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Book stuffing, KU reads, and Amazon’s Doing Something

While I would hope that everyone who reads this is interested in being a real author making up real stories that are your own, writing them down, and publishing them, we are all aware that there are scammers out there, and people who care more about the money, than acting ethically or the readers. We also know that Amazon has a habit of taking a wide swath of potential wrongdoers, then filtering out and restoring the innocent.

Yep, they’re doing it again.

1. David Gaughran gave us the first heads-up on twitter that Amazon has filed suit against an author for book-stuffing.

Forbes article here: https://www.forbes.com/sites/adamrowe1/2018/04/07/amazon-has-filed-suit-to-stop-the-six-figure-book-stuffing-kindle-scam/#2af7a11b7344

Book stuffing is when authors take all their works and stuff them into the back of every other book to artificially inflate their page count. Some authors even stuff in newsletters: the goal is to inflate the page count as much as possible, and thus the payout on KU page reads. Said books are usually offered at 99 cents or free, as the author is looking to get all their money out of KU. Because the page read algorithm is concerned mainly with the farthest page you’ve read, anyone who clicks to see what that other stuff is in the back will boost the page reads.

The reason this practice is so hated is because the KU pool is a fixed-sum; if book stuffers are making $100,00/mo (and some are making more than that), then there’s that much less money to go around for all the other authors in the KU program. Also, when All-Star bonuses for being top reads go to scammers, it encourages other authors to quit playing the game, and take their books wide.

Well, looks like they’re finally cracking down on it. Whether it’s because they were seeing too many authors that readers actually want leave KU and go wide, or because they were taking their time making the tool that filtered all the content, I don’t know. (That had to be a fun algorithm, to try to filter out the openly advertised box sets and all anthologies.) All I know is that they’ve started pulling books and actually suing bookstuffers.

If you’re in a box set or big fat anthology, I would not be surprised if your book gets delisted – and if so, contact KDP through your Author Central page. They always take out guilty and innocent, and then fix it for the innocent.

2. In the same week as Amazon’s been cracking down on bookstuffers, Ars Technica published an article that Amazon has closed over 3,000 user accounts.

“…some customers in that Facebook group have admitted to violating Amazon’s reviews policy by leaving positive reviews for products that they received for free or in exchange for a reward like a gift card.”

Others claim they have no clue why.  My shocked face, let me show it to you.

Before authors get too worried about the review for free product, we’re not talking about free books here. They’re explicitly carved out in the TOS – we’re talking about people who are getting free clothes, hedge trimmers, computer gear, etc. with the explicit understanding that they’ll leave a positive review.

We’re also talking about people who receive gift cards to buy Amazon products, and leave a free review, and people who are instructed to buy an Amazon gift card, buy the product, leave a review, and then request a refund and they’ll get it. These are in a separate category from the free-product-for-review because the former are pure advertisement for products. The latter are actively assisting in money laundering, where the reviews and product exchange are a cost of doing dirty business.

3. Meanwhile, some Amazon Authors have noticed that their page reads for the last month have been retroactively cut.

I’ve been expecting this ever since Amazon started cracking down on paid page-reads by clickfarms, otherwise known as “Buy an ad with our closed facebook group or secret email list and we guarantee 5,000 downloads!” Because it took about two days for the scammers to figure out that they could camouflage their tracks by picking other free or KU books and download or “read” those too. And it didn’t take Amazon much longer to start rank-stripping authors who were at first puzzled and overjoyed by getting 5,000 reads out of nowhere… and now are very concerned and promptly contact Amazon via Author Central or KDP help to make sure they don’t get hit with the banhammer as it comes down on scammers.

But scammers never stop and say “Oh, they don’t like us doing that, and it’s wrong. We’ll quit now!” No, they just keep being wrong, with greater sophistication. So as the reports of sudden download spikes trailed off, I’ve expected they’re just spreading their KU reads out.

So if you’ve seen your KU reads suddenly drop, look at that “at least 3,000 people are complaining that Amazon closed their account”, and contemplate how many KU reads could be contained in what’s likely a much, much larger number of account closures catching a lot of clickfarmers, money launderers, and various other violators of the Terms of Service.

If you see a massive drop, again, contact Amazon held via KDP help, and report it. If it’s not a legitimate drop, they’ll likely put it in the queue to fix.

…And once again, remember that in all businesses, don’t count your money as certain until the check has cleared, and the electronic deposit is in your bank account.

4. On the disappearing reviews from a few weeks ago… I had two disappear myself. Don’t know if Peter had any, because I don’t track his closely after launch month. (I might have been looking at mine in an effort to overcome The Interminable Middle on the current project… something to do with looking at reviews and going “Youu can do eet!” being slightly better at getting more words out than abandoning the computer in favour of a margarita.) One has since come back, so whatever purge they were doing, they’re clearly on the “restore the innocent after taking out all the probably-guilty” phase of the process. It’s probably connected to items 1, 2, and 3 above.

 

24 Comments
  1. 23skidoo

    April 8, 2018
  2. c4c

    April 8, 2018
  3. Now I’m worried that my first short story, Terror Tree, which had chapter one of Bad Dog in the back could be considered a scam?

    There again, my readership is in the hundreds for The World Of Drei series, so I’m not much of a scammer.

    April 8, 2018
    • Dorothy Grant #

      I highly doubt it – for one, putting a teaser in the back is a time-honored tradition. This is a matter of scale. Let’s say you have two series, and a short story intro to one series. If you put your short story free (or 99 cents), and then added half the first book to the back. Then, with your first book you put it at 99 cents, and added the short story, the first in an unrelated series, and half of the second, you’d be stuffing. If, with the second book, you added the short story, two unrelated novels that aren’t selling well, the first in another series, and half the next book, there’s no doubt you’re stuffing at all, eh?

      Some stuffed books that were heavily promoted and made it high up the ranks have 6, yes, 6 extra full novels crammed in the back. These were not advertised as box sets or anthologies, these are just thrown in to pad out the page count, and to get readers to turn that far back in the book so they get paid for all the page reads prior.

      The extremely scammy part is when you download one, and it starts with “Turn to the back page for a special message from the author!” – because then you know they’re trying to get a full book read payout whether you actually care for the book or not.

      This is, as a side note, part of why Amazon moved to insisting the table of contents has to be in the front – because people were pulling hijinks and including the TOC at the very back, so they’d get full page read. TOC at back was a useful hyperlink book adaptation for fiction, and I’m sorry it went away, but that’s how it rolls.

      The full-out blatant scam version of this is called scraping – where scammers wouldn’t even generate their own content, but sell a book on, say, Which coffee maker is the best to buy?” – and the innards were scraped Wikipedia articles & Consumer Reviews related to coffee and coffee makers. They get some suckers on the 99 cent sales, but most of their income comes from KU when the reader pages through going “Is there anything good in here? This is stupid!”

      Stuffed books are, at least, the author’s own content. So there were authors claiming that it was all right, because, hey, it’s not “that different” from putting a teaser in the back… Most indie authors do not agree, and clearly, neither does Amazon.

      April 8, 2018
  4. Hmm. *goes to look at back matter of next series book and to do some trimming*

    April 8, 2018
    • Dorothy Grant #

      Please read my reply to Ashley, above – what I’ve read of yours doesn’t require trimming.

      April 8, 2018
  5. Is this page read thing an issue if you sell your book on kindle and do nto enroll in kindle unlimited? It does not appear so, but my idea of computer programming is FORTRAN, and, yes, I do have a Hollerith card so to speak on my mantle piece.

    April 8, 2018
    • Dorothy Grant #

      George – nope, because outside of KU, you’re paying your money up front for the book, no matter how much of it you read. Amazon compensates people inside the KU program based on how many pages of the story are read. That pool of money is what the scammers are going after.

      Amazon used to pay per story borrowed, but they found that a large chunk of the money was going to authors who split a single book up into twelve parts, so they get 11 times more revenue than someone who offered a single book as a single download, and short stories were getting paid as much as novels. The incentive drove a lot of serials and shorts onto KU – but the readers actually wanted novels. So Amazon changed the pricing structure to pages read, which changed the incentive to full novels.

      The scammers, of course, didn’t go away; they changed tactics.

      April 8, 2018
  6. Well, this is a fascinating insight into how hard some people work to avoid other kinds of work!!

    But while I’m here I want to say that I loved your book and read it at least five times during the snow storm we had a few weeks ago. And I chose it largely based on the cover.

    April 8, 2018
    • Dorothy Grant #

      Thank you! Glad you like it enough to enjoy a re-read!

      And yeah, Cedar Sanderson does awesome covers. We had a good laugh, when I commissioned her. Because I was all “Cedar, I know lots of people ask me about covers and I can give general advice on typography and font for genre, but I’m totally blocking hard. Help!”

      April 8, 2018
    • sam57l0 #

      No doubt, Miss Jan, that it was a large, fluffy, and exceptionally WARM cover!

      April 8, 2018
  7. The LitRPG group is getting hit pretty hard, and a lot of people are getting worried, some are starting to pull their books from KU, and we’re not talking people who only sell a few books, we’re talking some of the names in the genre.

    One thing I’ll tell everyone here: If you’re in a group that contains any scammers, LEAVE. There are some groups that used to be great to go learn stuff, like the 50K group. Now it’s guilt by association, and I think some scammers are using the membership list as a group to up page counts on. It does seem that Amazon is using the membership list of these groups in their banning spree.

    Amazon has become a lot more sophisticated in catching scammers, though honestly I think they need to bite the bullet and just not accept traffic from the countries that the scammers are in. But they keep licking their lips looking at that market and thinking that one day it’ll pay off. I know we all worry about these kinds of things, especially as Amazon controls about 90 percent of the market, and KU is probably half of that. You pull out of KU and you’re committing financial suicide as an indy, and ‘going wide’ is pretty much a joke.

    And also I’ll say this: Don’t be that person who actually is scamming Amazon and thinking ‘it’s only a little bit’ and then goes and complains when they get caught. Know your advertisers, and don’t use the ones who use shady methods, and understand that paying people for reviews, even if the service -claims- that they’re just ‘hooking you up with willing reviewers’ is still a scam. There are services out there that scam the author, instead of scamming Amazon, and you’ll get in trouble for those as well

    April 9, 2018
    • snelson134 #

      ” just not accept traffic from the countries that the scammers are in.”

      I’ll be interested in how you see them doing that, when my COTS Avast firewall allows me to make myself appear from any country on the planet, to the point that YouTube, blogspot, and other sites will translate automatically to that country’s language, or block copyrighted content according to that country’s copyright laws.

      April 10, 2018
      • And that’s why those services are always getting hit with DOS and other attacks. I know how to do it, it’s not really all that hard, especially if you have a little money to throw at the problem. Of course, I’ve been on the internet from almost day one, and I know a few tricks. But honestly, it’s just not that hard.

        April 10, 2018
  8. I can hardly wait for them to start banning books for “improper content”. That’ll be fun.

    April 9, 2018
    • They already do that, and have been doing it for years. AND the rules for indy’s are different than the rules for Trad pub and Big 5.

      April 9, 2018
    • Yeah, they do that. Early and often in the erotica genre. Which leads to periodic screaming from erotica authors about “It’s a perfectly acceptable cultural practice in East GoatF**kistan!”, and periodic screaming from the romance authors when the erotica authors start using romance tags and taking over the romance genres to hide from a purge, and end up getting a swath of books in that romance category rank-stripped, delisted, or outright banned.

      *sinal salute*

      For example, Amazon will not publish an erotica (or romance) book with incest or pedophilia. If you put one up on Amazon, it will get unpublished. If an erotica author who shall remain nameless because I can’t remember their name decides they’re going to do a quick rewrite on an incest & pedophilia book to make it “the babysitter”, and republish, it will get unpublished again when a disgusted customer complains.
      If the wretch then decides to quickly do a rewrite and drop the father’s age to “college”, and republish under New Adult Romance, claiming that it’s okay because some states have legal exemptions for teenagers who go from horny minors to horny adult& almost-adult.. and besides, in most of the world, it’s perfectly fine! Mohammed had a 9 year old bride…

      They get absolutely no sympathy from me when they start wailing all over the internets about how Amazon closed their account, and seized all the unpaid profits generated by sales. None.

      If you check the Terms of Service, you’ll note that part about “no illegal content”? Yeah, they mean that, too.

      April 9, 2018
  9. Reblogged this on Lee Dunning and commented:
    I am so pitifully naive. It never occurred to me that people would do this sort of thing. It seems like no matter how cool an item is, someone out there is ready and willing to corrupt it.

    April 9, 2018
    • I am of the same mind. I marvel at the way people will scam rather than just earn their money, and so never am clever enough to anticipate how they game the system. My mind just doesn’t roll that way.

      April 9, 2018
      • I once listened to a Salvation Army major describing the lengths some people will go to in order to avoid working at a regular job. Talk about misplaced efforts! They’d use less energy just working than they expend finding ways to not-work.

        April 10, 2018
        • I’ve met a few of that ilk that are actually proud of their “cleverness,” and consider the rest of the culture as, “suckers.”

          April 10, 2018
          • snelson134 #

            The problem we’re running into is that the rest of the culture is starting to agree.

            April 12, 2018

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