Home » Amazon, Piracy, Spam » Spamazon


25 June 2011

Another article, this time from Salon, about spam books invading Amazon.


Exactly one year ago, I wrote of my fear that, in the current self-publishing boom, “slush fatigue” — a form of existential nausea, once suffered only by a few entry-level staffers in the book business, brought on by overexposure to terrible manuscripts — could infect the general public.

. . . .

Most PLR [Private Label Rights] texts seem to be the product of content farms, quickly-written, work-for-hire informational material cranked out by underpaid writers with little more than a passing knowledge of their subjects. It’s the same sort of stuff you’ll find on ehow.com. The content packages are filled out with public domain material, usually available elsewhere for free, such as old junior league-style cookbooks (“Cat Head Biscuits And Garlic Fried Chicken”) and self-help manuals (“Nice Guys, Shy Guys & Good Guys”). Some e-book spammers publish reformatted classic literature that’s gone out of copyright, passing themselves off as the “editor.”

One of the first to observe this phenomenon is British marketer Mike Essex, who found, in the Kindle store, nearly 3,000 99-cent e-books “created” by one Manuel Ortiz Braschi. Braschi is purportedly the author of “Canvas Painting 101,” “40 Ways to Prevent or Get Rid of Stretch Marks,” and “Seven Days to Profitable Blogging,” among many, many others. When he’s not providing this invaluable guidance to the public, Mr. Braschi somehow finds the time to offer his editorial assistance to such authors as D.H. Lawrence, Leo Tolstoy and Georgette Heyer. (Though how he reconciles publishing both “St. Michael The Archangel — The Prince Of Angels!” and “Lady Chatterly’s Lover” is an interesting question.) Since Braschi’s oeuvre first came to Essex’s attention in March, this authorial dynamo has added nearly 1000 new titles to his oeuvre.

. . . .

Why are $1 rip-offs worth getting upset about? Essex, himself an e-book author, says that some of Braschi’s reviewers have claimed to be so disillusioned they’ll never purchase an e-book again. Others, like Tony Bradley of PC World, worry that there will be “so much spam in the Kindle book store that nobody can find my [legitimately authored] book.” Many self-publishers set their prices low to encourage e-book buyers to take a chance on their titles, and e-book spam could end up discrediting the entire field of 99-cent books. Much as your email spam filter is set to screen out every message containing the word “Viagra,” a book buyer’s mental spam filter could learn to automatically rule out cheap e-books.

. . . .

Ernie Zelinski, who writes work and retirement guides, found that three of his titles had been posted to the Kindle store by a “publisher” named Mingfeng Lai. The self-published author S.K.S. Perry had a similar experience with his novel, “Darkside” and its sequel.

Zelinksi complained to Amazon and, he told me in an email, it took them two weeks to remove the pirated e-books from their store. He’s had less luck in persuading them that any copies sold by Mingfeng Lai should be withdrawn from their purchasers and their cost refunded. As he reminded me, Amazon takes at least 30 percent from every sale, legit and otherwise. “Amazon has earned money from my copyrighted material that shouldn’t have been on their system,” he wrote. “To me, this is totally wrong and definitely not a sign of a company that operates with integrity and decency. I don’t care how much of a problem it would be to take the three Kindle e-books from all the purchasers; Amazon should be doing it.” He also notes that Mingfeng Lai is still being permitted to sell e-books (apparently PLR titles) in the Kindle store.

An Amazon spokeswoman assured Reuters that the company has “processes to detect and remove undifferentiated versions of books with the goal of eliminating such content from our store.” However, Perry was able to upload his own version of “Darkside” without any difficulty, despite the fact that a pirated version of the same novel (with Perry also listed as author) had already been “published” by someone else. (This is less bewildering when you consider that many traditional books have multiple publishers in the course of their existence.) To test the system, Essex published a Kindle book that featured nothing but the phrase “This is the song that never ends” repeated over and over, without formatting, for 700 pages. It “went live” within 24 hours, leading Essex to conclude that whatever automated quality controls Amazon has in place are inadequate.

Link to the rest at Salon



Amazon, Piracy, Spam

7 Comments to “Spamazon”

  1. The thing that really makes me wonder what is going on is that they still allow someone who was caught stealing and selling someone else’s work to use their site. They ought to be banned outright for that, along with their bank account so that they can’t just set up a new profile. Setting up new bank accounts isn’t so easy so that would limit their activities somewhat!

    I also think that Amazon ought to pay the legitimate authors for any sales made by the pirates. That would be an added incentive for them to keep an eye on things, prevent them happening in the first place and act quickly once notified.

    • Zelah – I agree about banning pirates, but, as you point out, they may pop back with a different name.

      • Amazon can and has banned Marketplace sellers who offend them from selling under different names and/or email addresses. (Their marketplace sellers are the thousands {10s of thousands?} of independent sellers who sell books and other items on the Amazon site.) I’ve even read tales in the community forums area where they banned a seller who purchased a banned seller’s inventory because Amazon recognized patterns in the purchasers inventory that matched the selling, banned dealer’s stock.

        I feel that it’s like Zelinsky said in the quoted article that Amazon makes too much money from these pirates to cut them off.

  2. As you know, my experience with the Amazon legal dept. was less than stellar. It is the one thing that worries me about self-pubbing to Kindle – which I am planning to do. This is a quality control/copyright issue that Amazon really has to respond to.

    • Julia – If someone decides to pirate your book, I doubt they’ll care if you are or are not on Amazon.

      Amazon can’t like the increasing number of negative stories it’s getting on spam books and piracy, however, so I would be surprised if they beef up their prevention efforts.

  3. I agree that they should have banned the pirate and closed the bank account. I’m guessing this is something Amazon didn’t particularly anticipate happening and so honestly have nothing in place to prevent it and/or deal with it when it’s happened.

    • Sariah – I expect it may have surprised them, although anyone who has received spam emails should have some idea that the same types might try something with books.

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.