Amazon Has A Fake Book Problem

Fake books – powered by clickfarms – are gatecrashing Amazon’s charts. And despite being aware of the issue for well over a year, Amazon has failed to resolve it.

If you look at the Kindle Store Best Seller charts right now, and click over to Free Books, you will see that the Top 20 currently has five suspicious-looking titles.

None of them have reviews. All were published in the last week. They have no Also Boughts – meaning they have had very few sales. Each of these titles are around 2,500 pages long, seem to have duplicated content, and are enrolled in Kindle Unlimited.

What is going on here?

For over fifteen months now, scammers have been raiding the Kindle Unlimited pot using a well-worn trick. They usually pilfer the content first of all – often by stealing an author’s original work and running it through a synonymizer – and then upload it to Amazon, thus avoiding the automatic plagiarism detectors. They make sure the “book” is as long as possible, but as they are enrolling the title in Kindle Unlimited, they keep it under the program’s limit of 3,000 pages.

These thieves make the book free for a few days, and then use a variety of banned methods to generate a huge and immediate surge in downloads – generally suspected to be bots or clickfarms or dummy accounts, or some combination thereof. These fake books then suddenly jump into the Top 20 of the free charts, displacing authors who have gone to considerable effort to put together an advertising campaign for their work.

As the Amazon staff tasked with dealing with reports of suspicious activity don’t seem to work weekends, when authors and readers report these fake books to Amazon, no action usually gets taken until the following Monday. By then it’s often too late, and these titles have returned to the paid listings, and the subsequent boost in page reads (which normally follows a free run), enables them to grab a huge chunk of the Kindle Unlimited pot – the same shared pot that all authors get paid from.

Sometimes Amazon zaps these fake books when staff return to work on Monday, and presumably then withhold KU payments (one hopes). But often Amazon takes no action and just leaves these titles up. And Amazon has had little effect in fixing the overall problem a full fifteen months after it was first made aware of the issue.

In fact, the situation has deteriorated to the point where these scammers are getting bolder in the face of Amazon’s increasingly lax attitude, often attacking the free charts during the week now also.

I hosted a guest post from Phoenix Sullivan back in April 2016 about all of this, after previously writing myself about other issues Amazon was having with scammers in Kindle Unlimited. At that time I reached out to contacts in KDP to make them aware of the issue and help them identify the relevant titles. The only solid action that I can see since is that that Amazon no longer responds to such emails.

I watched all this unfold live this weekend as I had a free run on Liberty Boy. I wasn’t too badly affected myself, as my main promo day was Wednesday, when I had a BookBub feature – although these fake books are currently keeping me out of the Top 20 and suppressing my visibility. The authors more severely affected are those who would have started their major promo on Thursday or Friday.

For those unaware: free promotions are one of the perks of going exclusive with Amazon, and an incredibly powerful marketing tool. Free runs can provide significant exposure, which leads to a bump in Kindle Unlimited page reads a few days later. They can also be useful by boosting sell through in a series, or by generating mailing list sign-ups for future launches. As such, authors invest significant resources in free runs, and those places in the Top 20 are high-visibility spots – i.e. incredibly valuable real estate.

In other words, authors are getting screwed.

A cynic might suggest that Amazon’s inaction is because these fake books aren’t really hurting their bottom line as it pays out the same amount to the KU pot anyway. I’m more of the opinion that it’s a typical tech company attitude, namely, misplaced faith that the market will take care of it all.

However, that isn’t happening. Amazon makes a huge deal about being obsessively focused on customers. Is customer experience not affected when the Top 20 is filled with fake books every weekend?

Amazon is also making a big PR play right now that its new Charts are so much more reliable then those of the New York Times and reflect what is really being read. Is that not undermined by having the charts stuffed with fake books, only downloaded by clickfarms?

And, of course, any authors with a free run are affected most of all.

I don’t know how to resolve this. Amazon is certainly aware of the issue and has had an inordinate amount of time to come up with a solution. Other retailers like Apple and Kobo have been able to solve this problem (usually with a combination of automated flagging, manual checking, and whitelisting of genuine publishers and authors).

I wish I could tell you Amazon is working hard to solve this problem. Unfortunately, lines of communication are particularly broken right now.

It seems like the only way to get Amazon to take action on anything is to go public and create a fuss – which is a shame, and it means campaigners like me have to burn bridges to get movement. Nevertheless, something must be done.

If you could retweet this, I’d appreciate it:

I had planned a big marketing post today, under which I was going to announce my freebie and some upcoming releases. I’ll save the marketing stuff for next week but let me get the housekeeping out of the way while these deals are still available:

If you like historical novels, Liberty Boy is free until midnight tonight, available from all Kindle Stores worldwide.

Also, you can download a twinpack of my other historicals for the knockdown price of 99c. This deal is Amazon US and Amazon UK only, I’m afraid, but does run until Wednesday.

You might be curious as to why I’m having a free run on the first book in a series when the rest isn’t out yet. Well, the primary goal with this campaign is to create an audience for the rest of the series. I was lucky enough to get a BookBub so decided to roll with it and put in a strong CTR at the start and end of Liberty Boy to generate sign-ups.

I also used this opportunity to finally take action on my Frankenstein mailing list and commencing the process of splitting it between writer peeps and historical fiction readers, while simultaneously initiating some overdue culling. I took advantage of Mailchimp’s cool automation to set up a basic sequence to keep my historical fiction people a bit more engaged in the future (my email game had slipped quite a bit tbh).

A secondary goal with this free run was to boost KU page reads, and, while there are no guarantees until you see how a book performs when back on the paid side, a download total of over 32,000, and a day still to go, means Liberty Boy looks pretty good for at least some kind of bump. Maybe even a decent one, we’ll see.

Finally, an ancillary aim of the whole campaign was to shake up my Also Boughts. If you were reading my two posts on Also Boughts last month Please Don’t Buy My Book and Who’s Pointing At You? then you would know how crucial they are, especially how having the wrong Also Boughts can totally bone you.

Liberty Boy’s Also Boughts are now looking healthier – far from pristine but certainly an improvement on before – and Yasiv.com shows that it’s hanging out in a much better neighborhood.

Finally, for those not on my writerly mailing list, my rough release schedule for the forseeable is as follows: the next book in my historical series Diemen’s Land should be out in the Fall. Before that, I’ll have two books for writers. The third edition of Let’s Get Digital and what was going to be an updated version of Let’s Get Visible.

That has now morphed into something much broader, and way cooler, with the working title of The Reader’s Journey: From Strangers to Superfans.

Expect both by end of summer.

UPDATE:

Three things I should immediately point out:

1. This was actually a very tame weekend for clickfarmed books. Seeing 20-30 move in on the top of the charts as a group and blocking all/most other books out from the front page is not unusual.

2. Other authors who watch this more closely have confirmed that it’s not just a weekend thing anymore at all. Weekdays are very common too.

3. There are much more complex and serious angles to this phenomenon and I hope to have a follow-up post on that soon. In the meantime, you can read this KBoards thread from Phoenix Sullivan who is much more up to speed on this whole issue than me.

UPDATE 2:

Amazon KDP Customer Support has replied to my complaint about the five clickfarmed books currently in the Top 20. This is their response in full:

UPDATE JUNE 12:

For a full blow-by-blow you’ll have to head to my Twitter timeline, but the short version is:

(a) I finally spoke with Amazon towards the end of last week about this issue. They seemed genuinely concerned and asked me to pull together some info for them. I’m still in the process of doing that but hope to sub it to them later or tomorrow (had family commitments this weekend).

(b) Amazon already appears to be taking steps against at least some suspicious titles.

About David Gaughran

David is Irish and lives in Dublin, where it rains every day and conversation is a sport. He writes historical adventures and has helped thousands of authors to self-publish through his workshops, books, and this here blog.
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123 Responses to Amazon Has A Fake Book Problem

  1. MaanKind says:

    David, our Afrikaans market is being compromised as well by those scammers. The “Afrikaans” books are such ramble, it is obvious that the books have been generated by a translating program. A group of us have reported is numerous times to Amazon, with no luck. Amazon just ignores our complaints. I’ve had live chats with a number of Amazon consultants, who just did not understand my problem, and promised to escalate is. I know of at least three of us who reported it through various avenues to Amazon. NO FEEDBACK AT ALL. Makes me think…

    Liked by 1 person

    • While I have some sympathy with Amazon in this particular case as they don’t officially support Afrikaans as a language and thus probably don’t have the internal resources to investigate that, your experience does highlight a wider issue: the levels of customer support at KDP. In my experience, and that of my friends, when we have a minor, straightforward problem it usually gets handled quickly and professionally. However, if the issue is in any way complicated, the wheels come off and it can take seven, eight, or nine emails before the issue is resolved (and often then just by giving up). It’s probably not the fault of the individual customer service agents. This has been a problem at KDP in particular for at least five years now – which points to some systemic issue like training or escalation procedures or tiering, I don’t know. I do know the situation hasn’t improved over that time, while the general customer service at Amazon, and at Author Central, and at Createspace, remains excellent.

      Liked by 1 person

      • MaanKind says:

        That is exactly why I feel so helpless! The individual agents provide excellent customer service, but somewhere they also hit a ceiling where the real problem does not get to a level where it is taken seriously. Ans Amazon does support Afrikaans as a language now.

        Like

    • annaerishkigal says:

      I have two Afrikaans translations which I paid some serious money to obtain and get professionally edited, and there’s this guy who shows up on ALL of the obscure language translations with dozens of short, Google-translated books (I won’t say his name, but I assume you know who I mean, bad covers, bad typography?). He also had the translations in Irish Gaelic (which I read a little bit) and Russian (which I read a bit more) with a handful of complaints from readers. I sent Amazon an email exorciating them for allowing readers in these emerging book markets to get scammed (and then used my pidgin Gaelic to point out I actually -do- read Gaelic and these books were done even worse than my two semesters long-long-ago). I notice Amazon banned all this guy’s kindle ebooks except for his English language ones, but all of his Createspace paperback titles are still there. 😦

      I think what helped, though, was I sent ‘flag this book’ from books where the guy had 2-3 negative reader complaints from verified purchase readers. That doesn’t help in David’s case where the scammers are there for the weekend, and then pull the book, out of sock-puppet publisher accounts.

      Amazon really needs to get on its game with fake and Google translated books.

      Liked by 2 people

  2. This is so frustrating for genuine writers such as myself. Thanks for bringing it to our attention. It is particularly annoying if, as you say, Amazon knows about this but does nothing. I will pass on the information to my publishers to see if they are able to make representations about it.

    Like

  3. Kevin says:

    David, one other thing to remember: this method is highly ineffective.

    If Amazon decides a book is violating the KU terms, they pull the book from KU. If your book is pulled, you get NOTHING. No payout for any pages read.

    This is one reason why there is an eight week gap between sales and payment. Amazon has two months to identify these problem books, pull them, and invalidate their “pages read”.

    While they might be trying to “raid the pot”, my guess is that virtually none of these scam books ever see a single penny.

    Like

    • Kevin, the problem with that is not all the books get yanked. Like many scammers, these guys work on volume. Lots of the books don’t get zapped. Amazon doesn’t seem to be proactive on this at all, and only takes down *some* of the reported books. That’s why the scammers are getting a little more daring and starting to throw books into the Top 20 during the week now too – because Amazon is ignoring lots of reports.

      But even aside from all that, the bigger damage on an individual level is to the authors running promotions who get locked out of the Top 20. This was actually a fairly tame weekend. I’ve seen blocks of 20 or 30 clickfarmed scammer books move in on the top of the charts en masse, with only one or two BookBubbed books in the biggest genres able to leapfrog them – and everyone else kept off the front page, and kept away from those fresh eyeballs, and failing to make the return on their investment they should have received.

      So even if Amazon did zap all the scammer books by Monday, this would still be a huge issue. And they most certainly don’t.

      Liked by 4 people

      • Kevin says:

        They’d got 5-8 weeks to follow up on any complaints people made about the books. Most of these books generate a TON of complains. Even if they don’t get to them before the users take them down, they still have a month or more to review the complaints, check the books, and then move on.

        Remember: these books don’t cost *other authors* money. They cost *Amazon* money.

        Amazon sets the KU payout to *precisely* what they want it to be. They can adjust it to within a hundredth of a penny by tossing in $500k more or less as their “monthly bonus”. To those who didn’t understand before: that bonus isn’t a bonus. It’s the majority of each month’s payout!

        If Amazon wants the payout to be 0.45c per KENPC, then that is precisely where they set it, regardless how many pages were read. If they are losing too many books at that payout rate, they raise the rate until more people enter KU. If they are flush with KU books, they lower the rate to pay us less, always looking for the “sweet spot” where they maximize income *and* maximize new books entering the KU system.

        Because the payout is not a fixed pool – because the per page payout is *deliberately set* to specific levels by Amazon each month – these scams cost Amazon a ton of money. If Amazon wants the payout to be 0.45c per KENPC, and a click farmed book got 100,000 pages read, that book will cost Amazon $450. Not other authors. Amazon. Because Amazon will have to add in more money to compensate for scam books in order to keep the payout at the level they want.

        But of course, Amazon has a month or more to go over the complaint reports, ID the scam book, and pull it from their system before payments go out. It is *very unlikely* that any one of these books actually gets a penny. (We know a handful succeeded, early on, which spawned this new mass of people trying, but few if any make anything these days.)

        Amazon is yanking down *legitimate* books in their fervor to remove the scam ones. We’ve seen this dozens of times over the winter, with individual books or even entire accounts locked down for the author supposedly using click-farms. (In most cases the author has recovered their account later). If anything, the main effect for authors has been Amazon’s over-enthusiasm in shutting off ANY book which they suspect of being click-farmed. Which is also par for the course… 😉 They tend to use a hammer where a file would do.

        That said – I do agree that there is some issue with clogging top ranks. But again, it’s not really what you think. The issue with top ranks being “clogged”, from Amazon’s POV, isn’t that it hurts writers. It really doesn’t much (real readers just skip the scam books anyway and move on to the next page, mostly). The impact on visibility is small.

        But it does detract from the customer experience if there are bad books in top ranks. That, Amazon won’t allow. If this continues they will likely smash the system with a hammer – likely by using some sort of elaborate ID verification system to ensure they know precisely who is running an Amazon account.

        Such a system would hurt more authors than the current scams, but Amazon doesn’t really care about authors. They care about their customers’ experience, and if that is being hurt, they are perfectly willing to make life more problematic for writers to fix the issue.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Kevin, the effect is bigger than you think and if Phoenix Sullivan comes along in the comments she can give you hard numbers. She manages a large backlist so has better data than most on this. She can give you a pretty good estimate of the exact effect of being blockaded from the front page of the free charts. It’s quite stark.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Kevin says:

        I agree that there is some impact if a scam book hits a top-20 position. It’s VERY limited impact, since generally readers can spot it as “odd” quickly, and just move on to the next title in the list. But there is an impact.

        Of course, the scam books which make top-20 are the ones most likely to be spotted/reported, and least likely to get any payout at all from KU. They’re the most visible, and least effective.

        Anyway, our best defense is to continue to report such books whenever we see them, so that Amazon can deal with them. If you report a book, it gets assessed. If it violated the Amazon TOS, then it won’t be getting any KU dollars, even if it was already taken down.

        Just stay alert, report this stuff as you see it, and overall: keep writing and doing your own (honest) thing.

        My biggest concern is that if this ends up blowing up like some past issues did that we will likely see changes come from Amazon that hurt thousands of legitimate authors alongside the scammers.

        Liked by 1 person

      • I don’t agree with that assumption. All the data proves that way less readers will click on to the second page of anything. There’s a reason that the front page of any bestseller list is so coveted – it drives way more sales both from far more eyeballs, and then the social proof of being at a certain number etc.

        And we have actual hard numbers to back this up too – it’s not just theory.

        If you see below, I have added an update to the post. Phoenix Sullivan has been following this much more closely than me, and she says that I’ve only scratched the surface of the issue, and there are far more troubling angles to this.

        The same publishers and authors are using clickfarms with impunity – and not getting their books pulled, and not getting payouts revoked, and not getting their accounts banned: https://www.kboards.com/index.php?topic=250007.0

        Liked by 1 person

      • Kevin says:

        You’re *assuming* that these books are not retroactively being spotted and having their page reads removed… What is this assumption based on?

        Even if you’re right, the fact that someone is scamming Amazon isn’t hurting writers. That element is irrelevant; the per-page payout is the same whether 1000 scam pages are downloaded or 1,000,000. Amazon sets the per KENPC payout.

        The larger issue, as you and Phoenix both rightly point out, is with visibility. Here, flatly, my own data disagrees with hers *entirely*. But mine is base on a large body of paid titles, whereas she is talking about an impact on free titles. There may be variance there.

        In paid titles, no: readers do not grab something from page one that they don’t want to read simply because it is on page one. The scam books are usually *really* obvious, and readers simply pass over them to the next page.

        Yes, first page search results are usually gold. But readers don’t buy trash; the scammers are using their click-farms to get page reads. They’re not getting actual page reads or purchases from actual readers.

        I do think Phoenix is right about one thing: The scammers have moved to using free books for some very good reasons. They can still use click farms to get pages read on the free books. Free books are much less visible than paid on Amazon now – almost invisible, much of the time. And Amazon really doesn’t care as much what people are offering in the free category, so I think enforcement there is more lax.

        Like

      • Sure, there are a lot of assumptions here – we’re not exactly getting a lot of information here. But I think the assumptions have merit. These titles aren’t all being spotted and removed – many seem to slip the net, and some reports are clearly being ignored. We’ve also seen various scammers grab all star bonuses – which aren’t handed out until like two months later. Plus the very same “authors” and “publishers” are still active, a year later, so if any sanctions are being handed out they must be very minimal.

        I also wouldn’t be as confident that readers spot these books so easily. This generation of scammers are using professional looking covers – and a good cover plus visibility can be enough to generate downloads when a book is free. This might be a sideshow to the real issue but the reason I’m stressing this angle is because I think Amazon are more likely to act if it believes customer experience is being impacted.

        Like

      • P.S. You might be interested in this FB comment from a reader who downloaded one of these books inadvertently (the book was subsequently removed, but she has a screenshot of the text): https://www.facebook.com/DavidGaughranWriter/posts/1487081917980575?comment_id=1487256204629813&comment_tracking=%7B%22tn%22%3A%22R1%22%7D

        Like

  4. acflory says:

    Tweeted. Definitely something we need to get behind.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Jolie Mason says:

    I solved this particular frustration by going wide and never looking back. Consequently, I also was a KU customer for about eight months. I got sick of the scam books or the crap books that were clearly just filler for page reads, so I dropped it. I don’t think the business model will work in the long run.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I get your logic, but it still affects you even if you are wide. These guys take up chart position on the paid side on the back of their post-free bounce, and then the page read boost they get post free boosts their chart position further. You won’t see them go as high as the upper reaches of the paid charts (except on rare occasions) but they definitely clog up the genre charts, especially in certain niches.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Jolie Mason says:

        This is true, but I’m not there yet. Is it frustrating to see people who aren’t earning it eating up the top? Sure, but I write in a niche. I work on a serious budget, so I’m playing a long game of building readership. The impact on me is minimal. It’s a problem for the Zon more than they know, but with the shortsighted culture of short run profits in their world of public trading and shareholders, they can’t see it. I used to be a customer. I’m not now. These books will start to drain KUs reader pool. It’s just a matter of time. Ultimately, the only way to force amazon to act in their own self interest is to stop using them. Unfortunately, they know we can’t really do that. I voted with my feet. That’s about all I can do. I cannot imagine KU surviving forever, even if Amazon will be fine. My readers just don’t use KU, so I pulled out of it.

        Liked by 2 people

  6. Pingback: As If Fake News Wasn’t Enough… Beware Fake Books – Pilar Writes and Speaks

  7. Reblogged this on Chris The Story Reading Ape's Blog and commented:
    Having checked several of the books (they seem to be mainly the ‘Steamy Romance’ (erotic?) kind), and found exactly what David states in this post, so reblogging to make everyone aware of this issue.
    BTW – I’d STRONGLY recommend you do NOT attempt to download these ‘bargain freebies’ – they might contain malware, or at the very least, give your details to a click farm 😱😁

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Kevin says:

    Of course, there *is* one easy solution to the problem, and it is the one Amazon will most likely use if this continues to grow as an issue and cost them money.

    They will make it harder to get a KDP account.

    They’ll require users to jump through a stack of hoops in order to block people from setting up repeated, fraudulent KDP accounts. They’ll create some sort of ID verification process: something which beyond a shadow of a doubt verifies who the person starting the account is.

    If they do this, of course, only people from nations which have ID tools that meet the level of security protocol Amazon requires will still be able to use KDP at all. If you’re in the US, verifying a KDP account will become a hassle, but likely not beyond the ability of most people. If you’re outside the US, whether you would be allowed to have a KDP account at all would likely depend on how secure your nations federal ID system is. Citizens in nations where the ID system was insecure probably would no longer be allowed KDP accounts at all.

    If this becomes a problem Amazon has to throw a hammer at, the effect will probably be something very like that.

    Remember: every time authors have launched major complaints about a problem on Amazon, the company has eventually done something about it. We *usually* have disliked the solution even more than we disliked the original problem. If this continues to deteriorate the Amazon customer experience (which is in the end all Amazon really cares about), they will act. Most likely by doing something to make it impossible to hide your identity if you publish through them – or bar you altogether, if they cannot verify your identity with certainty.

    Liked by 1 person

    • It’s certainly possible that Amazon will institute a solution which punishes the innocent and leaves the scammers free to make slight tweaks – it has form in that regard.

      However, I don’t accept that this is an impossible problem to solve. Apple can solve it. Kobo can solve it – and Kobo especially has considerably less resources. They do it through a combination of automated flagging, manual approval, and whitelisting of genuine authors and publishers. Amazon could do something similar, or something different (I’ve heard people floating the idea of a nominal fee for publishing which would keep many scammers out as they work on volume). Or something else.

      But something needs to be done.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Kevin says:

        Apple doesn’t have a problem with this because Apple doesn’t have a subscription service (yet). Once Apple launches a subscription service, I expect it to become an issue there as well. Apple Music is *definitely* “farmed” in this way, and it’s something Apple will need to struggle over with books if they go into a book subscription service.

        Kobo Plus has only escaped so far because it is brand new and *tiny*. It’s too small to be worth trying to scam, for these people. But if Kobo’s subscription service grows large, eventually they will be facing the same sorts of problems.

        Manual approval isn’t economically feasible; it’s too time consuming. There are over 90,000 new Kindle books uploaded each month, and that’s just the new titles. If they just vet new titles, then scammers can always upload a legit-looking book – and then upload a “new version” with 2999 KENPC of junk after its passed the vetting process. So they would need to vet not just the 90k initial uploads, but the hundreds of thousands of changes to existing volumes every month. Impractical.

        Whistleblowing is one of the best tools we have on Kindle right now: so if you see a book that is clearly a scam book (you’ve checked the content; it’s not real writing, just random words strung together) report it as such.

        A fee might help. But it would likely have to be in the hundreds of dollars per title to stop the scammers cold. I think that would kill certain types of books cold (short fiction and poetry would mostly stop being published on Kindle, for instance). But a $500 fee per title would likely shut down the scams for the most part. That might be the way they go.

        I think the ID verification would be more likely, or perhaps some sort of business verification (only businesses of X class would be allowed).

        I’m not sure how they will fix it. But it’s a growing problem for their consumers, and if there’s one thing Amazon is consistent about, it’s about using any means necessary to stop scammers from hurting their consumer experience.

        We just likely won’t enjoy the methods they use…

        Liked by 1 person

      • Apple claims to manually approve each listing but I bet that’s at least a slight fudging of the truth. I doubt they have manually approved millions of ebooks. I suspect they have an automated system which flags certain things and then those are looked at by human eyes at least briefly and anything obviously problematic gets a closer look. I know that Kobo definitely has a whitelisting system so that anything published by you or me or Penguin Random House will sail through and not need a close look because we have already been identified as genuine publishers of low-risk content. Using processes like this you will massively reduce the amount of books that need an actual manual check. And I don’t think the cost would be too onerous. I used to work for Google AdWords and we had to manually approve huge numbers of ads (and look at the sites being advertised). This was back when Google allowed ads for porn sites and gambling sites and all sorts of stuff they don’t allow now – so you can only imagine the kind of things we had to check for. And the tech is way better now than 10 years ago.

        Liked by 2 people

  9. laurieboris says:

    So frustrating. It’s making all of us look bad. Thank you for keeping it on the front burner.

    Like

  10. UPDATE:

    Three things I should immediately point out:

    1. This was actually a very tame weekend for clickfarmed books. Seeing 20-30 move in on the top of the charts as a group and blocking all/most other books out from the front page is not unusual.

    2. Other authors who watch this more closely have confirmed that it’s not just a weekend thing anymore at all. Weekdays are very common too.

    3. There are much more complex and serious angles to this phenomenon and I hope to have a follow-up post on that soon. In the meantime, you can read this KBoards thread from Phoenix Sullivan who is much more up to speed on this whole issue than me: https://www.kboards.com/index.php?topic=250007.0

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Note: there’s a second update to the above post, with the response from Amazon KDP, such as it is.

    Like

  12. dernhelm6 says:

    Reblogged this on Indie Lifer and commented:
    Amazon continues to have a problem with fake books. Great post on the issue.

    Like

  13. MaanKind says:

    Oh. My. Word. Your last update actually makes me feel that this issue should really be taken ‘out there’ otherwise they will never take notice.

    Like

  14. colonialist says:

    When you DO get a response, it is in Manglish, ignores the issue, and achieves nothing.
    If they are unable to show any signs of trying to get to grips with the problem, it may be necessary to move to the opposition. Those who actually buy must be bitterly disappointed, Texts garbled by synonym generators usually vary from ludicrous to incomprehensible.

    Liked by 1 person

  15. binarynico says:

    I write paranormal romance/erotica and how can I find out if my content’s been grabbed? ( none of my books are free, at least. This sort of chumming of the rankings is just one more in a non-stop line of barriers lately. It seems honesty doesn’t pay, only how well you scam.

    Like

  16. I bounced back and forth on KU and then finally severed the ties and haven’t looked back. This is just one more indication of why KU isn’t for me. I do sympathize with writers still slugging it out on KU, and do wish them well, but to me, this is just one more stroke in a broader picture that makes me suspect the viability of KU as a good model for writers.

    I will also point out that Amazon’s gatecrashing of the charts with their own imprints is a bigger problem. I have seen their imprints take up the entire first page of certain genres, when books further down had more and better reviews. And I don’t mean just mean by a little bit. Amazon’s claim of accuracy on their charts may be cover for just that. Sure, NYT is based on shipments, not reads, but when Amazon’s top ten in a category are all their imprints and the NYT list is all over the map with regards to publishers, I’m not buying it. (And I do have to wonder why NYT got out of the e-book list business, because it does make it easier for Amazon to gatecrash its own lists.) To my mind, Amazon’s clear conflict of interest in being both publisher and distributor is something that will be heading to court at some point. (At the behest of what’s left of New York publishers, not us.) Hollywood had to separate production and distribution way back when. There’s a reason for that. Amazon *can* manipulate their own distribution rankings to favor their own publishers. And I do believe they have done just that.

    Liked by 3 people

  17. Kate says:

    Just thought I’d share this article about how one scammer made over $3M with these fake books:

    http://www.zdnet.com/article/exclusive-inside-a-million-dollar-amazon-kindle-catfishing-scam/

    I recently had a BookBub and made #8 on the Freebie list, but books #1 – 7 were all scamphlets. What I really think sucks is the legitimate authors who paid a lot of advertising money to get their real books in front of real readers who would have made the Top 100, but instead, found themselves ranked at #101 and #102, etc. because of these fake books. That read-thru factor is why we run the freebie sales. The fake books aren’t generating profits for Amazon, while the real books will. And honestly? I think a fix could be super easy. One person who checks the the Top 100 once an hour and zaps the fake books. I mean, it takes under a minute to scroll through the Top 100 list and they are all there in plain sight. I heard rumor that Amazon leaves up the books in order to trace the IP addresses of the click-farms, but I have my doubts…

    Like

  18. Amen to this article. As a top-selling historical romance author on Amazon, I’m seeing the hist rom charts filling up as well. Regency in particular has a terrible time with it, up to and including these click farm stealing the branding of other top-selling Regency authors. I used to be in the top 20 authors on KU and I’ve slipped considerably thanks to these click farms, so it has affected my bottom line as well. I have shared your article with my followers because I think it’s important that readers know what’s going on. This is just another form of piracy they must be vigilant to.

    Liked by 1 person

  19. Pingback: Gatecrashing the Book Charts | Shirani Rajapakse

  20. Luanne says:

    Wow, this is scary.

    Like

  21. Pingback: Fake Books on Amazon? | J. Giambrone

  22. It would help if we could reach KDP by phone and for them to be available 24/7 like Create Space. I work full time like many new writers and the weekend is when I have more time to attend to issues. Too much back anf forth by email. Or I have to call Create Space first and then get forwarded to KDP. Precious time wasted. Thanks for letting me know about this new scam. I was unaware. And worst part is that Amazon in full knowledge is not addressing this issue regardless of how it affects both readers and writers. Very frustrating.

    Like

  23. Angela says:

    Thank you for a very eye opening read. I must say that I am more interested in your next book-Diemens land, as I actually live in Van Diemens land..Tasmania..

    Like

    • Hey Angela – I’m curious to know something. I got an email from an Aussie yesterday who seemed to think “Diemen’s Land” was a weird name for a book. I cogged it from some sailor’s journals, thinking that in the early days (it’s set in 1806ish) that people might not exactly have “Van Diemen’s Land” tripping off the tongue. I have lots of opinions about his actually, but I’d like to hear yours…

      Like

      • Angela says:

        Hi David. As someone born in Van Diemens land, I love the title. It is always referred to as Van Diemens in our history books and if we speak about it, it’s always Van Diemens..But I still love the title. I look forward to reading it.

        Like

      • Thank you for saying that. I was starting to wonder. Now, I do have an Aussie editor and she is certainly not shy about telling me when I’ve made a balls of something but I hadn’t actually floated the title by her yet (*waves to Karin!*) and it’s not published yet so I figured I could tweak whatever if needed and so on. BUT I like the title and would like to keep it. And probably will. As Willie Nelson said: fuckit.

        Like

  24. lalouziane says:

    Reblogged this on Swamp Sass and commented:
    Amazon has a fake book problem? The devil you say!

    Like

  25. Reblogged this on Sharon E. Cathcart and commented:
    Look! Another reason why I’ll never go KDP Select!

    Like

  26. Sara says:

    I don’t know why my other post didn’t show up, but I’ve had time to give this some thought.

    Obviously, this scam starts up the second the bonus e-mail goes out to anyone who has something on KDU. The simplest thing to do is to persuade Amazon to eliminate that bonus KDU fund, period, and pay better royalties to real authors. That will stop the clickbaiting and the ‘farming’ if there is no money to be made from it. And since the digital rights management option is free for real authors, it’s just a copy-protect script that keeps your stuff from being copied. If Amazon isn’t paying attention to that, then it’s a real legal issue that can generate bad publicity.

    In addition, since Amazon has been hacked several times recently, as reported in the news, I’m inclined to remove what I do have on Kindle from the KDU section completely. Unless someone has a better idea, I think that’s the simplest solution.

    Like

  27. You need to take this image down NOW. My book Part-time Princess took 9 months to write. It is copyrighted. I wrote it. Not some mill. You need to take this image down NOW.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Pamela, David is definitely not referring to your book, which we can see is genuine. He’s talking about the more obvious fake books, such as the one to the left of yours. I’m a writer too, and my book is on a free offer today, and I hate that I am having to compete with fake books such as that one and the other four that have been up in the kindle top books today. It is just that your book was on the page when the screenshot was taken. Please don’t think that anyone is calling your book fake.

      Like

      • He needs to circle the fake books and NOT include books that are not fake. That is not doing due diligence. He can use another screenshot that does not suggest my book is fake. I would NEVER do this to another indie author. Never in a million years. I am appalled.

        Liked by 1 person

    • Really puzzled by your comments. I went to some lengths to identify exactly which books were fake and which were real. I’ve emailed you separately but happy to talk publicly or privately further about this… but also feel I did the right thing.

      Genuinely am confused with what you are saying here.

      Like

      • David, excuse me butting in, but I earlier tried to reassure Pamela DuMond that no one was accusing her of having a fake book. She seems to think that because her book is one on the screenshot at the top of your blog, that you are accusing her book of being a fake. Mikejscan and Kelly seem to have been brought in to support her claim. I think that there has simply been a misunderstanding. I read your blog and I could clearly find the fake books to which you were referring, and Pamela DuMond’s book was obviously not included, using the critera you used. Thanks for bringing this matter to our attention. I hope Amazon does something about it.

        Like

      • Thank you for reaching out.

        Please read what my editor and NY Post journalist said a few comments down. You are painting a visual with your screenshot image.

        Not everyone reads your entire blog. People see an image and associate that with your headline.

        I work very very hard at being an Indie writer and do not wish for my book to associated with your headline. Perhaps you could ink out the legitimate books or circle the ones you believe to be illegitimate. Be more specific.

        Thank you.

        Liked by 1 person

  28. mikejscan says:

    Pamela DuMond is a legitimate author with 17 books to her credit. Part-Time Princess is a book one of the Ladies-in-Waiting series. I know because I designed the covers for the books after this one. You’ve made a huge mistake here and it would be a good idea to remove that image. It’s unfair to Pamela DuMond who works very hard on her books and is an amazingly honest and decent person, loved by fans and authors alike.

    Michael James Canales
    MJCimageworks.com
    Michael@mjcimageworks.com

    Liked by 2 people

    • Hi Mike. I’ve responded to Pamela above. Also puzzled by your comment but won’t repeat what I said to her. However, am happy to continue the conversation with you either here or by email.

      Like

      • mikejscan says:

        David, the first thing you see is “Amazon has a fake book problem” with a screenshot of books. The immediate implication if we looked at only that is that all the books are fake. Visually, you should’ve specified the fakes, perhaps by circling them. If somebody posted a pic of you in a group of people and said “Amazon has a thug problem” without specifying who the thugs were, we’d assume it was everybody in the pic. Granted, you specified in the text that the suspected flakes had zero reviews, but not everybody may read the text, regardless of how compelling it may be.

        I guess you don’t see how alarming that headline and image may be to a hard-working author.

        Like

      • Visually I should have done what? Foolishly, I thought that words would have sufficed as vassals of meaning.

        Like

  29. Kelly says:

    Please fact check before posting unsubstantiated claims. While I cannot vouch for the other books you’ve highlighted, I am the editor of the last three books in the series written by Pamela Dumond (Part Time Princess). She’s very real, as are her books. They have been written with blood, sweat, and copious amounts of tears. They also have a ton of reviews so I don’t know why you’ve chosen to add her name to the list. In addition, if you check her other series’ on Amazon, you’ll see not only is she a prolific non-fake writer, she’s a USA Today Bestselling Author. Please remove Pamela’s book from this list. Thank you.

    Liked by 2 people

    • I don’t know why I’m defending this blogger, but please read the post. There is no suggestion at all that the other books on the same page are fake books. When I read the post and then looked at the site for myself, it was obvious that the majority of books on the page were genuine books. I don’t think that anyone would think otherwise. So please don’t think that you are being singled out. The screenshot that is shown is of the top Kindle books, and shows a majority of genuine books with a couple of fake ones in there too. I’m sure that the blogger would say the same thing himself when he reads this and is able to respond.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Kelly says:

        I don’t know why you’re defending him, either. People are visual. As an editor of books and a journalist, trust me, a picture is worth a thousand words. You CANNOT run a title with “Amazon Has a Fake Book Problem” and then include a screenshot with legitimate books. That’s like writing a headline saying “An Apple a Day Keeps the Doctor Away” and then posting a picture of an apple next to an orange. People will infer that an orange works the same way as an apple. Whether it does or not isn’t the point – the point is the article is NOT about oranges. This blogger needs to post a picture that correctly correspond to the title of the article. You say there is no suggestion that the other books here are fake, but I can just as easily say there is no suggestion here that all the other books on the screenshot are real, either. As an author, you may have checked to see which were real and which weren’t, but not everyone will, nor should they have to. It’s NOT okay to post a screenshot that does not correctly reflect the title of the article.

        Liked by 1 person

      • I understand your worry, although having read the article I did not jump to the same conclusion as you did. However, it’s not my post and I will leave the blogger to explain himself in due course.

        Like

      • Hi, you appear to be a visual person. Which I dig by the way, so I made you this:

        Liked by 2 people

    • Hi Kelly, I’m sure Pamela is real – I’m talking to her above. Not sure why that is in question. She’s a victim here. See above for more, but happy to talk further if you wish.

      Liked by 1 person

  30. Reblogged this on Becky's Book Notes and commented:
    I have read much advice from David and many accolades from others. I was unaware of this as I am sure are many others, and I gladly share David’s words with you. 🙂

    Like

  31. Thank you so much for this post. I’m happy to reblog it. I was not aware of this and I’m sure many others aren’t either. I have some of your writing books but haven’t read your fiction. I just downloaded Liberty Boy and look forward to reading it. I love historical fiction.

    Like

  32. Coming in at #9 free right now: “This collection will take you on a ride and you are sure to love the journey which they will make you traverse. The whole collection of action-packed stories will leave you reeling and mesmerized by how real a piece of action can turn to be!”

    “Lyra and the Highlander Twins,” by that well-known bestselling romance author, Bonnie Jones. With a cover featuring Lyra and (one assumes) one Highlander Twin. A picture of Lyra with two twins being, perhaps, too difficult or costly to obtain.

    Seems legit.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Although it cannot, of course, compare with Bonnie’s magnum opus, “The Highlands Maid to Bride.” Who can forget the stirring description? “Every story will swirl some of the deepest emotions and spark the flames which will take you through the romantic lanes. Every time you read these stories, you are sure to find yourself journeying into another world and refusing to come back again to reality because love often does that to people.”

      Liked by 2 people

  33. rchazzchute says:

    Reblogged this on C h a z z W r i t e s . c o m and commented:
    Need to know.

    Like

  34. Jane Steen says:

    Hi David, thanks for continuing to speak up against the scammers of the publishing world. I don’t think Amazon are going to do a whole lot about this situation because supporting genuine indie authors really isn’t one of their business goals (which are, as far as I can see, capturing market share and, well, capturing market share). The absolute best response authors can make is to stay out of KDP Select and go wide. I know that’s a tough decision to make, but we need to help the other players on the ebook scene build up THEIR market share by providing them with good content and promoting our books’ presence on their sites. I’ve tried Select and I’ve tried wide, and I’m sticking with wide as a much more satisfying long-term strategy even if I miss out on some short-term cash.

    I had my first BookBub at the same time as yours and the results have been excellent, with sales from non-Amazon platforms easily paying back the cost of the promo several times over. I did very well on Amazon too and seem to have temporarily broken through the squishing-down effect of Amazon’s new policies with regard to permafree books, but I’m far too familiar with the Amazon 30/60/90-day cliffs to get overly excited about this breakthrough. The bottom line for me is that while Amazon is a necessary platform, I can’t let it be the only one. In particular my experience with ACX exclusivity has taught me what happens when an Amazon company corners a market–my ACX unit sales are 10% of my total, yet my ACX income is 5% of the total. That, to me, is far more worrying than Amazon’s failure to deal with scammers.

    Like

  35. I’m going to reblog this – It’s important to share. Thank you for taking the time to do this post.

    Like

  36. Reblogged this on Alternative-Read.com and commented:
    What every bookish person must know!

    Like

  37. robertpwills says:

    Most annoying- something I never realized. I have made the first book in my fantasy series free with Smashwords price match and I’ve watched it run up the charts, bump up against that “top 20” and then hang around 30-50, slide back to the 90-110 then back again, never getting into the top 20. Now I know why.

    What about negative reviews as a shot across the bow of the books??

    Like

    • The content and rating of a review doesn’t really much matter in the Zon algos. According to the algos, there’s no such thing as bad publicity, so any review at all gives a title visibility to the machine side of things.

      Like

  38. Ali Isaac says:

    Hmmm… perhaps Amazon aren’t taking any action because they set them up themselves as a way to avoid paying out money to real authors! 😆

    Like

    • Kevin says:

      Unlikely…! These scam books cost Amazon money directly. Anything these books “earn” through click-farm KU accounts (bunch of computer all “reading” books through an automated script to get KU pages read) costs Amazon money. Remember: Amazon sets the per-page payout and keeps it pretty static. They’re going to pay the same per-page amount for KU reads whether there are 1000 fake pages read or 1,000,000 fake pages read. The fake page payouts come out of Amazon’s pocket, so it’s in their best interest to spot and remove these things, too.

      Liked by 1 person

  39. Reblogged this on Don Massenzio's Blog and commented:
    Check out this informative post from David Gaughran’s blog on the fake book problem on Amazon.

    Like

  40. Reblogged this on Ruth Nestvold – Indie Adventures and commented:
    Despite all the things real authors have to put up with from Ama, they still haven’t solved the problem of scam authors out to get page clicks. Sigh.

    Like

  41. dannika dark says:

    Glancing at some, they are bundling the same stories in different books. If that’s the case and they’re reusing the same titles, it’s double, triple, quadruple dipping into the pot. Look at the cowboy and bear romances’s TOC. Hard to say where they got the stories (I once did a google search and discovered they were taking them off fanfic sites). I’ve seen this before. Not sure where it falls within Amazon’s KU TOS. If they’re different accounts, that would be a violation. Though, it’s hard to tell since it could be one account and multiple pen names. Basically, write 10 stories and publish it 10 times with a different title.

    Like

    • Yep, exactly. It’s the same bunch of (probably plagiarized and synonymized) content repeated over and over in each title – meaning it’s probably the same scammer with all these titles. They are operating indiscriminately.

      Like

  42. Pingback: Writing Links 6/5/17 – Where Genres Collide

  43. M T McGuire says:

    Amazon is just shocking. They just swing a sledgehammer at random. There’s no rhyme or reason.

    A while back, Amazon wrote to me giving me 4 days to remove a keyword that they’d banned from my book listing – I confess I’d missed the banning, my bad. But they told me that should I fail to comply in that time, they would close my account. I was abroad with very limited internet access but did manage it, on the hotel wi-fi. Meanwhile scammers ripping off their customers, as well as harming authors, are happily left alone. Likewise, you only have to visit their .com book forum, find any thread that Anne Rice starts to see the bullying and vile behaviour that is allowed to run, unchecked. As long as the posts don’t include certain keywords like ‘hate’ and swear words (and you can’t sign your name if you’re called Dick either) nothing is done.

    In short, as someone who came into writing via business, customer relations and marketing, Amazon is pretty a text book example of bad practise. They are just horrific.

    And that is why I am not in KU and am fervently trying to improve my relations with Kobo and Apple. Because why any author would put themselves at the mercy of such a shabbily run outfit for all their income absolutely beggars belief. I cut my losses after some kind of algo change in 2014 wiped out all my book downloads overnight. I am aware that as a non KU author Amazon probably makes my books much harder for folks to find but I still can’t bring myself to be reliant on them along. Authors in KU are a lot braver than I am.

    Huge sympathies to anyone affected, this must be the most frustrating annoying thing.

    Cheers

    MTM

    Like

  44. Claire Chilton says:

    Two things that spring to mind for me on this are:

    1) It’s very bad for everyone when visibility can be manipulated by the few to harm the many. Since all online real estate is on page 1, the top 20 will see the majority of profit and everyone else gets the leftovers. Leaving that kind of real estate unprotected is consumer suicide, so I don’t know why Amazon aren’t taking it more seriously. Bad content leads to unhappy customers.

    2) Google dealt with this kind of manipulation of their search engine for quite a few years in the beginning. They had to keep improving their algorithm until it was impossible to abuse it.

    Their reputation for delivering quality results was on the line, so they created a security team, headed up by Matt Cutts, and they kept putting out updates until every hole in their system was secured.

    Google chose to force their suppliers (website owners) to provide high quality content. Low quality content would be punished by the algorithm, and the wild west was cleaned up (well, hidden in the deep web). Porn, gambling, spam, malicious sites, duplicate content, plaguarism, criminal sites, broken sites, slow sites and wordsoup were mostly removed from or demoted in their listings by the Googlebots

    Amazon need to update their algorithm and maybe hire a Matt Cutts kinda guy to make their system a bit more intelligent than it is right now. An Ammy-bot could easily scan every book for a range of quality issues that aren’t even on the radar right now, including plaguarism and duplicate content, criminal content, malicious content etc. and it could track and scan malicious accounts and unusual activity.

    For starters, a 3,000 page novel is a bit of a rarity that stands out like a sore thumb. Unless it’s a boxset, who writes 3,000 page novels? A bot could be flagging that up for the security team, which cuts the workload from 90k books a month to check down to 20 books to check, which is perfectly manageable.

    That’s what I hope Amazon do. I hope they create their own security bots and start flagging up books with potential issues to their security team. It’d clean up the wild west in no time. Suppliers deliver quality products if it’s the only way to get visibility, and customers benefit greatly from that kind of system.

    Like

  45. dragons4me3 says:

    Wow. After reading that KDP response to you, I wonder how many of those clickfarmers work for KDP? After all, where would the best information on how to work the system be found? Yes, I’m cynical, but I worked for the feds for 30 years.

    Like

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  49. David Alves says:

    Speaking of the Feds . . . I reported that Google had warned me that they found that my books were being put up for sale on the internet, though not by me. I never heard anything from the FBI copyright infringement complaint that I filed. Why aren’t the Feds involved with this kind of scamming David?

    Like

  50. OK, so this is affecting the PAID charts now too.

    Check out the Top 20 in Canada right now: https://www.amazon.ca/gp/bestsellers/digital-text/ref=pd_dp_ts_kinc_1

    Check out the Top 20 in Australia: https://www.amazon.com.au/gp/bestsellers/digital-text/ref=pd_dp_ts_kinc_1

    Here’s the same books hitting the back of the Top 100 in the UK – a much larger market: https://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/bestsellers/digital-text/ref=pd_dp_ts_kinc_1#5

    Those same books are around 200 in the US store now, a HUGE market.

    Why these four markets simultaneously? There are the four main KU markets.

    And if you think this stuff is zapped before KU payments are made I have very bad news for you.

    Like

  51. Reblogged this on adaratrosclair and commented:
    Wow. I had to REBLOG this! I haven’t had a chance to finish reading all of this juggernaut of an article, but I can’t wait to! Thanks to the author, David Gaughran for writing this. 🙂

    Like

  52. Kathleen Watson says:

    Hi David – Can I have your permission to forward your story to my writer groups? Full credit of course, but I always like to check before I do so.

    Like

  53. UPDATE JUNE 12:

    For a full blow-by-blow you’ll have to head to my Twitter timeline, but the short version is:

    (a) I finally spoke with Amazon towards the end of last week about this issue. They seemed genuinely concerned and asked me to pull together some info for them. I’m still in the process of doing that but hope to sub it to them later or tomorrow (had family commitments this weekend).

    (b) Amazon already appears to be taking steps against (at least some) suspicious titles.

    Liked by 3 people

  54. Well done, David Gaughran. I, and I am sure, other writers, thank you for tackling Amazon about this issue.

    Liked by 1 person

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  59. Jill says:

    It makes me wonder whether my drop in sales and pages read over the last three months has something to do with these fake books, David.
    Thank you this article and all your hard work.

    Like

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  62. j.jones says:

    Reblogged this on Introvert PRESS and commented:
    THIS IS REALLY IMPORTANT TO READ IF YOU UTILIZE AMAZON.

    Like

  63. Pingback: Fake Books: Amazon’s Latest Headache | Nicholas C. Rossis

  64. Pingback: Episode 19: News Roundtable – June 2017 – Publishing Without Supervision Podcast

  65. Tim Lemieux says:

    I got a ‘daily deal’ notification from the Amazon Android app that Hillbilly Elegy was on for $3.97. Turned out to be a fake version, right next to the $17.97 real version. It’s one thing to have fake books on the site, it’s another to have your app trying to sell them now.

    Like

    • Hi Tim, that sounds particularly frustrating. Can you share more info with me? Do you still have a copy of the notification, a screenshot or some such – or a link to the rip off book?

      Like

  66. Pingback: What’s up with all the fake books? | Tanya Anne Crosby

  67. Jackie Weger says:

    July 13, 2017 Well: This from Kboards. Inside a click farm: https://kotaku.com/inside-chinese-click-farms-1795287821

    Like

  68. Pingback: Scammers Break The Kindle Store | David Gaughran

  69. Ms. Fet says:

    Wow! Thanks for the heads up.

    Like

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