One of the problems Amazon has as a major self-publishing market is that, every so often, it’s prone to making odd decisions. Sometimes those decisions are at least understandable in a certain light, such as cutting down on incest or monster erotica—but others seem to make very little sense at all.
Case in point: David Gaughran writes about a sudden decision by Amazon to start pulling from sale and requiring corrections to self-published e-books whose authors have the temerity to put the table of contents at the back of the book, rather than the front. For some authors, this can happen at the worst possible time.
For example, Walter Jon William had just put his “arcanepunk” novel Metropolitan on sale, with a Bookbub promotion, when Amazon abruptly pulled it without any warning and told him to correct that placement. What’s more, once he had, Amazon sent an email out to everyone who had previously bought the e-book saying that it had been changed to incorporate “Improved formatting for readability. Significant editorial changes have been made.” As Williams pointed out, he had made no changes whatsoever to the book apart from moving the table of contents.
Not only did this prevent his book from being sold during part of the Bookbub promotion, it also had the effect of torpedoing his Amazon sales rank. The Bookbub promotion would have cost him $570 and he won’t be able to run another such promotion for Metropolitan for another six months.
The thing is, it’s a fairly common practice among not only self-publishers but also some major publishers to put the table of contents in the back. This keeps it out of Amazon’s 10% previews, so there’s more actual text for readers to judge. Why would Amazon suddenly start cracking down on this practice? Well, that’s the interesting thing.
Gaughran suggests that this could be for similar reasons as Amazon changed Kindle Unlimited from a title-based to a pages-read-based payment scheme—to crack down on scammers trying to game the system. Under the old system, people only had to read a page or two of a very short Kindle title to pay the author for the whole thing. He writes:
The latest wheeze from this shady crew was to place a message at the start of their KU titles encouraging readers to click through to the end – because this fools Amazon’s system into thinking the entire book has been read, the author of that title then receives an inflated payout from the KU pot, and then honest, hard-working writers who aren’t pulling these cheap tricks on readers have less money to share. It’s a mess. These guys are peeing in the KU pool and Amazon is paying them by the gallon.
Gaughran believes Amazon seems to think people who put their table of contents in the back of the book are pulling a similar trick. It’s impossible to be certain because Amazon hasn’t said for sure, but it seems like a reasonable supposition on the face of it.
The thing is that Kindle e-books don’t even need a separate table of contents at all, so it shouldn’t matter whether it’s at the beginning or the end. If scammers was the main issue, you would think that Amazon should come up with some better system for judging how many pages in a book have actually been read.
But then again, some Kindle e-book readers have complained that when they jump to the table of contents, it resets their latest-page-read count to the end of the book, making it harder for them to jump back to the last place they’d read from another computer. So it could simply be that Amazon had heard enough complaints from readers who found that practice annoying without being scammed to want to crack down on it.
The requirement that the table of contents be at the beginning of the book is in Amazon’s Kindle publishing guidelines now, though it’s not clear whether it has always been there. Either way, Amazon’s certainly enforcing it now, so if any of your books are formatted with a TOC at the end, you might want to see about revising and re-uploading them before Amazon gets around to pulling them from sale.