Readers (and Writers) Beware!

The world of electronic publishing and reading has been a blessing to many people. My DH for instance. On his Kindle reader he can enlarge the font and enjoy reading without his glasses. I, too, like reading on my Kindle and I like getting ebooks at a cheaper price than print books most of the time.

It certainly has eliminated a storage problem for me in that even before Kindle, I already had rooms full of books that I didn’t know what to do with and didn’t have room for more. Still the case, I might add.51nk+aSvOFL._AC_US327_QL65_

Electronic publishing has enabled me to publish my own books instead of going through the crap-shoot of trying to sell them to New York publishers, which is like wading through Saran Wrap. It has brought me income that I wouldn’t have received from traditional publishing, for which I’m grateful.


A couple of years ago, Amazon introduced the Kindle Unlimited program that was immediately recognized as a boon to readers, but an unknown quotient to authors. Nevertheless, authors embraced it and put their books in the program exclusively for 90 days, shutting down their listings in other retail venues such as Apple, Barnes & Noble, etc., thus receiving no royalty from those vendors for the 90 days the book was for sale in Amazon KU.


Around the end of last year or the first of this year, my book sales at Amazon started tanking and I couldn’t figure out why. I wasn’t doing anything different from what I’ve always done. Sales got steadily worse every month. Admittedly, I’m not one of those prolific authors who rolls out a new book every 2 or 3 months, but still, the books I had on Amazon had always moved steadily along.

Eventually, I started seeing comments on social media from other authors about the same dearth of sales. I was still scratching my head, trying to figure out what had gone wrong. (And I haven’t figured it out entirely yet.)

I  already had faced that my self-published books were competing with books being   published directly and heavily marketed by Amazon itself under its own imprints. Amazon now has several imprints in several genres. They work the  same way as the traditional publishers in New York, i.e., paid advances to authors for acquisition of a work, contracts and deadlines and editors.

In addition, they have created the Kindle World program in which some of their authors they have under contract and have made into bestsellers now have their own Kindle Worlds and are bringing ebooks to the market at lower prices. These are books written by authors who haven’t quite made those bestseller lists, but are riding the coattails of an Amazon-made bestseller. Sort of a modified pyramid scheme.

Common sense told me that Amazon’s own products written by their own contracted authors got preferential treatment in terms of rankings and publicity. However, I accepted that as just one of those challenges with which all entrepreneurs no matter what they’re selling have to contend.

Little by little, bits and pieces of another problem started to eke out.

Can you say CLICK FARM?

Click farms have existed for quite a while for all kinds of products, but the fraud hadn’t 5hf8bU3kJM0QRK6dreally leaked into book publishing except through weird book pirating sites. That has changed.  In the last year or so, Amazon book sales has been invaded by click farmers. Self-publishing authors in particular are competing with fraud and plagiarism on a scale not seen before. It’s insane. Even a national newspaper has written about it: https://www.usatoday.com/story/money/business/2014/01/05/selling-social-media-clicks-becomes-big-business/4327905/

What is a Click Farm? Wikipedia says a click farm is a form of click fraud, where a large group of low-paid workers are hired to click on paid advertising links for the click fraudster. A click fraudster is a click farm master or click farmer. The workers click the links, surf the target website for a period of time, and possibly sign up for newsletters prior to clicking another link. http://www.businessinsider.com/silicon-valley-are-click-farms-real-2016-6

Here’s the definition from Google: A click farm is a business that pays employees to click on website elements to artificially boost the status of a client’s website or a product. Click farms are usually based in developing countries, where wages are extremely low by Western standards. https://kotaku.com/inside-chinese-click-farms-1795287821

Somewhere in China or Bangladesh or the Philippines or even Russia, a person earning  a pittance is sitting at a computer that might be connected to 100 or a 1,000 phones or tablets or even more. All day and all night, they generate phony likes on Facebook, Instagram and other social media, to the tune of billions of “likes” in a year. When you look at a Facebook post that has many, many “likes,” you don’t know if they’re real or counterfeit.

The social media sites don’t really care as long as they’re getting traffic that, in turn, generates advertising dollars. The chances of someone, anyone, doing anything about this are pretty close to zero.

So what is happening with books listed for sale or borrow at Amazon? If you’re a Kindle Unlimited  member, you might find this article interesting: https://davidgaughran.wordpress.com/2017/07/15/scammers-break-the-kindle-store/  I couldn’t possibly explain the problem any better than the author of this article explains it.

THE IMPORTANCE OF RANKINGS

In other instances, fraudsters using phony names go into Amazon book listings and post reviews that affect a book’s Amazon ranking. Enough 1-star reviews will sink a book to the bottom of the list and it will never be seen much less bought.

At the same time, if the click farmers post enough 4 or 5-star reviews on their own books, those books zoom to the top of the bestseller lists, thereby eliminating legitimate authors from competition and the opportunity to earn royalties. I’m not sure why, but apparently, Amazon’s bots do not know the difference between the artificial reviews and real ones.

The Amazon rankings are so important to authors. Sad to say, if you as an author have a book for sale and its ranking gets close to or drops below 500,000, you can bet that unless you can come up with a magic marketing formula that gets you back in the running, your book selling days at Amazon are over. Readers will simply never find your books, thus never buy them.

COUNTERFEITING

Then there’s the guy conducting seminars on how to hire some third-world person to write a book for $200.  By this method, a person “writes” at least a dozen books in a month, puts his name on them, lists them to borrow by Amazon KU members and collects a royalty. This isn’t exactly plagiarism. I don’t know if it even rises to level of fraud, but it might.

Here in the states, the same thing is happening, but probably not for as little as $200. It’s called “freelance writing” and there are several web sites promoting this service. For an agreed on fee, a ghost writer, by contract, gives away any rights he has to what he writes for someone who has hired him. If the book should become a bestseller, the ghost writer gets not a penny more than the agreed-on fee. Ironically, in the end, he might or might not get paid even the agreed-on fee. Plenty of instances exist where an author agreed to be a ghost writer, then got stiffed by the non-author who hired him or her.

VICTIMS OF PLAGIARISM

Real plagiarism is even more sinister and an even greater threat to legitimate authors. In some cases, somebody in a third-world country (or maybe somebody in the good old USA) copies a book’s content, changes words here or there, changes a few paragraphs, puts on a new cover showing a different title and a phony author’s name and markets it as his or her own book through Amazon for 99-cents. Software now exists that will do this copying so that enough changes are made to prevent Amazon’s bots from catching the duplication and calling it plagiarism.

The fraudulent author then follows up by buying “likes” and/or phony reviews from a click farmer, which drives the book to the top of the bestseller lists. The click farmer, because he runs a sweatshop, puts up book after book and dominates the bestseller lists with several books, which qualifies him to be in Amazon’s bonus program and receive substantial “bonuses” over and above royalties from Amazon.

With more exposure at the top of the lists, the click farmers sell more books, which forces legitimate authors whose books might be listed for more than 99-cents farther down the list. As far as I can tell, the only legitimate authors who can compete with them are the ones who have books for sale for 99-cents, but I don’t know how much competition they really present. No one who is really writing a book can do it that fast.

AMAZON’S ATTITUDE

Amazon doesn’t appear to care very much about who they’re paying royalties to. Their #1 interest is keeping the monthly KU subscription fee coming in from readers and or selling books to customers. If Amazon can keep the inventory supplied for little or no money, so much the better for Amazon’s bottom line. Their royalty payout to an author is the same whether the recipient is a *real* author or a third-world-country fraudster.

Multiplied by tens of thousands, this tallies up to a lot of money.

This is fraud. In the USA, this is called plagiarism. This is crime.


THE FUTURE

What will happen eventually is that real books by real authors will have no more distinction and won’t be worth wasting your time reading (unless you don’t care what you’re reading). A lot of authors will probably bail. What is the point of continuing to write books if they can’t make any money?

I’m a good example. I spend many hours of a day in front of the computer trying to produce a quality, professional product. Do you think I or anybody else is going to keep doing that if something out of my control prevents my making a decent amount of money? ….. Writing a book is hard. If I’m going to work for nothing, I can find something easier to do.

When you start to buy a book that’s for sale for 99-cents, look at it closely. If it has an author’s name on it who released several titles just last week and has waaay too many reviews to have been on the market for only a week, maybe it’s been stolen from a legitimate author who spent a year of hard work writing it. Complain about it to Amazon.

Or if you buy a book in which the syntax, the editing, the grammar, etc., are awful, you might be reading a book produced by a third-world person who doesn’t know English very well.

Just recently, on a book for sale at Amazon that I was thinking about buying, I read some reviews. Every reviewer spoke about how bad the spelling, the grammar and the editing were. The listing said the book was published by a real publisher, so my first thought was if a professional publisher released this book, why is it full of errors that could have been easily corrected? My next thought was some kind of fraud. I didn’t buy the book and the author lost that royalty. This is an example of what I’m talking about.

Royalties are the same thing as commissions. They are the only pay an author receives. If someone takes them away by fraudulent means, a real author can’t continue to exist.

Amazon knows this is going on and what have they done? Instead of meeting the fraud head-on, they’ve tightened their requirements for *real* authors who try to put up new books for sale by demanding that they prove they have legitimate copyrights, for one thing. That might be a good first step, but it causes real authors a lot of headaches and delays their book releases, while the click farmers go happily along collecting royalties on a book they didn’t write. So far, defense against this has proved to be about as effective as that old needle in a haystack cliche.

WHAT CAN WE DO?

As far as I can tell, authors can’t do a damn thing about it. It’s up to readers to sort this out and complain. And complain. And complain. And return books you believe to be fraudulent to Amazon. Amazon responds only to customers. Believe me, they’ve already heard plenty from authors.

And bear in mind, Amazon now uses overseas call centers for customer service. If you have a complaint, don’t give up and pull your hair. If the individual you complain to sounds like he’s out to lunch, hang up or ask for a different person.


On a final note, I would ask you for a favor. If you read a book by an author whose name you’ve never heard, if the “voice” sounds like *my* voice, let me know. I can tell you in an instant if I’m the one who wrote it. I don’t know what I can do about it, but I can let you know you’ve been cheated.

Having said all of the above,  I’m painfully aware that a reader, at 99-cents, might not care if he’s reading something that has been stolen or counterfeited and that he or she might not care if an author gets cheated out of a royalty. And that is the most hurtful, scariest scenario of all.

SUPPORT YOUR FAVORITE AUTHORS. CALL OUT FRAUD AND PLAGIARISM.

9 Comments

Filed under Books and Publishing, Books and Reading

9 responses to “Readers (and Writers) Beware!

  1. Gram

    I posted the wordpress link to FB. I hope that let’s everyone know what is going on. Amazon is trying to buy Whole Foods now…though that has been halted…can we say monopoly?

    Like

    • For Amazon, or any retailer that sells books, authors are vendors. Silly me, when I first started self-publishing, I expected to get a little professional respect from a company that was technically my a customer. I expected to work hard to provide a quality product it could sell for a profit to itself. Was I wrong about that.

      Like

  2. Cindy G Glover

    Oh. My.

    I had no idea! I for one do not care for e-books. I like to have my book in hand. I may read 60 pages a day I may read 2. I like to read out at the beach (not advisable with kindle, etc) or when I’m floating at the pool…

    I will keep the bots in mind, but I say keep writing Anne!

    Like

    • Thanks for your comment, Cindy. You’re right about electronic readers at the beach or in a pool. LOL ….. I love ebooks. I’ve lot count of the number on my Kindle. This problem is affecting all ebooks, but particularly the ones authors have put into Amazon’s Kindle Unlimited program. My last KU listing expired back in December and I told myself, “no more books listed in KU.” However, I weakened and put 3 in that program July 1st. Now I wish I hadn’t.

      Like

  3. Billie Doubrava

    I didn’t buy many ebooks until recently. I was away from home a few weeks and inexpensive ebooks were great. Now I wonder if any of those authors actually got their part of the sales. I still like a regular book but ebooks are handy for traveling. I’m sorry about the theft of yours and any other authors works. What a rip-off.

    Like

  4. Hi, Billie, and thanks for your comment. I love ebooks. I’m so spoiled to them, I consider it a hardship if I have to read a paperback. LOL The way things are evolving, you can’t keep from wondering what’s going on the production end of books. Just like the book I declined to purchase. It might have been legitimate, but I didn’t know. I really wanted to read it, but I didn’t want to #1, feel like I was being cheated and #2, feel like the author who really wrote it would get
    cheated out of a royalty, so I passed on it. … I’m sure that author must know those comments have been made about her book by Amazon reviewers and she knows if it got published full of errors she made herself. It she didn’t do it herself, she should be screaming at Amazon’s customer service. I sure would be.

    Like

  5. Reblogged this on Anna Jeffrey: I'm Just Saying… and commented:

    Amazon recently filed lawsuits against 1,000 individuals for fraud. Amazed that there are that many? I assure you it’s a drop in a bucket and a pathetic excuse for trying to solve the problem. It has not stopped.

    Unfortunately, almost all other small presses and epublishers have been driven out of business. Amazon now owns somewhere around 95% of all book sales. All other bookseller combined comprise the remaining 5%. Small presses go in and out of business like passing through a revolving door.

    Like

  6. Cindy G Glover

    Oh. My. Goodness. Wow.

    I, for one, do not care to read a book on my iPad. I like a paperback book that I can “dog ear” the page to save my place.

    However, I realize I am in the minority.

    Keep writing and let us know how we can help. I love your work and have read everything you have written 🙂

    Like

  7. Good presentation of the problem, Anna.

    Like

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