Kindle scamSelf-publishing guru David Gaughran has been very pro-active in tracking down opportunists and outright cheats who game Amazon’s Kindle Unlimited payment-per-page-view system, and the entire Kindle/Kindle Store ecosystem. He’s also been militantly aggressive in calling Amazon to account when its own systems and service levels fall down. And unfortunately, he’s uncovered another pattern of Kindle Unlimited abuse, with the help of romance author and publisher Phoenix Sullivan. The new new scam involves orchestrated promotion of clutches of ebook titles on the Kindle Store, to trigger high KU payments off what are basically junk non-books.

Phoenix Sullivan describes the whole process in detail on David Gaughran’s blog, based on close personal observation. She reports carefully timed and closely grouped assaults on the Kindle Store’s Top 100 Free list by phalanxes of books, “with few to no reviews, keyword-stuffed titles (some with one or two misspelled words in the title), and blurbs that made it clear no English-speaking editor had touched them.” Such titles are robbing legitimate works of attention and readership that is more than just the oxygen of publicity – with Kindle Unlimited in the loop, it’s actual hard dollars. Currently going to “publishers” of non-books.

Adds Sullivan: “While Amazon seems to care little about the impact to KDP authors as a whole, they are undermining their own carefully built website infrastructure by allowing the gamers and scammers a place to flourish. They’re eroding the confidence of their customers every time a reader clicks in and is faced with a wall of low-quality scam books.”

Gaughran himself goes into even more detail on the various methods these con artists use. And none of them are rocket science. Almost all of them, however, depend on Amazon not troubling to apply its own rules and police its own ecosystem.

“Customer service levels at KDP are still unacceptable,” he complains. “All of these wheezes already have specific policies forbidding these actions. Amazon doesn’t need to scramble to produce a new framework for handling these guys. It already has the rules in place. It just needs to start applying them.”

Chris Meadows and others are already writing reams about whether Amazon really does care about ebooks. Such persistent practices don’t give any reassurance on that score.


  1. My expectations for Amazon have always been low. There’s no love at the company for books, much less authors, so this sort of behavior doesn’t suprise me. I’ve watched Amazon over the years and concluded it only responds to legal action or bad publicity. The upside is that given actions that creat enough pain it can change. It’s bad but not irrationally so.

    Keep in mind that Teleread readers aren’t the typical consumers of ebooks. The latter are often home-bodies who read their lives away rather than do things and who get digital books via Amazon because even a library visit with browsing is it bit much for them. There limited exposure leaves the open to all sorts of schemes that game the system that Amazon has created. Some who spends all his or her time reading Patterson’s novel-of-the week doesn’t have either to time or inclination to know about anything else. They live in gah-gah land.
    Recently, I’ve been both encouraged and discouraged by some reading I’ve done on sociopaths, essentially people who lack a conscience. They make up about 4% of our population. Looking back, I realize that I have know a number of them.

    It’s encouraging in that they are a minority, however destructive. We can spot them and deal with them without poisoning our views of most people. Realizing their numbers aren’t that great offers the possibility they can be driven out of situations where they do harm.

    I first observed them working at a major children’s hospital and they often work in contexts where most people are so caring that they have trouble understanding people who aren’t. Hospitals could do a lot for their morale by firing such people. That’s a not-so-hidden message in my book Senior Nurse Mentor. Amazon, Paul and others are pointing out, could do the same with these creeps. It’d make Kindle publishing less discouraging for the great bulk of authors.
    But there’s the discouraging side of all this. First, our society is poorly positioned to rid itself of such people. Look at the current presidential race. The leading candidates for both parties are near perfect illustrations of sociopaths. They lie with abandon. They have no intention of carrying out the promises they’re making and instead intend to enrich still further the few who are as rich as they. And worst of all they are gettin away with that.

    In bookselling as in politics, people make a mistake when they think that making rules is enough. Rules aren’t enough, as this article points out. They have to be enforced and with sociopaths ruthlessly so. They simply don’t feel bad when they get exposed. Caught in one lie, those politicians will simply turn to another. Caught deceptively marketing worthless books, these scam ebook creators will simply assume another identity. No pangs of guilt ever.

    Both groups of sociolpaths have to be rigorously pursued and relentless punished to have any impact. Otherwise, you get the situation, as this article notes, where: “Such titles are robbing legitimate works of attention and readership that is more than just the oxygen of publicity – with Kindle Unlimited in the loop, it’s actual hard dollars.”

    I’d stress two critical facts. First, this group is a small minority. You can drive them out of politics or publishing without harming either field. Second, the essence of a sociopath is that they don’t change. They’re simply incapable of feeling guilt. That’s actually an advantage. You don’t need to be nice to them. It does no good and simply allows them to continue their destructive behavior.

    Amazon could easily spot these scam artists and either drop them outright or add a warning to their pages. The real question is will it given that it earns as much money from their bogus ebooks as from legitimate ones. Like it or not, money is what makes the wheels go around at Amazon. Those who want it to change need to impact its bottom line.

    • Amazon has been in the forefront of the e-book revolution which has decimated publishing houses everywhere in favor of the Indie author. It has not only made it possible for thousands to have a viable platform for getting published, it is paying those authors hundreds of millions of dollars a year to do so, from *just* the KU program alone.

      All of that makes your statement “Amazon has no love of books, much less authors” … uh … puzzling. Is Amazon doing all of this to make a profit? Yep. Are there kinks in that system? Yep. BUT FOR Amazon, however, most indie wannabe authors wouldn’t have ANY readers and certainly wouldn’t be seeing one red nickel in income from their writing.

      Amazon is rapidly becoming a monolith, and that’s rarely good. HOWEVER, what is worse are the publishing houses of the world which were oligopolies and never had to compete a day in their corporate lives. They just sat back with their fat guts, smoking their fat cigars with their fat fingers while living off the sweat of others as they randomly turned thumbs up or thumbs down on people’s lives; seemingly often for sport.

      Bottom-line: a system which rejected Stephen King’s first work, Carrie, 30 times is a broken system. Who know *how many* brilliant writers fell through the cracks and were never heard from because of that system. Thanks to Amazon, that should NEVER happen again.

      We can suspect that MUCH of the criticism of Amazon is coming from that broken system of those same publishing houses who are desperately trying to hold on to yesteryear and push back progress; their now not-so-fat cigars gripped tightly in their mostly missing teeth. In a choice between the two, I’ll take Amazon and progress any day and every right-thinking reader or author probably should do the same.

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