Five Important Fallouts of the Category Changes at Amazon
And what you must know to succeed in this new Amazon algorithms era.
Hi! I’m Monica Leonelle, USA TODAY bestselling author writing fantasy, scifi, romance, and nonfiction. I help authors sell more books on various platforms (including Substack)!
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Categories have been through a ton of changes at Amazon in the last year. After letting some of that dust settle, along with speaking to and researching the book catalogs of individual authors, I’ve put together five key points that I think can help cut through the noise of how authors should approach these changes.
#1 - You Can Only Set Three Categories (Sort Of)
You can technically still ask to be in more than three categories (up to ten, still, it seems) by emailing Amazon. Unlike before, however, Amazon will only show your book in three categories at any given time.
It seems like the new category changes are not a replacement for the big change that Amazon made previously (last September-ish) where it chose three categories for you and those were dynamic (meaning, they selected them based on internal metrics and data rather than anything you chose or submitted to them).
Unfortunately, even when you choose your categories, you seem to get placed in whatever categories Amazon decides your book is about. I imagine this is to prevent scammers from flooding categories, but it results in Amazon giving authors less control over their placement in the store. This would not be an issue if its dynamic categorizing was foolproof, but it puts books in strange categories sometimes. This can cause them to lose visibility and rank in bestselling categories that may be a better fit.
This is NOT the first instance of Amazon doing this...In fact, there is evidence that they already do this with your seven keywords and possibly even your description (which is not indexed in their search, though it does seem to affect search ranking). The way the collective author community believes this works (aka, this is not confirmed by any rep)—as your book changes rank, you get more keywords added or subtracted so your book can be found more (or less) in search.
Categories appears to be doing something similar now, though there are not many details surrounding it thus far. You can see what categories your book is showing in by looking at your product page. Then, you can click through and see what bestseller lists you are showing up on.
One note that I have heard from many authors is that the automated system that Amazon has deployed seems to be getting categories wrong more often than not. Authors are complaining about being misplaced in irrelevant categories. Amazon has clarified two things:
The support team cannot override the automated categories
The categorization is based on “customer activity” (I talk more about this below)
#2 - Authors Might See Limits on Book or Catalog Visibility Due to Category Changes
If your book can only be in three categories, it can also only be on three bestseller lists in the store at any given time.
Something that further complicates the matter is that Amazon is auto-placing independent authors in two different types of categories:
Some authors don’t realize that there are ebook-only categories, but those independent authors who know usually opt to place their books primarily in ebook-only categories.
The mixed format categories include print, ebook, and audiobook. There is more competition for visibility on these bestseller lists, and print and (to some extent) audiobook formats are going to favor traditionally published books over independent books.
So not only is it impossible to be on a ton of bestseller lists, Amazon is also automatically putting books that primarily sell in ebook into these mixed format categories which are more competitive for ebooks.
Understandably, a lot of authors on both the traditionally published and independent sides have complained about this!
Amazon has stated the reason for this change, which is to stop category stuffing, which is putting a book in categories it doesn’t really belong in. This has long been a practice of both scammers and seasoned authors alike, but it was clearly starting to affect the reader experience enough to get Amazon to take action.
Amazon has also stated how these categories are determined, which is based on customer activity. While there is no further explanation on what that activity is, we can take an educated guess and assume it is based on the usual “customer activity” suspects:
As a reminder, all three of these customer activity carousels have been prominent on product pages before, but Amazon has slowly been hiding them from product pages. This is likely because the data is key and if it is public, it can be scraped easily.
I think the change could be a good thing for the average mid-list author. If your books are in a smaller category that is usually dominated by books that don't belong there, your books now have a chance to be visible to the readers who are looking for them.
The downside is that this change drastically affects visibility in the storefront and it'll be harder and harder to be a 7-figure author on Amazon alone. It is a bad thing for authors with books that had high rank and thus could dominate the bestseller lists for 10+ categories they were in, so they might have been in categories that they didn't really belong in because it got them more visibility. Some series that I believe could be affected on the traditional publishing side, for example, are Harry Potter (JK Rowling) and A Court of Thorns and Roses (Sarah J. Maas). Popular independent authors will likely also feel the challenges.
Further, this may affect some popular KDP Select books because the readers who use the bestseller lists the most for discovery are going to be whale readers, who are often the primary target for authors mainly in Kindle Unlimited.
For wide authors with mostly wide books, it probably doesn’t affect you as much. That’s because wide books can rarely hit bestseller lists in the category anyway (the math for how the lists are calculated heavily favors books in Kindle Unlimited due to treating one KDP Select borrow as one sale).
It could still hit books that are in Kindle Unlimited but don’t regularly hit bestseller lists. The biggest reason is Also Boughts and personalized recommendations—if your book is frequently recommended to readers of books on these bestseller lists, and they are not seeing as much traffic to their books anymore, then you are likely not seeing as much traffic to your books either.
While the category changes are bringing a massive reshuffling of the storefront, and authors will continue to see this in their catalogs as the store resettles.
#3 - Amazon is Taking More Measures To Keep Authors From Mixing Categories Across Age Ranges
The other biggest challenge authors are having at the moment is that categories are separated by other factors, including age range.
Adding an age range to your books is still optional. But in order to be placed in children’s, middle grade, and young adult versus adult categories, it seems like you must add an age range that is appropriate for the genre.
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