2009 The Amazon/Marketing Relationship

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The Amazon/Marketing Relationship

Amazon is an increasingly important account for most publishers and, for better or worse, it can dominate as a presence for books in our culture. For many readers, if a book isn't listed on Amazon, it may as well not exist. This panel deals with some key aspects of the Amazon/publisher relationship. Topics covered will include practical tips for using Vendor Central, effective (and ineffective) advertising and marketing opportunities, controlling your content on Amazon pages, and helping authors understand the site.

Moderator: John McLeod, Marketing and Sales Director, University of Georgia Press

Panelists: Becky Brasington Clark, Marketing Director, Johns Hopkins University Press (Presentation); Tony Sanfilippo, Assistant Press Director & Marketing & Sales Director, Penn State University Press (see below)

Please feel free to add notes or responses to the session below.

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Vendor Central.


Hi, I’m Tony Sanfilippo and I work for the Penn State Press. I’m here today to talk to you a little about Vendor’s Central and how and why we use it and, in some cases, parts we don’t use and why.

First, it should be noted that it appears that Vendor’s Central isn’t going to be the same for everyone. (slide 2) If you’re not a part of the Kindle Program, for example, you probably don’t have a Digital Tab in your Vendor Central interface. And it’s also worth noting that anytime there’s a tab, (slide 3) there’s a corresponding text link on the left side of the interface. On the right side is status information on such things as the (slide 4) case log for tracking problems , (slide 5) data quality, (slide 6) shipments, and (slide 7) EDI alerts.

Okay, (slide 8) let’s start here on the left with Orders.

Yeah, we don’t really use this. (slide 9) The Routing Request tool in Vendor Central allows you to request carrier pick up of freight collect shipments to Amazon. Based on the information submitted in the Routing Request, an Amazon preferred carrier will be designated to pick up your freight and deliver it to the appropriate Amazon warehouse. This tool really doesn’t come into play until you have a shipment of 150 lbs or more and that doesn’t really happen for us. I wish it did, but alas, not so much.

While we’re discussing useless functions, let’s have a look at one other function here that really isn’t relevant to my press and that’s (slide 10) this ASN link. Similar concept—(slide 11) let’s you send Advanced Shipment Notification information to Amazon on a PO level but as Amazon isn’t forcing us to supply ASN information, we’re not.

By the way, to illustrate my previous point about how what others might see in Vendor Central might be different, let me show you this graphic I found in their Help section.

(slide12) Note that these folks only have four tabs, but they do have one extra function that we don’t and that is PO Management. I suspect that the reason we don’t have that is because we, like many of our smaller and mid-sized colleagues, use UnitechEDI to send and manage our orders, which brings me to yet another function of Vendor Central that we don’t use, (slide 13) the EDI portion. If there were problems with the electronically transmitted POs, ASNs, or Invoices, those would be displayed here. (slide 14) And as the cases were resolved, they’d be archived below.

Now before I get into the meat of how we use Vendor Central, let me point to one last group of functions that we don’t use, (slide 15) the Payments section or in some versions of Vendor Central, it maybe called Accounting. If we didn’t handle invoices using EDI, this would be where we could create, submit invoices track both invoices and remittances.

Alright enough about how we DON’t use Vendor Central, let’s now turn to how we do use it. Now, normally marketing and sales wouldn’t be heavily involved in these kinds of activities, POs, invoices, and payments normally are the purview of the business office, so I asked our business manager about how he used Vendor Central. He said since EDI handled most of this, most of its functions weren’t particularly applicable but there was one link he did find particularly useful and that was this link on the bottom, (slide 16) Contact Us. This link in on the bottom of every page in Vendor Central and they all link to this interface. (slide 17) It has a CC field so if you want to include a colleague on the response, you can add that address. (slide 18) This drop down menu allows you to chose what issue you need to contact them about and then routes the communication to the appropriate department at Amazon. I’ve got to say that this alone is one of the most useful elements of Vendor Central. If you’ve ever tried to get a response from a Vendor Rep at Amazon you’ve probably been frustrated at their typical lack of response. But using this interface to address issues seems, at least for now, much more effective. Both our business manager and I have found that questions asked using this interface seem to get a response in a one or two business days. (slide 19) It opens a case which is assigned a case number and the case isn’t closed until you close it. So while you might still find some frustration in some of the responses, at least with persistence you can eventually address many of the problems you might encounter with selling your books on their site.

By the way, since we’re on the settings tab, let’s take a look at what happens here. (slide 20) First, you can manage your own account and change your password or security question. (slide 21) Next you can set or change your warehouse and returns addresses and contact people at those warehouses. (slide 22) This section allows you to manage who has access to Vendor Central and the kind of privileges they have. (slide 23) This section lists the appropriate contacts at your press for things like publicity, EDI, sales, etc. It tells Amazon who the direct contact is at the press for various issues. (slide 24) Finally there’s the agreements section that contains the established terms and conditions with which you do business with Amazon.

Now that we’ve gone through some of the functions we don’t use, or don’t frequently use, and the sections that establish how we do business, lets turn our attention to some of the most useful functions of Vendor Central. Those that help us better merchandize on Amazon.

The first tab we’ll look at is frankly a bit revolutionary, at least for Amazon.(slide 25) Items allows us to add and edit our listings at Amazon and I’ve found those changes or additions occur pretty quickly once we’ve made them through this interface. Two important things to note here are that first, this interface allows basic HTML, (slide 26) so if you have access to HTML versions of your copy and author bios, you can add them here and Amazon will maintain that formatting of the text. This is particularly useful when it comes to special characters and diacritics. If you know the HTML or Unicode entities for those characters, you can add them here and the copy will display correctly on Amazon’s page. The second wonderful thing here is it lets you add reviews. Now you can add that fantastic review you just received for your book and the review will show up on the book’s detail page on the same day, sometimes in the same hour that you learned about it. That means better sales and happier authors. For this alone, Vendor Central is a priceless tool.

(slide 28) The other very helpful tool Vendor Central offers is the ability to upload covers. This is great for new books, or new designs. A few things to note here are that there are specs; the file needs to be either a jpeg or TIFF, they need to be at least 500 pixels tall or wide, and they need to be named using the ISBN, either ten or thirteen, and without dashes, followed by the file extension. You can also submit multiple files in a zip file, as long as each individual file within that zip file are all using the correct naming convention. They’ve also recently included instructions for submitting secondary images so if, for example, you have a boxed set, you can submit that image using the same naming convention, but then adding a four character variant between the ISBN and the file extension. 02710388764.BOXS.jpg would be an example.

As of yet I have not had any luck submitting these alternate images and currently have a case open on the matter.

And as with most of the other functions of Vendor Central, once you’ve sent the file, you can track the status using the upload ID number, issued after you’ve uploaded.

The next tab we’ll explore is the Digital tab. (slide 29) Here’s where you can manage your Kindle titles. You probably wont’ see the Digital tab in Vendor Central until your agreement is in place. In this section of you can control various elements of your books in the Kindle program. Here you can approve books for the program, Upload files to add books to the program, check on the status on the conversion process, or change the prices of your Kindle editions. Approval is as simple as checking the box in the left hand column. If the book is already in the Search Inside the Book program then Amazon will simply use that file for the Kindle edition. The status of the book will then change to “Converting” until the books go live on the site. If you wish to submit a file (slide 30) this button here will allow you to do that following the typical naming convention of using the ISBN and then the file extension. (slide 31) If you wish to upload multiple files then, like cover files, they can be uploaded in a zipped file. If the files you are adding are new to the Amazon catalog, you are also required to submit an Excel Spreadsheet providing information such as which territories you have rights to, price, and ebook ISBN, if you choose to use one, and other basic bibliographic information. Territories are noted using ISO country codes, which can be found at ISO.org.

While approval of files can be done simply by clicking a check box in this interface, most other corrections or additions to information on Kindle editions are handled using an Excel Spreadsheet, the same one I just mentioned when submitting new files. (slide 32) By clicking on that first link a spreadsheet will be created, and I should mention that this often takes longer than one might expect. Once it’s created, clicking on that second link will download the spreadsheet to your desktop. (slide 33) These spreadsheets are a bit problematic by the way, because you can’t actually just change or add data to them and then upload them. For some unknown reason you must also then convert all the cells in the spreadsheet to text fields or the upload will be rejected. The spreadsheets are not downloaded with that formatting in place, you must do it yourself after you’ve updated it. Once those changes are made, upload the file and the changes you’ve made will take place in about a day.

There’s one more little piece of information available on this page that may or may not be worth taking a look at and that’s what Amazon calls the DWC. (slide 34)DWC stands for Demand Weighted Coverage and it’s calculated by dividing the unit sales of your Kindle Editions by the unit sales of all your books. The idea is to get that percentage up as high as possible and of course the way to do that is to approve as many of your books as possible for the Kindle program. I think Amazon thinks it will encourage us to submit a lot.

The next tab is the merchandising tab (slide 35) and for me this has two functions. First I can approve authors who have claimed author pages on Author Central, (slide 36) and I can update their author bio on Author Central or I can add an author photo to that same page. And second, (slide 37) I can get a report of which of our books are currently in the Search Inside the Book program. Now I imagine if I participated in some of the programs Becky discussed then I might have a few more options here, but so far we haven’t participated. (ASK BECKY?)

Finally, there’s the reports tab. This section of the site allows some basic reporting about your books on Amazon, and if you subscribed to Amazon Retail Analytics Premium, I imagine it’s also where you’d go for that more granular information. Now, before I get too far here I have to explain that I can’t really show you too much in terms of screenshots of this section. On every page of this section is a notice that all of the information in this section is confidential and the sole property of Amazon. In spite of that, let me say that even just the free basic reporting is very useful and again, along with the section allowing item corrections, a primary reason why you absolutely need to use Vendor Central. The first section here is the dashboard which provides a graph comparing shipments with inventory in units for a twelve month period, and next to that is a list of books sold for the week, and how many each sold.

The next section shows you all of your books, and contains such details as Release Date/Product Available Date, Customer Ordered Units, Shipped Units, Sellable On Hand Units, Vendor Units Received, and Open PO Quantities for each of your titles in their catalog.

It allows you to create filters to look at individual titles or groups and it will give you information on those titles for up to the last twelve months or any specific period within the last twelve months.

The next section offers a monthly summary of your sales in units ordered, units shipped, units on hand, units open on POs, and units received for each month. Ours lists that data back to November of 2007, which, I think, is when we first activated our Vendor Central account.

The next section shows you which of your books are missing cover images, and while this is a very helpful report, let me pause for a moment for a quick rant.

I redesigned our own Web site about a year ago, and as I had recently completed a project that added every single title we ever published or distributed in our 50 plus year history to our database, including things out of stock and out of print, I decided to also add those titles to our Web site. So our current site now contains every book we ever published. Once that was completed, I decided to join Amazon’s associates program, (slide 43) which, if you’re not familiar with it, is the program where Amazon pays a commission for every sale referred to their site from someone else’s. The commission is typically 6 to 8 percent on books, but the commission includes everything the customer buys during that same visit, so if they also get a plasma screen TV, I get 4% of that sale. The commission is based on the product type and the conversions on your referrals. While I realize I might be losing a few sales at full price, I’m also effectively cutting into Amazon’s discount by as much as 10%, frequently more over Christmas. Now that I also have those Out of Print books on my site, I’m also actually making money on books we no longer sell. We have about 1,200 active titles and about 900 titles out of print titles on our site. Before we did this we sold about 4 books a day on our own site. Now we sell about 3 books a day on our site and refer about 4 sales a day to Amazon. And again, significantly more during text and holiday seasons.

So what does any of that have to do with cover images? It’s those out of print books that make up a majority of our missing cover images on Amazon’s site. And the rant concerns Amazon’s inability to prevent multiple pages for the same used book from being created on their site. When I look up one of our titles on Amazon, I typically find several records for the same book. Usually, but not always, only one for each of our recent active editions, but for the older books, I have found as many as ten different pages for a title, and each has a unique ASIN created by the used book’s seller. Amazon desperately needs to figure out a way to get folks selling their used copies to list them all on the same page instead of allowing anyone to come in and create a new and independent record for a used book. And let me repeat, this issue isn’t limited to out of print titles, this also happens to new titles. I think the proliferation of these records is seriously detracting from the user experience and creates unnecessary confusion in the marketplace. The issue really needs to be addressed. Even with active books, Amazon needs to let publishers connect editions, even used editions, in a much simpler and much more accurate way.

(slide 44) Alright, back to Vendor Central and reports. The final tab under reports is the Vendor Catalog Listing which is really only a table of all of our books that Amazon carries, without any sales data, but which does include that book’s page rank as measured against all of our books in the Amazon catalog.

The only other things we need to cover are (slide 45) the resource center, which contains PDFs of a bunch of legal documents concerning various Amazon programs as well as documents about Amazon’s operations procedures. (slide 46) And last but not least, the help center, which contains much of the information I offered here, in the form of FAQs and even the occasional video tutorial on some of these utilities. (slide 47) So that’s all I have for you today. I hope you found it helpful. Thanks.

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