Amazon Scammers, Stockholm Syndrome and why I don’t really care

I came back from Melbourne last night (photos later) to find the umpteenth brouhaha having broken out about Amazon (and specifically Kindle Unlimited) scammers.

What are Amazon scammers?

The TL;DR version:

  • Amazon has a program where readers in certain countries–not Australia or New Zealand–can buy a subscription for $10 per month and read as much as they like.
  • Authors then get paid those reads per page read. OK, cool.
  • People who publish direct at Amazon will see benefit to bundle their books, because they will have more pages. More pages = more money. OK, still cool and totally fine.
  • But certain people will then fill those books with rubbish: google-translated copies of the same book, unrelated material, all of which you have to wade through in order to get to the book… and sometimes there even isn’t a book (it could be copied public domain material, recipe books, crappy fiction ghost-written by desperate people on fiverr). Okaaaayyyyy…
  • Until some of the books are plagiarised. Not OK.
  • But then there is usually a link at the front of the book that says “Win a Kindle every month!” The user clicks it and is transported to a page at the very end of the ebook. Hey, presto! The entire 10,000-page book has been read! (Amazon has only recently reduced the maximum size of bundles to 3000 pages for this reason). Very smart, but sneaky.
  • And then the publisher hires people in click farms to borrow books and click to the end each and every day.
  • But, you say, click farms are often in countries that don’t have access to the program? Not a problem that a VPN can’t solve. Also, the first month’s membership of Kindle Unlimited is free. Make a disposable account with a dummy email address every month. In fact, make hundreds of fake accounts.
  • All the top-level scammer has to do is pay the paltry wages of click farm employees.

Don’t believe it happens?

Read this

Then look at pretty much all the books in this search. Go to the “Look Inside”. Entire categories are being taken over by these types of books or their slightly less blatant cousins.

This is pretty disgusting, and some of these people are absolutely raking in the cash.

But.

There is a lot of handwringing going on in the self-published community about this. People express the thought that “Amazon should do something about this” and that money should go to honest authors and yadda yadda.

Fair enough.

But. This scam is not directed at readers. It’s directed at Amazon, and yes, they certainly would do well to clean up their house.

(my two options: 1. nix the KU program, 2. employ actual people to vet newly-uploaded books. They won’t do 1. because they’re Amazon and stubborn, and they won’t do 2. just for the sake of making the point that they’re not Apple or Kobo and that they’re Amazon and stubborn)

When I take off my moralising hat and I put on my author hat, I see this as Amazon’s problem, not my problem. And because I take control of my own audience, Amazon’s problems are not my problems. Because of all the things I’ve done over the past few years, I’m in a position where Amazon is not my sales. It’s a decent proportion of the sales, but I send people there, not the other way around. I would just as happily send them elsewhere. Many people read on more than one platform.

This, in my opinion, is why you don’t want your income tied up with a single retailer: because you start believing that 1. the retailer cares about you (I doubt Amazon cares very much), 2. that they have your best interests at heart (No, they don’t, they’re in the game to make money), 3. that your opinion matters to them (no, it doesn’t, or at least not until a critical mass has been reached).

Cut the Stockholm syndrome. Amazon doesn’t care about this. This scamming is daft, but it’s not about writers. Do your homework and take control of your own audience.

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