Novelist claims Amazon search result tied to publisher bribes

Clark_Sweetness9Salon Magazine has never made any secret that it leans strongly against Amazon, and it’s found yet another silly reason to pile onto the bandwagon with this complaint from novelist Stephan Eirik Clark. Because Amazon’s search algorithms are “for sale,” he concludes, Amazon “buried my novel.” For a while. Until it didn’t.

Clark has a novel called Sweetness #9 scheduled to release in August. But when he went searching for it on Amazon a few weeks ago, he didn’t find it in the results. But then he read George Packer’s article in the New Yorker about Amazon, and an article in the LA Times summarizing it, which highlighted the way Amazon extracts promotional fees from publishers in exchange for prominent placement of their books. Therefore, Clark concluded, the fact that when he searched for “Sweetness #9” he found only “Sweet Valley High” must mean that his publisher hadn’t paid Amazon those fees for his book yet.

But then light dawns! (Emphasis mine.)

I don’t know if my publisher, Little, Brown, has given Amazon a white envelope thick with green bills, but in recent weeks my novel has distanced itself from Sweet Valley High (“What do you mean you broke up with Scott!”). Now, whenever you search for the book, you’ll find its company more appropriate, if still not quite literary. Most recently, I found the novel closely linked to “Pure, White, and Deadly: How Sugar Is Killing Us and What We Can Do to Stop It.”

Not bad for a novel that’s set against the backdrop of the flavorings industry and explores the consequences of a highly questionable artificial sweetener.

He says right there he doesn’t even know if his publisher paid Amazon promotional fees—and this is a book with a rather generic title that was half a year away from publication—but at the end he nonetheless concludes that all that’s necessary to make the computer smarter is “feed it a little cash.”

So what do we have here? A whole lot of nothing and a big flying leap to a conclusion, all in the name of earning him some six-months-in-advance publicity for his book (and Salon some affiliate fees from the tag on their link to his book). By linking to the book, and inviting people to search for it themselves, he undoubtedly is improving his position in the search ranks so people will be able to find it more easily.

And…it’s probably going to work, too. Paul (sneaky fellow that he is) wrote a piece on this while I was writing this one. And I see by its “upcoming stories” list that The Passive Voice is just about to cover this, too. (I at least have hopes that Passive Guy will give it a good sarcastic snarking, though, so that’s something to look forward to.) So, yeah. Even publicity calling you a conniving scoundrel is publicity still. Well done, you.

That being said, the Packer article really is worth reading. It goes into the history of Amazon and its commercial practices. I’ve said before, Amazon is no paragon, but it’s damned good at giving consumers what they want. That doesn’t mean everything it does is necessarily evil, or even intentional.

About Chris Meadows (4152 Articles)
TeleRead Editor Chris Meadows has been writing for us--except for a brief interruption--since 2006. Son of two librarians, he has worked on a third-party help line for Best Buy and holds degrees in computer science and communications. He clearly personifies TeleRead's motto: "For geeks who love books--and book-lovers who love gadgets." Chris lives in Indianapolis and is active in the gamer community.

1 Comment on Novelist claims Amazon search result tied to publisher bribes

  1. I think we can count on PG to give it his usual dose of snark. Funny that I never noticed his “Upcoming Posts” box before. And I’m on his site just about daily. I’ll blame aging eyes. Or somehow repeatedly rolling a 1 on my Perception check. 😉

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