Being the diplomatic soul that I am, I responded “I call BS” before even reading the article. Then, I thought I should expand on that statement. Which meant I had to read the article.
Clark goes on to quote a New Yorker article by George Packer, in which he claims that publishers can pay Amazon to push books up the search rankings. Oh, the horror!
Um, wait a minute. Actually, I’ll wait an hour or so. Go to your nearest bookstore. Check out those tables at the front. Why are those books there, and not the ones you might want to see? If you answered “the publishers paid the bookstore for favorable placement,” you get a gold star!
But hey, I’ve not paid Amazon a dime for search engine placement. And yet, if you type “Accidental Sorcerers” into Amazon’s search, guess what comes up #1? (and #2 through #5?) Someone else’s book, The Accidental Sorcerer, appears a little farther down.
One of the things that +Angela Kulig taught me, early on when I joined the co-op, is that titles matter. If you pick a generic title, your book will flounder in a sea of other books (and in the case of Amazon, other products) with similar names. Just like in poor Mr. Clark’s case. A little closer to home, I once titled a book in progress Chasing a Rainbow. Angela suggested I search that title on Goodreads. Ouch. We came up with the replacement title, The Crossover, only after much banging of heads on tables (at least on my part) late at night. There are other titles that show up in a search for that, and mine still doesn't make the first page.
So, in a nutshell, this is Search 101 for authors: pick a title that’s as unique as possible. If you have a generic-sounding title like “Sweetness,” you need a lot of sales to get your ranking pushed to the top. Or your publisher can pay the online bookstore for placement, just like they do for brick-and-mortar stores. One is a little more work, but cheaper and more effective. Or, just bash Amazon and let Salon do the rest. Doesn’t matter if you prove yourself clueless in the process, eh?