Author Topic: Scammers Breaking The Kindle Store : Skyrocketing to #1 Overall (MERGED)  (Read 71491 times)  

Offline Jeff Tanyard

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Re: Scammers Breaking The Kindle Store : Skyrocketing to #1 Overall
« Reply #75 on: July 16, 2017, 08:54:05 PM »
I want to publicly thank David and Phoenix (and probably others I don't know about) for all the work they put into this.

Seconded.   :)
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Re: Scammers Breaking The Kindle Store : Skyrocketing to #1 Overall
« Reply #76 on: July 16, 2017, 09:22:39 PM »
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.

Jeez, Anarchist, you were supposed to keep our nefarious scheme on the down-low!  8)

But seriously, yeah, I do think there's opportunity for abuse. I certainly take note whenever I see my books rise in the absence of promotional activity on my part (as here, for instance). I'm not sure the potential for abuse, and also plain old mistakes, means we should abandon efforts to share knowledge and act collectively. There's power in numbers, and that power can be used productively, though it does have to be used with care. Real-name people like Phoenix and David who have a years-long track record of statistical acumen and advocacy for ethics? I'm apt to trust their conclusions. Some random person who decides "X looks suspicious, and I'm going to do something about it"? Now that would make me very nervous. When inexpert people dive into stuff, they're as apt to be wrong as right.




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Re: Scammers Breaking The Kindle Store : Skyrocketing to #1 Overall
« Reply #77 on: July 16, 2017, 09:49:37 PM »
But seriously, yeah, I do think there's opportunity for abuse. I certainly take note whenever I see my books rise in the absence of promotional activity on my part (as here, for instance). I'm not sure the potential for abuse, and also plain old mistakes, means we should abandon efforts to share knowledge and act collectively. There's power in numbers, and that power can be used productively, though it does have to be used with care. Real-name people like Phoenix and David who have a years-long track record of statistical acumen and advocacy for ethics? I'm apt to trust their conclusions. Some random person who decides "X looks suspicious, and I'm going to do something about it"? Now that would make me very nervous. When inexpert people dive into stuff, they're as apt to be wrong as right.

I agree. Reputation buys trust and latitude.

Having said that, it's easy to inadvertently incite a mob.





That makes me uncomfortable when there's even a slight possibility of innocence.


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Re: Scammers Breaking The Kindle Store : Skyrocketing to #1 Overall
« Reply #78 on: July 16, 2017, 10:51:16 PM »
I agree. Reputation buys trust and latitude.

Having said that, it's easy to inadvertently incite a mob.

That makes me uncomfortable when there's even a slight possibility of innocence.

You're right, I think. There's no perfect solution. There's simply no way to avoid all risk. In trying to do something about scamming, we risk damaging an innocent person. But there's also risk in doing nothing or taking more watered-down action. It's a more diffuse risk (because the harm scamming does is spread across more people), but it's a risk nonetheless. This is generally the way it goes with real-world moral decision-making: whatever you choose to do, your hands are probably going to get dirty, so you end up seeking the path of least dirt. I do think the cautionary notes sounded in this thread are good and useful. It's important to guard against falling into some sort of hubristic stance of absolute certainty and moral authority. Reminding oneself of the risks is one way to do that.




Offline dgaughran

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Re: Scammers Breaking The Kindle Store : Skyrocketing to #1 Overall
« Reply #79 on: July 17, 2017, 02:38:35 AM »
I agree. Reputation buys trust and latitude.

Having said that, it's easy to inadvertently incite a mob.

That makes me uncomfortable when there's even a slight possibility of innocence.

I genuinely appreciate this concern. However, let me try and reassure you: as I noted in the comments of my own post, I didn't post all of the evidence in my possession for various reasons. I have offered that to Amazon of course, we'll see if they bother replying this time. (I don't want scammers to know the exact ways in which I determine clickfarmed books or how I find their books. I gave a broad overview of some of the means in my post so that people could see what I was talking about, but I don't want to give scammers a list of what to avoid, or a template on how to do it in a more invisible way either.)

I'm extremely confident that clickfarms were used here.

Note that Data Guy has analysed these rank movements and backed up my assessment, if that gives you any additional reassurance: http://www.thepassivevoice.com/2017/07/scammers-break-the-kindle-store/#comment-395953

Quote
Karadjian's book had a total of roughly 50 downloads between 4/19 and 6/3, starting with a 4/21 spike of 20 downloads per day then tapering down to 2-3 per day by the beginning of May, and fading out to zero downloads by June.

Then, oddly, a giant overnight leap to #1 in mid July, corresponding to several thousand daily downloads.

...

Based on the data, I would concur completely with Davids assessment of what happened.

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Offline PaulineMRoss

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I do think it's possible to do something about KU scammers, at least. There's a very clear signature for KU scammed books, in that they have high numbers of borrows but very few sales. That's not a normal ratio. I'd guess that for most books, there would be something in the order of 5-10 borrows for every sale (varying dependent on price, genre, etc). Any ratio beyond that is almost certainly not a natural borrow rate.

So why could Amazon not limit the allowable number of borrows to a maximum of 10 per sale (averaged over a week or a month, say)? Any numbers beyond that would simply be ignored - no rank uplift, no pages read counted.

There would be no benefit for large scale scamming; no benefit to scam-target rival authors; legitimate authors would be unaffected. Any thoughts?
   

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Offline Alix Nichols

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I have a large mailing list of which 25% are KU readers (Ive surveyed them). In my next newsletter I plan to tell them about the current KU scam that's killing the program by driving good books out. Has anyone already called on their subscribers to contact Amazon, and explained exactly how to go about it? Id like to give my peeps a clear and easy roadmap, so they dont hesitate. If anyone has already prepared a handy template / call to action, please share here or PM me!
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Offline B.A. Spangler

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Thank you to Phoenix and David for the research and hard work they've put into this.

With such a low barrier to entry (skillset, tech, cost), Amazon's current model is not sustainable -- it'll be overrun with scams.

As I understand it, the scam on the 'Paid' side has to do with KU Borrows, where each borrow is ranked as a purchase. Results, fly up the charts and gain visibility.
Since the scammer's pattern is dependent on borrows, what if Amazon removed the sales rank bump that comes with a borrow or eliminated borrows altogether? If so, that'd put an end to the scam. Or am I missing something?
 

Offline she-la-ti-da

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Quote
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.

The thing is, the people who are consistently doing this meteoric rising into the ranks aren't getting the usual side effects:  many reviews, consistency in rankings, sale-through to their other books, leaving any evidence of promotions. It's popping a book up, letting it fall dramatically, popping it back up, over and over.

I mean, come on. If you hit #1 IN THE ENTIRE STORE, and yet you can't maintain that? You can't get anyone to review the book? You can't get sales on anything else? Seriously? What the heck do you people think is happening? The luck fairy is hitting these same people, but no one else? Because many of you insist there's no such thing as luck, so...

I'm not in the law enforcement field, so I don't have to prove a case in court. All I need to do is report suspicious activity and let Amazon sort it out. Amazon wants this stuff brought to their attention, and they aren't checking for my law school diploma.

If people want to continually give offenders the benefit of the doubt, go for it. When you start feeling the effect of what's happening yourself, I'm sure things will look a lot clearer to you. I've seen it happening already with some who poo-pooed the idea that anything was happening back in September. Now they're being affected, or see the result of blatant rank manipulation happening to others. At least one has realized they've lost thousands of dollars because of KU payout tanking.

And yeah, vetting each Select applicant won't stop the scammers, not totally. Nothing will. But it will get rid of the junk books that are being botted up. It will remove the crappy books that people put up that aren't even coherent, the ones that get quality reports and one star reviews.

An algo to watch KU subscribers would show the ones who are borrowing loads of books (and they have to be "reading" a lot in order to earn any decent money), AKA the click farms. It isn't going to be any one thing that knocks the worst offenders down, it's going to be a multi-level approach.

Amazon might even decide that authors can't submit books for Select until they reach a certain level of sales (and this would hurt me, personally, but I can see why it would happen). Stop multi-author "box sets", heck, stop box sets and bundles altogether in KU.  Limit book size, by not allowing bonus content. I know readers might complain, having to borrow each book rather than get them all at once, but it isn't that hard to click that little read for free button. They'll adapt.

Some innocent people will get dinged, but that happens already. We've all seen the threads where people are wondering why they got the nasty copyright email, why their account was terminated, why their book was blocked, when they've done nothing (most turn out to have done something, but let's not argue that here). But wouldn't that be better than watching helplessly while some scammer makes off with thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of dollars, every single month? While it gets harder and harder to rise above the botted books? While it costs more and more and more to do any promotion?
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Offline Jan Hurst-Nicholson

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"Scam Your Way to the Top" (the secret methods used by the top scammers)
With all the info we have on KBoards, going back to before KU when the scammers merely changed the names of the protagonists and re-titled a bestseller under their own name (and even used a stock photo cover with the logo still on it!), or put it through a translator several times, or changed M/F to M/M, there is enough info to make a really interesting book. I wonder if David or Phoenix would be interested in taking it on?  ::)

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Offline dgaughran

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I'd just like to address some concern that I went off half-cocked in any way.

Let me be absolutely clear:

1. I referred to the actions of four different authors in my post.

2. I have strong evidence that all of them used clickfarms.

3. I have more evidence in my possession than what I shared in my post.

4. Two of the four authors referred to in my post were engaged with directly and gave frankly unbelievable answers for their sudden sales spike.

5. The other two authors are long-time scammers who I've been watching for a while.

There is no possibility that these people are wide-eyed innocents that accidentally stumbled into using some dodgy service.

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Offline PenNPaper

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There's a very simple solution to this. All legitimate authors leave KU. Many have/are anyway. Soon KU will be synonymous with junk books (more so than it is now) and the readers will no longer be interested in it.

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Re: Scammers Breaking The Kindle Store : Skyrocketing to #1 Overall
« Reply #87 on: July 17, 2017, 06:22:27 AM »
You're right, I think. There's no perfect solution. There's simply no way to avoid all risk. In trying to do something about scamming, we risk damaging an innocent person. But there's also risk in doing nothing or taking more watered-down action. It's a more diffuse risk (because the harm scamming does is spread across more people), but it's a risk nonetheless. This is generally the way it goes with real-world moral decision-making: whatever you choose to do, your hands are probably going to get dirty, so you end up seeking the path of least dirt. I do think the cautionary notes sounded in this thread are good and useful. It's important to guard against falling into some sort of hubristic stance of absolute certainty and moral authority. Reminding oneself of the risks is one way to do that.

I always enjoy your reasoning, Becca. It's thoughtful, and reassuring to see in these types of threads.


I genuinely appreciate this concern. However, let me try and reassure you: as I noted in the comments of my own post, I didn't post all of the evidence in my possession for various reasons. I have offered that to Amazon of course, we'll see if they bother replying this time. (I don't want scammers to know the exact ways in which I determine clickfarmed books or how I find their books. I gave a broad overview of some of the means in my post so that people could see what I was talking about, but I don't want to give scammers a list of what to avoid, or a template on how to do it in a more invisible way either.)

I'm extremely confident that clickfarms were used here.

Note that Data Guy has analysed these rank movements and backed up my assessment, if that gives you any additional reassurance: http://www.thepassivevoice.com/2017/07/scammers-break-the-kindle-store/#comment-395953

I'll add my voice to the growing chorus thanking you and Phoenix for your tireless work in this area. I appreciate the time and energy you spend to investigate dubious behavior and effect positive change.

I tend to overcompensate in my fear of lambasting the innocent. I'm the (irritating, tiresome) Henry Fonda character in 12 Angry Men.

Again, thanks. Yours and Phoenix's efforts are heroic. I've always thought so, even if my position isn't perfectly aligned with yours.

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Offline Lady Runa

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I'm looking at the book page now and it has no ranking at all, as if it's just been published. All the reviews are there, however. Weird.

Amazon must have done something to reset the ranking to zero.

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Offline dgaughran

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Look, these are fair questions to ask. I have no problem with people poking and prodding my arguments. The ramifications are pretty serious here and people should question how conclusions were arrived at.

You are totally right that when that process doesn't happen that things can go very badly wrong, very quickly. I'm okay with there being a level of skepticism adopted and a presumption of innocence.

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Offline Philip Gibson

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I believe Amazon emails ALL KU authors every month about the page reads payout.  Is that correct?

If so, would it be so hard for Amazon to email every KU author every month that if they are seen to be using click farms, their account will be terminated?  Surely that would scare off a majority of scammers.

Or would that be too easy?

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Offline Bill Hiatt

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The thing is, the people who are consistently doing this meteoric rising into the ranks aren't getting the usual side effects:  many reviews, consistency in rankings, sale-through to their other books, leaving any evidence of promotions. It's popping a book up, letting it fall dramatically, popping it back up, over and over.

If people want to continually give offenders the benefit of the doubt, go for it. When you start feeling the effect of what's happening yourself, I'm sure things will look a lot clearer to you. I've seen it happening already with some who poo-pooed the idea that anything was happening back in September. Now they're being affected, or see the result of blatant rank manipulation happening to others. At least one has realized they've lost thousands of dollars because of KU payout tanking.

And yeah, vetting each Select applicant won't stop the scammers, not totally. Nothing will. But it will get rid of the junk books that are being botted up. It will remove the crappy books that people put up that aren't even coherent, the ones that get quality reports and one star reviews.

An algo to watch KU subscribers would show the ones who are borrowing loads of books (and they have to be "reading" a lot in order to earn any decent money), AKA the click farms. It isn't going to be any one thing that knocks the worst offenders down, it's going to be a multi-level approach.

Amazon might even decide that authors can't submit books for Select until they reach a certain level of sales (and this would hurt me, personally, but I can see why it would happen). Stop multi-author "box sets", heck, stop box sets and bundles altogether in KU.  Limit book size, by not allowing bonus content. I know readers might complain, having to borrow each book rather than get them all at once, but it isn't that hard to click that little read for free button. They'll adapt.

Some innocent people will get dinged, but that happens already. We've all seen the threads where people are wondering why they got the nasty copyright email, why their account was terminated, why their book was blocked, when they've done nothing (most turn out to have done something, but let's not argue that here). But wouldn't that be better than watching helplessly while some scammer makes off with thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of dollars, every single month? While it gets harder and harder to rise above the botted books? While it costs more and more and more to do any promotion?
I think you misunderstood me. I'm not saying Amazon should do nothing. I'm reacting to Amazon's tendency to lash out indiscriminately.

I would agree that, if multiple criteria are met, as you suggest, the risk of hitting an innocent person goes down considerably. The only scenario that might still be a problem would be scammers targeting an innocent person's book to camouflage their activity. We know that happens to some extent. Aside from that, yes, if a book shows none of the usual attributes of a bestseller but keeps hitting a top rank, it's hard to deny something's up.

The idea of restricting Select entry is brilliant. If a book had to demonstrate a little traction before entering the program (and KU), that would stop a lot of scams dead in their tracks. At the very least scammers would have to work harder to get the same result.

It sounds as if Amazon is already taking some steps regarding box sets, but I'm also on board with prohibiting them if necessary. That said, they are a nice way to offer a discount to someone who buys the whole series. What I'd advocate would be a virtual box set arrangement in which Amazon gives an author the ability to offer a lower price if a reader buys a certain combination of books (presumably in one order to avoid record-keeping complications). The principle would be similar to Matchbook or Whispersync. Authors could still offer a bargain, but there wouldn't be a separate box set in KU to potentially gum up the works. Also, the box set wouldn't become a product competing with the individual series titles, which seems as if it could be an advantage to me. I quite agree that a KU subscriber woudn't have to go through that much extra trouble to borrow the books individually.


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Offline Bill Hiatt

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I believe Amazon emails ALL KU authors every month about the page reads payout.  Is that correct?

If so, would it be so hard for Amazon to email every KU author every month that if they are seen to be using click farms, their account will be terminated?  Surely that would scare off a majority of scammers.

Or would that be too easy?

Philip
General threats are not going to do much. A specific notice to an author whose activities appear suspicious would do more, maybe at least scare some light gray hats back to white. Hardcore scammers are only going to be frightened by seeing other scammers get crushed in a big way. Not just banned, but sued for every single penny they acquired fraudulently, plus punitive damages. As others have noted, that approach would be expensive, but if the goal is to frighten scammers, something like that is the only thing that will really do it.

Perhaps Amazon needs to more carefully vet accounts in countries where suing an offender would be more difficult.


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Offline Bards and Sages (Julie)

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I agree with the issue that scammers do, if fact, routinely use honest authors as a target to legitimize their services. We already saw this happen with the review sellers, who would leave reviews on honest books in an effect to mask their paid reviews. So it is a genuine concern that clickfarms could target real authors as a way to cover their tracks. But I also think David is a careful, mindful person who understands that and wouldn't go public with something like this without real information.

But as he said, the real target in this SHOULD be Amazon. Amazon created this monster and it is their job to kill it. The books in question are not the problem. They are symptoms of the problem, which is that KU is designed for scamming. The entire system rewards scamming and encourages it. And to date, Amazon doesn't care because KU is built on QUANTITY not QUALITY. Half the books in KU could be scam books and Amazon wouldn't care, because it is more important for the marketing of KU to say "over one million books available" than it is to say "thousands of high-quality titles available."

The reason for this is that consumers want the illusion of choice. And nobody understands this better than Amazon.

Years ago, Walmart did a complete revamping of their stores. They realized that about 10% of the products in their store accounted for over 70% of their profits. So they started to remove low performing products and make more room for the things people were actually buying.Instead of having 20 brands of toothpaste on the shelf, they would only have ten, for example. The idea was that by focusing on what people actually bought, they would reduce costs.

Profits plummeted. The reason? People started to say that "Walmart didn't have much variety."

A similar thing happened with McDonald's. They "simplified" their menu a few years ago to focus on the stuff people bought. Profits went down. People want the ILLUSION OF CHOICE. It doesn't matter that they always order the same thing. They like the comfort of believing that if they DID want something else, they could.

That is why Amazon does nothing about the scammers. The scammers don't matter. Because readers are still going to read what they were going to read anyway. Real readers don't care about the scammers because they are "buying" the same stuff they always buy.

In addition, KU is a loss-leader...a "gateway drug" into the Amazon ecosystem. KU is built to lose money because it is a marketing tool. Amazon doesn't care if it is paying out to scammers, because the end result is that KU is doing what it was built to do: bringing in more users of the ecosystem who spend money on other things.

Two things can push Amazon to fix KU:
Enough of their superstar authors start to publicly rebel. This would cause a PR crisis because Amazon uses the success of the biggest authors as a selling feature to recruit more authors. If the superstars start telling authors the deck is stacked, new authors don't come into the ecosystem to replace those that leave.

Enough readers stop subscribing and the scam starts to hurt the bottom line. If KU becomes a trash heap and people stop subscribing, it loses its value as a promotional tool for Amazon.

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Offline Colin

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I agree with the issue that scammers do, if fact, routinely use honest authors as a target to legitimize their services. We already saw this happen with the review sellers, who would leave reviews on honest books in an effect to mask their paid reviews. So it is a genuine concern that clickfarms could target real authors as a way to cover their tracks. But I also think David is a careful, mindful person who understands that and wouldn't go public with something like this without real information.

But as he said, the real target in this SHOULD be Amazon. Amazon created this monster and it is their job to kill it. The books in question are not the problem. They are symptoms of the problem, which is that KU is designed for scamming. The entire system rewards scamming and encourages it. And to date, Amazon doesn't care because KU is built on QUANTITY not QUALITY. Half the books in KU could be scam books and Amazon wouldn't care, because it is more important for the marketing of KU to say "over one million books available" than it is to say "thousands of high-quality titles available."

The reason for this is that consumers want the illusion of choice. And nobody understands this better than Amazon.

Years ago, Walmart did a complete revamping of their stores. They realized that about 10% of the products in their store accounted for over 70% of their profits. So they started to remove low performing products and make more room for the things people were actually buying.Instead of having 20 brands of toothpaste on the shelf, they would only have ten, for example. The idea was that by focusing on what people actually bought, they would reduce costs.

Profits plummeted. The reason? People started to say that "Walmart didn't have much variety."

A similar thing happened with McDonald's. They "simplified" their menu a few years ago to focus on the stuff people bought. Profits went down. People want the ILLUSION OF CHOICE. It doesn't matter that they always order the same thing. They like the comfort of believing that if they DID want something else, they could.

That is why Amazon does nothing about the scammers. The scammers don't matter. Because readers are still going to read what they were going to read anyway. Real readers don't care about the scammers because they are "buying" the same stuff they always buy.

In addition, KU is a loss-leader...a "gateway drug" into the Amazon ecosystem. KU is built to lose money because it is a marketing tool. Amazon doesn't care if it is paying out to scammers, because the end result is that KU is doing what it was built to do: bringing in more users of the ecosystem who spend money on other things.

Two things can push Amazon to fix KU:
Enough of their superstar authors start to publicly rebel. This would cause a PR crisis because Amazon uses the success of the biggest authors as a selling feature to recruit more authors. If the superstars start telling authors the deck is stacked, new authors don't come into the ecosystem to replace those that leave.

Enough readers stop subscribing and the scam starts to hurt the bottom line. If KU becomes a trash heap and people stop subscribing, it loses its value as a promotional tool for Amazon.

You make lots of good points, Julie. Thanks for sharing.

Offline Desmond X. Torres

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I have a large mailing list of which 25% are KU readers (Ive surveyed them). In my next newsletter I plan to tell them about the current KU scam that's killing the program by driving good books out. Has anyone already called on their subscribers to contact Amazon, and explained exactly how to go about it? Id like to give my peeps a clear and easy roadmap, so they dont hesitate. If anyone has already prepared a handy template / call to action, please share here or PM me!
I also gave this idea some consideration, but decided against it.
My readers buy our stuff for entertainment purposes, and for me to discuss this w/ them in my NL would run the risk of making MY problem THEIR problem. It's tough enough getting them to leave reviews on my books they've read! LOL

I'm contacted by readers a few times a week, and I'm not going to share this challenge with them either.

The scamming has been going on in one form or another since the advent of KU. Saying that, I also have to say that KU right now is about 60% of a decent income for us. I've tried being wide and it just wasn't worth the additional effort for me.

I did fire off an email to Jeff Bezos account pointing out this thread, the PV thread and of course emphasizing David's blog post. While I hope for the best, I'm not confident of seeing any real change. Soldiering on...
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. . . Soldiering on...
           :)


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That is why Amazon does nothing about the scammers. The scammers don't matter. Because readers are still going to read what they were going to read anyway. Real readers don't care about the scammers because they are "buying" the same stuff they always buy.

In addition, KU is a loss-leader...a "gateway drug" into the Amazon ecosystem. KU is built to lose money because it is a marketing tool. Amazon doesn't care if it is paying out to scammers, because the end result is that KU is doing what it was built to do: bringing in more users of the ecosystem who spend money on other things.

Two things can push Amazon to fix KU:
Enough of their superstar authors start to publicly rebel. This would cause a PR crisis because Amazon uses the success of the biggest authors as a selling feature to recruit more authors. If the superstars start telling authors the deck is stacked, new authors don't come into the ecosystem to replace those that leave.

Enough readers stop subscribing and the scam starts to hurt the bottom line. If KU becomes a trash heap and people stop subscribing, it loses its value as a promotional tool for Amazon.

Sounds about right.  :(




Offline AgnesWebb

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Yes, thank you to David and Phoenix for thoroughly researching and exposing this massive flaw in the system.
When I saw that "Broken People from God's Land" #1 in the Kindle store last week, I was SO freaking confused. Not only did it look terrible, but it had practically no reviews and an unrecognizable author. They have fully hacked and infiltrated Kindle Unlimited. It's really messed up.

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I think you misunderstood me. I'm not saying Amazon should do nothing. I'm reacting to Amazon's tendency to lash out indiscriminately.

I didn't mean to imply I thought you meant Amazon should do nothing, just pointing out that your example was different from what these folks are doing. Sorry for not being clearer.  :-[ The easiest way to determine if a book is a true "out of the blue" miracle or botted is to look at the sales, not downloads, and how many reviews it gets (because these click farms don't leave reviews -- likely because of the rule requiring $50 of purchases in the store.

I would agree that, if multiple criteria are met, as you suggest, the risk of hitting an innocent person goes down considerably. The only scenario that might still be a problem would be scammers targeting an innocent person's book to camouflage their activity. We know that happens to some extent. Aside from that, yes, if a book shows none of the usual attributes of a bestseller but keeps hitting a top rank, it's hard to deny something's up.

It is hard to deny, and that was something that got in my craw. David isn't one of those people who jumps on something with no evidence (not that I'm saying you said that, but it was implied in some other responses). People who've been around for a while should know that, or they could ask. I thought myself that I'd been targeted by one of these scammers in April. I kind of freaked out when the page reads started going up. But then I realized sales had shot up as well (it was stratospheric for me, not so much to anyone else  8)), so I think I just hit it at the right time with a new release.

The idea of restricting Select entry is brilliant. If a book had to demonstrate a little traction before entering the program (and KU), that would stop a lot of scams dead in their tracks. At the very least scammers would have to work harder to get the same result.

Exactly. They can't get a foothold in sales, because that would cost them a fortune, even at .99, but they can rake in the dough with a few thousand free KU accounts with fake addresses. So if it was harder to get into Select, that would eliminate the vast majority of the issue right there. And I don't think it would cost Amazon all that much. They could write bots to catch most of it (the repeated content, the bundles/box sets with the same books in different order, the books that aren't written very well). There would be a need for people to do spot checks and to look at things the bot caught but wasn't completely clear, but I'd bet it would be far cheaper than a click farm!

It sounds as if Amazon is already taking some steps regarding box sets, but I'm also on board with prohibiting them if necessary. That said, they are a nice way to offer a discount to someone who buys the whole series. What I'd advocate would be a virtual box set arrangement in which Amazon gives an author the ability to offer a lower price if a reader buys a certain combination of books (presumably in one order to avoid record-keeping complications). The principle would be similar to Matchbook or Whispersync. Authors could still offer a bargain, but there wouldn't be a separate box set in KU to potentially gum up the works. Also, the box set wouldn't become a product competing with the individual series titles, which seems as if it could be an advantage to me. I quite agree that a KU subscriber woudn't have to go through that much extra trouble to borrow the books individually.

From what I'm hearing, something was done with the cap on box sets recently. I also think there was some more thorough checking to make sure stuff was truly only in Select. It's a start, but not near enough. I like your idea about how we could still offer a deal to our readers. I hope Amazon looks into something like that.
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