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Author Topic: Scammers Breaking The Kindle Store : Skyrocketing to #1 Overall (MERGED)  (Read 74037 times)  

Offline Acheknia

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Re: Scammers Breaking The Kindle Store : Skyrocketing to #1 Overall
« Reply #50 on: July 16, 2017, 05:35:19 AM »
If there's an easy solution that Amazon could adopt but have so far refused to, (ie make a new list for borrows, or whatever it was that I read here, gnat sized memory lol) then whoever feels the strongest about this matter could start a petition, somewhere like 38Degrees, Change.org etc.
Word it in a way that spells out the problem and the solution & make the petition read that Amazon should do this.
Sign this petition if you agree that Amazon should address this problem in this way (or whatever).
Once there are several thousand signatures (or a million) then send it to Amazon (or Jeff).
Maybe the wording could be a joint collaboration from everyone that's commented on this thread.
I won't start it as I don't know enough about the problem, only the different opinions that I've read here but if someone wants to do it, I'll definitely sign it :)

Offline Alix Nichols

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Re: Scammers Breaking The Kindle Store : Skyrocketing to #1 Overall
« Reply #51 on: July 16, 2017, 05:56:05 AM »
I suspect it's going to take vetting every entry into Select, which is what they should have done from the beginning. None of this would likely have occurred if they'd simple been more select in allowing stuff into Select. But, it would take more than a simple program which would cost money (and no, third world country employees wouldn't have worked, it would have to be American-based trained people to spot the less-obvious scams).

^^^ This. Honestly, no matter how I look at it, I don't see a solution that doesn't involve a well-trained human team vetting EVERY SINGLE Select title. That would probably mean having to wait a week or two before our books are enrolled in KU, but it's a small price to pay for a level playing field.
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Offline #############

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Re: Scammers Breaking The Kindle Store : Skyrocketing to #1 Overall
« Reply #52 on: July 16, 2017, 06:17:36 AM »
^^^ This. Honestly, no matter how I look at it, I don't see a solution that doesn't involve a well-trained human team vetting EVERY SINGLE Select title. That would probably mean having to wait a week or two before our books are enrolled in KU, but it's a small price to pay for a level playing field.

How would this action prevent something like this particular case from happening, though? The guy wrote a book. It had a great cover. It wasn't some scamphlet or anything. According to the current conversation, he didn't plagiarize or scrape content. He just possibly engaged in rank manipulation.

How would have vetting his book before getting into Select prevented this?

Offline V.P.

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Re: Scammers Breaking The Kindle Store : Skyrocketing to #1 Overall
« Reply #53 on: July 16, 2017, 06:20:35 AM »
The state of Indie authors today:

Scammers to right of them,
Scammers to left of them,
Scammers right in front of them
Resolutely, they soldier on.

*Tips hat and winks at Alfred, Lord Tennyson*


Offline Anarchist

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Re: Scammers Breaking The Kindle Store : Skyrocketing to #1 Overall
« Reply #54 on: July 16, 2017, 07:13:55 AM »
This is a particularly thorny problem to weed out from a legal perspective. Amazon must be able to prove that not only did a click-farm increase a book's ranking -- but that the author of that book arranged for that to occur. Without hard evidence, they run the risk of accusing innocent authors targeted by spammers.

So true. It's the reason I cringe when authors are named and shamed without evidence that meets the "beyond a reasonable doubt" standard.

I think back to my SEO days. With enough capital, you could negatively impact a competitor's rankings in Google. All you had to do was purchase hundreds of thousands of links from porn sites, pharma sites, and other "bad neighborhoods." It mostly happened in hyper-competitive verticals (payday loans, mortgage loans, etc.).

Google denied it was possible (via Matt Cutts, their liaison to the SEO community). I don't blame them for lying since it revealed a huge exploit in their algo. But I know guys who did it.

With Amazon, less capital is required to effect a similar outcome. I can pick an author, spend $1,000 sending illegitimate KU traffic to his books, wait for his ranks to change, and then report him to Amazon. If I wanted to go further, I could foment outrage on FB and forums by naming and shaming him.

« Last Edit: July 16, 2017, 07:17:05 AM by Anarchist »
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Offline PhoenixS

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Re: Scammers Breaking The Kindle Store : Skyrocketing to #1 Overall
« Reply #55 on: July 16, 2017, 07:41:18 AM »
How would this action prevent something like this particular case from happening, though? The guy wrote a book. It had a great cover. It wasn't some scamphlet or anything. According to the current conversation, he didn't plagiarize or scrape content. He just possibly engaged in rank manipulation.

How would have vetting his book before getting into Select prevented this?

The problem has become rampant. It isn't only Fiverr accounts offering these services or sleazy back-alley Warrior Forum sites. These guys are setting up slick web pages and spam-mailing potential clients. And more and more authors who are frustrated enough or are amoral enough are flocking to the dark side.

We see the serial offenders and the authors who push into the Top 20 free and the Top 10 paid more easily because of the sheer numbers it takes to get to those ranks. You don't get to those ranks organically without cause. Those ranks aren't byproduct of a few hundred or even a few thousand downloads or borrows to track-cover scammy services. But these guys we see and report are just the tip of this huge iceberg. And more and more, it's authors and books that are half-legit/half-scam.

David mentioned in his post one author who has multiple books in Amazon's Monthly Deal right now who has scammed books into the Top 5 free in the past. I know this because I personally saw and tracked the behavior with this author twice before -- once last fall and again last month. I personally reported it to Amazon both times I saw it -- which, I don't look at the lists every day, so who knows how many other times they've done this? Ironically, one of this author's books rocketed up to #4 Free with no ad footprint save from a small site or two who poached it from the Free list early yesterday morning.

It's been returned to paid this morning, so you won't find it on the Free list now. But think about that. Amazon rewarded this author with *multiple* books in the Monthly Deal and he has the chutzpah to scam the very system and company rewarding him for scamming the system in the first place.

The book and author David called out by name hit #1 Paid on the day the KU payout bottomed out. That author's become the poster boy for this type of scamming behavior. But several of us can point to much more egregious, serial behavior by authors who don't *look* like your typical scammer and who Amazon continues to court. Pre-qualifying books to enter Select won't stop the gray hatters from going black hat.

Offline Bill Hiatt

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Re: Scammers Breaking The Kindle Store : Skyrocketing to #1 Overall
« Reply #56 on: July 16, 2017, 07:50:06 AM »
How would this action prevent something like this particular case from happening, though? The guy wrote a book. It had a great cover. It wasn't some scamphlet or anything. According to the current conversation, he didn't plagiarize or scrape content. He just possibly engaged in rank manipulation.

How would have vetting his book before getting into Select prevented this?
Yes, vetting only solves certain kinds of scams. It would cause scammers to work a little harder to create books that weren't obviously fake, but it wouldn't prevent the use of click farms to inflate rank and pages read.

I wish there were an easy solution, but I don't see one. If Amazon were willing to employ enough real people to monitor suspicious activity, they could probably shut down at least the most obvious cases. They'd have to work carefully, so as not to blast legitimate authors targeted by click farms to camouflage the click farm activity. If Amazon were willing to spend the money, that would make the system better. Unfortunately, scammers would probably become more subtle in order to survive. We wouldn't notice as much, but people would still be siphoning money from the KU pot.

Ending the one-month free trial or at least restricting it to customers with a certain amount of history would also help. Click farm scams work partly through the creation of fake accounts, which usually require fraudulently obtained credit cards. With a whole month (and maybe more like two) before an actual charge, it's easy to keep up those fake identities long enough to do more damage. Making everyone pay upfront probably reduces the period between identity shifts, making scammers work a little harder.

Developing a more effective way to count pages read would also help. Amazon may be trying to do this. Some of the measure adopted robbed innocent authors of pages in some cases, so the search for a solution continues.

Maybe a partial solution would also be to dump ranking, at least as a publicly accessible statistic. Each product page could display number of copies sold, number of copies borrowed, number of free downloads, and let people draw their own conclusions about how well a book is doing. Perhaps there could also be a total for the last four weeks, to make it easier for new releases to gain some traction. I guess all of those stats except sales could be gamed, but being able to distinguish sales from borrows might be helpful to some buyers. (I don't agree that borrows should essentially count for nothing, but I have no problem letting readers decide how to weigh them, as opposed to having Amazon decide for them.)

I don't expect Amazon to create a perfect system. I'd be happy if the company made a good-faith effort. Right now, it does act sometimes, and then rather clumsily. Anti-scam efforts need to be on ongoing process, not something that appears and disappears at random.


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Offline Bill Hiatt

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Re: Scammers Breaking The Kindle Store : Skyrocketing to #1 Overall
« Reply #57 on: July 16, 2017, 08:00:34 AM »
So true. It's the reason I cringe when authors are named and shamed without evidence that meets the "beyond a reasonable doubt" standard.

I think back to my SEO days. With enough capital, you could negatively impact a competitor's rankings in Google. All you had to do was purchase hundreds of thousands of links from porn sites, pharma sites, and other "bad neighborhoods." It mostly happened in hyper-competitive verticals (payday loans, mortgage loans, etc.).

Google denied it was possible (via Matt Cutts, their liaison to the SEO community). I don't blame them for lying since it revealed a huge exploit in their algo. But I know guys who did it.

With Amazon, less capital is required to effect a similar outcome. I can pick an author, spend $1,000 sending illegitimate KU traffic to his books, wait for his ranks to change, and then report him to Amazon. If I wanted to go further, I could foment outrage on FB and forums by naming and shaming him.
Excellent points!

It's also worth noting that, long before KU and its associated scams, there were a few authors who just took off, seemingly without effort. I used to be fairly well acquainted with one. He couldn't really afford advertising at first. He just put up books, and they started selling. He went from barely making ends meet to hiring a personal assistant, taking a world tour, and contemplating opening his own publishing house. He did a lot of advertising as time went on, but the initial success came from zero advertising and almost zero platform.

Such successes might be much harder to come by today because the field is so much more congested. Are they impossible, though? Maybe not.

One possible approach would be to remove click-farmed pages and ranking benefits from such accounts. The author isn't shamed or banned unless there is more evidence of complicity, but Amazon could remove the proceeds. Any legitimately-earned royalties would remain. Amazon could probably prove click farm activity much more easily than direct author involvement. I know some authors would be upset even by that, but I think most of us could understand it. If you didn't really earn something, would you want to keep it?


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Offline cadle-sparks

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Re: Scammers Breaking The Kindle Store : Skyrocketing to #1 Overall
« Reply #58 on: July 16, 2017, 09:37:13 AM »
I want to publicly thank David and Phoenix (and probably others I don't know about) for all the work they put into this.

hear, hear.

Offline RBN

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Re: Scammers Breaking The Kindle Store : Skyrocketing to #1 Overall
« Reply #59 on: July 16, 2017, 09:47:39 AM »
One possible approach would be to remove click-farmed pages and ranking benefits from such accounts. The author isn't shamed or banned unless there is more evidence of complicity, but Amazon could remove the proceeds. Any legitimately-earned royalties would remain. Amazon could probably prove click farm activity much more easily than direct author involvement. I know some authors would be upset even by that, but I think most of us could understand it. If you didn't really earn something, would you want to keep it?

Amazon already doesn't accurately report legitimate pages read, by multiple methods of inaccuracy. Who's going to trust them to stealth deduct even more and take their word the losses weren't "real" reads?

Offline Philip Gibson

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Re: Scammers Breaking The Kindle Store : Skyrocketing to #1 Overall
« Reply #60 on: July 16, 2017, 10:13:40 AM »
I posted David Gaughran's blog article to every journalist I could think of at the CNBC business channel.  If nothing else, it's an important business story that some business journalists should want to take up.

Philip

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Offline Gator

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Re: Scammers Breaking The Kindle Store : Skyrocketing to #1 Overall
« Reply #61 on: July 16, 2017, 10:54:05 AM »
I want to publicly thank David and Phoenix (and probably others I don't know about) for all the work they put into this.

Me, too.  Thanks, guys and gals!

Offline Becca Mills

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Re: Scammers Breaking The Kindle Store : Skyrocketing to #1 Overall
« Reply #62 on: July 16, 2017, 11:16:16 AM »
KU is a broken system, and frankly, the whole set up is an irresponsible mess from Amazon.

The ratio of cost to customer and earnings potential for author is the key factor in all this and it's impossible to address without making KU prohibitively expensive to the kinds of customers Amazon wants.

I mean, my god, you can earn 9.95 with only ~ 2426 pages read at the .0041 rate.

I could get someone I know to check out 3 books I've put up that each have 2500 pages in them, page through them, return their monthly sub cost to them and still have $20 freaking dollars more than I had to start with. I could pay them $10 dollars to do it in addition to the sub cost, and still have $10.

And it costs nothing to get into this paradise of easy money. ANYBODY can scam this system.

KU is a nightmare. It's a paradise for scammers and Amazon let it happen and if they didn't know this was going to happen, then I'm sorry, but they've got idiots running the show.

Truly, it's hard to think of a way to make KU resistant to scamming. It would probably work in a world where traditional publishing was playing gatekeeper over what counts as a borrowable book, but the flexibility of what people can publish on Amazon must make a subscription program hard to manage. We can publish five-page books. We can publish 10,000-page books. We can publish books whose text is produced by a random word generator. We can publish a hundred books a day. And if we get caught doing something wrong and get banned, we can just start a new business with a new tax number -- something Random Penguin can't do. Trying to manage a subscription service in this environment, to preserve the freedoms self-publishers enjoy while stopping the scamming ... that's got to be extremely difficult. If Amazon appeared to be making a legitimate effort in that direction, I'd have a lot of sympathy for the challenges they face. Unfortunately, they seem to have decided it's preferable to eat the loss than to really try, beyond plucking a little low-hanging fruit around the edges, like limiting book length within KU and slapping the wrists of a few people who draw particular attention.


Offline Seneca42

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Interesting ... the book that was rank scamming has been deranked
« Reply #63 on: July 16, 2017, 11:16:52 AM »
Not sure if we're allowed to mention the book or author, but the book everyone was talking about yesterday has subsequently been deranked.

https://davidgaughran.wordpress.com/2017/07/15/scammers-break-the-kindle-store/#more-4447

the blog referenced yesterday talked about the book in question.

What's interesting though is:

* his other books are still ranked
* the book in question is still ranked on the international stores
* the book is still available for purchase.

So it looks like you literally have to clickfarm yourself to the #1 spot just to get a mild slap on the wrist.



Offline Becca Mills

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I've merged threads so as to keep the discussion of David Gaughran's blog post focused in one place.

Offline Jan Hurst-Nicholson

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I'd also like to thank David and Phoenix for all they do to help indies  :-*.
These scams are like pyramid schemes and attract people who see others making easy money and so want to climb aboard themselves. Pyramid  schemes usually finally implode, so let's hope something similar happens to the scammers  ::).

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Offline CLStone

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I understand people getting angry at someone who may be allegedly using scam methods to get the rankings up, but I think the 'report suspicious activity' to Amazon approach also creates a witch hunt mentality for anyone at the top of any rankings.

I'm not going to make assumptions of all the books out there or what anyone uses, because I've used things like newsletter swapping and different out of the ordinary advertising and tried out other methods to naturally boost rank, but anyone looking just at Bookbub wouldn't notice. It wouldn't be hard for someone to also believe they are utilizing a genuine advertising source that promised things like newsletter ads and Facebook group posts, and those could be legitimate or they could be unable to be traced rank manipulation of some sort.

Yes, you may be able to trace that it came from somewhere, but there are a lot of authors who will take this as a reason to point fingers at everyone else.

And what advertising they use, the author may not want to share. For example, they may not want to tell you the ten authors they swapped newsletter ads with because they don't want those people bombarded with questions on newsletter swaps.

Maybe this is clear to those like Phoenix who do take the time, study their corner of Amazon and know when something funky is going on. I'm not saying stop this sort of research. However this gives a lot of people the assumption to look into top ranking books and if they feel like it, they can make trouble for a genuine author doing the right things.

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I'd also like to thank David and Phoenix for all they do to help indies  :-*.

Ditto. Great job.

Offline Seneca42

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Maybe this is clear to those like Phoenix who do take the time, study their corner of Amazon and know when something funky is going on. I'm not saying stop this sort of research. However this gives a lot of people the assumption to look into top ranking books and if they feel like it, they can make trouble for a genuine author doing the right things.

I don't think Amazon acts on reports without looking at the data and can identify bots if they were used.

That said, what's a very real and very dangerous element to this is that if you so desired you could destroy another author. If the pricing in this thread or another was correct, for $209 you could bump a book to top #5 (basically hire botters not for yourself, but to swarm another book).  I mean, $200 to get your competition deranked or swamped with bad reviews? You better believe there are people with the money who would do that.

And this will happen eventually. The reason? If you bot someone else's book up, then when you bot your own, in the event that you get caught you can plead innocence more readily. It becomes impossible for Amazon to figure out who is paying to bot themselves up and who is being botted up as a form of being attacked.

KU is a mess.

Offline KateDanley

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Re: Scammers Breaking The Kindle Store : Skyrocketing to #1 Overall
« Reply #69 on: July 16, 2017, 02:31:44 PM »
As far as pointing out individual books, we should remember that click farms might target legitimate books as a way of covering their tracks. This could happen to any of us (which is quite frightening).

This is a particularly thorny problem to weed out from a legal perspective. Amazon must be able to prove that not only did a click-farm increase a book's ranking -- but that the author of that book arranged for that to occur. Without hard evidence, they run the risk of accusing innocent authors targeted by spammers.

Sadly, this doesn't bode well for Kindle Unlimited. It's only a matter of time until legitimate authors finally leave - and readers with them. As a prawn, I have gained both exposure and readers - but it might finally be time to go wide.

Your post pinged a distant memory in my head.  A few years ago, Amazon sued providers on Fiverr who were selling fake reviews for the names of the customers who had purchased their services.  I can't seem to find if there was a settlement or a decision by the courts, but I wonder if a similar suit might come down against the click-farms:

https://www.forbes.com/sites/cherylsnappconner/2015/10/18/amazon-sues-1114-fake-reviewers-on-fiverr-com/#2daf80f937d1
https://forum.fiverr.com/t/amazon-sues-1114-fiverr-sellers/69447
https://www.scribd.com/doc/285422882/Amazon-Complaint
https://www.geekwire.com/2015/after-conducting-undercover-sting-amazon-files-suit-against-1000-fiverr-users-over-fake-product-reviews/

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Online Rosie A.

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Re: Scammers Breaking The Kindle Store : Skyrocketing to #1 Overall
« Reply #70 on: July 16, 2017, 03:25:19 PM »
And more and more, it's authors and books that are half-legit/half-scam.
I think this pretty much sums it up as the biggest problem with the package. The author/book used in the blog article is a prime example of this. One thing that concerns me, however, is how other authors here have basically said, "Hey, what evidence do you have that this author is gaming the system?" To this, my answer is, "How do you know they're NOT?"

Because really, I've kept my eye on a particular individual over time, and this author's books always rank in the top 10 of the store since the moment of their release and months/years later. With no platform? Brand new author who just wrote a book for the first time in their life and every single book that this person has published has been a best seller? All 20+ of them? Wow, this person has the midas touch to even stay in the top 100 of the store without faltering. I mean, not even Stephen King!

So why is it not okay to ask questions? Why is it not okay to call them out? Especially when they've not booked any promo sites and hit it big this quick on? I'm just saying that it's shady. Call me jealous. Call me a hater. I'm skeptical okay. And I still believe in ethical, honest, hard work. I also believe that light eventually shines on these dark deeds and it's never worth it. The price is a heavy one to pay once the bill comes.

Offline Salvador Mercer

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Re: Scammers Breaking The Kindle Store : Skyrocketing to #1 Overall
« Reply #71 on: July 16, 2017, 04:48:58 PM »
I think this pretty much sums it up as the biggest problem with the package. The author/book used in the blog article is a prime example of this. One thing that concerns me, however, is how other authors here have basically said, "Hey, what evidence do you have that this author is gaming the system?" To this, my answer is, "How do you know they're NOT?" ...

Good point Rosie but to the skeptics I say: "But there is evidence..."

Look at the reviews of any hot selling or best selling book on the right hand column.  Look specifically for the date stamps. If the review is posted w/in the last 24 hours then it will be GREEN. When a book is highly ranked and there are no reviews in general, and few if any reviews while its ranked high, then it's not being read by real readers.  Legitimate best sellers are swimming in new reviews, a sea of green date stamps in fact.

The flaw in the click farms is that they can't borrow, buy, or otherwise flip through a book, KU or otherwise AND leave a review.  That should indicate evidence enough.  The legal system doesn't have video of every crime that a criminal is convicted of, that kind of "proof" is unrealistic.  This one facet is evidence enough that something is fishy.

Look for the green...

Offline Anarchist

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Re: Scammers Breaking The Kindle Store : Skyrocketing to #1 Overall
« Reply #72 on: July 16, 2017, 05:35:39 PM »
Good point Rosie but to the skeptics I say: "But there is evidence..."

That may be so. But personally, I advocate for adherence to more rigorous evidentiary standards.

To me, the details provided thus far fail to meet a reasonable "preponderance of the evidence" standard. I'm not arguing the absence of rank-manipulation shenanigans. Rather, I'm arguing there's insufficient evidence proving guilt on the part of the author(s) in question.

How can I possibly suggest this? Consider this example...

Suppose I go to Fiverr and order every KU-manipulation gig available to boost the rank of one of Becca's books. To guarantee her book climbs into top 100, I use a few other similar services. Altogether, I spend $400.

Two days from now, Becca's book ranks at #100.

Was rank manipulation involved? Absolutely.

Is Becca guilty of shenanigans? Absolutely not.

In this example, I'm the offender. Not Becca.

Do you see how difficult it is to prove guilt? This is the reason I advocate taking more care in naming and shaming.




« Last Edit: July 16, 2017, 05:39:22 PM by Anarchist »
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Offline cadle-sparks

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Re: Scammers Breaking The Kindle Store : Skyrocketing to #1 Overall
« Reply #73 on: July 16, 2017, 07:07:56 PM »

The flaw in the click farms is that they can't borrow, buy, or otherwise flip through a book, KU or otherwise AND leave a review. 

Wouldn't that be something they could also do, though? Write 60 vague one-line reviews, automatically post a random one every 100 "reads." Beyond my programming skills, but surely not beyond theirs. I have great faith in the ingenuity of con men.

Offline Jena H

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After the first day or so of this thread I've only skimmed it.  A lot of people have asked "why doesn't Amazon do anything about this issue?"  Obviously one reason is that effort (probably) costs money, and if they're already making money, they may not see a need to exert any energy (read: spend money) to look into the situation.

Also, another thing I'm not sure anyone has mentioned:  books are only ONE revenue stream for Ammie.  And probably far from the biggest.  They do sell just about everything, and are also in other industries.  So while ebooks represent a huge and important part of our world, it's only a sliver of what Amazon does.  Maybe this is like wondering why Walmart doesn't do something to stop distributing/selling cheap perfume that hurts sales of more established brands.  Possibly because A) it's only a small percentage of their annual sales, and B) why should they?  They're still making money, and customers aren't complaining, only other perfumers.  What are the other perfumers going to do--withdraw their product for sale in the US's largest retailer??  (Yeah, I know it's not a great analogy and there are flaws in it, but it's late and I'm tired.)
« Last Edit: July 16, 2017, 08:41:17 PM by Jena H »
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