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Author Topic: Amazon's fake book problem  (Read 17979 times)  

Offline ilamont

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Amazon's fake book problem
« on: June 14, 2017, 11:50:48 AM »
I might have missed this if it was on KBoards earlier, but I think it's worth posting here as some of us have seen some of the tactics described in the article:

Amazon Has A Fake Book Problem

Excerpt:

Quote
For over fifteen months now, scammers have been raiding the Kindle Unlimited pot using a well-worn trick. They usually pilfer the content first of all often by stealing an authors original work and running it through a synonymizer and then upload it to Amazon, thus avoiding the automatic plagiarism detectors. They make sure the book is as long as possible, but as they are enrolling the title in Kindle Unlimited, they keep it under the programs limit of 3,000 pages.

These thieves make the book free for a few days, and then use a variety of banned methods to generate a huge and immediate surge in downloads generally suspected to be bots or clickfarms or dummy accounts, or some combination thereof. These fake books then suddenly jump into the Top 20 of the free charts, displacing authors who have gone to considerable effort to put together an advertising campaign for their work.

As the Amazon staff tasked with dealing with reports of suspicious activity dont seem to work weekends, when authors and readers report these fake books to Amazon, no action usually gets taken until the following Monday. By then its often too late, and these titles have returned to the paid listings, and the subsequent boost in page reads (which normally follows a free run), enables them to grab a huge chunk of the Kindle Unlimited pot the same shared pot that all authors get paid from.

(there is a lot more at the source post, including how this trend affects certain BookBub campaigns)

I assumed ... perhaps wrongly ... that Amazon support does have staff working weekends. But maybe not for this type of issue. 



Offline loraininflorida

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Re: Amazon's fake book problem
« Reply #1 on: June 14, 2017, 12:02:45 PM »
I've always heard because there is such a long lag time between racking up the page reads and actually getting paid, the scammers who do this often get nothing but a nasty email from Amazon when payday rolls around.

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Offline Laran Mithras

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Re: Amazon's fake book problem
« Reply #2 on: June 14, 2017, 05:00:38 PM »
I often search through the top listings in my erotica genre - all subs.

80% of the "books" are collections that have nothing to do with the niche. Most of the rest are suspiciously absent any reviews and have blurbs that sound like they were strangled from an asphyxiated chimpanzee.

In other words, almost the entirety of the top listings don't add up.

This is a direct result of Kindle Unlimited's function within the algorithms.

I know a ton of Kboarders will disagree with me, but I see what I see and I stand by it.
 

Offline Dolphin

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Re: Amazon's fake book problem
« Reply #3 on: June 14, 2017, 05:14:06 PM »
I assumed ... perhaps wrongly ... that Amazon support does have staff working weekends. But maybe not for this type of issue.

I mean...there's gonna be spam books in there when they clock out on Friday night and there's still gonna be spam books in there when they clock in Monday morning. Working nights and weekends won't change that. Not at their current pace.

This is a direct result of Kindle Unlimited's function within the algorithms.

I know a ton of Kboarders will disagree with me, but I see what I see and I stand by it.

I don't disagree that spam exists. I just don't care. Like Lorain said, just because you're seeing scamphlets, and just because they're getting botted up the charts doesn't mean that the bad guys are getting their piece of the KU pie in the end.

Either way, honest writers are still earning great money and visibility in KU, and that's the bottom line. Ask whether KU is a good fit for your catalog. Don't get bogged down in whether or not it's fair. Business doesn't work like that. Last thing you need is to drive yourself nuts worrying about a problem you can't fix, or to make a poor business decision based on emotion and cognitive bias.

Offline nikkykaye

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Re: Amazon's fake book problem
« Reply #4 on: June 14, 2017, 05:42:46 PM »
My impression is that what bothers authors is the fact that these scam books are using click farms to boost their ranking, thereby making it harder for the "real" books to gain visibility. Someone correct me if I'm wrong?

Offline Dolphin

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Re: Amazon's fake book problem
« Reply #5 on: June 14, 2017, 06:29:57 PM »
My impression is that what bothers authors is the fact that these scam books are using click farms to boost their ranking, thereby making it harder for the "real" books to gain visibility. Someone correct me if I'm wrong?

That's a part of it too, but the KU royalties are typically what I hear emphasized. I don't think either one is a significant or actionable concern (at least not for us).

Offline Becca Mills

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Re: Amazon's fake book problem
« Reply #6 on: June 14, 2017, 07:34:51 PM »
That's a part of it too, but the KU royalties are typically what I hear emphasized. I don't think either one is a significant or actionable concern (at least not for us).

It seems to me we don't really know. Maybe Amazon takes the uncaught scammers into account and raises the KU pot sufficient to keep page-read payments where there'd be if the scammers weren't there. Or maybe they catch almost all of them before payouts. Or maybe neither of these things is happening. Back when Phoenix first wrote about this issue, I saw at least one scammer account with a KU All-Star tag, so at that time, payouts were happening, and big ones at that.

The visibility effects are real. If there are four botted books in the Top 100 free, that means four legit books are being denied the visibility they would've had without the scamming -- a real bummer if you happen to be one of those four.

I'm sure KU is, overall, a very good deal. But I think many of us find it galling for a company with such huge resources to ignore so obvious a problem for so long.
« Last Edit: June 14, 2017, 08:32:26 PM by Becca Mills »

Offline PhoenixS

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Re: Amazon's fake book problem
« Reply #7 on: June 14, 2017, 07:45:42 PM »
Silly me for caring.

I run a ton of free books, and yes, I see this as a significant issue on the free side (beyond just on weekends, though, and I happen to be someone who emphasizes the visibility factor). I also see books routinely botted up into the Top 10 on the paid side -- in fact, two in succession within the past few days. Yes, that's the TOP 10 OVERALL PAID. Are these folk not only stealing visibility but getting their KU dollars and All-Star bonuses? You bet. At least the ones that have been doing this for 3 months plus are. And there are certainly some bad actors I've personally seen still botting along happily after 1.5 years. Is it an actionable concern? Depends on what your definition of actionable is. But yeah, I action within the things I can actionate about.

I can also multitask. I can fully utilize KU (I manage 90 books that are KU right now, and I always see several of our freebies each month rubbing shoulders with the scambooks) *and* I can advocate against the scammers *and* still find time to write and market. How I choose to allocate the time devoted to each activity, however, is totally my prerogative, thank you very much.

Just because our catalog makes decent money in KU doesn't mean I have to -- or should -- muzzle my ethics and not speak out. Is it a losing fight? Probably. But so is homing homeless dogs and feeding starving children. Does that mean I should turn a blind eye to all of it and not reach out to home and feed the ones that cross my path?

The other big factor is that these aren't all scamphlets enjoying the ride up via the botmobile. Authors who started out semi-legit are finding how much easier it is to bot their way to the top. Last week, a botted book with 2500 reviews hit #3 on the Free list. A book Amazon has been promoting everywhere for months. The same book that back in September was one of the titles that would go free at 2am and be #1 on the overall list by 8am. I screenshot the Top 9 last week and asked a few savvy folk to tell me which was the scambook among them. Every single person got it wrong.

The main problem is no longer with the easy-to-spot scambooks that most folk will simply pass over. It's that these black-hat authors/publishers have been visibly getting away with it for so long that gray-hatting authors easily tempted have been going darkside in astonishing numbers. Soon, the only way to compete will be to join them. >:(

Offline AllyWho

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Re: Amazon's fake book problem
« Reply #8 on: June 14, 2017, 09:04:59 PM »
The main problem is no longer with the easy-to-spot scambooks that most folk will simply pass over. It's that these black-hat authors/publishers have been visibly getting away with it for so long that gray-hatting authors easily tempted have been going darkside in astonishing numbers. Soon, the only way to compete will be to join them. >:(

This is what is making me sad. I'm seeing it already in a number of other groups I'm in. Authors saying, "well X, Y and Z are doing it, so it must be ok."
We've seen it here on the k-boards. Boxed sets promoted as legit, cause it must be ok to engage in a giant buy circle or gift thousands of copies if it means you get those letters to add to your covers.
It's totally ok to throw money at marketers who use incentivised secret groups, where people download your KU title to boost rank even though we all know they'll never read it and only clicked the link to go in the draw to win a prize.
It's fine to spend a couple of grand to pay people to buy your book to boost its ranking.
It's totally legit to pay a click farm 2k/month to borrow and click to the end of your book so you can storm the charts, collect All Star bonuses and boast how you're a bestseller.

As a small author who doesn't think any of that stuff is even remotely ok, it's a concern to see the number of authors flocking to black hat techniques because of the belief, "it's the only way to get visibility."

It makes me wonder what happened to focusing on legitimate readers in the lolly scramble for letters, bestseller status, All Star bonuses and bragging rights about ranks?  ::)

Offline Richardcrasta

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Re: Amazon's fake book problem
« Reply #9 on: June 14, 2017, 09:14:59 PM »
I often search through the top listings in my erotica genre - all subs.

80% of the "books" are collections that have nothing to do with the niche. Most of the rest are suspiciously absent any reviews and have blurbs that sound like they were strangled from an asphyxiated chimpanzee.

In other words, almost the entirety of the top listings don't add up.

This is a direct result of Kindle Unlimited's function within the algorithms.

I know a ton of Kboarders will disagree with me, but I see what I see and I stand by it.

To you and the original poster: You mean this is only happening to authors enrolled in Kindle Unlimited, and not to those publishing out of it? Important to me, because at the moment I don't have a single book in KU.

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Re: Amazon's fake book problem
« Reply #10 on: June 14, 2017, 10:37:43 PM »
There was a recent thread where someone who looked an awful lot like one of those opportunistic grey hats got called out, deleted her KBoards account, and headed for the hills. She was a top Author Rank name at the time, and wondered why some of her books were disappearing from her KDP dash. Now none of her books even have a Sales Rank. Both her pen names were affected.

I suspect most of the people who're lured by these exploits will wind up getting what they deserve--especially the ones who're doing it in public. May not happen as quick as we'd like, but Amazon's not idle.

Offline AllyWho

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Re: Amazon's fake book problem
« Reply #11 on: June 14, 2017, 10:47:00 PM »
There was a recent thread where someone who looked an awful lot like one of those opportunistic grey hats got called out, deleted her KBoards account, and headed for the hills. She was a top Author Rank name at the time, and wondered why some of her books were disappearing from her KDP dash. Now none of her books even have a Sales Rank. Both her pen names were affected.

It's happening more often. There was another one just a day or two ago, new user turned up to complain that Amazon had removed his books from the paid ranks. Book was top 100 paid, author getting All Star bonuses and... only took a quick sniff to see he was paying a click farm to download and flick to the end. While it was a genuine book, let's just say it wasn't top 100/All Star bonus material. Interesting thing was he admitted that everyone in his FB group was paying the same "marketer" 2k/month so they too could receive All Star bonuses. When we started asking questions he got huffy and left. It seems people using scam/black hat services don't like it when others point out they are using scam/black hat services!

I'm hoping Amazon starts banning accounts.

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Re: Amazon's fake book problem
« Reply #12 on: June 14, 2017, 11:33:22 PM »
It's happening more often. There was another one just a day or two ago, new user turned up to complain that Amazon had removed his books from the paid ranks. Book was top 100 paid, author getting All Star bonuses and... only took a quick sniff to see he was paying a click farm to download and flick to the end. While it was a genuine book, let's just say it wasn't top 100/All Star bonus material. Interesting thing was he admitted that everyone in his FB group was paying the same "marketer" 2k/month so they too could receive All Star bonuses. When we started asking questions he got huffy and left. It seems people using scam/black hat services don't like it when others point out they are using scam/black hat services!

I'm hoping Amazon starts banning accounts.

Is seemed to me that that poster honestly didn't realize his advertising dollars were going to a click scam. I mean, otherwise he wouldn't post here, would he (or she)? That seems to be a twist, where relatively new authors are unawares that the service they've employed are using tactics that could get their account banned. A cautionary tale for everyone that the services they use should be carefully vetted.


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Offline AllyWho

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Re: Amazon's fake book problem
« Reply #13 on: June 15, 2017, 12:14:18 AM »
Is seemed to me that that poster honestly didn't realize his advertising dollars were going to a click scam. I mean, otherwise he wouldn't post here, would he (or she)?

I disagree. There have been a few posting here over the last few months, sometimes just to poke k-boarders but most of the time it's bait to see who will pm for more details. The person *absolutely* knew he was paying for a dodgy service, had been warned by Amazon previously about it, and chose to continue his course of action. There are numerous examples where authors are willfully blind because the results justify the means. I have zero sympathy if his account is banned.

Offline Gentleman Zombie

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Re: Amazon's fake book problem
« Reply #14 on: June 15, 2017, 12:53:20 AM »

The other big factor is that these aren't all scamphlets enjoying the ride up via the botmobile. Authors who started out semi-legit are finding how much easier it is to bot their way to the top. Last week, a botted book with 2500 reviews hit #3 on the Free list. A book Amazon has been promoting everywhere for months. The same book that back in September was one of the titles that would go free at 2am and be #1 on the overall list by 8am. I screenshot the Top 9 last week and asked a few savvy folk to tell me which was the scambook among them. Every single person got it wrong.

The main problem is no longer with the easy-to-spot scambooks that most folk will simply pass over. It's that these black-hat authors/publishers have been visibly getting away with it for so long that gray-hatting authors easily tempted have been going darkside in astonishing numbers. Soon, the only way to compete will be to join them. >:(

All of this is true. It's really bad in romance and erotica. And less so in other genres. Indie publishing is moving from a merit system to 'buy in' system. Throw enough cash and engage in a few gray hat tactics -- and you too can buy yourself a best seller. That's something we all should care about. It's not sustainable and like any bubble (remember the mortgage lending crisis?) its going to implode if something isn't done. I know of writers who are busting their asses churning out a book (or more) every month. Just because they don't want to lose visibility under a tsunami of gray-hat new releases. That should worry all of us, whether we are hobbyists, 100k authors, or book lovers!



Online AlecHutson

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Re: Amazon's fake book problem
« Reply #15 on: June 15, 2017, 12:54:15 AM »
I disagree. There have been a few posting here over the last few months, sometimes just to poke k-boarders but most of the time it's bait to see who will pm for more details. The person *absolutely* knew he was paying for a dodgy service, had been warned by Amazon previously about it, and chose to continue his course of action. There are numerous examples where authors are willfully blind because the results justify the means. I have zero sympathy if his account is banned.

I read his tone differently, then. Also I checked out his Amazon profile at the time and glanced at some of his blog posts (which were pretty frequent), and he seemed genuinely excited about the activity his book was getting. There were even musings if his sudden popularity and high Amazon rank would entice an offer from traditional publishing or Hollywood. I don't believe a scammer would bother making up fake blog posts that showed his excitement over the amount of books he was moving. But maybe I'm just a more trusting (read: naive) person.
« Last Edit: June 15, 2017, 12:58:09 AM by AlecHutson »

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Re: Amazon's fake book problem
« Reply #16 on: June 15, 2017, 01:08:09 AM »
I disagree. There have been a few posting here over the last few months, sometimes just to poke k-boarders but most of the time it's bait to see who will pm for more details. The person *absolutely* knew he was paying for a dodgy service, had been warned by Amazon previously about it, and chose to continue his course of action. There are numerous examples where authors are willfully blind because the results justify the means. I have zero sympathy if his account is banned.
And the female mentioned had previously set herself up as some sort of forum 'expert' on kdp forums, despite having very few posts and just repeating the general consensus.


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Offline thesmallprint

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Re: Amazon's fake book problem
« Reply #17 on: June 15, 2017, 01:48:21 AM »
Amazon must be the only company whose PR approach to these problems is 'no comment'. If Amazon told us what effect this was having and what they were doing to combat it we could make decisions based on reliable information. But, as far as KDP goes, we have to guess at how to run our businesses. Amazon have been pursuing this line for so long we simply swallow 'no comment' and keep doing what we're doing. They've effectively brainwashed us.

The only thing any business understands, even one the size of Amazon, is the effect on bottom line/customer satisfaction.  If all genuine authors withdrew from KDP, this scamming business would be fixed in a week.

Indie publishing is sorely in need of a global Society of Authors.

Offline she-la-ti-da

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Re: Amazon's fake book problem
« Reply #18 on: June 15, 2017, 02:38:38 AM »
Quote
As a small author who doesn't think any of that stuff is even remotely ok, it's a concern to see the number of authors flocking to black hat techniques because of the belief, "it's the only way to get visibility."

Sometimes I feel like I'm bashing my head against the wall, trying to tell good stories and find readers. I want to make money from my writing, but doing business the way some do it is not me. I just can't. And so I'm watching people with crap get bonuses and making money hand over fist while I struggle. I'm not alone, but that doesn't make me feel better.

One thing I think Amazon should do is stop the All Star Bonuses. Books enrolled in Select should have a trained human eye on them. Something any one with any old pile of crap can join isn't really select, is it? If they did just those two things, I think we'd seen a huge reduction in the scamming. They don't have to check every book uploaded, just the ones going into Select. Heck, even announcing this was going to happen would probably eliminate most of the bad stuff.

Amazon isn't innocent in all of this. I think they know darn well what's happening, and could fix it, but until it costs them good will (the confidence of a customer in a business's practices) or a boatload of money, nothing will be done.
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Re: Amazon's fake book problem
« Reply #19 on: June 15, 2017, 03:03:07 AM »

One thing I think Amazon should do is stop the All Star Bonuses.


I can't see the point of the All Star bonus. If a book is selling well and earning loads of money how will the writer be able to increase their sales even more? The bonus is almost an incentive to do something underhand to increase sales  :o.

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Re: Amazon's fake book problem
« Reply #20 on: June 15, 2017, 03:42:04 AM »
I assumed ... perhaps wrongly ... that Amazon support does have staff working weekends. But maybe not for this type of issue.
Which shouldn't be the big problem here. As Amazon pays out 60 days later. Just some readers who get a bad book. But if the scammers are doing this anyway, Amazon seems to need a lot of time to find them.


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Re: Amazon's fake book problem
« Reply #21 on: June 15, 2017, 03:52:03 AM »
Sometimes I feel like I'm bashing my head against the wall, trying to tell good stories and find readers. I want to make money from my writing, but doing business the way some do it is not me. I just can't. And so I'm watching people with crap get bonuses and making money hand over fist while I struggle. I'm not alone, but that doesn't make me feel better.

One thing I think Amazon should do is stop the All Star Bonuses. Books enrolled in Select should have a trained human eye on them. Something any one with any old pile of crap can join isn't really select, is it? If they did just those two things, I think we'd seen a huge reduction in the scamming. They don't have to check every book uploaded, just the ones going into Select. Heck, even announcing this was going to happen would probably eliminate most of the bad stuff.

Amazon isn't innocent in all of this. I think they know darn well what's happening, and could fix it, but until it costs them good will (the confidence of a customer in a business's practices) or a boatload of money, nothing will be done.
I do so agree with this. When they introduced the all star bonus my first thought was that books with that many page reads are making enough money; they don't need more. It would be much fairer to spread that money around and perhaps increase the page read amount.


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Offline brkingsolver

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Re: Amazon's fake book problem
« Reply #22 on: June 15, 2017, 04:01:22 AM »
Since KU is a zero-sum game, every dollar to those gaming the system is a dollar out of my pocket. .0045 instead of .005 is significant. But even if you're not in KU, the loss of visibility, the interference in searches, the bad taste left for anyone who buys a scam book hurts all legitimate authors. Amazon has a problem with counterfeit goods in areas other than books. They just don't pay enough attention to those, like us, who market our goods through their platform. It will bite them eventually, and more from bad publicity.

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Re: Amazon's fake book problem
« Reply #23 on: June 15, 2017, 04:03:12 AM »
I do so agree with this. When they introduced the all star bonus my first thought was that books with that many page reads are making enough money; they don't need more. It would be much fairer to spread that money around and perhaps increase the page read amount.
Let's call the bonuses what they really are, a bribe to top sellers to stay exclusive.

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Re: Amazon's fake book problem
« Reply #24 on: June 15, 2017, 04:08:53 AM »
She was a top Author Rank name at the time, and wondered why some of her books were disappearing from her KDP dash. Now none of her books even have a Sales Rank. Both her pen names were affected.

The sales ranks may have gone, but those books are still there and still in KU.
   

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