Algorithm Agony

I am a debut published author, hooray! My book is getting five star reviews, hooray! Some fellow writers (who really know what they’re doing) have said very nice things about my book, hooray! The publicity strategy is kicking in and the interviews, blog tour, advertising is falling into place, hooray!

BUT, and it’s a big but, Amazon, one of the two big online retailers of books, is showing my title as ‘Temporarily Out of Stock’.  All that publicity, all those reviews and, when the potential reader goes to the Amazon site, it seems that they can’t buy a paperback copy of the book.

Now the first thing to say is that they can!  As the ‘New’ and ‘Used’ options show – the Amazon messages are contradictory – click ‘Buy’ and a purchaser is taken to the usual screens. The book is available. Yet I fear that the immediate message – that it is not – will mean that many potential purchasers are dissuaded from buying it. I am a new author after all,  this is my first crime thriller, I don’t have a track record to rely on, why take a chance on someone whose new book isn’t even in stock?

My newness turns out to be part of the problem. The other, big part, is a result of COVID ( ironic for a book entitled ‘Plague’ ).  As my previous post, Publication Day!! said, September has been a bumper month for book releases, because all those books which would have been released in spring but were deferred because of COVID are now coming out. Yet Amazon, the largest online book retailer, has only so many warehouses (though they are building more). So the warehouses are full and there are yet more books. How do they decide which books should be kept in stock?

First, they decide that no book should be stored in these over-crowded warehouse for more than 48 hours, so only the quick sellers will find house room ( a tough, if logical, commercial decision ). Second, Amazon turn to their tried and trusted method of making decisions about products – an algorithm. The algorithm is predictive and it determines which books are likely to sell quickly i.e. for which there is greatest demand.

Which is where my being a debut novelist counts against Plague.  I’m not an established name, with legions of fans awaiting my book’s release, nor a well-known celebrity who commands name recognition and therefore drives sales.  My publisher, Claret Press, is a small indie, which doesn’t have the budget for a massive sales pitch and stormtrooper publicists and this counts against Plague too. The clever algorithm is never going to choose to stock Plague over many of those other books. So ‘Temporarily Out of Stock’ appears, even though the book is available.

This is the algorithmic Catch-22.  However popular my book might be, it’s never going to get the chance to become so. It’s new and by an unknown author and, however hard I, and Claret Press, work, it’s unlikely to impress that algorithm.

BUT all is not lost! The ebook is still shown as available, so people can buy that, at least. One can also get this message out MY BOOK IS AVAILABLE WHATEVER AMAZON SAYS. People are buying the paperback. It’s there to be bought.

Mine is not, of course, the only book in this Catch-22, there are lots of others. There is, apparently, a meeting next Tuesday between small publishers and Amazon to try and sort this out.  Watch this space. In the meanwhile, please tell everyone you know who might enjoy a snappy and topical crime thriller to BUY THIS BOOK. One thing the algorithm recognises is sales.

2 thoughts on “Algorithm Agony

  1. Hi JulieTried to buy Plague this morning via my Waterstones account. My order was accepted but only on the basis of a pre-order, site saying the book is awaiting publication. So you might need to chase them up too. Hope the trip to Spain went well and quarantine has not (yet) driven you bonkers.AlexSent from Samsung tablet.


    1. Thanks for letting me know. This happened yesterday – Neilsens, the book data firm, is chasing Waterstones to change what they’re saying. It is, of course, wrong. Neilsens send them data and they say they’ve done so correctly, so the fault seems to be with Waterstones. Talk about not needing this! Claret are doing everything they can too. Quarantine isn’t so bad for me – I’ve got lots to keep me occupied and the garden. My chef and bottle washer is less pleased, perchance.


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