A/B Testing for Publishers and Amazon Also Bought

Sometimes I think that Amazon is testing publishers to see if we're on the ball. Many small publishers preferentially direct their sales to Amazon because of the force-multiplier the Amazon platform has traditionally given our sales. Simply put, the more customers you send to Amazon who buy your book, the more visible it will be on Amazon, and the more books Amazon will sell for you. When something happens that changes that dynamic, small publishers see the difference in their sales almost immediately.

Around five or six weeks ago, there was a radical change in the way Also Bought sorts operated in the U.S. I've speculated quite a bit on how the new results were being weighted, whether there was a new prejudice against short discount books or Lightning Source titles, whether cover price or aging was playing into it,or whether co-op advertising and multiple editions were partially responsible. Whatever the case, the old Also Bought sorts and Better Together linkings reappeared yesterday, sort of.

When I access Amazon product pages with Firefox or some other non Internet Explorer browser, I see the old results I knew and loved - and a publisher friend on the opposite coast reports the same phenomena. On the other hand, if I view results with IE, I get the new results in which my titles fare poorly due to some applied weighting scheme. The funny thing is that the old fashioned results appearing with Firefox are now prefaced with the message "Customers who bought items like this also bought" while the new results appearing in IE 6.0 are prefaced with the standard "Customers who bought this item also bought."

It's a subtle change, "items like this" as opposed to "this item", and it appears to have been applied to the wrong set of results. However, it's the A/B testing strategy here that I really don't understand. With a platform as interactive as Amazon's, it's not surprising that they check the browser and gin up a different page based on what will work best, but it's strange they should make the Also Bought results dependent on the browser, unless they are A/B testing publishers:

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