Author Topic: An Open Letter to Amazon on stripped page reads and false reporting.  (Read 3036 times)  

Offline Lee Sutherland

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Hello, Kboards.  It's been a while since I've posted around here.  I lurk occasionally, but for the most part my time is spent in the groups for the genre I write in.  Over the past few months, I've dealt with page stripping by Amazon and have found no recourse in responding to their automated emails.  So, I wrote this piece and posted it on my website.   It's short and to the point, but I know I'm not the only one dealing with this.

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I love writing books. I love sharing them with the world and receiving reviews and messages from people who have spent hours enjoying what comes out of my head. Ive been doing it seriously for almost 2 years now and have learned so much in that time.

I thought I would finally be a full time writer this August. That was until amazon decided to start taking money from authors without proof or data. With only so much as we see suspicious activity but that is all we can tell you. They cant tell us what happened or how it happened. They cant tell us how to prevent it. But just like clockwork, 10 days into the next month they adjust our payout. After we have spent a month funneling money into their ads based on the data they reported to us. So not only do they get the $1500 they cut from my earnings, they get the $800+ that I spent on their ads based on false reporting.

Its not right and its not good business. If you cant control people manipulating your system, which Im not entirely sure occurred on my account based on my historical data, then you shouldnt report earnings in real time. And you definitely shouldnt adjust earnings the month after.

I dont know what Im going to do. Amazon is such a big piece of the pie that it would hurt my income to quit being exclusive. But I might just have to suck it up and put my books on other platforms.

I have also posted this on my blog at http://slrowland.com/2018/07/an-open-letter-to-amazon/ if anyone is experiencing the same thing an wants to share. 

Edit:  Take a look at the ratio of sales to page reads before my new release and after.

Month      Title                  Sales   Page Reads

October      Pangea Online Book One: Death and Axes      679   732,938
November   Pangea Online Book One: Death and Axes      193   134,507
December   Pangea Online Book One: Death and Axes      43   54,305
January      Pangea Online Book One: Death and Axes      43   46,456
February   Pangea Online Book One: Death and Axes      30   38,094
March      Pangea Online Book One: Death and Axes      26   26,320
April      Pangea Online Book One: Death and Axes      21   27,827

And then a new release on May 15th.

 (I didn't take a screenshot beforehand, but this is what they were adjusted to.  200,000+ page reads were cut.)

May      Pangea Online Book One: Death and Axes      126   56,593
May      Pangea Online Book Two: Magic and Mayhem   232   68,477

June(Before)   Pangea Online Book One: Death and Axes      65   117,982
June(Before)   Pangea Online Book Two: Magic and Mayhem   77   128,540

June(After)   Pangea Online Book One: Death and Axes      65   51,212
June(After)   Pangea Online Book Two: Magic and Mayhem   77   55,571

« Last Edit: July 11, 2018, 06:43:42 AM by Lee Sutherland »

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Re: An Open Letter to Amazon
« Reply #1 on: July 10, 2018, 07:04:45 PM »
More power to you. Though not affected (yet), this fiasco, wholly unnecessary on Amazon's part, bothers me more than any other current issue facing indies. Sure, they have to deal with malicious bots, but not at the expense of innocent author's livelihoods and peace of mind.

I pray they set up a true and transparent arbitration process and remedy this ASAP.


Offline David VanDyke

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Re: An Open Letter to Amazon
« Reply #2 on: July 10, 2018, 08:25:19 PM »
Amazon is such a big piece of the pie that it would hurt my income to quit being exclusive. But I might just have to suck it up and put my books on other platforms.

Only apparently it isn't such a big piece of the pie. And why are to so sure it would hurt your income (in the long run)? My income wide is better now than anything except my very best months in KU, and much less variable. It took 6-9 months and a BookBub to break even with my usual KU average, but it's been all good since. YMMV, but it's certainly possible to do even better wide than Select-exclusive.


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Re: An Open Letter to Amazon
« Reply #3 on: July 10, 2018, 09:47:54 PM »
Only apparently it isn't such a big piece of the pie. And why are to so sure it would hurt your income (in the long run)? My income wide is better now than anything except my very best months in KU, and much less variable. It took 6-9 months and a BookBub to break even with my usual KU average, but it's been all good since. YMMV, but it's certainly possible to do even better wide than Select-exclusive.

Thanks for your input!  I'm considering going wide to avoid relying too much on Amazon. Good to know some people are doing it well.

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Offline notjohn

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Re: An Open Letter to Amazon
« Reply #4 on: July 11, 2018, 04:05:20 AM »
Only apparently it isn't such a big piece of the pie. And why are to so sure it would hurt your income (in the long run)? My income wide is better now than anything except my very best months in KU, and much less variable. It took 6-9 months and a BookBub to break even with my usual KU average, but it's been all good since. YMMV, but it's certainly possible to do even better wide than Select-exclusive.

I agree. My sales this month run 75 percent Kindle, 25 percent Draft2Digital, with Google yet to be heard from. Definitely my Kindle sales are way down this summer, but other online bookstores (and paperback sales) are holding up very well.

In the long run, it pays to diversify.

« Last Edit: July 11, 2018, 04:08:04 AM by notjohn »
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Offline TimothyEllis

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Re: An Open Letter to Amazon
« Reply #5 on: July 11, 2018, 05:20:20 AM »
It took 6-9 months and a BookBub to break even with my usual KU average

The magic word when wide: Bookbub.

Without one, you just shoot yourself in the foot going wide.

The trouble is, some authors cant get one, no matter what they do. And going wide when you cant get one is just .......there is no adequate word. My advice to people thinking about it, is get a Bookbub first, because until you do, getting traction wide is almost impossible. Going wide needs a Bookbub in the first 6 months, and getting one is much easier when you've already had one. And I'm talking the full BB, not a non-US one.

Offline Bill Hiatt

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Re: An Open Letter to Amazon
« Reply #6 on: July 11, 2018, 07:19:36 AM »
The magic word when wide: Bookbub.

Without one, you just shoot yourself in the foot going wide.

The trouble is, some authors cant get one, no matter what they do. And going wide when you cant get one is just .......there is no adequate word. My advice to people thinking about it, is get a Bookbub first, because until you do, getting traction wide is almost impossible. Going wide needs a Bookbub in the first 6 months, and getting one is much easier when you've already had one. And I'm talking the full BB, not a non-US one.
That's good advice, though it's harder to get a BB while one is in KU.

I'm sure not everyone who is successful wide gets a BB, but many of the success stories are people who do--repeatedly. Unfortunately, that particular pathway is not open to everyone. Last I checked, BB was rejecting 80% of all applications. Sigh!


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Re: An Open Letter to Amazon
« Reply #7 on: July 11, 2018, 08:59:54 AM »
Only apparently it isn't such a big piece of the pie. And why are to so sure it would hurt your income (in the long run)? My income wide is better now than anything except my very best months in KU, and much less variable. It took 6-9 months and a BookBub to break even with my usual KU average, but it's been all good since. YMMV, but it's certainly possible to do even better wide than Select-exclusive.

This.

Stop playing their game.

I expect to get some flack for this but...

Despite all the threads to the contrary, I still pull six figures a year by being wide with nothing but a good loss leader (free) and very little advertising. No AMS. No FB ads. No newsletter swaps. I write and I publish and I interact/engage with the fans who write me. That's about it.

Yes, I get Bookbub's, but they are no more than one or two a year.

I may be an outlier but I have to echo David, its entirely possible, and MUCH less stressful, to be better off outside of select/KU. 


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Re: An Open Letter to Amazon
« Reply #8 on: July 11, 2018, 09:17:52 AM »
This.

Stop playing their game.

I expect to get some flack for this but...

Despite all the threads to the contrary, I still pull six figures a year by being wide with nothing but a good loss leader (free) and very little advertising. No AMS. No FB ads. No newsletter swaps. I write and I publish and I interact/engage with the fans who write me. That's about it.

Yes, I get Bookbub's, but they are no more than one or two a year.

I may be an outlier but I have to echo David, its entirely possible, and MUCH less stressful, to be better off outside of select/KU.

If you get flak for saying that then people are just weird. Personally, thank you for saying it. This has also struck me as the most obvious answer to any and all of this.

Results are in: the more power you allow Amazon to have over you, the more they will exercise that power, period.

Money flows to the author. When that tenet starts to be broken you have to take a step back and realize something is very wrong. If anyone else told you they were going to pay you $10,000 that month, and on the last day sent you $5,000 with no way to discuss, challenge or otherwise react to that, what would you do? Probably never work with them again and maybe legally challenge them, right? The added salt to the wound of you using AMS based on those same hour by hour results, and not being refunded when it turns out their data is apparently 50% BS, is just the sauce on top of the screamburger.

But you can't do that here due to them being the largest player on the field. So what can you do? You can go wide and stop allowing them to exclusively abuse you. We're indie authors, the ability to adapt and change the paradigm is a huge part of who we are as a community, no? Adapt or die.

Tell your readers why you're pulling out. I think you'll find them most sympathetic and completely unaware that this is going on. Let them help advocate for you because they're the ones with the purchasing power in this equation.

Offline David VanDyke

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Re: An Open Letter to Amazon on stripped page reads and false reporting.
« Reply #9 on: July 11, 2018, 11:35:26 AM »
The magic word when wide: Bookbub.

Without one, you just shoot yourself in the foot going wide.

The trouble is, some authors cant get one, no matter what they do. And going wide when you cant get one is just .......there is no adequate word. My advice to people thinking about it, is get a Bookbub first, because until you do, getting traction wide is almost impossible. Going wide needs a Bookbub in the first 6 months, and getting one is much easier when you've already had one. And I'm talking the full BB, not a non-US one.


No, you're overrating the BB--and frankly, that's a bit insulting, though you probably didn't mean it that way. You're inadvertently implying the tons of hard work I put in on other areas of going wide was pointless, it was the BB that mattered.

Nope. The BB was great, but I would have been fine without it--it just would have taken longer. Also, the BB wasn't some kind of fluke. It was a strategy, one pole in the tent. I planned for it, worked for it, and got it.

But I'd have made it without, it just would have taken longer.
« Last Edit: July 11, 2018, 03:32:44 PM by David VanDyke »


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Offline David VanDyke

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Re: An Open Letter to Amazon on stripped page reads and false reporting.
« Reply #10 on: July 11, 2018, 11:42:25 AM »
That's good advice, though it's harder to get a BB while one is in KU.

I'm sure not everyone who is successful wide gets a BB, but many of the success stories are people who do--repeatedly. Unfortunately, that particular pathway is not open to everyone. Last I checked, BB was rejecting 80% of all applications. Sigh!

More like 98% of all applications, actually. The BB team has stated they get more than 1000 applications a day, and they run 25 per day. I think they say "over 80%" because they don't want to scare people away, and it's technically true. 98% is over 80%.

I'm not sure what you mean by saying "that pathway isn't open to anyone." It is. What is true is, if you really want them to accept, you have to have a strategy that includes as many elements they like as possible--and you can structure your submission accordingly if you work at it. Then you're more likely to get BBs over time. I don't have some kind of magic "in." I've just optimized my submissions and back-optimized my reader magnets with BB in mind.


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Offline David VanDyke

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Re: An Open Letter to Amazon on stripped page reads and false reporting.
« Reply #11 on: July 11, 2018, 11:43:45 AM »
This.

Stop playing their game.

I expect to get some flack for this but...

Despite all the threads to the contrary, I still pull six figures a year by being wide with nothing but a good loss leader (free) and very little advertising. No AMS. No FB ads. No newsletter swaps. I write and I publish and I interact/engage with the fans who write me. That's about it.

Yes, I get Bookbub's, but they are no more than one or two a year.

I may be an outlier but I have to echo David, its entirely possible, and MUCH less stressful, to be better off outside of select/KU. 

This.


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Offline David VanDyke

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Re: An Open Letter to Amazon on stripped page reads and false reporting.
« Reply #12 on: July 11, 2018, 11:44:51 AM »
If you get flak for saying that then people are just weird. Personally, thank you for saying it. This has also struck me as the most obvious answer to any and all of this.

Results are in: the more power you allow Amazon to have over you, the more they will exercise that power, period.

Money flows to the author. When that tenet starts to be broken you have to take a step back and realize something is very wrong. If anyone else told you they were going to pay you $10,000 that month, and on the last day sent you $5,000 with no way to discuss, challenge or otherwise react to that, what would you do? Probably never work with them again and maybe legally challenge them, right? The added salt to the wound of you using AMS based on those same hour by hour results, and not being refunded when it turns out their data is apparently 50% BS, is just the sauce on top of the screamburger.

But you can't do that here due to them being the largest player on the field. So what can you do? You can go wide and stop allowing them to exclusively abuse you. We're indie authors, the ability to adapt and change the paradigm is a huge part of who we are as a community, no? Adapt or die.

Tell your readers why you're pulling out. I think you'll find them most sympathetic and completely unaware that this is going on. Let them help advocate for you because they're the ones with the purchasing power in this equation.

And this. Well said.


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Offline Bill Hiatt

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Re: An Open Letter to Amazon on stripped page reads and false reporting.
« Reply #13 on: July 11, 2018, 12:15:05 PM »
More like 98% of all applications, actually. The BB team has stated they get more than 1000 applications a day, and they run 25 per day. I think they say "over 80%" because they don't want to scare people away, and it's technically true. 98% is over 80%.

I'm not sure what you mean by saying "that pathway isn't open to anyone." [added by BH: I said "everyone," not "anyone] It is. What is true is, if you really want them to accept, you have to have a strategy that includes as many elements they like as possible--and you can structure your submission accordingly if you work at it. Then you're more likely to get BBs over time. I don't have some kind of magic "in." I've just optimized my submissions and back-optimized my reader magnets with BB in mind.
I have no doubt a lot of hard work and strategizing went into getting accepted by Bookbub. I never thought the BB faerie just sprinkled them down from the clouds (though that might make an interesting premise for a short story).

The problem here, as with virtually everything, is that we don't have enough data. You assume because your strategy worked for you that it would work for anyone willing to put in the time. That could be true--though the math makes me skeptical. But we don't know if people who had their acts together still failed to get a BB, and if there are such people, we don't know how many. Most, but not all, of the people who talked about success wide in the past mentioned BB, and some suggested that was the crucial ingredient.  Maybe they're wrong--but again, we don't have the data to know. If we had stats for all the wide authors and could check for common factors, that might tell us with greater certainly what the prerequisites for success are.

That said, I think the future is ultimately in wide. I'm not in this situation, but the people I worry about are the people who are currently in Select and relying on their writing income. It's easy to say success would just have taken longer without a BB, but for someone whose income dropped drastically, longer might be too long.


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Offline Lee Sutherland

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Re: An Open Letter to Amazon on stripped page reads and false reporting.
« Reply #14 on: July 11, 2018, 12:32:30 PM »
I agree that the simple solution to having page reads stripped and false reporting is simply to not play in their system.  But the simple solution is not always the best solution.  My problem is the fact that if you choose to play with Amazon, then you should be treated fairly.  If they can't detect false page reads in real time, then delay a day, a week, whatever it takes to be able to analyze them and report them accurately to the author.  But as it is, we have no idea how they are going about this.  And when you look at the stats and see the adjusted reads, it just doesn't add up.  Like all of a sudden sales outnumber page reads in such a significant way, and on a new release when the majority of my readership is enrolled in KU.  It doesn't add up.

I enjoy being in KDP select.  I'm lucky to write in a genre with voracious readers who can leave me reviews on the same day I release because they read so fast.  There has to be a solution to the problem.  I don't have the answers.  Maybe I will go wide.  Maybe I won't.  I've been dealing with Amazon for several days now in an attempt to have my AMS budget refunded.  I'm trying to bring this to their attention.  I'm trying to have my account reviewed by actual humans and not just bots.

For now, I have a new series launching next month.  I'm going to put a lot of thought into whether or not I should take it wide from the start.

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Re: An Open Letter to Amazon on stripped page reads and false reporting.
« Reply #15 on: July 11, 2018, 01:58:20 PM »

I'm not sure what you mean by saying "that pathway isn't open to anyone." It is. What is true is, if you really want them to accept, you have to have a strategy that includes as many elements they like as possible--and you can structure your submission accordingly if you work at it. Then you're more likely to get BBs over time. I don't have some kind of magic "in." I've just optimized my submissions and back-optimized my reader magnets with BB in mind.

I love this part..."you have to have a strategy".

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Re: An Open Letter to Amazon
« Reply #16 on: July 11, 2018, 02:19:53 PM »
This.

Stop playing their game.

I expect to get some flack for this but...

Despite all the threads to the contrary, I still pull six figures a year by being wide with nothing but a good loss leader (free) and very little advertising. No AMS. No FB ads. No newsletter swaps. I write and I publish and I interact/engage with the fans who write me. That's about it.

Yes, I get Bookbub's, but they are no more than one or two a year.

I may be an outlier but I have to echo David, its entirely possible, and MUCH less stressful, to be better off outside of select/KU.

The only times I see flak are when people get soap boxy about how everyone must be wide. KU authors hear a lot about how we're idiots leaving our future to Amazon, so we don't always have the patience for it. I choose to stay in Select because I think it's the best options for my business right now. I'm glad many authors do well wide--it's better for everyone if there are different routes to success. But everyone has to remember that there are different routes to success. For some, wide is the best option. For some, KU is the best option.

I hate to say it, but I think the better you do in KU, the more insulated you are from Amazon BS. You rarely see high earning authors losing their pages or getting rank stripped unless they're engaging in blackhat practices.

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Re: An Open Letter to Amazon on stripped page reads and false reporting.
« Reply #17 on: July 11, 2018, 02:36:47 PM »
I've been dealing with Amazon for several days now in an attempt to have my AMS budget refunded.  I'm trying to bring this to their attention.  I'm trying to have my account reviewed by actual humans and not just bots.

Good luck with this, let us know how it goes.  People seem to get quicker responses when they contact the Jeff Bezos email address, have you tried that?

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Re: An Open Letter to Amazon
« Reply #18 on: July 11, 2018, 02:54:12 PM »
The only times I see flak are when people get soap boxy about how everyone must be wide.

I'm definitely not up on a soap box, personally. Sorry if it came across like that.

My point is for those people being targeted, and assuming they have genuinely done nothing wrong, they have options. Those options may seem daunting, confusing, or tiresome but if you're going to treat your writing as a business you will have to make tough decisions sometimes.

If you're being taken advantage of, and I would most certainly claim that for anyone losing a straight and unverifiable 50% of reads, you need to remove yourself from the situation that you are in. Send in a letter after, or during, the process of your removal explaining to the Amazon Executive team why you are doing so. If you genuinely feel that you're being wrongly targeted look at what legal recourse is available to you*.

But, and it's a big BUT, don't just sit there and allow them to wield all the power in the relationship. You have choices.

* The reason I even mention that is the obvious fact that the 50% read strip rate is starting to look like it's a fantastical number. I don't know how it's possible to not view it as a fabricated number. The mathematical odds of these bad actors somehow reading, within a few points of error, a consistent 50% of a varied group of authors works, is.... well it's so low as to be improbable. Put that information in front of a court of law and I genuinely think Amazon is going to have to answer a bunch of questions they would prefer not to. Questions like: How do you record reads? What criteria do you use to ascertain false reads? How precisely does this all add up to 50% stripping across the board? Frankly the whole thing is on very shaky ground, no?

ETA: I'm British and we're usually too polite to sue, or threaten it. ;) I just think this stinks to high heaven and I hope someone ends up challenging their arbitrary behavior.
« Last Edit: July 11, 2018, 02:58:22 PM by GrahamCrackers »

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Re: An Open Letter to Amazon on stripped page reads and false reporting.
« Reply #19 on: July 11, 2018, 03:28:30 PM »

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Re: An Open Letter to Amazon on stripped page reads and false reporting.
« Reply #20 on: July 11, 2018, 03:39:16 PM »
You assume because your strategy worked for you that it would work for anyone willing to put in the time.

I never, EVER said that. I never even implied it, to my knowledge

What I did was tell how I did, and say it was possible, YMMV. This was in response to a post that definitely declared that going wide "would" hurt income, and then a follow-on post that definitely declared that without a BB, you're just shooting yourself in the foot.

In other words, the OP declared that going wide would result in less income than KU, and that without a BB, going wide would fail. I refuted that argument, explicitly without claiming that everyone who goes wide would definitely do as well as I have.

The OP said "wide bad." I said "maybe not."
« Last Edit: July 11, 2018, 03:40:47 PM by David VanDyke »


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Re: An Open Letter to Amazon
« Reply #21 on: July 11, 2018, 03:46:36 PM »
* The reason I even mention that is the obvious fact that the 50% read strip rate is starting to look like it's a fantastical number. I don't know how it's possible to not view it as a fabricated number. The mathematical odds of these bad actors somehow reading, within a few points of error, a consistent 50% of a varied group of authors works, is.... well it's so low as to be improbable. Put that information in front of a court of law and I genuinely think Amazon is going to have to answer a bunch of questions they would prefer not to. Questions like: How do you record reads? What criteria do you use to ascertain false reads? How precisely does this all add up to 50% stripping across the board? Frankly the whole thing is on very shaky ground, no?

ETA: I'm British and we're usually too polite to sue, or threaten it. ;) I just think this stinks to high heaven and I hope someone ends up challenging their arbitrary behavior.

This situation sounds like a class action suit would be appropriate. If the same arbitrary numbers are hitting a large group of varied authors...


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Re: An Open Letter to Amazon on stripped page reads and false reporting.
« Reply #22 on: July 11, 2018, 04:14:46 PM »
I am curious, though, to know how many mid/high-5 to 6 figure authors got there without BB.
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Re: An Open Letter to Amazon on stripped page reads and false reporting.
« Reply #23 on: July 11, 2018, 06:24:12 PM »
I am curious, though, to know how many mid/high-5 to 6 figure authors got there without BB.

I've earned six figures a year for the past four years and only just got accepted by BB this year. I've had two ads with them so far and neither did all that well, sadly. BB isn't the be all and end all that people think they are anymore. Not for me anyway. The ads certainly didn't skyrocket my sales like I thought they would. More like a small bump, then back to normal again after three weeks. Maybe if I wrote contemporary romance, it might have been different (shrugs).

Online Atlantisatheart

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Re: An Open Letter to Amazon on stripped page reads and false reporting.
« Reply #24 on: July 11, 2018, 06:46:41 PM »
I am curious, though, to know how many mid/high-5 to 6 figure authors got there without BB.

I've been six figures for six years and I've never had a BB. I guess I got double lucky - to start when I did and manage to keep my readers with me along the way.

I'm curious, has anyone heard of anyone being page stripped this month? I haven't heard anything on other boards.