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.
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.