Why Barnes & Noble keeps offering to sell me a book I wrote

As I described here, I’ve been baffled by why Barnes & Noble keeps showing me ads that include a book I wrote.  I was finally smart enough to track this down and, as people suggested, it has to do with cookies.  Turns out there’s a little hard-to-see link in these  ads.  Click it, and it brings you to an explanatory page that includes an opt-out option.  The company behind the ads is called Criteo, and the technology is called personalized retargeting.  It’s been around for years.  Here’s a New York Times article about it from 2010:

People have grown accustomed to being tracked online and shown ads for categories of products they have shown interest in, be it tennis or bank loans.

Increasingly, however, the ads tailored to them are for specific products that they have perused online. While the technique, which the ad industry calls personalized retargeting or remarketing, is not new, it is becoming more pervasive as companies like Google and Microsoft have entered the field. And retargeting has reached a level of precision that is leaving consumers with the palpable feeling that they are being watched as they roam the virtual aisles of online stores.

So, my cookies tell the software that I’ve visited the pages for Richard Bowker novels on the Barnes & Noble web site.  And the software puts up ads that keep reminding me of these very fine novels until I break down and buy one.  This is one of those technologies that is equal parts helpful and creepy. I’m not quite ready to get off the grid, like Jack Reacher, but maybe the day will come.

What does Barnes & Noble know about me?

I occasionally look at a liberal-leaning website called Talking Points Memo. It displays ads in the right column of their web page.  One of them is for Barnes & Noble, and it features four books I might be interested in buying from http://www.bn.com.  Today, three of them were thrillers or mysteries by authors II’d never heard of.  The fourth was The Portal, an alternative history novel by Richard Bowker.  Hey, that’s me!

So, how is B&N figuring out what books to display in the ad?  They could be looking at my sales history, but that would tell them I have already bought The Portal from them. (I know that sounds pitiful, but I wanted to goose the novel’s sales rank when it first came out; I promise I won’t do it again.)  Surely that should factor into their algorithm.  Are they tracking which pages I visit on their web site?  But I have never gone anywhere near the other authors whose books they want me to buy.  Is my publisher paying B&N to improve the book’s ad placement generally?  If so, they didn’t bother to tell me.

I find it very mysterious.

Thoughts on sales ranking; also, a bad review and a good sunflower

After getting as high as about #46 on the Nook bestseller list, Senator is starting to fade like the Tampa Bay Rays.  Its sudden rise in the rankings got me thinking about how they are calculated. A brief tour of the Internet convinced me that this is a rat-hole from which one may never return.  The algorithms are proprietary and probably change periodically, so it’s all guesswork.

Since I’m dealing with a publisher rather than publishing my books myself, I don’t see the daily sales figures on Amazon and B&N, so there is no easy way for me to see how the ranking tracks these sales numbers.  But lots of self-published writers apparently have nothing better to do, and they are more than happy to opine about who the rankings are calculated.

The consensus, if you care, is that the ranking represents something like a 30-day moving average, with more recent sales weighted more heavily than sales earlier in the cycle. There is probably some residual effect from sales prior to the 30-day period, so a book that sells five copies a year will have a higher ranking than a book that sells one copy. I have no idea if this is anything like the truth, but it seems plausible to me.  And how many sales does a particular ranking represent?  This looks like a reasonable guess.  Of course, that’s for Amazon.  Barnes & Noble would presumably be something like 20% of that.

Anyway, the sales on Barnes & Noble have started to get Senator some reviews there.  Here is a remarkably bad one that I enjoyed (sort of).  It’s by our friend Anonymous and is titled “Awful”:

Was there a good guy anywhere in this mess? However samples at end were even worse and can now avoid all in future mom

What’s impressive about this is that the writer feels obliged to trash the samples as well as the novel.  Also, what’s up with the word “mom” at the end?  Is the writer trying to insinuate that “Anonymous” is actually my mother?  That’s harsh.

To make myself feel better, here’s a photo of some sunflowers from my garden:



Also, the Red Sox just beat the Yankees for the third time in a row, so there’s that.

Barnes & Noble would prefer not to compete with Amazon on ebook pricing

This is dog-bites-man news, I suppose, but Barnes & Noble is opposed to the idea of having to compete with Amazon on the price of ebooks.  They have made their case in a court filing in the Department of Justice’s lawsuit against Apple and several publishers.

“We think that the Department of Justice got this wrong,” Gene DeFelice, the company’s general counsel, said in an interview. “The settlement destroys independently negotiated commercial relationships. It harms authors, innocent publishers and bookstores, including small-business owners. And it also punishes consumers who stand to benefit from increased competition and lower prices brought about by the agency model.”

Here’s some background on the DOJ suit.

The crux of the disagreement, it seems, is whether the “commercial relationships” were “independently negotiated.”  The DOJ contends that there was collusion, because none of the publishers could afford make a deal with Apple that guaranteed higher ebook prices (via the agency model) if its competitors weren’t going to follow suit (and, probably, Apple wouldn’t have made that deal).

Note that it’s not just the agency model that’s at issue, but the “most favored nation” status granted Apple, in which publishers agree that they must use the agency model with all other ebook distributors if they use it with Apple.  This is what prevents Amazon from undercutting Apple’s prices.

In any case, Barnes & Noble (who isn’t a party to the suit, just a very interested bystander), claims that prices will go up as a result:

Barnes & Noble replied to us with a statement from general counsel Gene DeFelice, who says “The settlement is likely to lead to predatory pricing and increase monopoly by Amazon.” The settlement will also decrease competition, leading to “less choice and increased prices in medium and long term,” DeFelice said.

This is the scenario that I just don’t get.  Right now I buy ebooks on Amazon and read them on the Kindle app on my iPad.  If Amazon starts raising prices, I’ll just go buy my ebooks at the Apple store and read them on the Apple reader for the iPad.  Further, if ebook prices do go up, that would make the prices of hardcover and softcover books attractive once again, which should please Barnes & Noble (assuming they’re still around at that point).  Where does the monopoly pricing power kick in?

Of course, authors are worried, because their royalties may go down.  Bricks-and-mortar bookstores are worried, because their sales may go down.  The world is changing, for everyone.  The question is what can the various parties do–legally–to protect their interests in the new world.