Author Topic: Amazon's fake book problem  (Read 12595 times)  

Offline Edward M. Grant

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Re: Amazon's fake book problem
« Reply #50 on: June 15, 2017, 12:04:39 PM »
I wonder if click-farms even pay the $9.99/month. The first month of membership is free, so maybe they just continually open new accounts.

I've wondered that, too. It may actually be easier to set up free memberships than to get new credit cards when Amazon spots the bot and kills it.

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Re: Amazon's fake book problem
« Reply #51 on: June 15, 2017, 12:14:48 PM »
Nope. One was a religious-themed book of some kind.

Interesting...i had forgotten the name, but did some digging and found the book. It's still on Amazon and in KU. But it has no rank now. Actually, all four books in the series no longer have a rank.

So who knows, maybe I'm wrong, maybe they didn't catch them but rather the book is experiencing a rank glitch.

Taking away rank seems to be the way that Amazon is dealing with scammers these days. I noticed it on some romance books that I've been following - crappy homemade covers, few reviews (10 reviews at the most on any one book), yet the author has been ranked in the top 100 OVERALL authors for months. Her books ranged from ranking in the 200s to the 1,500s, yet they didn't get hardly any reviews. Her books now have no rank. I'm not sure why the books aren't being pulled, but if they're not ranked, they're as good as gone, if you think about it.

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Re: Amazon's fake book problem
« Reply #52 on: June 15, 2017, 12:21:48 PM »
Taking away rank seems to be the way that Amazon is dealing with scammers these days. I noticed it on some romance books that I've been following - crappy homemade covers, few reviews (10 reviews at the most on any one book), yet the author has been ranked in the top 100 OVERALL authors for months. Her books ranged from ranking in the 200s to the 1,500s, yet they didn't get hardly any reviews. Her books now have no rank. I'm not sure why the books aren't being pulled, but if they're not ranked, they're as good as gone, if you think about it.

If those books are botted for the KU payouts, ranking wouldn't matter to them as they would still be botting the book, rank or not.

There must be another factor involved that I'm not seeing.

Online Seneca42

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Re: Amazon's fake book problem
« Reply #53 on: June 15, 2017, 12:26:33 PM »
I'm not sure why the books aren't being pulled, but if they're not ranked, they're as good as gone, if you think about it.

One of this guy's books actually got pulled, but in ebook format only. The paperback version is still there. So some of his series was simply deranked, and some of it was pulled in ebook format. 

If I had to guess it probably all comes down to legality (as these things almost always do). As far as I'm aware there's no stipulation, and definitely no way to prove, that a read was a bot and not a human. Yes, you can suspect with 99.999% assurance, but not 100%.

So Amazon is probably afraid that if they delist a book that opens themselves up to a lawsuit, as technically they can't prove with 100% certainty that someone is abusing their system. 

Case in point, the guy who scammed them for $3M, as far as I know never went to jail or was even charged. If he had been I'm sure Amazon would have publicized that to the end's of the earth to scare off other scammers. And that was someone massively gaming the KU system (ie. thousands of bots).

Ultimately, the system is broken. Amazon hasn't thrown in the towel on it, so who knows what will happen. But if the scammers keep beating them, eventually they'll have to shut it down. If they can figure a way to identify and deal with the scammers in a timely fashion, then it will continue into the future.


Offline HSh

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Re: Amazon's fake book problem
« Reply #54 on: June 15, 2017, 12:27:12 PM »

I don't see how it can be fixed, because it's broken by design. Any change they make to restrict bots (e.g. you can only read $9.99's worth of books each month) will hurt legitimate customers.

Scribd has made changes to their model a couple of times.  They pay royalties for books read (to publishers), and subscribers can read a certain set amount of books per month.  It takes away the "all you can eat buffet" quality, but it's not a bad model, and it's probably a lot more sustainable.

Prime Reading might be the future of KU.  It has a limited pool, although you can read unlimited amount of books from that pool (10 at a time), and the books are curated.  I suspect the current KU model is going to end at some point.  It does not seem to be providing a good customer experience, for readers or writers, in my opinion.  If it has not reached the tipping point of "bad experience for everyone (legitimate)" yet, it certainly seems to be heading that way.
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Online anniejocoby

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Re: Amazon's fake book problem
« Reply #55 on: June 15, 2017, 12:27:53 PM »
If those books are botted for the KU payouts, ranking wouldn't matter to them as they would still be botting the book, rank or not.

There must be another factor involved that I'm not seeing.

I'm thinking it must be that other scam that Amanda was talking about - botting for rank, not page reads. Amanda said on another site that the page-read bots are being cracked down on, but the ranking bots are alive and well. I know that there was a guy on here the other week complaining about losing his rank. He made it sound like if he lost his rank, he lost his income. So that tells me that, at least with his scam (he was apparently paying somebody $2,000 a month to do this) he was only getting rank, not page reads.

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Re: Amazon's fake book problem
« Reply #56 on: June 15, 2017, 12:31:18 PM »
If those books are botted for the KU payouts, ranking wouldn't matter to them as they would still be botting the book, rank or not.

There must be another factor involved that I'm not seeing.

So my view on what's creating confusion.

I do not believe the bots are reading the books. They are just borrowing the books, to create the rank bump - which creates visibility and they hope, actual sales. The moment the bots start page reading, then amazon I think is in a legal position to pull the books. This is why these books sitting at #10 or whatnot are getting zero reviews other than from the occasional sucker that buys them.

So simply deranking them basically removes that aspect of the scam. Then the scammer has to decide, do they want to go a step further and start using the bots for actual reads (and if they get caught doing that, then they risk getting delisted, not just deranked).

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Re: Amazon's fake book problem
« Reply #57 on: June 15, 2017, 12:35:42 PM »
3) cabals of marketers hiring ghosts to create romance books every 2-3 weeks

In the third type of scam, the marketeers are all using the same arc list of reviewers to guarantee 100s of five star reviews their first day of release and stringing the new book together with old books in one mega 1000-page file with incentive to "skip" TJ the end for bonus material like epilogue to first book to up page reads. They all even theme the same, using the last two months teal lettering on covers. But they are also flooding keywords and subcategories of romance (sports, psychological, holidays) where they can gain traction as top 100 authors. They're flooding out the romance by real authors with the omnibuses and "just click to the end" angle.


The 900+ page romance books really tick me off. I would never normally wish for Amazon to make one of their scorched-earth, bring-down-the-hammer moves, as that usually wounds all of us to some degree. But boy howdy, do I wish they'd come down on the bonus books nonsense. I know plenty of authors (authors I always thought of as "legit") who do this now, and it turns my stomach to know they've stooped to using black hat methods for the sake of upping page reads every month.

So many have gotten away with it for so long, it's become the norm in many circles. They can defend the practice as 'giving extra value to readers,' but let's not dance around the truth: it's double/triple/quadruple-dipping into the pot each month, depending on how many times they've recycled the same books into their new releases. It's stealing money from all KU authors by dragging down the rate via artificial inflation. >:(

Offline michaelsnuckols

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Re: Amazon's fake book problem
« Reply #58 on: June 15, 2017, 12:37:36 PM »
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.

I so agree with you. I'm increasingly tempted to go wide.  The sad thing is how little manpower it would take to screen the worst offenders out.

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Online Laran Mithras

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Re: Amazon's fake book problem
« Reply #59 on: June 15, 2017, 12:38:09 PM »
Oh, derp. Forgot the KU "All Star" bonus for being a consistent best seller. So yes, they may not necessarily need the page reads, but definitely the ranking.
« Last Edit: June 15, 2017, 12:39:57 PM by Laran Mithras »

Offline Edward M. Grant

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Re: Amazon's fake book problem
« Reply #60 on: June 15, 2017, 12:39:59 PM »
Scribd has made changes to their model a couple of times.  They pay royalties for books read (to publishers), and subscribers can read a certain set amount of books per month.  It takes away the "all you can eat buffet" quality, but it's not a bad model, and it's probably a lot more sustainable.

But it's not Amazon's model., which is to use KU as a lure to bring in customers to buy more toilet paper.

If KU had to pay for itself, they'd have changed things around long ago. But they can take a lot of scamming so long as KU is a loss-leader for their real sales. It's the readers and writers who get hurt.

Online Amanda M. Lee

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Re: Amazon's fake book problem
« Reply #61 on: June 15, 2017, 12:40:45 PM »
Oh, derp. Forgot the KU "All Star" bonus for being a consistent best seller. So yes, they may not necessarily need the page reads, but definitely the ranking.
Bonuses are based on page reads, not rank or sales.

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Offline brkingsolver

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Re: Amazon's fake book problem
« Reply #62 on: June 15, 2017, 12:40:51 PM »
Oh, derp. Forgot the KU "All Star" bonus for being a consistent best seller. So yes, they may not necessarily need the page reads, but definitely the ranking.
The All Star bonus is for page reads, not for sales.

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Re: Amazon's fake book problem
« Reply #63 on: June 15, 2017, 12:43:04 PM »
Page reads. Ok.

So it seems to me the botters should be having the bots flipping pages. Other than crowding out for visibility what profit is pushing the top 20 or so if the books are so poorly packaged few people want to read them? Seems like they're hoping rather than making the profit.

Something still isn't connecting the dots.

Offline KevinMcLaughlin

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Re: Amazon's fake book problem
« Reply #64 on: June 15, 2017, 12:43:25 PM »
KU eliminates the pricing mechanism that makes economics work. The bot costs $9.99 a month, and earns $0.004 every time it 'reads' a page. So it can trivially generate far more income than it costs.

Giving scammers the ability to print money is not something that can be fixed. KU is broken by design, as anyone could have told Amazon before they created it.

You can't do the same by having bots buy your books, because Amazon takes a 30% cut.


This is all very accurate. But it's operating under the assumption that Amazon cares about whether or not KU makes them money. Flatly: it does not. Amazon itself as an entire company operates at *just barely* above a break-even profit margin. No other large corporation in the world operates on such thin margins. No other company could. Stockholders would demand the Board, CEO, and other key people be removed if they ran most companies in such a way. By maintaining an almost-controlling interest in Amazon stock, Bezos is able to run Amazon as (effectively) the world's largest sole proprietorship (in that he never has to answer to stockholders).

Now, once we see that Amazon as an entire corporation is OK with making a net profit of less than 1% on over $100 billion in sales - we can quickly see why they simply *don't care* if KU makes them money or not. The entire KU program costs them perhaps $200 million a year. A drop in the bucket. If they lose a few million a year on the service, it's irrelevant to them in the long run.

There are several reasons why KU exists:

1) Amazon has realized that entertainment is moving to the subscription model. Netflix now has more US subscribers than *all US cable TV providers put together*. Apple Music is huge, with over 40 million users. Spotify and Pandora have another 70 million between them. Amazon Music has millions more. Music, movies, TV - and books - are all moving to a subscription system. This is the future of how entertainment is going to be delivered to most customers.

2) Locking people into your infrastructure is good. :) The more subscriptions someone has with Amazon, the more likely they are to buy all their other things with Amazon. Thus Prime, Amazon Music, Kindle Unlimited, and Amazon Fresh all have subscription services to help lock consumers into their business in multiple ways.

They're really not bugged if they lose a few hundred thousand dollars a month to scammers.

Now, where they WILL take action is if those scammers are hurting the customer experience. They're big on that, and this is the point we need to emphasize when alerting Amazon about this issue.

Online Amanda M. Lee

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Re: Amazon's fake book problem
« Reply #65 on: June 15, 2017, 12:46:22 PM »
Page reads. Ok.

So it seems to me the botters should be having the bots flipping pages. Other than crowding out for visibility what profit is pushing the top 20 or so if the books are so poorly packaged few people want to read them? Seems like they're hoping rather than making the profit.

Something still isn't connecting the dots.
Amazon started catching botters flipping pages last fall and started yanking accounts. That's why people are botting simply for rank now, and why Amazon is removing rank for those doing it.

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Online Amanda M. Lee

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Re: Amazon's fake book problem
« Reply #66 on: June 15, 2017, 12:51:09 PM »
Also, before it's all said and done, I look for all omnibuses to be yanked from KU. It will be a "one title, one time" ecosystem. One book per title, one title in the program. No bonus books. Period. When it happens, we're going to hear crying and screaming. The people determined to scam Amazon are creating the situation, though. It's just like with KU1. The people crying loudest when the switch was made to page reads were the ones breaking up books and purposely creating books that opened at 10 percent to trigger a full payout. Now bonus books and omnibuses will be next to go, and we'll hear more screaming. I don't know what people expect, though. They're purposely trying to game the system and it's going to come back to bite them.

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Offline Anarchist

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Re: Amazon's fake book problem
« Reply #67 on: June 15, 2017, 01:00:09 PM »
This is all very accurate. But it's operating under the assumption that Amazon cares about whether or not KU makes them money. Flatly: it does not. Amazon itself as an entire company operates at *just barely* above a break-even profit margin. No other large corporation in the world operates on such thin margins. No other company could. Stockholders would demand the Board, CEO, and other key people be removed if they ran most companies in such a way. By maintaining an almost-controlling interest in Amazon stock, Bezos is able to run Amazon as (effectively) the world's largest sole proprietorship (in that he never has to answer to stockholders).

Now, once we see that Amazon as an entire corporation is OK with making a net profit of less than 1% on over $100 billion in sales - we can quickly see why they simply *don't care* if KU makes them money or not. The entire KU program costs them perhaps $200 million a year. A drop in the bucket. If they lose a few million a year on the service, it's irrelevant to them in the long run.

There are several reasons why KU exists:

1) Amazon has realized that entertainment is moving to the subscription model. Netflix now has more US subscribers than *all US cable TV providers put together*. Apple Music is huge, with over 40 million users. Spotify and Pandora have another 70 million between them. Amazon Music has millions more. Music, movies, TV - and books - are all moving to a subscription system. This is the future of how entertainment is going to be delivered to most customers.

2) Locking people into your infrastructure is good. :) The more subscriptions someone has with Amazon, the more likely they are to buy all their other things with Amazon. Thus Prime, Amazon Music, Kindle Unlimited, and Amazon Fresh all have subscription services to help lock consumers into their business in multiple ways.

They're really not bugged if they lose a few hundred thousand dollars a month to scammers.

Now, where they WILL take action is if those scammers are hurting the customer experience. They're big on that, and this is the point we need to emphasize when alerting Amazon about this issue.


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Offline Becca Mills

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Re: Amazon's fake book problem
« Reply #69 on: June 15, 2017, 01:38:58 PM »
I'm thinking it must be that other scam that Amanda was talking about - botting for rank, not page reads. Amanda said on another site that the page-read bots are being cracked down on, but the ranking bots are alive and well. I know that there was a guy on here the other week complaining about losing his rank. He made it sound like if he lost his rank, he lost his income. So that tells me that, at least with his scam (he was apparently paying somebody $2,000 a month to do this) he was only getting rank, not page reads.

My *guess* is that that's not right. Think about it: if you're paying $2K/month just to boost rank in pursuit of visibility, but visibility doesn't lead to legit sales, how long will you keep paying $2K/month? Not long, right? And if the boost in rank were leading to enough legit sales to justify spending $2K/month, the review totals would've been much higher.




Offline AliceW

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Re: Amazon's fake book problem
« Reply #70 on: June 15, 2017, 01:49:08 PM »
So it seems to me the botters should be having the bots flipping pages.

The guy in the other thread admitted he was paying the click farm "marketing firm" 2k/month and receiving All Star bonuses. He was warned back in January about it by Amazon, obviously decided the payout was worth it, kept using the service and came here all innocent and surprised that Amazon yanked his ranks. Let's hope the bonuses and his account disappear as well.

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Re: Amazon's fake book problem
« Reply #71 on: June 15, 2017, 02:21:42 PM »
My *guess* is that that's not right. Think about it: if you're paying $2K/month just to boost rank in pursuit of visibility, but visibility doesn't lead to legit sales, how long will you keep paying $2K/month? Not long, right? And if the boost in rank were leading to enough legit sales to justify spending $2K/month, the review totals would've been much higher.

As Alice said, that particular guy was getting All-Star bonuses. Yet it was clear few real readers were engaging with the books. Same for another author who was riding high in the US and Canada paid charts (8 titles in the Top 20 in Canada -- someone there REALLY wasn't paying attention). Minimal reviews. Facebook pages with next-to-no engagement.

Another way these guys work -- and there was a service company that came here to tout this very thing not so long ago, and a second service that dropped by asked us to watch them at work in real time a couple of months back -- is:
* The service provides 1000, 2500, 5000 or 10,000 free downloads
* On the same day the book is free (or separately if you don't want it free), you can also purchase 100, 300, 500, 1000 or 5000 borrows.

Now, these might actually be pay-per-actions (PPAs) rather than non-human bots. There are likely pools of folk in these mechanical turk type companies who maintain their own KU accounts and bid on the work as it comes in. The borrows cost more, so it might even be those with their own KU accounts can command a higher click price, say 10 cents per click vs 5 cents. PPAs actually open up the field to "brokers" (the service providers) who don't have all the tech equipment needed. Which means just about ANYBODY can set up this kind of a scam operation easily enough.

Not only that, but the menu prices are really attractive. If I felt lucky and was willing to abandon my ethics and my good sense, I would happily pay the prices I saw for the visibility they afford. I'm certainly paying A LOT more than that to not get visibility that good doing it legitimately. >:(

Read that last again: It costs LESS to scam the system these days to achieve the same results as doing it* legitimately costs.

Well, it costs less until Amazon shuts down your account.

ETA: * it = legitimately gaining visibility and rank, not, you know, legitimately scamming...
« Last Edit: June 15, 2017, 02:27:11 PM by PhoenixS »
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Offline Becca Mills

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Re: Amazon's fake book problem
« Reply #72 on: June 15, 2017, 02:33:10 PM »
As Alice said, that particular guy was getting All-Star bonuses. Yet it was clear few real readers were engaging with the books. Same for another author who was riding high in the US and Canada paid charts (8 titles in the Top 20 in Canada -- someone there REALLY wasn't paying attention). Minimal reviews. Facebook pages with next-to-no engagement.

Yeah, so I'm thinking the service that person hired must also have provided page-reads, not just visibility through ghost borrows.

Another way these guys work -- and there was a service company that came here to tout this very thing not so long ago, and a second service that dropped by asked us to watch them at work in real time a couple of months back -- is:
* The service provides 1000, 2500, 5000 or 10,000 free downloads
* On the same day the book is free (or separately if you don't want it free), you can also purchase 100, 300, 500, 1000 or 5000 borrows.

Now, these might actually be pay-per-actions (PPAs) rather than non-human bots. There are likely pools of folk in these mechanical turk type companies who maintain their own KU accounts and bid on the work as it comes in. The borrows cost more, so it might even be those with their own KU accounts can command a higher click price, say 10 cents per click vs 5 cents. PPAs actually open up the field to "brokers" (the service providers) who don't have all the tech equipment needed. Which means just about ANYBODY can set up this kind of a scam operation easily enough.

Not only that, but the menu prices are really attractive. If I felt lucky and was willing to abandon my ethics and my good sense, I would happily pay the prices I saw for the visibility they afford. I'm certainly paying A LOT more than that to not get visibility that good doing it legitimately. >:(

Read that last again: It costs LESS to scam the system these days to achieve the same results as doing it legitimately costs.

Well, it costs less until Amazon shuts down your account.

That's shocking.  :(

Do you think KU's vulnerability stems in large part from the fact that Amazon can't really trace page-by-page progress through a book, as they said they'd be able to when they announced KU2? If they could really do that, it seems like it'd be relatively easy to weed out fake reads. Reader paged though inhumanly fast? Out. Reader skipped directly to the end? Out. But apparently there's no difference in the data they get from my having read a book over the course of five hours and from a click-farmer's having jumped straight to the last page.




Offline AliceW

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Re: Amazon's fake book problem
« Reply #73 on: June 15, 2017, 02:35:08 PM »
Another way these guys work -- and there was a service company that came here to tout this very thing not so long ago, and a second service that dropped by asked us to watch them at work in real time a couple of months back -- is:
* The service provides 1000, 2500, 5000 or 10,000 free downloads
* On the same day the book is free (or separately if you don't want it free), you can also purchase 100, 300, 500, 1000 or 5000 borrows.

I've heard that titles promoted by Genius Media (which is the one that turned up here touting their service) are having their ranks pulled as well, but haven't done any digging to confirm.

Online Laran Mithras

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Re: Amazon's fake book problem
« Reply #74 on: June 15, 2017, 03:14:08 PM »
A bot program for page reads could simply have a delay encoded. That's a simple mechanism to put in place.

So a bot could certainly be programmed to flip the page every 60 seconds, rather than every second.