Marketing as a Content Creator (or, What’s Wrong With Amazon Part 2)

OUR RELATIONSHIP ISN’T WORKING, AMAZON!

I don’t buy things on Amazon any more.

Which is odd, because I still have listings for sale on the platform. I no longer believe Amazon is a good place for any small- or medium-sized company to use for retail sales (backend seller accounts).

It all started recently, when my awareness and perspective improved over time. I’ve been an Amazon seller for a dozen years, always assuming it was the “place to be,” just because there’s lots of eyeballs on the site. But I never sold much. I thought, as anyone might, it was my fault.

THE AMAZON SELLER EXPERIENCE

Spending time in the Amazon system, as a seller, checking my listings from the back end and front, I naturally also shopped there, using Amazon Prime (as a member for a couple years) and even the grocery store to buy everything from paper towels to electronics to music accessories … whatever I might need. All the time frustrated and wondering, as a seller, why I wasn’t selling.

At the time I had switched some of my products, of which I have more than 50, to Amazon’s “FBA” program, where they hold your products and do all fulfillment for a significant cut. I also use Amazon “Advantage,” a softer version of “FBA,” a little less supersized and easier to use. FBA is designed for big retailers with a room full of people doing “logistics.” That’s not me.

OH, TO BE NO LONGER PRIME

Within the past year, Amazon Prime’s big advantages, shipping speed, shipping discounts and television programming, morphed into just Amazon Video … as the shipping perks become invisible after you start to expect them over time, but the content on A-Video gradually refreshes and it remains an interactive, more top-of-the-mind experience. And after all, even though Amazon actually delivered a package to me as a “Prime” customer on a Sunday, which amazed and impressed me, how much could I really suffer, considering I don’t buy things very often, from having to pay regular, normal, competitive shipping rates for normal shipping turnover times? In my mind, I was paying $100 per year for a “Super Shipping Power-Up” and a Roku channel. What happened was, I eventually watched all the shows that were good. I even reviewed some of them!

So I quit my precious Amazon Prime.

I immediately did not miss anything. Nothing of value in any way to me at all. While the video offerings were decent, it’s a hugely competitive and evolving space, and I also quit Hulu around the same time. Netlix was treading water.

DOWNWARD SPIRAL BEGINS

Then I tried to buy something on Amazon.

It was – and I am not exaggerating in any way – purposefully delayed for a long time, a direct result of my not being a Prime customer any longer, ignoring the prompts to become one, then ignoring the prompts to pay for shipping over and over again based on me choosing the “free shipping” option that looked so appealing. It was a maze of upsell fails to finally get me through to placing the order. The order sat unfulfilled for two weeks. There was no apology or explanation.

Amazon Slow Shipping

This is the posture of a bad idea, I believe.

We just all wait, forever if that is how long free shipping from Amazon takes. At least we can revel in how we survived the “Give Amazon Money Now” challenge.

I had spent so much brain energy trying to order something with the “free shipping” offered, not being “Prime Enough,” on my Amazon, I almost forgot eBay exists! And many other places, too, where they don’t try to trick your money out of your pocket, or tease you about maybe getting the package sometime around your birthday.

THE PROBLEMS

Still “selling” as an Amazon “Individual” seller, and through “Advantage” (which is a decent program, much less cumbersome and ridden with overstock fee hazards than FBA) … I combined, in my mind, several things which seemed like daggers sunk into the Amazon experience.

haystack
Amazon algorithm; code name “Haystack”

The front end begs and decieves, while the back end can’t help but be constantly confusing just because it’s designed for big companies. There was the issue with shipping services, especially for non-primes; then the “Haystack Effect,” which renders your products immediately invisible as soon as they are launched on Amazon for sale, unless you are a big company; then the problems, for those sellers who have thick skins and are still thinking they can get somewhere in the jungle … problems with finding a solution and getting out of the mud.

DO I SUCK? OR IS IT YOU?

While most “programs” are intuitively self-correcting if the experience stinks for the user (in this case “seller”), Amazon’s selling platforms prove to only have scratched the surface of your tolerance for annoyance, and prove it more the more you try to use the system. If you keep trying to solve the problems, they keep saying “you suck you little guy.”

This is made evident when you ask a friend to read your book, which is published on Amazon and which you sell there, and then please to leave a little friendly review, which, as Amazon instructs profoundly, will help with discoverability (the main problem) because discoverability is based on sales rank and quantity and quality of user reviews.

Amazon HaystackIn this scenario, Amazon’s back-end has assured you this is a terrific strategy for curing your Haystack Effect, and users do not have to purchase the item in order to leave a review (this is where it gets fun), while Amazon’s front-end (and the seller is not notified of this) tells the user, after going out of their way to leave the review … they can’t.

THE BIG AMAZON REVIEW SECRET

No, they can’t leave a review because (you’re gonna love this) sometimes (not all the time) a user has not purchased enough things, in general, on Amazon. That’s why. So the lovely concept that any old non-purchaser CAN leave a review is true, but only maybe and sometimes; sometimes those silly customers and friends of yours just haven’t … Ibuprofen please!

Quick reminder: there are a few websites out there I think that would be happy if you sent them traffic. Amazon,though, has a gatekeeper they don’t tell you about to prevent this type of thing.

Hmmph. Not sure if this is working for me.

REVIEW: WHY AMAZON SUCKS

So, in summary, I no longer buy things on Amazon. Because I don’t trust them and I think they suck. They have been confusing and deceiving me and leading my friends on dead-ends that took me years to find out about, for a very long time. They have done nothing to assist me as a seller; to a small shop like me, I think it’s possible you might even feel like you’re being hidden – and that’s because you are.

Still, while I don’t like being deceptive, insecure or overly pushy to shoppers, as a seller there are probably a few reasons for me to exit slowly as I build other platforms, and even stick with Amazon indefinitely for unique things like Kindle sales, as long as that process is 100% smooth and genuine, which I THINK it has been in the past.

WHY KINDLE MIGHT NOT SUCK

As far as I can tell, Kindle is a good program. It costs nothing to maintain the listings, you’re not going to get overstock issues that cost you money with zero income to offset, it’s a recognizable brand, and the cross promotion tools are excellent (you can “share” a chapter from within a kindle to Twitter, and it creates a link that brings the user into the actual book – it’s very cool).

AMAZON HAS 3 BIG BUTS

But (and that’s a big but) there are three big problems.

One is obvious to everyone who is not a best-seller when they launch their product on Amazon, which is they hide your products. For Amazon to say discoverability is based on sales rank and reviews is the same as saying if you have never been heard of before because you’re new, you will never be displayed for any reason to our millions of viewers, and this seems to me like hiding the products. I can search for my own products on Amazon, and they are suppressed in order to prioritize space against best sellers they want to display. There isn’t any more room. This is in clear contrast to the search engines built into Craigslist or eBay, where, if you search for something very specifically, you expect it to come up as a result, and it does. On Amazon it often doesn’t. They have officially become too big for their own good.

Second big but: shipping deception and insecure upselling.

Third big but: “how to cure” deception – tell your friends to leave reviews (to cure being hidden) and they hit a dead-end you’d be lucky to find out about, while you’re told you’re being effective, but you’re only annoying your customer base.

SO WHAT DOES A LITTLE GUY DO?

My advice to Amazon is the same I’d give a local bookstore.

There’s a market out there of quality individual authors and artists that want a place to be displayed. Just because they are hard to find in the haystack of crap that doesn’t belong in any store, that only makes the struggle more frustrating … and a bigger potential score for the platform that takes the time to find the quality.

When I was in radio, I threw away 90% of the music that was sent to me (after listening). That is a conservative and kind estimate. The good song was lost in the haystack. My station thrived, though, because I presented what I found, doing the work that needed to be done.

DO THE WORK, BOOKSTORES!

Eva CassidyI discovered Eva Cassidy when a guy from Blix Street records called me on the phone and asked me to pick it out of the dozen 3-foot piles of CDs surrounding me, all wanting a listen. The artist had already died, and her family had Blix Street, an unknown entity, calling around trying to get someone to listen to her beautiful recordings. I had the artist on the air in rotation on my station for a full two years before Sony records finally bought out the little company and made Eva a proper star, and I remember walking into Barnes and Noble in the mall and seeing the reworked packaging on display. That is how long a remarkable talent was herself lost in the radio promotion haystack.

NEXT BIG STAR CURRENTLY UNAVAILABLE

The next big star will be the same person who’s already a big star, Ariana and Taylor. In the spotlight, just as on the Amazon search results page, there’s only so much room. When a new face shows up, it will be billed as already famous. This helps them book gigs; it’s a great strategy!

The entertainment industry has never acknowledged the “little guy,” unless it’s a “big guy” who used to be little, which means … it’s not you. Things are slowly changing though.

My charming story from inside the FM radio studio is a little unique, although there are some kind souls who don’t just play the book of songs they bought from a consultant.

If you’re a creator and you think you’re good, don’t let the market discourage you. You may very well be very good.

Next stop: iBooks!

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