So it was Easter last year that I went on a rant on David Gaughran's blog regarding all the obviously botted books in the free list. https://davidgaughran.wordpress.com/2016/04/15/ku-scammers-attack-amazons-free-ebook-charts/
Over the next year, I watched. I reported. I verified and confirmed with others what certain publishers were doing. I stayed hopeful. Any day now, I kept thinking, Amazon would block the IPs of the blatant bot sites. If they can exclude BookBub's downloads and sales from the poplist algos simply because they want control of THAT customer experience, they can surely do the same on the bestseller side for obvious scammy, black hat tactics that mislead customers and make for a decidedly poor customer experience. Not to mention a poor author experience by taking up at least 20% of the highest-visibility, Top 100 chart spots every. single. day.
So, things have improved in the past year, right?
On the paid/borrows side, yes, some. There are still WAY too many scambooks getting through, and way too much turning a blind eye to certain authors, publishers and practices, but overall, yes, things have improved.
On the free front, though, I have seen zilch in the way of improvement. The SAME authors, the SAME publishers and obviously the SAME bot sites continue to operate with impunity. Really, Amazon? What's the secret to escaping the banhammer, because I'd like some of that immunity too.
So one year later, I took a scroll through the Top 100 Free (because yes, I have a personal bias today - one book is sitting at #113 and another at #114 as I write this, and this is far from the first time our catalog has been in this position), and I can easily pick out fully HALF of the Top 34 books as books that have been botted there (robo-clicked, paid-per-action - whatever the mechanism that isn't organic readers making uncompensated decisions to download free books). Of those 17 books, one author name has 7 books, ones which have seen the Top 20 quite a few times over the past year. Yet none of those books have any ad footprints whatsoever for any of their free runs.
And 50% is only the easily detectable number. I've certainly seen recognizable names who've obviously bought clicks to get to the top. And we here on KBoards have seen books that unless we were following their history closely we'd miss any clues of being bot-driven.
And this happens routinely now. Not occasionally. Not one-off. Every. Single. Day. Of. Every. Single. Week. Of. Every. Single. Month.
Think about it. Even if we put the number of bot-driven books at a conservative 10 per day in the Top 100, that's 3650 titles in the past year getting top visibility and shutting out books that legitimately belong there. Visibility = $$ in this game (whether from follow-on KU reads or cross-promo to other books in an author's catalog), and people scamming the system are not just figuratively but literally stealing from authors who aren't gaming their way to the top.
And the thing that sucks the most? Amazon is ENABLING this behavior. They have the means to shut it down the same way they clamped down on BookBub's influence in the poplists. That would shut it down at the IP level. They could also shut down the accounts of the authors/publishers engaging in this behavior over and over and over.
But they don't. Why? My speculation is that if this were happening on the paid side, where the Big 5 and Amazon's own imprints hang, it wouldn't last long. Sure, we see it happen (especially with bot-borrows and Facebook click-through groups), but not usually for as long or as blatantly as we see on the free side. Plus, the free side is more volatile. So many of the titles in the Top 100 are there at most for 5 days. Folk aren't watching those lists the same way they watch the paid ones. It's a more slippery list to pin down.
But pin down it can be, and those of us watching have been reporting to no avail. So, one year later, while we have seen improvement on the paid side, on the free side, it's still Scammers 1, Amazon 0.
Oh, and yes, there's at least one *same* suspect author today with books in the Top 30 list whose books were in the Top 20 list when I posted to David's blog 1 year ago. (And yes, I recognize that *I* too am running a campaign with 8 freebies almost exactly 1 year later with books in the Top 20 and with 3 just outside the Top 100 very reminiscent of last year. The difference is when our books hit in the Top 100 you can easily find their ad footprints and follow their trajectories -- and they don't all hit in a solid rank block at the same time. Lots of folk run several freebie ad campaigns per year. It's not when they're run or the frequency with which they're run, but HOW they're run that's at issue here.)
Some things just never change.