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.
Thanks for the reminder. I couldn’t check while I was outside the US, and I will be releasing two books fairly soon (I hope. One I know I will be releasing soon.) I am still in KU, so I’ll watch and see what transpires with those in particular.
Do keep an eye on it. This seems to be happening more and more. While I don’t blame Amazon for wanting to stop this sort of thing, it would be nice to get some more detailed information from them about what’s going on.
Yeah, I got one of those letters a month ago, but I didn’t see any change. Unfortunately I don’t save copies of the graphs or spreadsheets, so all I can say is nothing changed enough to be noticeable. I suppose we’d all better start keeping actual detailed records.
I get the issue if you’re still in KU. It was difficult to keep up with the reads on a daily/weekly basis. Being out of it, any listing of page reads caught my eye–just as suddenly having those few pages gone.
I don’t know how good it would be as an indicator of phony page-reads, BUT:
A few years ago, I asked the owner of a smaller publishing house (mostly mil sci-fi) about the income from purchases versus page-reads. He said that the income was about the same from both sources.
I didn’t seek any other info.
But, if that were the case, that the two sources were roughly equivalent, then a big change in the ratio would be an indicator that SOMETHING was up.
Now this was a publishing house, and not an author (although the owner is also an author), but I’m wondering if that’s been true for authors as well.
Does Amazon have outside auditors who would scream if they suddenly started stealing money from page-reads? Or who would notify them, if there was a sudden increase in purchase-and-returns? I ask, because their statement “we want to preserve both the confidentiality of others’ accounts and the security of our detection systems” means that the CONSUMERS (writers and readers, and publishing houses) have no way of determining if the game is fixed.
Pat, that used to be the case re: equality of royalties between purchased books and those borrowed under KU. The problem with KU is the page read payouts change month to month. It all depends on the number of titles in the program, along with other considerations. By the time I pulled out a year ago, my page reads had not gone down that much, but my money from them had gone down tremendously. The other problem I saw was the lack of weight reviews from those who read the books through the KU program vs those who bought the book. So many reading via KU got discouraged and quit leaving anything other than rating. I am making more now, being wide–on the whole–than I did being Kindle only. I’m not sure what the actual payout is right now per kindle page, but one of the estimators I ran one of my books through before answering your comment said I’d make approximately $2 on a $4.99 book. My royalty on that same book is approximately $3.45 or so. If the calculator is close to accurate, that is one very large payout difference.
Using that same calculator, for the short story I have that is still in KU, I would earn $0.11 if someone read it all the way through. Under the 35% royalty for a sale, I’d make about $0.35.
Regarding the auditing or whatever, Amazon’s bots look at the historic sales/borrows of a book and if it sees unusual activity, it flags it. Supposedly, they then take into account any sales, promotions, etc., you might have done. The problem still falls to the fact they are relying on bots to flag the problem and will not be transparent with the impacted authors to let them know there is a problem until the sales have already been removed. That means we can’t show we ran a sale, did a promo push, etc., that their bots might not have picked up on.
I assume that one reason why Amazon is cagey with the details is that they don’t want to have the bot owners tipped off about what/how they are detecting bots.
That’s their explanation. Which I get. But that doesn’t mean they can’t say what books are impacted. Instead, they simply remove all page reads and the monies we would have earned instead of letting us offer an explanation for the increased number of pages read.
Remember that in those previous campaigns, innocent authors were implicated because the bots camouflaged themselves by “reading” other authors. That is probably still at work here.
Yeah. Some of the explanation I saw from other authors–so I can’t vouch for its accuracy–is the bots were doing that to innocent writers’ works to hide the ones they were actually trying to inflate the numbers on.
You’re not alone. The same thing happened to me near the end of last year. I got the letter, inquired about it, and got the canned reply. They won’t tell you anything about how they made their decision and you can’t argue or appeal. Just ‘whoops, we told you there were sales, but there weren’t… not really real sales’. :shrug:
The interesting thing will be seeing if they try to do this retroactively. If they do, I guarantee you I will be escalating this in ways they don’t want me to.
Honestly, it’s not just Amazon. Others have done similar things as well, but with actual sales. It’s just that Amazon has the captive audience of those who are exclusive due to KU and there’s so little transparency there that it is rife for issues like this to happen.
I’ve given up on any sort of Amazon support. I tried recently but just got canned answers. Tried to sell an old (1978) used book. But the book is published by Dell. Guess what? Products sold by Dell need approval, invoices instead.
I’ll take any odds you like that the conflated Dell Publishing with Dell Computer (which has a legitimate need to vet sellers). Though some third party sellers apparently got around the restriction.
This is where you try again and again. The problem with the support at Amazon, whether you are dealing with them as an author or as a customer or seller of a tangible product, is you are getting tier one support. What one tells you, another very well might give a different answer. My policy has become email them, get response, try again, get response. If it continues to be a canned response or basically so close in wording to rank as such, I then escalate it to a call to a supervisor. Yes, you can request to talk to a supervisor. You may have to wait and you may need to have them call you back. Explain what you want and why you should be allowed to do what you want. You take detailed notes of their response–and their name–and then ask them to email you confirmation if they agree with what you want. If you are still banging your head against the wall, email higher up with full history of what you are trying to do, including links to other folks selling the same item if you can find it.
Not an author. But this smells. Shenanigans like this is one reason I don’t buy ebooks from Amazon, if I have an alternative. I am not on KU. Preferred route is Barnes & Noble. (Because started with that early format, then a lot of the independent sites were bought by B&N. Took awhile for B&N to convert everything into B&N library, but they did, eventually. Now I have two copies, original source, and B&N library.) I don’t know if B&N is pulling shenanigans on authors or not. I’d happily go another independent route from authors pages. But I digress. While not an author, at least related to your problem, I would agree that the “suspicious” accounts involved are those who downloaded the KU books before the series for the new release were pulled from KU and the downloaders are binge reading the series before the new release, probably rereading. Which is a “suspicious” activity. Amazon sure doesn’t know a segment of their reading customers. Binge reading a series before a new release comes out, is legitimate activity. As is binge reading any newly discovered series that has already has several books released. Or discovering a new to me author, can result in binge reading of that author. I don’t always read everything an author writes, but it isn’t unheard of. Based on FB postings for other authors I follow that have new series book releases this summer, I am by far not unique! I have at least 2 series I am lining up for binge rereading for releases late this summer or fall; every book and every short story.
And it’s one reason I’ve gone wide so that people can buy me outside Amazon.
I buy as much as possible outside Amazon as well.
Here’s the thing. There isn’t a single one of the online stores that doesn’t screw over the author in one way or another. I know authors who have been waiting months for B&N to process their tax information. It may be in an attempt to set up a new author account or simply because they changed something as simple as their email address or phone number. Getting in touch with their help desk is next to impossible. Kobo has blocked books without explanation and refused to review them, no matter what. Apple is, well, Apple. I honestly don’t think Amazon is doing anything nefarious. But, like so many platforms, it is relying on bots and not putting human eyes on the issue until someone raises enough of a fuss.
You’d think that delaying tax forms for independent contractors would get B&N in trouble. Regardless. It would anyone else.
It’s not just tax forms. It is the ability to sell books and be paid the royalties.
Hmm. I recently started a KU subscription, I suspect I’d be considered ‘suspicious reading activity’ I went through like 6 books in 4 days.
I found I have issues as a reader with the idea of Amazon reviews. As in I’d rather give a star rating vs an critique of the book. Eg, read through Deep Pink, wasn’t really captivated and thought it was more .. scattered than usual, but the only person I think could use that feedback would be the author, not the general public.
And yet I pick up that many authors thrive on feedback so .. I dunno.
One service I’ve found that is quite reader-friendly *and* seems to be author-friendly is BookFunnel.
I wonder how much of the crappy business practices are out there simply because people don’t know / haven’t found good alternatives yet.
Yeah, ALWAYS ask to speak to a supervisor after the second ‘non-answer’ call. And definitely keep records/notes/names. I’ve had to do that a couple of times. Sigh…
Same here. It is also why I do a lot of my comms with Amazon and the other storefronts via email. It slows things down, but you have the written record for use later. This is especially true when I was still in KU and wanted to find ways that would allow me to be in other storefronts as well with the same title. (It’s possible, but not something Amazon lets you know. All you have to do is make sure the Amazon version has “significant” exclusive material to the title like extra chapter or chapters. It does not mean end matter.)