer, and the file format of the result usually isn’t portable.

Amazon has a golden opportunity to implement something like the new Amazon Services, but for self-publishers, only it would be online and worldwide (not local, like painters and yard crews). Amazon would connect authors/publishers with cover designers, formatters, editors, translaters, book promotion services, etc.

Authors/publishers would:

  • Gain access to valuable publishing services.
  • Be able to pay through Amazon.
  • Benefit from the trust factor of having Amazon mediate the arrangement.
  • See feedback from other author/publishers to help judge quality.

Much like Amazon Seller Central, Amazon could measure the service provider’s performance in similar ways, with defect rates, turnaround time, response time, feedback ratings, etc. This way, service providers who provide top-notch service tend to be more visible.

Amazon could even put the cover designer or editor’s name by the books they’ve designed (not in the usual place by the author’s name, but, say, the cover designer could be listed underneath the thumbnail, and if you clicked on the designer’s name, it could take you to the designer’s portfolio and ask if you’re interested in having a cover designed). This could showcase designer’s works, and even provide marketing for them.

Something like “Amazon Publishing Services” (not provided by Amazon itself, but by connecting authors/publishers to service providers on Amazon) would encourage more authors to use professional services, perhaps even improving the overall quality.

Amazon could obviously limit any services it doesn’t want to sell (anything related to reviews, for example).

With Amazon taking a share of the cut for mediating this, and with 1.8 million books (and growing) published each year, this could be big for Amazon, too. But it would also be yet another marketing strategy for Amazon, i.e. how to keep more people onsite, rather than driving authors offsite to seek services.

On top of that, Amazon could offer paid advertising options to the service providers.

You could still self-publish for free, which Amazon likes to advertise. These would be optional services. Which some authors are seeking already from other sites. Amazon could be that site.


Amazon has improved in this area with pre-orders and messages to Amazon followers, but there is room for much more.

The big problem is that each Amazon product is built in stages:

  • It can take days (or if you get unlucky, even weeks) for the Look Inside to appear.
  • And sometimes that Look Inside doesn’t look the way the author predicts.
  • And maybe even the book description didn’t turn out as expected (the most important info might be after the Read More link).
  • Or maybe the book is listed in the wrong category.
  • Editions take a couple of days to link together.

This is absolutely backwards:

  • Very often, a book has its best exposure shortly after it is published.
  • Very often, the product page looks its best weeks after it is published.

Shouldn’t Amazon make it easy for authors/publishers to launch their books with the product page looking absolutely perfect?

Wouldn’t this improve customer satisfaction? Shouldn’t most customers, buying the book shortly after release, get the best possible product?

Customers pre-order books. Authors build up large followings and generate book buzz, driving much traffic to the book when it’s released. Books get extra exposure when published through the New Release filters.

So let’s make the product page perfect when the book goes live.

It’s simple, really:

  • There need to be two publishing buttons: (1) I’m ready to create the product page. (2) I’m ready to publish.
  • Creating the product would make the book only visible by a direct link provided to the author. It wouldn’t show in customer searches. It wouldn’t be available for purchase (not even pre-order).
  • The author could preview the product page. It would be built in stages as usual.
  • The difference is, the author could wait until the product page is complete before publishing, and the author could revise the description or content file, trying to get that product page perfect before publishing. Editions could get linked before the book goes live.
  • When the author hits the publish button, it would leave the product page as it is, except it would make the book available for sale and appear in customer searches.


Amazon wants more organic book reviews from customers who actually read the book.

So when the customer reaches the end of the content (i.e. before wandering into the back matter):

  • Amazon should make it easy to review the book on Amazon right then and there. (It’s not the same thing as rating the book on Goodreads.) Select the stars, leave a comment. The book is fresh on your mind. Afterward, the reader will be busy with other things (life!).
  • If the review is favorable (4 or 5 stars), Amazon should also ask the customer (both options could be presented together) if he/she would like to see similar books by the author. Again, if the book satisfied the customer, it only makes sense to try to satisfy the customer further.

These things are currently done via nag emails. But they may come days later. And customers are bombarded with emails.

The end of the Kindle e-book is a perfect opportunity to offer the customer further satisfaction while the current book’s satisfaction is fresh on the customer’s mind. When is a better time?

Note that Amazon has made some improvements toward this. But not every reader is experiencing the same options (which may also depend on the device). For example, some readers are seeing an opportunity to Follow an author on Amazon when they open the book (and maybe that would be better placed when the reader finishes the book, as that reader is more likely to want to read more by the same author; at the beginning of the book, the reader doesn’t yet know if he/she wants to follow the author, if that’s the reader’s first experience with that author).


Amazon bought Goodreads. But what is Amazon doing with it?

I keep waiting for Goodreads to send me an email, asking me:

  • “Would you like to automatically transfer all of your Goodreads reviews to Amazon? (Don’t worry, we’ll prevent duplicates in case you’ve already reviewed some of the same books at Amazon.)”
  • Option 1: Yes, I would. Thank you very much.
  • Option 2: Let me select which books I’d like to transfer reviews for.
  • Option 3: No thanks.

How about when I post a new review to Goodreads? “Check this box to automatically post the same review at”

Why make readers who want to post to both sites do twice the work?

That doesn’t seem very customer friendly…


I think the first ever Amazon Prime Day had room for improvement.

Amazon has hundreds of thousands of indie authors who self-publish through KDP and CreateSpace.

Amazon’s indie authors provide content for millions of readers.

And most of those indie authors are readers, too.

So it seems like a natural fit to try to involve indie authors and make them a big part of Amazon Prime Day.

Here is one example:

  • Send an email invitation to all KDP Select authors.
  • “Would you like to discount your book on Prime Day? Don’t worry, it won’t use up your Countdown Deal or free promo days.”
  • Give instructions for how to offer a discount for Prime Day.

The more people get involved in Prime Day, the greater will be the customer interest.

Also, last year, they sold out of Kindles almost instantly. They need to create stronger interest in other products on Prime Day. Get indie authors involved in Prime Day, and millions of customers will be looking for book deals.


Right now, you can gift a book, or if you enroll in KDP Select, you can run a Countdown Deal or run a free promo. (Did you know that when you gift a book to someone, they can use that money for anything? They don’t actually have to buy your book.)

But you can’t give anyone a discount code for your book.

It would be great to create a coupon code for 30% or 50% off, for example.

Authors would find effective ways to use discount codes, like sending them out to a large email following when a new book is released. It would be a compelling incentive to follow authors: “Follow me and I’ll give you a discount code for my next book.”

It doesn’t even have to cut into Amazon’s profits. Authors could choose to take it out of their share. If that’s the only way to make discount codes happen, it’s better than nothing, and many would use such a tool.

Many authors are earning 70% royalties on Kindle e-books. Surely, they would be willing to part with a share of that to create a discount code.

In that case, Amazon would generate more sales without a loss in profit.


Okay, I wrote a whole post on this a few months ago. And emailed Amazon. And Amazon advertised Countdown Deals on their homepage for a few weeks. (I can’t take credit for that: I’m sure many other authors have contacted Amazon, asking Amazon to make Countdown Deals more compelling.) But I wanted to note that Amazon has made improvement with regard to this.

But I still feel that authors could get more out of Countdown Deals.

Right now, authors really need to advertise their Countdown Deals externally, through paid or free book promotion sites like BookBub, E-reader News Today, and a host of others.

So authors are again going offsite. And customers are going offsite. Again: Amazon’s marketing know-how says it’s better not to drive traffic offsite to try to get back onsite later. It’s far better to encourage everyone to stay on Amazon.

But Countdown Deals, the tool as it is now, motivates authors to go offsite, and customers are attracted offsite by those book promotion services. Now they may make it back to Amazon, but surely Amazon would prefer to keep customers (and authors!) onsite as much as possible.

First of all, the name Countdown Deal doesn’t sound compelling to customers. When I browse the Kindle Store on my computer, at the top of the left column, I see Kindle Deals, which includes:

  • Kindle Book Deals, up to 85% off
  • Kindle Daily Deals
  • 50 Kindle Books for $2 each
  • Kindle Countdown Deals
  • Sign up for Deals (this is for Kindle Daily Deals)

On this list, Countdown Deals is the one name that sounds like a dud.

Imagine if the name were “Kindle Countdown Deals, up to 90% off” (or whatever the greatest percentage off is that day) or “Kindle Countdown Deals, starting at 99 cents.” Surely, the marketing geniuses at Amazon could come up with a more compelling name, or a better way to find the most compelling Countdown Deals and promote them on Amazon.

Amazon wants authors to join KDP Select, and Amazon wants readers to browse through the Kindle Deals, so more compelling Countdown Deals would help with this.

And Amazon wants customers and authors to stay on-site. So if Amazon could make Countdown Deals more effective (maybe not for every book, but at least for some books) without having to go offsite, this would be a plus for Amazon. Amazon should be trying to persuade customers to sign up for its own email promotional lists, rather than going offsite to BookBub, for example. (And Amazon is now trying to populate Amazon followers for authors, and Amazon does have a promotional email for Kindle Deals. Why not one for Countdown Deals?)

Here’s an example of how they could help:

  • When you search for a book on Amazon, there is an option to sort by Kindle Unlimited. They make it easy to find Kindle Unlimited books.
  • Why isn’t there a sort-by option for Kindle Countdown Deals (but with a more compelling name)? Right next to Kindle Unlimited, that would be a great place for it.

Some customers borrow books, some customers buy books. The Kindle Unlimited sort-by option is great for customers who borrow. A Kindle Countdown Deals option would be great for customers who buy.


Matchbook has great marketing potential. If the same book is published in print and Kindle, the author/publisher can create a Matchbook offer, allowing a customer who first buys the print book to then buy the Kindle edition at a discount.

But Amazon really doesn’t promote Matchbook. And when Matchbook is available, it’s virtually in fine print. Literally: I’ve encountered dozens of authors who knew it “should” be on the page, but even though they were specifically looking for it, they were unable to find it. Just imagine being a customer who doesn’t know about it.

It’s almost like Amazon added this feature by popular demand, but really doesn’t care about it. (This wild speculation probably isn’t true. Note the word ‘almost.’)

Here are a couple of examples of how Matchbook has great marketing potential:

  • Some nonfiction books are great to have in print for highlighting, annotations, bookmarks, etc. But it would also sometimes be handy to have the same book available as an e-book that you could pull up on your cell phone, for example. You don’t always have a print book with you, so it would be nice to consult when you don’t. With Matchbook, you can buy both editions.
  • Buy the novel in print and on Kindle using Matchbook. Give the print edition as a gift, read the Kindle edition yourself, for example.

But the problems are:

  • Most customers don’t even know about Matchbook.
  • Most customers who have heard of Matchbook don’t think of the benefits of Matchbook on their own.
  • It’s not easy to find Matchbook information even if you know it’s supposed to be there.
  • Nobody is promoting Matchbook and its benefits to customers.
  • Many authors don’t even know about Matchbook.
  • Most authors who know about Matchbook set a Matchbook offer for their books, but don’t feel that it does much good. (Right now, authors really need to do some effective marketing to educate customers about it and how it could help them.)

Amazon could get more out of Matchbook:

  • Make the Matchbook information much more prominent, both before the sale, and immediately after the sale (right then, offer the Kindle edition to go along with it).
  • Make it work both ways. Right now, the customer has to buy the print edition first. So if the customer buys the Kindle edition first, Amazon has no interest in selling the print edition to go along with it? Whatever the customer would save by buying the print edition first, offer the same discount on the print edition after the Kindle edition is purchased.
  • Promote the benefits of Matchbook to customers. Marketing by educating.


To be fair, there is an inherent challenge for Amazon with this.

From the author/publisher side: The author publishes a Kindle e-book, believing (hopefully!) that his/her masterpiece is perfect. Sometime later, the worst has happened: an embarrassing mistake is discovered. The author promptly corrects the mistake. Unfortunately, several customers already have the book. The author wants everyone who already has the book to receive an instant update automatically. But it’s not so simple: The author must first convince Amazon that the correction is significant enough to warrant either (A) automatically updating the file or (B) notifying customers of updates.

From the reader’s side: The reader may have already added notes, highlighting, bookmarks, etc. Then one day, the reader opens the book, and all of those notes have vanished. Why? Because the author sent an automatic update. Maybe the reader would prefer to have the version with the mistakes so as to retain the notes.

It’s the reader’s point of view that causes Amazon to sometimes only notify readers that an update is available instead of automatically updating the book. But not all readers receive those notices, and not all readers figure out how to request the update.

But there is a simple solution:

  • When an author revises a book, give the author the option to check a box that he/she would like to let the reader know that an update is available. The author describes the nature of the updates. That way, the reader knows if it’s just a few typos or just to resolve a formatting issue on iPads, for example.
  • Amazon doesn’t automatically update the book. Amazon doesn’t even notify readers of the update.
  • Here’s what should happen: The next time the reader opens that book, Amazon shows the reader a message. The message indicates that an updated version of this book is now available. It outlines the nature of the revisions. It warns the readers that any notes the reader may have made, for example, will vanish. Now the reader gets to decide.

Then the reader wouldn’t have to do any work to get the update; it’s easy. The reader gets to decide, not have the book updated automatically. And if the reader never opens the book again, well the update didn’t matter, so why bother telling the reader that there had been any “problems”?


Amazon has made great strides to help authors format picture books for Kindle by introducing the Kindle Kids’ Book Creator and the Kindle Textbook Creator.

From a formatting perspective, a few of the things that the Kindle Textbook Creator does are quite amazing (the way it handles a variety of images, and results in a relatively small file, for example). I’m not saying it’s the ideal way to format a typical e-book (it’s not); it’s specifically for textbooks rich with images, equations, and formatting.

What I mean is, the brilliant minds that produced the Kindle Textbook Creator could surely come up with a fairly foolproof way for authors to design other kinds of books, like novels and basic nonfiction.

The novel is the easiest kind of Kindle e-book to format well. But only if the authors knows some basic Kindle formatting rules. And there are a few subtle things that could improve the design, but many authors don’t know about them.

There are novels with variable indent sizes, for example, where the author wasn’t aware that Kindle would indent differently (much, in some cases) from the way Word displays indents on the monitor.

Formatters look at a novel written in Word and know that if they see THIS, they do THAT to make it come out right on Kindle. An experienced formatter could basically write a computer program (surely, some do, at least for a portion of the work) to take a typical novel written in Word and transform it into a fairly Kindle-ready file. So why hasn’t Amazon KDP put a programming/formatting team together to produce a Kindle Novel Creator?

The software might ask the author to load the work in chapters of text, title each chapter, automatically produce a hyperlinked table of contents that will work with device navigation, automatically not indent the first paragraph of each chapter, automatically and consistently indent all other paragraphs (and strip out any tabs, repeated spacebars, repeated Enters, and all the other common formatting problems), optionally create perfect drop caps (assuming Kindle could pull this off), and that’s the bulk of the book right there. It would need to deal with section breaks, treat italics properly, be able to deal with stand-alone quotations, maybe insert a map or other picture, and add front/back matter, but it wouldn’t take much to produce a fairly foolproof, author-friendly way to format a novel for Kindle.

Amazon has three reasons to do this:

  • improved customer satisfaction
  • advertise to authors how easy it is to publish with Amazon for free (well, they already advertise this, but they could deliver better)
  • improve the perception of indie books (for which Amazon has over a million)

If Amazon made such a Kindle Novel Creator, it wouldn’t take much to also make a Kindle Nonfiction Creator. Nonfiction tends to have more bullet points, alternative formatting preferences, more complex formatting needs, but it wouldn’t take much to accommodate the basics.

They could even make a Kindle Poetry Creator, an easy way to help with one of the great formatting challenges for Kindle.

Technology could take Amazon beyond just formatting.

Amazon has a Cover Creator tool at both KDP and CreateSpace. I think this has room to grow. It should be improving once or twice per year. And some design tips should be growing to go with it. It’s in Amazon’s interest to make it easy to pull off a nice cover.

How about editing? A business on the scale of Amazon could come up with (or find) a great automatic editing tool to catch most of the common kinds of mistakes. I’m not saying it would be perfect (and it would surely flag a few things that authors did on purpose). But there are some kinds of spelling, punctuation, and grammatical mistakes out on the market, which shouldn’t be on the market at all. Amazon currently provides a list of possible spelling mistakes, but there is potential to go way beyond that.

Such automated editing help wouldn’t make authors foolproof at writing, or even at editing. But it could eliminate many common mistakes that influence reader perception of authors. And it could take some books that are already very well-written, and iron out a few obvious wrinkles to make them nearly perfect. Help is better than no help.

I keep saying that Amazon is strongly oriented around customer satisfaction. Guess what? Authors are Amazon’s customers, too. We pay for advertising through AMS. We buy proofs and author copies at CreateSpace. Most authors are also avid shopper and/or avid readers. But aside from what we pay in money, we pour a ton of TIME into writing and publishing books, supplying valuable content to Amazon. No matter how you look at it, authors are customers, too. (Let me add that I’ve interacted with Amazon KDP, the Kindle team, and CreateSpace many times over the years, and even back when I literally was a nobody-author, they have always treated me very well.)


I can hear them over at Amazon right now: “Improve the review system. Gee. Why didn’t we think of that?”

Everybody (and their uncle, too!) has suggested that the review system should improve, and just about every suggestion is different.

But almost everybody does agree on one thing: It could be better.

Two aspects of customer reviews absolutely don’t make any sense to me:

  • Why does Amazon permit any spitefulness in the review? That goes against everything I’ve said about Amazon being customer oriented. Only one customer benefits by leaving that spite up, and that’s the person who wrote it. Hundreds (or millions, in some cases) of customers are inconvenienced by having to read that. Doesn’t Amazon wish to create positive customer experiences, with a positive ambiance at Amazon? Don’t remove the review: Just remove the spiteful part, and add a note: “Review was edited to remove spiteful remarks.” That will discourage further spite. Can’t we offer criticism without some of the outright spiteful remarks that we, as customers, sometimes find when reading customer reviews?
  • Why does Amazon permit any spoilers in a review? Does Amazon want to sell the book or movie, or not? How can you possibly let a review spoil the ending for potential customers? There is a simple fix: Either insert a Read More link where the spoiler would begin, or hide the review and put a Spoiler Alert link there. Then customers who don’t mind having the story spoiled can click the link to read more. That would also discourage readers from including spoilers in their reviews.

Amazon has improved the customer review system substantially over the years:

  • Most people now know that Amazon almost never removes a critical review, but blocks and removes very many favorable reviews (suspected of coming from friends or family of the author, but occasionally penalizing an author for interactive marketing). Amazon faced a huge crisis years back, when the WSJ and NYT highlighted problems with the review system, and this change greatly improved the perception of the review system.
  • More recently, Amazon introduced machine learning into the review system. Machine learning favors organic reviews, helpful reviews, and Verified reviews, for example. It helps with the order of reviews, and will probably improve over time.

One more way Amazon could improve the review system is take a public stance against foolish authors who try to slam the competition (and invariably wind up shooting themselves in the feet, as they would gain sales through customers-also-bought lists when more customers buy similar books). Many authors/publishers would love to see Amazon make public progress toward eliminating some of the one-star review abuse. This would bring nice balance to the removal of four- and five-star reviews (which occasionally aren’t from friends or family members of the author).


  • There is a high demand for the boxed set bundle, as opposed to the boxed set book. Why should authors create a boxed set? Amazon can just bundle them all together. Well, Amazon is starting to bundle series together and show series to customers, but the bundle doesn’t offer any savings. Let series authors create a special bundle price. Maybe they could also add a cool bundle cover image and a special description for the bundle page, without having to publish a separate bundle. Personally, I’d rather buy 3 books as a bundle at a discount, receiving them as separate books on my Kindle, than buying one mammoth bundled file; but I want the bundled series at a discount, not full price. It seems like Amazon could sell more bundles if they had upfront substantial savings, and if this option were shown on the page of book 1 in the series.
  • Make the categories at KDP and CreateSpace match the categories on Amazon. This will help prevent books from getting listed in the wrong category, leading to negative customer experiences. Stop using special keywords to get into certain categories (example: if you use the word “zombies” as a keyword without knowing better, you automatically get listed in Children’s & Teen’s Horror Characters/Zombies, but what if your book isn’t really suitable for those readers?). Example: If you spend months writing a novel that involves swords and magic, wouldn’t you be crushed if your book didn’t show up in the Sword & Sorcery category (because you didn’t know you needed these 5 keywords to get into that category: sword, sorcery, magic, dragon, quest)? Why not make it easy for authors/publishers to put their books in the right category, and help customers find the kinds of books they’re looking for? What is the good reason that the KDP categories can’t be the same as Amazon’s browse categories?
  • Make more subcategories available to help readers find exactly the kinds of books they’re looking for. Then don’t allow books to show up in subcategories where they don’t belong. Several years ago, there were actually more subcategories available. A few books are still listed in them, but new books can’t get into them (which makes it really easy for those older books to hold onto that coveted #1 position). The problem was with books appearing across numerous categories where they really didn’t fit. It wasn’t helpful as a customer to go into a subcategory where most of the top matches weren’t what you expected. KDP authors are limited to choosing two subcategories anyway, so there really isn’t room for KDP authors to abuse this (if Amazon also fixed the keyword/category problem mentioned previously). It would be ideal for customers to have more subcategories, but where books don’t show up where they don’t belong.
  • Why only advertise the #1 bestseller. I love those new #1 bestseller in subcategory badges. (I’ve had some on my books, at least temporarily.) They’re really cool. But come on. Seriously, is #2 not good enough for anyone to buy? Amazon only wants to sell #1, not #2 and up? Why not expand this somewhat? Will customers really think, #5 bestseller in ____, gosh, that book must be lousy?
  • There is this perception that a book with a rank of 1,000,000 doesn’t sell, so once the book hasn’t sold for a few days and crosses this line, many customers won’t touch it, which makes it harder for its rank to rebound. There are many niche audiences in nonfiction, for example, where a rank of about 1,000,000 is actually fairly good, and if you average that for the year, you might sell nearly 100 copies (much better than the typical shopper thinks). You could have an average sales rank of 1,500,000 in Kindle and actually sell in the double digits (for one, ranks fluctuate). Or you could sell a hundred copies the first few month, and watch your rank quickly drop to 1,000,000 due to a dry spell. In print, you could actually sell about 10 copies in a year with an average sales rank near 5,000,000. But customers see 2,000,000 and think, that book doesn’t sell at all. My point: Does Amazon really want to discourage customers from buying books that fill a particular niche? My suggestion is only show sales rank data when it’s under a certain value, like 10,000 overall or top 100 in specific subcategories. That is, show sales rank if it helps sales, and don’t show sales ranks (like overall) when they don’t help sales. Some of those books in the millions are good (in fact, some sold very well a few years ago, but have slowed up since, and are still relevant, just not as popular). Amazon is growing and growing. Someday, if you don’t sell multiple copies every day, you’ll be above 1,000,000. Today’s 100,000 behaves like 20,000 from a few years ago, but the perception is slower to change. (Maybe Amazon could show both current and best sales ranks. It might say, 600,000 current, 14,000 on November, 2015. Hey, that book used to sell well. Not sure if this would help or hurt, but Amazon should try to find what helps and what hurts, and go with what helps.)
  • Add Author Central to Canada, Australia, and other countries where it isn’t already available. Why not? We’re waiting for it. Author Central was automatically added to India. If Amazon doesn’t want to add Author Central to Canada the same way it did for the United Kingdom, then why not automatically feed it into Canada from the US page like they did with India? Seems like an oversight.
  • Extend features available in the United States to the United Kingdom and other countries. For example, why can’t we use AMS in the United Kingdom like we can in the US? (I spent a bundle of money on 100 ads in 2015. Amazon could make more money from authors if they extended this to the UK, Canada, and more.)
  • Let the author adjust the ending of the Look Inside. How about that gripping point in the beginning of the novel, so suspenseful the reader would have to buy the book to find out what happens next. Who knows where that point is better than the author? Some short stories have no content showing in the Look Inside at all. Some mammoth books give dozens of pages away for free. Why not let the author set the Look Inside End Here point?
  • Improve Kindle royalty reporting: (A) Show both the number of borrows and the number of pages read (B) provide a reason for customer returns so authors can make their books better satisfy the customers (C) make it easy to find how many books sold in the past year or lifetime without having to download dozens of separate reports (D) provide tracking data (number of views, which keyword searches resulted in how many views, what is the sales/views conversion rate, how many customers opened the Look Inside, etc.) to help authors perfect their product pages to help Amazon sell more books. Also, information like sales over geographic location (like the BookScan data shows for print books) would help with marketing.
  • CreateSpace could improve in a few areas. It’s owned by Amazon, but it’s also kind of separate, i.e. it’s not as easy for Amazon to implement changes to CreateSpace as it is at KDP. But Amazon could surely motivate some changes. Let me be clear: I love CreateSpace. It has been very good to me. I’m just saying, I see a few areas where CreateSpace could be even better, but I feel it would take a push from Amazon for these changes to come about. (And CreateSpace has made improvements, like the new pod for Canada paying royalties, the matte cover option, and free Expanded Distribution.) Amazon could let CreateSpace authors advertise via AMS, and they could even set this up through AMS (on AMS’s site or on the one they have already for KDP Select), so CreateSpace really doesn’t need to get involved at all. Right now, if you want to advertise your CreateSpace book, you have to create a Kindle edition and advertise that instead (just imagine coloring book authors tempted to do this!). I sell 9 print books for every Kindle book, but I can only advertise on Kindle, not CreateSpace; for me, this is backwards (though I love AMS, and my Kindle sales have grown significantly). CreateSpace needs an easy pre-order option like KDP has, without having to go through Amazon Advantage (having to work with Advantage and CreateSpace separately creates all kinds of potential problems). CreateSpace could offer better worldwide distribution, and Amazon could help motivate more Expanded Distribution sales to certain markets (like sending representatives to schools to show teachers both Kindle and print academic solutions, while also recruiting teachers to self-publish educational content, or working with certain libraries, for example). CreateSpace could better compete with Ingram Spark (which is an expensive alternative, and CreateSpace seems like the optimal feed into Amazon) by finding some hardcover option and letting authors print inside covers, for example. (A spiral bound option would be useful, too, even at a somewhat higher cost.)
  • Why doesn’t the Look Inside use the newer Kindle formatting instead of the older formatting? The Look Inside is a valuable sales tool. Why not help authors/publishers easily produce a perfect Look Inside? It’s too common for authors to discover formatting issues in the Look Inside that don’t show in the preview (or even in the actual device when the preview file is side-loaded to it). Why is the Look Inside the hardest thing to format? Why does it interpret HTML more strictly than the actual device? This sales tool could help authors with sales more than it does now.


With my suggestions, I don’t mean to imply that Amazon is doing poorly.

Actually, I feel that Amazon is doing many amazing things. That’s why I support Amazon both as an avid reader and shopper, and as an author/publisher.

But over the past 8 years, I’ve observed a few (!) things which I feel Amazon could do even better. (Really, a few. If I list all the things I love about Amazon, that would be a much longer list, and even more detailed.)

My list used to be much longer, but many of the other things that used to be on my list have already improved.

If you want to see something improve, you must at least make an effort to help it happen.

Amazon already does a number of things well. This is just the tip of the iceberg:

  • oriented toward customer satisfaction
  • hourly/daily royalty reporting (while not perfect, most publishers report quarterly or so, certainly not daily)
  • products can reach the market almost instantly
  • free tools for authors, like Author Central (but wouldn’t it be great to have it in every country?)
  • everyone gets a chance, with access to possible features like customers-also-bought lists


I want to be able to write another post, approximately one year from now, describing how Amazon absolutely knocked my socks off by making several of the things on this wish list come true.

Santa Claus, that’s what I want for Christmas this year. (Well, selling a million books this year would be pretty cool, too.)

I just want Amazon to grow from awesome to awesomer.


Send them to Amazon.

Or share them in the comments.

Write happy, be happy. πŸ™‚

Chris McMullen

CopyrightΒ Β© 2016

Chris McMullen, Author of A Detailed Guide to Self-Publishing with Amazon and Other Online Booksellers

Click here to view my Goodreads author page.

  • Volume 1 on formatting and publishing
  • Volume 2 on marketability and marketing
  • 4-in-1 Boxed set includes both volumes and more
  • Kindle Formatting Magic (coming soon)

Follow me at WordPress, find my author page on Facebook, or connect with me through Twitter.


Click here to jump to the comments section.

74 comments on “How to Improve Amazon (a View from the Publishing Side)

  1. What an awesome post, Chris. It’s too bad I hadn’t stumbled upon your website and the Opinionated Man before I self-published three e-books. I haven’t branched out into print or audio yet. Both of you, from what I’ve been able to read in such a short period of time, have proven your dedication to helping the starving author. Hahahah

    Love your ideas especially the Book Launch wish list. 1. Reviews: I have book reviews from Canada, the UK and US. I’d like for Amazon to reflect all of my reviews on every site no matter where they originate from. 2. Bundles. I have three e-books in my series On RVing Time. Did I understand you correctly? Amazon will bundle them, price them and select the book cover.

    • Thank you for the kind words, and adding feedback and suggestions, like showing reviews across platforms. Right now, Amazon does show customers series, bundling the set for the multi-purchase, but presently Amazon doesn’t include a special bundle cover from the author nor offer savings (these are my suggestions for better bundling options). Right now, series authors create their own boxed sets as a separate book, but bundling could do better than that (for example, it could help all the sales ranks, which is a problem with a separate book for the boxed set). Good luck with your books. πŸ™‚

  2. Brilliant post, Chris, and I agree with most of it. Unfortunately I can’t see /how/ Amazon would implement some of your suggestions, esp. for reviews.

    Something along the lines of a ‘profanity filter’ could pick up certain, obviously spiteful words and phrases, but spite comes in all shapes and sizes. It also comes disguised as objective observation. How could any automated system pick up on reviewer spite? And even if it could, how easy would it be for someone in the business of painting with words to circumvent such a filter?

    Sadly, I can’t think of any review process that could not be ‘gamed’ by a determined troll. 😦

    • Thank you. You’re probably right about the reviews, and that’s probably why the spite is still there. Sometimes, though, just a little sign of progress can go a long way. πŸ™‚

      • -grin- I’d have to agree with you about the progress. For such a behemoth, Amazon is doing its best to change things for the better, but there’s still such a long way to go.

  3. Pingback: How to Improve Amazon (a View from the Publishing Side) – Kate McClelland

  4. That was amazingly comprehensive! About the reviews, I would add something you have mentioned in the past: instead of removing suspect reviews, simply flag them so that visitors know they may not be legit. Removing them without any prior notification is taking things waaaay too far for most authors, who are (quite rightly) up in arms against the policy.

    A case in point: an author who follows my blog published a review the other day. As it happens, I had recently read her book, and was meaning to publish a review of my own. I haven’t yet, and won’t for a few more weeks, out of fear that Amazon will misconstrue this to be a case of review exchange. And yet, I have never met this person!

  5. Just on Nicholas’ point – there does seem to be a bit of a double standard when it comes to reviews. Blatantly spiteful [or political] 1 star reviews seem to be okay, but any hint of ‘collusion’, be it ever so faint, is not. Given that writers all gravitate towards each other through common interests, it may soon be impossible for any writer to ever leave a genuine review for another writer. 😦

  6. Some really good ideas here, yes! Regarding book reviewers, I’d like to see Amazon require people to use their real names instead of hiding behind screen names when writing reviews. If people are going to state their opinions on a public forum then they should stand by their words with their real names. I bet there would be less attacking of authors and more honest and fair reviews.

  7. Pingback: How to Improve Amazon | The Passive Voice | A Lawyer's Thoughts on Authors, Self-Publishing and Traditional Publishing

  8. Reports. I would love to see something that would let me monitor in near-real time the sales/returns of the books I put out through a publisher. The closest I can come to this now is watching the rankings changes through Author Central.

  9. So many great ideas here, Chris – Amazon should hire you! I agree with S.A.Smith that I would like to see my reviews on all platforms. Currently I have reviews in the US, UK and Australia – even though the books are identical in all these countries the reviews are kept separate. Also, I would like Author Central to be worldwide, rather than have a different Author Central for each region, as it’s annoying to have to log in and out of each one and add the same information several times when I need to update.
    However, like you, I think Amazon does so many things well already. After all, I most likely wouldn’t be published if it wasn’t for the opportunity they offer independent authors.

    • Thank you, Helen, for the kind words, and for taking the time to express changes that you would like to see. If they can use the US Author Central for India, it seems like they could do it worldwide, like you suggest.

  10. Great list! Here is one addition:

    As a reader, I would like to see “Finish Rates” listed for ebooks:
    – 80% of readers finished this book within 5 days.
    – 40% of readers finished this book within 30 days.
    – etc.
    It would be one more data point (alongside cover, blurb, ratings, reviews, rank) that I could use to choose books to read.

    As an author, I would like to know which pages readers tend to stop reading on, if any.


  11. Great article! I would add, on extending Amazon services to other countries, that I wish that Amazon-owned ACX would allow authors from outside the US and UK to make use of that service to create audiobooks. I’ve asked them and they’ve said maybe in the future, but with the massive growth in audiobooks, I wish this could be prioritized and fast-tracked.

  12. Pingback: How to Improve Amazon (a View from the PublishingΒ Side) – K. Victoria Chase

  13. Wow that was a lot to take in! You have really put a lot of thought into this. And make some great points. I hope they pay attention to you.

  14. Hi Chris, I follow a great deal of author blogs and yours is hands down the most informative. You also have a great friendly “voice”. Can I also throw in a suggestion for Amazon, please? I’ve written to them a few times about this.

    I’m an author in Australia and I have my tax sorted with the correct IRS forms, so that’s all good. They unfortunately don’t pay in $US dollars into anything except a US account. I have an Australian bank account that can accept $US currency, but they insist on paying in Australian dollars when this must surely cost them quite a bit.

    I also use AMS marketing, and if they would take the payment for the $US marketing from a bank account instead of a credit card. Then it would be simple. I could have them pay into the $US bank account and take the marketing out of it. This would avoid the fees I am slugged every time I receive or send money from an $AU bank account. Then I could also pull out the $$ when the exchange rate is favorable.

    It seems really strange that they insist on converting my payment to $AU dollars when it would save them money and time. It’s also weird because my choices for payment is $AU dollars or Mexican pesos??? If they can do Mexican why can’t they do Aussie?

    My other suggestion is also to allow us to use HTML on the book description section of the Edit Your Book page in KDP. Every time you change something about your book and republish, you then have to go back into Author Central and reinsert the book descriptions which you’ve created with beautiful bold and italics. It would seem a simple thing to fix. I change my books quite a bit with putting them in different categories depending on the ranking. So there is a bit of back and forth with fixing the description.

    The rest of your comments are brilliant.

    I agree with you. I LOVE Amazon. I earn a very good living from my books (life changing money and as much as my husband’s managerial job) and I have always found them to be more than helpful when I have a query, no matter the department I contact.

    I hope you’ll do one of these breakdowns on AMS. I’ve got a few thoughts on that. For one … we need to be able to archive ended ads. It gets very wieldy checking them after awhile. But there’s a lot more. I’ve sent them suggestions a couple of times and they sent me their polite ‘in the future’ reply.

    Great job. I’m grabbing some of your books to say thank you. Love your work!

    Susan May

    • Thank you, Susan, for adding your detailed suggestions. I can relate to the HTML description issue — a way to edit and preview that without needing to visit Author Central would be very helpful. The currency issue affects many international authors, and there are very many (such issues show up frequently in the forums, so there is demand for it).

  15. Pingback: A Look at How Three Publishers Are Doing It | Digital Book World

  16. A question. You mention that authors are able to notify their followers of a new release. Could you explain how that is done? If I read you correctly, that’s something we can do now, but I haven’t been able to figure it out. Thanks! This was a great post. I just found you via Passive Voice.

  17. Pingback: How to Improve Amazon (a View from the Publishing Side) | Blog of Palessa, Author of Baxter Family Saga series

  18. I love these because I’m partially in KU and that has definitely altered my strategy. I would love to see that coupon idea come to life for all of us, regardless of being in or out of KU. It’s not just about the big guys or that first book or even the bestselling book. I don’t know if they’re listening or even care to go this far but these are some GREAT suggestions

  19. I’ve been selling books on Amazon for years and for the last year they have made my life a misery by barraging me with demands for non existent documents for verification. They refuse to respond to complaints; in fact there is no complaints procedure, which I think is illegal. Now they are sending me VAT invoices for their branch in Luxembourg, even though I only sell from and to the UK paper books which do not pay VAT, Again, I have complained, they do not reply. I am not impressed with them at all.

  20. Barb, I’m with you on this one. While Amazon has improved on its website, it’s support absolutely sucks. Chris makes the point about Amazon removing good reviews and leaving trolls reviews. That’s bad enough but even worse is their support to review requests. For example, when I ask why a certain review of mine has been removed, I get a template email reply accusing me of gaming the reviews.
    I feel quite offended by this, and when I ask them to explain why they say this, I just get the same email reply. They just don’t seem to either care or know why they are doing this. I was a BIG LOVER of Amazon up until last year, but frankly have become largely disheartened by the way they treat customers. A big shame they cannot invest more in customer support when you consider the millions Amazon is earning.

    • I’ve been fortunate to have good interactions with customer service at KDP, CreateSpace, and other Amazon support, though I generally try to refrain from inquiring about reviews. But certainly, if I such experience with support, I would be quite frustrated. Thank you for sharing your experience.

  21. You failed to list the most important change that Amazon needs to make. It needs to pay the same royalties that Apple pays, 70% of retail at all prices, not just those between $2.99 and $9.99. Paying 35% is absurd. And it needs to drop its grossly inflated and misnamed “download fee” for ebooks inside that range. Bit for bit, it’s over ten times what cell phone companies charge for data. That reduces Amazon’s real royalty rate even in that narrow range to, at best, 60-65%. It punishes authors who include illustrations and pictures. Remember, Amazon has a huge economy of scale, twice that of Apple. It should be paying 80% of retail at all prices.

    Loving any corporation is absurd. Loving one that often pays half what other retailers pay is even more ridiculous. Authors should have enough backbone to refer their readers elsewhere until Amazon pays the market rate.

    Egads, what is wrong with these authors? They should be wearing t-shirts that say, “Abuse and underpay me again, Amazon, I love it.”

    • I would be pleased with a reduced delivery fee, as I have a few image-heavy books. But personally, I know from experience that I benefit from external traffic on Amazon that I can’t reproduce elsewhere. Authors who primarily sell by emailing their following or through direct marketing might be in a position to take up your suggestion. Thank you for contributing your idea for how Amazon might improve.

  22. Mmm, You seem to have forgotten the biggest issue of all: how about Amazon please stop manipulating the algorithm to show books you’ve published yourself at the top of the search, or please stop forcing indie authors to go exclusive with you or you again manipulate the algorithm to not show their books. If Amazon is really customer friendly they should promote the best book regardless if the book is published by Amazon or is exclusive to Amazon. To me Amazon seems to be more Amazon friendly than customer friendly… And definitely less and less author friendly. Cudos to them for starting the self-publishing revolution, but boo-Hoo for predating on small indie publishers with these practices…

  23. Pingback: Episode 96 – Raw Links, Wish Lists, and the Long Tail | Sell More Books Show

  24. Wow. That article was filled with amazingly great points. One thing I would like to add as a way to improve Amazon books in general. When a product in a real store (like Walmart or Target) doesn’t move off the shelf, it is removed. Toys popular for a few years, then wane? Removed. White tennis shoes in favor of colorful ones? Taken off the shelf. Outdated televisions? Updated. So, here’s my idea: Get rid of books on the infinite Amazon shelf that haven’t sold a unit in, say, a year. A nice letter could be emailed to the pub/author, and then if nothing sells, remove it. And here’s why: Overchoice. If every physical store kept all inventory forever, overchoice would eventually stop people from shopping there. I already have a hard time choosing cereal or hair color or aspirin. Because there are too many to choose from. Talk about customer UNfriendly. Amazon should do itself (and its customers) a huge favor and purge the junk that doesn’t move. And by the way, my avid reader friends tell me they agree. Many of them have already stopped shopping at Amazon because of overchoice. Maybe it’s time to slim down.
    What do you think?

    • Thank you. πŸ™‚ Overchoice is an interesting issue. A possible benefit to having just about anything is that it attracts customers searching for rarer items (including rare and collectible books, but also books for a tiny niche audience). But when overchoice loses customers, it’s worth weighing the pros and cons carefully.

      I happen to have done extensive research on sales rank recently, learning that a book that hasn’t sold for 12 months would have a sales rank of approximately 5,000,000 in print and 2,000,000 for Kindle. When I’m shopping for books, I seldom encounter books this far removed from their last sale. Maybe the choice is just so wide that removing books that haven’t sold in 12 months wouldn’t alleviate the problem much.

      There is also a third option. If overchoice were a problem, Amazon could basically hide a large extent of the overage (those that haven’t sold for a period, as you suggested), but make them accessible to customers who click a button to show those results (that way they could still fill the demand of those small niche audiences).

      (I also think they have potential to greatly improve category and keyword searches, to better deal with their overchoice problem.)

      Thank you for your comment. I agree that overchoice can pose problems, and as a customer, I experience the challenges of finding exactly what I want to read. If Amazon realizes that this may be losing customers, they will hopefully look into it.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s