Monday, July 17, 2017

Scammers, Kindle Unlimited, and Amazon

Over at his self-publishing blog, David Gaughran highlights the problem of scammers in the Amazon Kindle store:
On Friday, a book jumped to the #1 spot on Amazon, out of nowhere; it quickly became obvious that the author had used a clickfarm to gatecrash the charts. 
The Kindle Store is officially broken. 
This is not the first time this has happened and Amazon’s continued inaction is increasingly baffling. Last Sunday, a clickfarmed title also hit #1 in the Kindle Store. And Amazon took no action. 
Over the last six weeks, one particularly brazen author has put four separate titles in the Top 10, and Amazon did nothing whatsoever. There are many such examples.

As Gaughran goes on to explain, most of the scamming involves fake borrows through the Kindle Unlimited program.

To be sure, there were various forms of scamming before Kindle Unlimited. Fake reviews have been sold on the Internet for at least a decade. But the borrowing system in Kindle Unlimited particularly incentivizes scamming, because scam activity is directly linked to payment. If you buy 50 fake reviews, you might or might not make money on subsequent sales. If you buy 50 fake borrows, you're guaranteed to earn KENP page read commissions. 

This system works two ways: In the first instance, unscrupulous authors and publishers pay the click farms for borrows of legitimate, but underperforming, books. In the second instance, the scammers themselves publish fake books that they subsequently borrow through other accounts. (Since a Kindle Unlimited membership only costs $9.99 per month, it doesn't take long for an organized click farm to turn a profit this way.)


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The Kindle Unlimited system has long been controversial. To begin with, it forces authors to compete with each other for a limited amount of money that Amazon determines. It also changes the nature of the competition

A large portion of the KU inventory consists of the Asian carp of the publishing world: the romance genre. There are romance authors who crank out short, formulaic titles every two weeks. You simply can't write an epic fantasy, a military thriller, or a police procedural as quickly as a hackneyed boy-meets-girl, boy-loses-girl, boy-regains-girl romance title. 

Ordinarily, this wouldn't be a factor for writers in other genres. Crime and thriller writers aren't competing with romance writers for the same readers, after all. Therefore, it doesn't matter to the police procedural writer if a romance author wants to publish a Taken by the Roguish Alpha Male title once every fortnight. 

But under the KU system, all writers compete for the same KU money even though they aren't competing for the same readers. 

This makes me groan when I see romance titles popping up like dandelions at Amazon. And I have to wonder: Is KU really a good deal for me? (I write thrillers and suspense fiction.) 

And now with the scammer problems mentioned in David Gaughran's post, I have to wonder: How well is Kindle Unlimited really working for Amazon? 

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