It's An Online Jungle Out There
The line between advertising and editorial judgements just blurred—again.
Amazon.com will begin charging book publishers as much as $10,000 per title in exchange for favorable recommendations to its customers. The new fees will entitle book publishers to be considered for Amazon's Past Buyer Mailings, a mass e-mail promotion, whereby Amazon sends book recommendations to customers based on past purchasing history on Amazon.com. For example, if a customer has a history of buying books in the horror genre, Amazon editors may recommend the latest Stephen King or Dean Koonz title. For publishers, this means increased marketing potential with the option to enhance title recognition along with online banner advertising sales.
But the question is whether consumers will benefit from this campaign. For instance, if Simon & Schuster pays the dot-com for online advertising and inclusion in e-mail announcements, will King's new book be given a more favorable recommendation than it might normally glean from Amazon editors? The potential conflict asks how susceptible book recommendations, previously free and based exclusively on editorial judgments by Amazon's editors,are to financial incentive.
"I don't know how much of a boost publishers get now from the listings of related titles that come up with online search results," admits Michael Washburn, editor, Running Press. "So it's hard to predict what sort of effect the newly announced service will have on sales."
Amazon maintains the new fees are an extension of its Web site's long-time practice of allowing publishers to nominate books and then charging them if Amazon editors agree to the recommended titles in question. Since 1999, the e-tailer has been accepting placement fees from publishers in exchange for exposure on the Amazon Web site. Comparatively, in traditional book markets, publishers with bigger budgets get the best store placement for new titles to attract more customers and sell more books.