Welp, it finally happened. My KDP/KU sales report for the month has been changed from one day to the next. No, I’m not talking about the move to the new format Amazon decided to go to. You know the one I’m talking about. The one that makes it even more difficult to get a snapshot view of what is going on with your sales and promotions. What I’m talking about is the disappearance of page reads under Kindle Unlimited.
Now, for me, that’s not a big issue. A year ago, I pulled all my titles out of KU in order to go wide. Since then, I’ve had a single in the program. It is a short story that relates to none of my other work. But that didn’t mean I saw no page reads for books no longer in the program. What folks tend to forget on the author side of things is that someone can download your book under the KU program and keep it in their library for months, even years, before they read it. As long as they downloaded while the title was still in KU, any pages read will generate income, no matter how long ago that download took place or when you removed it after the download from the program.
So, every month I had at least a couple of dollars coming in from the program. This month, I did note that my pages read seemed a bit high–meaning I might have made $8-$10 from KU pages read. Suddenly, yesterday, all those pages read were gone. Before I could institute a query with Amazon about it, I received the following email:
We are reaching out to you because we detected accounts attempting to manipulate Kindle services by simulating reading or borrowing activity on your titles.
You do not need to take any action, however, we will block the activities of these malicious accounts and their effects on payments. This means that you will still receive royalties associated with legitimate reading activities, but you will not receive royalties associated with activities related to these accounts.
Please note that this notice does not represent a change to your account status but is sent to make you aware of how our security countermeasures will affect your previously reporting page count and your royalty payments.
We understand you might have questions regarding the nature of how we detect these activities; however, please be aware that we cannot provide details that might compromise the integrity of our security systems.
If you have any other questions, please reply to this email.
Being me, the first thing I did was verify it was actually sent from an Amazon email. The second thing I did was go online to see if anyone else was reporting receiving similar emails. The last thing I did was ask for some clarification. Specifically, I wanted to know what titles were involved in this issue.
Going in order, here’s what I found.
It was a legitimate email from a legitimate Amazon address. I also found out this wasn’t the first time such emails had been sent to authors.
Amazon has issued similar letters going back several years. The first round, back in 2018 or even earlier, basically meant an automatic suspension of the author’s account. It didn’t take long to remember those complaints. At the time, there had been a handful of authors and “fans” going to social media, talking about how best to manipulate the system. It was a time when some authors padded their book’s content to increase pages read numbers, starting with adding a lot of front matter that you wouldn’t normally see in the book. Around this time, you also had some authors getting in trouble for trading reviews with other authors. It was not a fun time to be an indie. However, because of the number of authors caught up in the suspension of accounts by the bots who had done nothing wrong, Amazon changed how it did things. These letters are no longer a signal of death of Amazon, only a signal that you’ve lost money through no misdeed of your own and there is little to nothing you can do about it.
In the time since those first letters, the problem hasn’t changed much. Authors get the letter, see their pages read disappear or at least decrease and can find out nothing more from Amazon. Some of those impacted are like me, losing little to nothing in the grand scheme of things. But there are others like this author who lost over 100k pages read last year. There are others who have lost a lot more.
So, this is neither a new situation nor, apparently, one we can do much about.
Hence Step 3 in my attempt to discover more information. The books I was seeing pages read in were mainly from the Honor & Duty series as well as the Nocturnal Lives series. The former I suspected were books downloaded before I took them out of the program and folks were reading them now because Destiny from Ashes is about to be released–although it will be released wide.
Anyway, I responded to the email exactly as instructed and received a response within a couple of hours. Needless to say, I was not happy with the response:
Thank you for your email regarding our actions related to illegitimate reading activity observed on your titles. Your account remains in good standing and you may continue to use Kindle services to receive royalties associated with legitimate activity or paid sales.
Our decision to not pay for activities of accounts attempting to manipulate our services is representative of our effort to preserve the integrity of Kindle services for you as well as all customers and publishers.
Please be aware that we cannot provide further details of our investigations or detection systems, because we want to preserve both the confidentiality of others’ accounts and the security of our detection systems.
If you have other questions, you can reply to this email.
Amazon KDP http://kdp.amazon.com
So, they basically sent a canned letter that does nothing to answer my question. I am deciding if I want to follow this up or if it would just be a waste of time and effort since only a few dollars was involved. Part of me wants to because I know I’m not the only one getting the runaround. It isn’t as if I asked for insight into how they were determining the questionable activity. All I wanted to know was what titles they were looking at.
I’ll admit, it rankles me a little as well that they can do this but they make little to no effort to stop those folks who buy an ebook and then return it as soon as they read it. I’ve already written about this and the impact that sort of activity has had on a number of authors. It was something I started looking more closely at when, after close to a year of no returns, I started getting series selling as a whole and then being returned as a whole a couple of days later.
Amazon has been a friend to the indie author for years. Remember where we were before the Kindle Select Program began. But that doesn’t mean it can’t be better.
So here’s my advice. Start watching your sales numbers closely. That includes your page reads. Amazon’s bots use a formula to determine if there has been illicit activity and we all know how well bots can work (I’m looking straight at FB as I type this). In the meantime, here’s hoping Amazon finally gets a clue and at least becomes a bit more transparent about the process and with its communication with the authors in question.