What Is Wrong With Today’s Amazon?


What will happen now that Amazon owns ABE?

Generally speaking, AbeBooks sellers who list on Amazon are hoping there will be no automated migration of AbeBooks listings to Amazon; and AbeBooks sellers who do not list on Amazon are, in the main, hoping for the opposite.

We would love to see Amazon’s techno-wizards reduce ABE’s glitches and help them facilitate the long-promised optional exclusion of new books and/or PODs from searches.

Beyond that, our hopes and speculations are widely scattered.

In the meantime, Amazon could actually use some help from ABE in the following areas.

Dreadful Seller Storefront

The left hand portion of the Amazon Seller Storefront screen is decent. This includes the Info & Policies, a feedback summary, and a link to more information (though this is primarily Amazon’s own Returns and Shipping statements).

The manner in which Amazon listings are displayed is the dreadful part. This page is clearly aimed at the visually-oriented shopper, but it fails miserably in execution. This portion of the Storefront consists solely of product images with the title and author given in hypertext. This limits the number of listings per page, but the most serious drawback is that the screen in many cases consists of blank “no image available” place-holders (most unattractive), or, perhaps even worse, it shows whichever image Amazon has assigned to that book. For newer books this will be the stock photo, but for others it will be a former “customer share” image that Amazon has copied and placed in the “official” image spot (which is then beyond the control of the original contributor). This image may or may not resemble the book being offered. From the main Product Page on Amazon, it is easier for shoppers to guess that the image probably does not represent all the listings, but when coupled with the title on the Seller Storefront, the image may be quite misleading. This is especially true when the shopper clicks on a title. The page that comes up resembles the main Product Page, but the links to the listings page show only the one listing. At this point, only someone well familiar with the Amazon system will realize that the image shown often does not represent the book being offered.

The Storefront layout has the potential of making an interesting display for those sellers who do make extensive use of image share, but that potential is generally not realized. The only instance of the seller’s image accompanying their title on the Storefront will be in the case of Created Product Pages (those deliberately created online—not the page images created automatically upon upload).

Although Amazon started out as a bookselling site, its spell check function in the caption and notes for shared images (kudos there) does not recognize some common bookselling terms such as endpaper. The caption and notes also do not allow some rather crucial words, such as binding, spine, jacket, and title.

Too Many Roll-Ups

Amazon’s method of accommodating uploads of non-ISBN books from various sellers often results in a horrendous array of Product Information Pages. Since date, rather than publisher, is used as the primary identifier to separate various editions of the same title, books from any publisher that include a print date (as opposed to those that give only the original copyright date) may run into dozens of Product Pages for the same title. It also means that an attempt to create a page for a Grosset & Dunlap reprint that uses the same date as the Little, Brown original will result in an Amazon message that the product already exists, blocking the attempt to create a separate Product Page for the reprint edition.

The date identifier is not always a negative. Sets such as the International Library of Technology may sometimes best be matched with similar copies by printing date. Date is also a reasonable divider for different editions of Betty Crocker’s Cookbook.

The emphasis on date also leads to extra Product Pages when sellers can’t determine the date of a book. They can’t leave this field blank, so they have learned to plug in such dates as 1000 or 1111. New pages are also created by including or not including subtitles, and by adding inappropriate comments to the title field (Very Good!, one page creased, etc.).

This problem is exacerbated by sellers who understand and manipulate the system by deliberately forcing new pages for their listings rather than selecting an existing ASIN and correcting any wrong information.

The result of all this is an excessive number of roll-ups and endless clicking and hunting. The Prince of the House of David, for example, has 63 Product Pages, plus a few nested roll-ups. A Kindle edition may be masking the original publisher Product Page, showing only as an “Unknown Binding” link next to the Kindle on the search results page. Furthermore, if there are several of these embedded roll-ups, even a knowledgeable shopper may have to chase around to find the complete list. These roll-up linkages sometimes result in such oddities as the product review for a 1932 first edition telling us what a great voice the 2001 talking book reader has.

Searching for a book like Stevenson’s Treasure Island is going to require a bit of experience on any search service, but Amazon’s maze is much harder to penetrate. There are over 1,000 roll-ups listed after the simple author / title search! Adding “Wyeth” as a keyword only brings it down to 28. The ordering system in the search results USUALLY leaves the empty pages last (those Product Pages with no listings), but that’s not dependable.

The author field in particular is well handled when listing directly on Amazon, or when creating a page on Amazon, allowing multiple author listings, plus illustrator, editor, photographer, etc., with each being properly identified. The pages created by seller upload are not so nice, as the following author field examples demonstrate.

Harriet.; Harvey Fuller (ill.) Ouida; Golden (Author)

Thornton W. (Thornton Waldo) (1874-1965) – Related name: Kerr, George (illus.) Burgess

The Advanced Search has a few serious shortcomings. Date refinement seldom works well, for no discernable reason.

After finding the desired Product Page, it is often troublesome locating signed copies or first printings. Ideally the Collectible division should be the place to look for these, but rampant abuse by sellers pushed Amazon to set a standard based on price. This might actually work for books of at least moderately high value, but it doesn’t work well at all for the large number of lower end collectibles, such as signed copies of common titles that make them a bit more valuable. There may be many such books that you feel should sell for $20 to $30, but they cannot be listed as Collectible in that price range. Amazon does not make it particularly easy to determine what their lower end Collectible limit is for a given book, and I have heard that these limits shift and listings get deleted.

The Standard: The Journal of the Independent Online Booksellers Association

Check out the Independent Online Booksellers Association Website