Bizarre Amazon Parings – UPDATED

marketing-odditiesFrom the file of odd and strange marketing, comes Amazon’s bizarre pairing of books. As a business owner, you always have to be mindful of who is presenting your image – and how they are doing it. Last week, when I was reading about the book Improv Wisdom by Patricia Ryan Madson, I was a little baffled why the book Toxic Parents was paired with it (it has since been changed). Then I found some information about how parings are done. It seems that Ms. Madson learned that one can buy the right to pair their book with another. From a marketing perspective this is really horrible – paid pairings with no author input. Ms. Madson did take some control and used what she had available to get the message out – her Amazon “plog” and her own blog:

To my surprise, however, this week, I visited my page to check on sales stats only to discover that my book had been paired this week with the unlikely title, Toxic Parents: Overcoming Your Hurtful Legacy and Reclaiming Your Life. What this book may have to do with the subject of improvising a life I cannot imagine. Upon investigation I discovered that Amazon allows a bookseller to buy the right to advertise their book as a “pairing.” Apparently there need be no permission given from either the author or the publisher of the book being “paired.” I certainly gave none, and when I checked with my editor I found that we have no rights in this matter. We must simply wait out the period in which the advertising has been purchased. At best, this is exploitive.

I applaud Ms. Madson for being aware of her image and using the tools available to her to speak directly to her audience.

Now, for an even more unfortunate paring, check out the book that I recommended in the “Why Settle for Just One Path?” post – The Renaissance Soul by Margaret Lobenstine. As of this writing they have it paired with Blow Him Away (I’m not providing a link, or the subtitle for obvious reasons. I’m not a prude by any stretch, but unlike Amazon, I intend to stay on topic and consider my audience). Not only do the two subjects have nothing to do with one another, there is the potential for brand damage, due to the subject matter. Now, please don’t get me wrong, I don’t have an issue with what folks choose to read. This is still a free country (as of this writing, anyway). It’s the marketing and the image that I take issue with. Authors, or at least publishers, should have some control how their image is presented. If I were Margaret Lobenstine, I wouldn’t be too happy about Amazon’s policy.

Personally, I love Amazon. I’ve been a customer for over a decade, and have spent a fortune there. The prices, service, and support are top notch. But as a content creator, I find this pretty disconcerting and a little absurd.

So the moral of the story is to do your best to manage your image – and when you can’t, use the tools that are available to explain why. You work hard to present your company to the world, don’t let your image be hijacked by someone else.


I received a wonderful email from Patricia Ryan Madson. After much work on her part, she was able to get the matter resolved:

I was delighted to see your post about the Amazon “pairings” in what seems to me to be a scandal. Thanks for writing about this. I was feeling quite alone fighting the Goliath. After lots of work I found someone at Amazon who told me that in fact the publisher that had booked the pair was MY publisher. Seems Random House has dozens of imprints but likely only a single merchandising department. Bell Tower, my imprint is way down the line of small presses. I finally got my own editor to go to bat to try and uncouple this unsuitable pair. And, today (TADA!) she succeeded. She got to pick some other Random House title and chose “Positive Energy” which is a more likely bedfellow.

I was very pleased to find out that she was able to get a much more compatible pairing. Way to go Patricia!

Update 2:

I received an email from Margaret Lobenstine, and she’s having a much more difficult time getting Amazon to do something about the pairing of her book. She informed me that she has been in touch with her agent and editor, and that they did not pay for the current pairing. She also:

…finally got through to someone in “Seller Support” at Amazon who told me he would be sure to let the Catalog department know of the mismatch — but that a) no one from outside Amazon can reach the Catalog department, period and b) they tend to take a looooooong time to make changes.

If anyone has any suggestions on what else could be done, please let me know.


  1. Wow Tony. I applaud your efforts. Paid pairings is one way things happen on Amazon. I know things can also get paired if someone buys the 2 items listed several times. The best way I’ve seen for this to change is for many people to go searching for book 1 (Margaret’s book) and then buy a more friendly book than the Toxic Parents one. Best of luck on this. It’s definitely an unwanted pairing.

  2. Liz – I appreciate the compliment – but I can’t fly, or bend space-time, or paint the future 🙂 I’m just a guy who feels strongly that folks – especially small business and content creators – should be able to dictate how their stuff is presented. I know in the real world this isn’t always possible – but that’s doesn’t mean we can’t do our part to help it along.

    Phil – That’s a great idea. Although, Margaret’s wasn’t paired with Toxic Parents. Her pairing was much more absurd and potentially offensive. I know he was offended by it.

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