Home » Amazon, Ebooks, Self-Publishing » Amazon Takes Aim At Scammers But Hits Authors

Amazon Takes Aim At Scammers But Hits Authors

11 March 2016

From David Gaughran:

Amazon is an extremely innovative company – and usually quite responsive to self-publisher’s concerns – but sometimes it gets things very wrong too.

Today is one of those times.

I’ve received several reports from writers threatened with having books removed from sale, and heard even more worrying stories from others who had their titles actually removed from the Kindle Store without notice.

What were these authors guilty of? What crime did they commit for Amazon to adopt such heavy handed treatment? Something completely innocuous: the Table of Contents was at the rear of their books instead of at the front.

. . . .

We’ll get to what might be the root cause of this crackdown in a moment, but Amazon is claiming that having a TOC in the end-matter instead of the front-matter is a breach of the (ever-changing, 100+ pages) Kindle Publishing Guidelines (PDF). Amazon says that rear TOCs result in a poor reader experience, and it has very suddenly decided to clamp down heavily on this practice, without notifying the community-at-large, even though moving extraneous front-matter to the end of the text has been fairly standard practice for years.

Some individual authors are receiving Quality Notices warning them that their title will be removed from sale unless the TOC is moved to the front. Normally these notices – which appear to be generated by bots – give us just five days to comply. Other writers are having their buy buttons removed without receiving these notices.

. . . .

A straw poll indicates maybe half of my author friends put their TOCs at the back. Certainly anyone who compiles e-books with Calibre could be affected – one of the most popular tools – or anyone who uses Guido Henkel’s formatting method (which I heartily recommend). And anyone that has read Let’s Get Digital or Let’s Get Visible – because it’s how I recommend authors lay out their books; it’s pretty standard advice.

If I had to put a number on it, I would guess tens of thousands of titles are affected – if not more.

When I started self-publishing in 2011, it was considered best practice to put the TOC at the back of the book. The reasoning is fairly simple, and reader-friendly: it gives them more of the actual text to read in the sample. And when you have a non-fiction book like Let’s Get Digital, the TOC can take up considerable space.

That’s a pain for browsers to wade through and where you can lose an on-the-fence purchaser. Readers aren’t inconvenienced by the TOC being at the back, as it can be summoned with the tap of a button anyway. Further, I don’t believe it was contrary to Amazon’s terms and conditions back in 2011 – either way, it certainly has never been enforced. Until now.

. . . .

One of the quirks of Kindle Unlimited is that we are all fighting for money from a fixed pot, putting us into competition with each other in a way that we aren’t normally. And KU has been plagued by scammers and opportunists – “authors” who who seek to gain an edge with unethical behavior (I hesitate to call them authors because they are often internet marketers who farm the actual writing out to someone else).

Amazon has been very slow to act. Indeed, the switch to a per-page compensation model is widely believed to have been at least partly prompted by these authors publishing junk booklets which were only a few pages long and contained no real content, but still triggered a full KU borrow payout – but that change was a year in coming and Amazon did little to combat these guys in the meantime.

The latest wheeze from this shady crew was to place a message at the start of their KU titles encouraging readers to click through to the end – because this fools Amazon’s system into thinking the entire book has been read, the author of that title then receives an inflated payout from the KU pot, and then honest, hard-working writers who aren’t pulling these cheap tricks on readers have less money to share. It’s a mess. These guys are peeing in the KU pool and Amazon is paying them by the gallon.

And it seems this is what triggered the TOC crackdown.

Link to the rest at Let’s Get Digital

Here’s a link to David Gaughran’s books. If you like an author’s post, you can show your appreciation by checking out their books.

Here’s an excerpt from a PG email to David:

As I was thinking about this incident, it occurred to me that it may be an unanticipated side effect of rapid growth with lots of new employees and, presumably, rapid promotions of some new employees.

Someone without context and history sees scammers exploiting a particular type of ebook layout and, without much historical knowledge of ebooks, assumes everyone who places a TOC at the end is doing so with malign intent.

Amazon, Ebooks, Self-Publishing

221 Comments to “Amazon Takes Aim At Scammers But Hits Authors”

  1. Youch. Can’t say I’m surprised, though. With the way Amazon turned KU and Kindle Select into a zero-sum game for authors, this aggressive type of system gaming was bound to create fallout.

    • Joe, when you talk like that, you know you’re setting yourself up for charges of AAS (Amazon Derangement Syndrome), don’t you?

      Clearly you haven’t been indoctrinated enough to take one for the team. Your insistence upon keeping your books wide is equally alarming. Why can’t you just play ball?

      Authors are expected to put their work out there for everyone, the way Amazon wants it, and in a way that levels the playing field.

      It’s just fair to consumers that every book can be read for $10 a month. Authors, while providing a service, should be thankful for the money they do manage to get. Whether it’s a full royalty or a few pennies for some pages, what’s it matter?

      The real goal is to keep Amazon growing, hopefully gobbling up all the competition as well. Then we can have full equality. The people will be happy, their needs will be met.

      Amazon cares about you, Joe. Please start returning the favor.

    • It’s not really anything new though. Each wave of scammers that exploits something new results in Amazon making it harder on indies too. It hasn’t been long since they cracked down on reviews for example.

      It’s still better than what Google and Kobo did to indies, but it makes me wonder if Amazon will eventually require indies to make small publishing houses with some type of accountability.

      • The best way to reduce the effectiveness of scammers is to reduce the role of middlemen. Every time Amazon has had problems with scammers, it’s because of how they’ve inserted themselves between the readers and the writers. The more they make their platform invaluable, through Kindle Select, KU, also-boughts, Amazon reviews, etc, the more that platform has been gamed.

        Amazon’s genius was in how they eliminated the middlemen of publishing to connect writers and readers more directly. But most of their efforts now are focused on inserting themselves as middlemen into that relationship, instead of drawing writers and readers closer. While they certainly provide value as middlemen, it comes at a cost, and at a certain point that cost will exceed the value it produces. Scammers are an outgrowth of that.

        • But most of their efforts now are focused on inserting themselves as middlemen into that relationship, instead of drawing writers and readers closer.

          It is the middleman who makes the books available to zillions of consumers all over the world. It’s the middleman who brings the writer and reader together.

          Authors are good at writing books. They are no good at bringing their books within a click of zillions of consumers. Middlemen are good at that.

    • Zero sum game? No where near it. Authors don’t put money into the pot, Amazon does.

      • Factor Amazon in, and it is very much a zero-sum game. If my books get more borrows, your share of the pot decreases. Unless Amazon eats it by juicing the pot, your earnings decrease too.

        Total $$ in pot – ((author A pages read / all KU pages read) * total $$ in pot) – ((author B pages read / all KU pages read) * total $$ in pot) … etc = 0

        • Hasn’t said pot been growing on a fairly consistent basis?

          • At Amazon’s expense.

            • Bzzzz!

              Evidence, please?

                • That doesn’t prove that the pot grows at Amazon’s expense; it merely proves that the search term Kindle Select exists.

                  What is your evidence that the pool isn’t growing at the same rate as paying subscribers?

                • I don’t think you understand what I’m saying.

                  According to Merriam-Webster, an “expense” is:

                  : the amount of money that is needed to pay for or buy something
                  : an amount of money that must be spent especially regularly to pay for something
                  : something on which money is spent

                  When Amazon pays authors out of the pot, it is, by definition, an expense. When it increases the size of that pot, it is another expense.

                  No matter how much money Amazon makes on KU, it is still an expense.

                • Under generally accepted accounting practices payments to authors are an expense.

                  The issue is the size of the pot vs the size of KU monthly revenue. While GAAP prevails, businesses will generally speak of the pot being funded by KU revenue.

                  If the pot is equal to revenue less KU expenses, then it is self-funding. If Amazon makes an additional contribution, then the pot is funded by both KU revenue and Amazon general funds.

                  It’s reasonable to presume Amazon is aiming at a self-sustaining KU where KU revenue funds the entire KU pot plus expenses.

            • Right. You said “Unless Amazon eats it by juicing the pot,” which it fairly consistently has.

              Mind you, that could change. And don’t take me wrong. Heck, I’m Amazon exclusive but not actually in Select.

              But just noting, with Amazon factored in, because it’s consistently raising the amount of the fund, you’re kind of contradicting yourself.

              • Whether Amazon juices the pot or not, it is still counted as an expense on Amazon’s budget spreadsheets.

                • but you don’t know if revenue is growing faster than the pot or not, so you don’t know if Amazon is making or loosing money.

                  But you talk as if you have proof that Amazon is loosing money on KU, and as soon as they get tired of loosing money, Authors will stop making money.

                  With your logic, every business is a zero sum game, nobody can ever invent a business that didn’t exist before, so we may as well all just give up and go home, curl up into a ball and die.

                  But the reality is that sales/markets/businesses are not zero sum games, just because person A makes a buck doesn’t mean that they stole it from person B. It’s very possible for someone to offer a good or service in a way that they make money, their suppliers make money, and it costs the purchaser less money than before that someone got into the market. This is considered a good thing (for everyone except the competitors who have to change)

                  It doesn’t matter what the good or service is, and books are no exception.

                • I have no idea if Amazon is making or losing money on KU, and that’s the point. It doesn’t even factor into the equation. That’s what makes the pot a zero-sum system: the fact that subscription revenue doesn’t factor into author compensation in any measurable way.

                • You bet your boots subscription revenue factors into author compensation in a measurable way. Amazon is just not showing you the measurements.

        • Factor Amazon in, and it is very much a zero-sum game. If my books get more borrows, your share of the pot decreases. Unless Amazon eats it by juicing the pot, your earnings decrease too.

          You are not describing a ZS game. In a ZS, real gains = real losses. KU results in gains only. Nobody puts money into the game. There are no real losses.

          Amazon funds the game. Authors do not fund it.

          But, let’s make KU a ZS game:

          Each author pays $100 per month per book to participate in KU. Add all this up, and we have the pot.

          Now, distribute the pot based on page reads just as it is done now.

          At the end of the month, some authors will have between $0 and $99.99. They have taken a loss. Add up all those losses.

          Others will have between $100.01 and a zillion. They have made a gain. Add all those gains.

          The loses carry a negative sign. The gains carry a positive sign. Add them. They sum to zero.

          • You can’t add or subtract hypotheticals. When you look at the formula for how author payments are calculated in Kindle Select, they add up to zero. Any revenue made from KU subscribers is not included in that formula.

            • I agree we can’t add or subtract hypotheticals. In a Zero Sum game, we add and subtract real quantities.

              Many things will add up to zero, but that is not sufficient for a ZS game. For example, revenue from a KDP book less payment to author, less Amazon fee adds up to zero. But it is not a ZS game.

            • You can’t add or subtract hypotheticals.

              But the hypotheticals are a zero-sum game. KU is not a zero-sum game.

              In a zero-sum game, the gains of all the winners exactly equal the losses of all the losers. But since there is no charge to participate in KU, the maximum loss you can incur is zero. If there are gains at all, the game is positive-sum.

              What you are objecting to (groundlessly, in my opinion) is that KU is a fixed-sum game. That is not the same thing as a zero-sum game at all.

  2. This is why we can’t have nice things — because some people will abuse/game/break them …

    And while this means some ebooks will need a very minor change to get back in the running, it also means ‘Bad Bobby’ and friends will be slowed/stopped until they find another way to abuse/game/break things …

    ETA At least indie/self-pub can quickly change things around, not so quick those trad-pub titles …

  3. I left a comment on David’s blog, but will repeat one question:

    How much commission are indies willing to give up in order for Amazon to hire enough live eyeballs to chase down the real scammers?

    Automation can suck, and the results can be outrageous in some cases, but Allen F’s Bad Bobby will NEVER stop. The only way to fight back is to up the quality of our books and follow the ToS and publishing guidelines to the letter so that the differences between an honest book and a fraud/scam is patently obvious.

    • It’s a never-ending game of whackamole. I think you’re right, and PG has a point, that you need people to oversee this. They need to have institutional knowledge. And, I can’t stress this enough, they need to know not to punish a million for the actions of a hundred. Which will likely mean getting a dedicated staff.

      follow the ToS and publishing guidelines to the letter

      Agreed. PG has posted several items about authors trying to do the hookup, gaming the system, and getting bitten for it. They apparently never read the TOS. They will have to start.

    • I commented over there too, Jaye. But, to add to what I said there, nobody is proposing thousands of human reviewers to go through the millions of items in the Kindle Store. At the moment, it appears there is no human intervention in the chain before things get serious. Amazon has sophisticated enough systems where it could flag certain behaviors (like specific lines of code or whatever) for some kind of review process. I used to work at Google in the AdWords division. Ten years ago they were able to set up efficient systems for automated review which would then winnow out certain ads for a human to decide whether it should be pulled. I’m sure Amazon today could do a better job than it is currently doing. The automated process needs tweaking, but it also needs Amazon to care first. As I said in the post, I raised this with them three years ago. Not only is it still an issue, the problem has gotten worse.

      • I’ve no doubt they could be doing a lot better, David. This whole issue affects me, too, on a personal level. I don’t review books on Amazon. I have a financial connection to too many books and it would look like a conflict of interest, even though I know it’s not.

        I see too many otherwise honest authors gaming the system — just a little bit in an attempt to give themselves an edge — and read too many poorly produced ebooks to think every indie publisher is an innocent victim. This is a serious problem, especially when innocent publishers are caught up in (often) overreaching nets. Amazon is reacting to a serious problem and even though I don’t agree with some of their solutions, I understand where they are coming from. Can they do better? Sure. Publishers have to take some responsibility, too.

      • Well, Google gave up on indies so if they couldn’t solve it I’m not sure Amazon will. But I am curious how Apple deals with scammers. I have seen articles with B&N having the same problems as Amazon in the past.

        Does anyone have any articles on Apple dealing with book scams?

        • Apple deals with scammers by not letting them in the front door in the first place. To sell on iBooks, you either have to go through a distributor like D2D or Smashwords, or you have to create a business entity complete with an address, DBA and EIN. Scammers don’t like having to jump through those kinds of hoops. They prefer Amazon because Amazon makes it easy for absolutely anyone to publish absolutely anything. KU 1.0 threw open the front door and beckoned the scammers to come on in and they’ve made themselves right at home.

          • They were there far before KU 1.0, but I understand what you mean.

            I wonder how much D2D and Smashwords sort things. I know Smashwords scans for formatting but do they make judgements on content?

    • Some of the books using the “Back Page TOC” method aren’t obvious scams. I picked up one of those books out of curiosity. It was a Western Themed Romance collection. The TOC was beautifully formatted with images. The writing was decent (not excellent, but decent). Putting myself in the shoes of an average reader, there was nothing unpleasant or scammy about the book at all.

      And outright scammers were NOT the only people doing this. Some legitimate authors were making mega-bundles of related work and using the same “click to the back” technique.

      This isn’t a simple problem. It’s a very complex one. And it’s all linked to paying authors by pages read. As long as there is an program that bases it’s rewards on how many pages are read in a book, authors (and scammers) are going to do everything in their power to up their page reads.

  4. do you think they flagged Hugh Howey’s books? His TOCs are all at the end

    • Don’t know about him but the books under my pen name have the TOC at the end and I haven’t gotten any notice or removal. Maybe there’s a secondary criteria like size or how many books there are out in a short period? No real clue why some are notified and not others.

      • Probably for the same reason some erotica books get dinged for dodgy content, while other erotica books with similar content get in the top 100 list: arbitrary and random enforcement of constantly-changing rules.

        All of my books that have a TOC have it at the back, and no-one’s mentioned it yet. I’m just going to remove the TOC completely in future, life’s too short to waste reformatting every time Amazon’s knee jerks.

    • With data comes clarity…let us share and see if we can figure this out. I have 13 different works up, one in KU. All with TOC in the back, all still available for sale and no warning notices received.

      The original article comments suggest that it may be recent updates to a book that get it flagged for the new review, and it is true that none of my books have recently had any updates of any kind, including price. So that might be it.

  5. KDP jumped the shark when KU came out as a kneejerk reaction to other subscription services (most of which are now dead or dying). Amazon is trying to eliminate price-setting between readers and writers and centrally-plan an economy with millions of products and tens of thousands of producers. Then they seem surprised that it doesn’t work, and they have to make more kneejerk attempts to fix it.

    • KU might die since it has issues. But these scammers have been around for years before KU. Even if KU died tomorrow they will still be gaming the systems. Google removed all indies rather than deal with it.

      • The difference is, Amazon was paying $100 when someone clicked on a link to the back of a book. Readers wouldn’t have paid $100 to buy a book that had no real content they cared about.

        Yes, scammers have always existed and will always exist, but KU makes scamming easy because it eliminates the price mechanism that automatically reduces profitability of scam books.

        • Yes, Edward. Thank you. Makes scamming unbelievably easy. Actually encourages it – and helps it evolve. Scammers gotta scam…

      • Google didn’t remove all indies, they simply closed the door to new authors until they revamp their bookstore.

        “We’ve temporarily closed new publisher sign ups in the Play Books Partner Center, so we can improve our content management capabilities and our user experience. We’re working to reopen this to new publishers soon. Thanks for your patience.”


        • Sorry, I knew that but didn’t write anywhere near what was in my head. Thanks for the correction!

          • That was aimed at the new people, Wayne. Not you. (We already knew that you knew that) 🙂

            On another note I agree that this might hurt KU, but will it be enough to kill it? Who knows. I doubt it.

            I do know that scammers and gammers-of-the-system tend to flock toward the system that is most easily gamed, so I predict more shenanigans surrounding KU for some time.

            Meanwhile those of us going wide are enjoying a much more stable platform.

        • Further to Randall’s response on Google shutting out indies, Google Play is still entirely accessible to indies through any participating aggregator. Neither Smashwords nor Draft2Digital will get you there, but plenty of other options available – Pronoun, StreetLib, PublishDrive, etc.

          • Thanks, I had never heard of any of those 3. Would be cool if anyone has an article on them for PG to post. I suspect I’m not alone in being unaware of them.

  6. Oh for crying out loud — legit authors can’t win for losing. I’m as sick of the publishing world and Amazon, yes, Amazon, (there, I said it!) as I am of politics. Always the little guy who gets screwed. I know sooooo many scammers on Amazon. Not only do they get away with it, they end up on bestseller lists everywhere.
    I have kept my mouth shut for a long time, gone with the flow, avoided giving off any vibe that I might, God forbid, suffer from Amazon derangement syndrome, but when I look at the freaking MILF or twincest or stepbrother/stepfather or barely legal books on the romance bestseller lists I want to vomit.
    I read sample after sample of horrible unedited disgusting books– all with hundreds, nay, thousands of five-star reviews, all way up in the rankings, and I feel sick.
    Go ahead, dump on me. Accuse me of hating Amazon. I don’t hate Amazon. My books are on Amazon and other outlets. I do hate what’s happening all over booklandia, especially romancelandia.
    As a writer, I demand quality of myself. As a reader, I demand quality from other writers. It’s not too much to ask.

    Regarding the topic, the TOCs– as a reader I prefer them at the end of the book. Takes too much time to get through them at the beginning. My time is valuable. As a writer I’d prefer to leave them out altogether unless I’m writing nonfiction.

    • There’s nothing wrong with complaining about what Amazon actually does. Konrath does it to, and he’s a huge Amazon cheerleader. ADS to me is complaining about what it might do if the lizard overlords somehow take over.

      I don’t quite get your complaint about the Romance bestseller lists though. You are upset that Amazon and other retailers aren’t separating it into new categories? Or upset that so many readers read that stuff? (Pornhub’s map released lately is proof that it’s not just readers btw)

      • Sadly, ‘ADS’ seems to have become the indie equivalent of S*** shouting ‘RACIST!’ at anyone they don’t want to listen to.

        As for the bestseller lists, I presume Julia is complaining that romance bestseller lists are stuffed full of dodgy erotica, just like SF bestseller lists used to be stuffed full of paranormal romance novels (it’s still there, but doesn’t seem anywhere near as bad as it was a year or so back). That kind of miscategorization makes the lists utterly useless for the people who actually read that genre, yet Amazon are too busy complaining about table of contents placement to police book categories.

        • Maybe. But most of the times I see ADS mentioned here it’s about articles with made up ‘facts’ and conspiracy theories. Articles like this, or Konrath’s complaints about Amazon’s review policy get published on this site too.

      • Oh, I don’t care if readers read it. Categories and subcategories need to be more accurate so as to actually reflect a book’s true content. Better for readers, definitely better for the romance genre in general. That way we don’t have contemporary ‘sweet’ romance lumped in with contemporary porn. Or rather contemporary porn lumped in with contemporary ‘sweet’ romance.

        • Ah, I thought Erotica titles can’t be searched/listed outside of Literature and Fiction/Erotica as of the change a couple years ago. Maybe they need a Romance/Erotic subsection if they are going to list it after all.

          • Because they know their books might be ‘back-roomed’, often what authors of hardcore erotica do is simply stick them in the Contemporary Romance category. And even if they don’t, the books will often appear in an innocuous (misleading) category because of tags. Obviously Amazon isn’t in the business of curating books. That’s up to the reader. I tend to stick with lit fic, nonfic, and short story collections these days.

            • Julia is right, the categories are full of things that don’t belong.

              The Thriller lists alone are full of paranormal/shape-shifter/fifty-shades/steampunk/romance, all of them with beefcake on the cover. Yes, its easy to skip over but you would think Amazon, with its raw computer power and marketing savvy, would fix it. After all, its making the customer work for what they are trying to find which goes against their customer satisfaction rule.

              • OMG! I’m blushing, Randall. I’m so rarely right about anything! I’m with you 100%. I don’t expect Amazon to curate for me, but neither do I expect to have to wade through hundreds of wrongly categorized books. It IS a matter of customer satisfaction. Indeed. That is the crux of the issue. It’s why I get so frustrated with the Amazon bestseller lists. There must be an easy fix.
                And David, sorry, tangent. For the record I agree with your concern about the TOCs.

                • A good measure of consumer satisfaction is sales. When sales keep increasing, it’s reasonable to say consumers are satisfied.

                  Amazon is selling books to consumers. Authors are suppliers.

        • It makes me crazy, too. Two lists for my genre are Inspirational and Clean & Wholesome. I was shocked by how many not at all sweet books were on that list. I brought it to Amazon’s attention, and I don’t know what they did, but those lists were cleaned up. I pointed out to them that it wasn’t just an author being upset, but rather readers who would be upset and totally put off by a sweet list being populated by books that were not even remotely in that category. I can’t understand why the authors were doing it either. To shock people? Because they didn’t understand what Inspirational or Clean & Wholesome meant?

          • I’ve heard there are issues with “Christian” categories, as some people think these are faith-based books, while others think they are books with characters named Christian Grey.

          • Barbara Morgenroth

            I did a search for romantic comedy boxed sets yesterday. “Soft” porn, 95% of them. The rest were either MMA or biker things. Yes, there were 2 or 3 inspirational sets. I did not see romantic comedies on the list Amazon offered me.

          • It looks to me like scammers are just dumping their “books” into any and every category they can. Look at the new releases lists– many, many titles of this sort of thing with similar covers and similar keyword-loaded titles and subtitles in every category. It appears to be one or a handful of people doing this.

            I saw the same thing you did, Sariah– erotica in Christian romance, romantic comedy, all kinds of categories you wouldn’t expect to see it in. I did notice them gone later, but it’s really frustrating.

    • Ironically, Julia, I write erotica and erotic romance, and I totally agree with you. When Amazon started hiding those titles (but not sex toys which totally defeats their “think of the children” reasoning), a bunch of erotica writers started reclassifying their books as “romance”. Not only did it not help the situation, it caused another backlash where all titles of certain authors were re-categorized to erotica, including one gal’s country cookbook. 😆

      Amazon’s knee-jerk reaction hurts everyone: writers and readers. I don’t like it, but until it hits our Dark Lord Beezlebezos’s wallet…

      It’s not ADS to complain about something Amazon actually did. Right now, they’re looking at the bottom line, and it’s cheaper for a bunch of small-time writers to be ground up into dog chow than to hire people to weed through the questionable books.

      And I’m sure someone will accuse me of ADS as well. Yet, I’m taking a break from putting together the new platform bed for my son I ordered from…wait for it…Amazon! 😆

      • Suzan – I. Love. Your. Comment. 😀 Don’t hide the titles. Just give them their own appropriate categories!!!
        So sad when one finds oneself headed for the grinder… Although I do like dogs.
        One more comment – Seems to me that just when my books are selling well, and I think things might be looking up, Amazon devises another way to make my books less visible.
        It’s been like this for two years now.
        But hey- Power to the People, right?

      • There’s a very simple fix to this, and it’s to put in an adult filter on the Kindle Store that’s toggled on and off by the reader. That way, readers don’t see anything they don’t want to see, and no-one’s books need to get dungeoned.

      • There’s a very simple fix to this, and it’s to install an adult filter that’s toggled on and off by the reader. That way, readers don’t have to see anything that they don’t want to see, and no-one’s books need to be dungeoned.

        • I don’t think it’s quite that simple. Like, what’s “adult”? Sexuality? Violence? Language certain people object to? Who decides? Would we hope an author self-select as “adult,” and wouldn’t that be as problematic as applying trigger warnings? If we offer toggles, can we offer one so we no longer see books published by corporations, or indie authors?

          • Yeah, I don’t think the fix is quite that simple. The Other Diana brings up a good point – keywords. How many blog posts have you all read that discuss how to use keywords to enhance discovery? If keywords are the key, so to speak, to making many bestseller lists, not all of them genre appropriate, well, I have no solution.

            • Allegedly, one of the things that triggered the 2013 Pornocalypse was the word “daddy” pulling up both kids’ book and incest erotica. The keyword thing backfired because there was no way to crosscheck exceptions.

              Something Mark Coker did right was putting the Adult View toggle on the Smashwords website, and trust publishers/indies to mark books as Adult. Such a toggle on the Kindle/app settings page would go a long way in preventing problems.

              • That’s exactly what I’m talking about.

              • and trust publishers/indies to mark books as Adult.

                Okay. As long as we trust publishers and indies to also mark for trigger warnings and potentially offensive content, yeah, I guess you’re good to go.

                • False equivalence. Now you’re just trying to get in the last word.

                • Well, no, I’m just pointing out it’s more complicated, and that there’s at least two points of failure:
                  1) Authors who tag books incorrectly or fail to at all
                  2) Readers for whom a toggle for them isn’t enough (Many readers simply don’t want certain books to be read by anyone, not just themselves)

                  Below you ask if Smashwords has done it, why can’t Amazon. I’d say that simple question is the most certain evidence it wouldn’t work like you’re proposing it would. If Amazon thought it was a good idea, they would have done it already. And Smashwords isn’t really an example of Things Working Well.

              • Oh for Pete’s sake, this is a simple Boolean transaction. [IF keywords contain Daddy + erotica (OR any of an assortment of sexual acts which I will not detail) THEN Do not show in any search containing “daddy”. SHOW prompt=Results do not show erotic content. Show erotic content?]

                If I can figure this out, then surely Amazon’s programmers, who really ought to be more skilled than I, should be able to accomplish this. Instead, they shove cookbooks into erotica, erotica into other categories (yes, it isn’t always user deception) and smack vast swathes of authors who are merely trying to keep their front matter tidy.

                Also, the ban on back matter TOC won’t fix the actual problem. Thirty seconds of thought provided a bypass=scam method, and surely there are more. And now AGH I wish I was a less honest person. I could be much wealthier. (I used to do risk management.)

                • P.D., how dare you make sense! 😆

                  I totally understand. My husband (programmer/computer consultant for thirty years) had the same reaction as you back in October of 2013 when I was venting about the Pornocalypse.

          • The author defines whether the book contains adult content, same as on Smashwords. For the most part, you don’t need an authority to arbitrate what is and is not adult content, because the market will sort itself out: readers who want adult content will use the filter to search it out, and writers who want to sell to those readers will use the filter to get found.

            Think about it this way: if you write a specific kind of book that appeals to a specific market segment, wouldn’t you want to target it to that market segment? To put it in a place where only that specific kind of book is visible? That’s what a filter would do. No one gets “dungeoned,” because the “dungeon” is exactly where you want your books to be.

            • I don’t know Smashwords’ system (haven’t used them in years). And I’d disagree. I think “adult content” starts to get into moral judgment and subjective offense.

              • So you are uninformed on this subject, you know you are uninformed, but you still think you are correct, even though your position is that it’s all relative anyway?

                • I’m uninformed about Smashwords because it’s a non-starter, Joe. I don’t think I’m correct, as I don’t think I’m exactly putting forth an argument. All I’m saying is that we might not need one “adult content” toggle but many. I could anticipate at least three, for sex, violence, and language some might consider offensive.

                  I guess what I’d argue is that you said it’s a “simple fix,” and I’m just saying I think it’s much more of a challenge than you make it out to be.

                  (I’m not sure anything is really relative. I’m pretty sure I’m one of the few people who frequent this site who like to think there’s such a thing as objective quality, e.g. But at least when it comes to something like “adult content” . . . well, some of us are more mature than others, after all, and it has nothing to do with age.)

                • I’m sure it is a challenge, but if Smashwords can do it, why not Amazon? Start with one filter, and if that works, add others as necessary.

                • I’m sure it is a challenge, but if Smashwords can do it, why not Amazon?

                  Amazon doesn’t do it because they really don’t care how authors want them to run their business. They have done pretty well to date.

                • Amazon doesn’t do it because they really don’t care how authors want them to run their business. They have done pretty well to date.

                  That is exactly the attitude that will be Amazon’s downfall, and they know it.

                • “That is exactly the attitude that will be Amazon’s downfall, and they know it.”

                  Only if enough seller and/or buyers leave them for ‘something better’.

                  Which no one complaining about all of Amazon’s evil ways has pointed out yet. Surely there’s something better than Amazon at selling your e/books — right? Let’s everybody ditch Amazon and go there. Too bad the scammers will too …

                  And of course I know that every time you find one of the ‘scam’ books you’ve written a bad review on it for Amazon to see. Right?

                • That is exactly the attitude that will be Amazon’s downfall, and they know it.

                  The reaction to that attitude could harm Amazon, But we can observe the reaction to date has been a steady increase in both sales and books offered for sale.

                • By the time the sellers and buyers start leaving, it will already be too late.

                • By the time the sellers and buyers start leaving, it will already be too late.

                  If so, they will have migrated to something better. That’s fine.

            • Your ignorance of the dungeon betrays you. There is a difference between “adult” and “dungeon=we will hide you from all but the most persistent and from them too if we can.”

        • What I would like is a Kindle Unlimited filter that I could toggle on and off, to eliminate all KU books from search results. If you search for just about any popular topic these days, from parenting to weight loss, the first several pages of the search results are all KU scam-pamphlets skimmed from websites. Amazon needs to give customers a way to flush all that KU junk so they can see actual books written by, you know, authors.

    • I thought ADS was complaining about normal things as if they were of the devil. Amazon is ruining culture! They’re undermining literature! Bezos pushes old people down the stairs! That’s ADS.

      But, Amazon’s tech support sucks? Yes. Yes it does. They have a knee-jerk reflex that hurts authors? Yep. All of your complaints seem reasonable to me. I believe you about the genre issue; I’ve seen paranormals show up in sci-fi and I wondered if the bot was glitchy. Didn’t occur to me someone was gaming the system.

      PG’s ombudsman idea is looking better and better. Make it a staff and we might get Amazon to react sensibly when these problems come up.

      • Not all of the books that SEEM to be in the wrong category are there because an author is “gaming the system.”

        Amazon will place a book in that category based on keywords THEY associate with a certain category.

        For example, “Dragons” as a keyword (in romance) would be Paranormal, Shifter AND get you into sword and sorcery. It’s not wrong for an author to use “Dragon” if their book contains (a) Dragon. But does it belong in Sword and Sorcery? Not always. But AMAZON places it there.

        Most of the people who are gaming the system make it obvious because there are several category/keywords in the title of the work.

        • Yes. This is one reason some books show up in odd or inaccurate categories.

          • Thanks you two, it’s much clearer now. I’m back to thinking that Amazon needs to do a better job of organizing categories. They never seemed to be good at that. People looking for the “Dungeons & Dragons” shapeshifting dragon don’t probably don’t think they’re interchangeable with the paranormal romance shapeshifting dragon.

        • My best (!?!) wrong categorization of books : I have a very niche book about a certain rock’n’roll subculture… the ebook’s categories are OK… but the paperback’s? As Createspace allows only one BISAC, its second category assigned by AMZ is “sub-nautical sports”… because of one word in the title. Impossible to get either Createspace or AMZ to re-categorize it, they always say the other one is guilty !

        • Barbara Morgenroth

          My equestrian fiction shows up in Nonfiction>Pet Care.
          I don’t want to be there. There is nothing in my keywords that would put me there.

          If you tell KDP Support about it, their reaction is essentially “it is what it is”.

    • Preach!

    • Amen, sister! Agree 100% with everything you said, Julia. Amazon has allowed their bestseller lists — especially the romance lists — to be flooded with absolute swill, but Amazon won’t lift a finger to change that. As long as that swill is in Kindle Unlimited, they’re fine with it, because KU keeps customers coming back to Amazon to buy more toasters and shampoo.

    • …when I look at the freaking MILF or twincest or stepbrother/stepfather or barely legal books on the romance bestseller lists I want to vomit.

      Yes! In EVERY romance category, page after page of this stuff completely burying any “normal” romances. (i.e., not erotica). Unlike you, Julia, the ones I see, if reviewed at all, get 1-stars for terrible content. But as you say, it’s at the top of the lists (especially new releases), so apparently it sells.

      I only wish Amazon would institute a “hot” or “steamy” romance category so those of us who DON”T want to read that sort of thing can find what we DO want to read. I see they’ve added a “clean and wholesome” category, but there’s a whole lot between borderline (or outright) erotica and “clean and wholesome.”

      • Yes, Kathlena – there is a great deal of ‘romance’ between clean and wholesome and MILF. I agree with you.

  7. Loretta Elligsworth

    I started reading about this and checked my list. No buy buttons and no notice either. All my books went up before the end of December 2015 and I haven’t changed anything about them because I’ve got a cranky computer that I’ve just got back to reading email and are still trying to get back to normal.

    Maybe the buttons will come back on their own before I get my computer totally up again.

    Loretta Ellingsworth

    • Hi, I can see buy buttons on kindle versions of Unforgettable and 3 other books. Did they hide other books of yours?

    • Loretta Elligsworth

      I must have picked the wrong page when I looked it up before, but I checked now (late on 3/11) and the buttons are there.

      Loretta Ellingsworth

  8. Here’s my question – I had ToCs at the back of my novels (where I, as a reader, would prefer them) and am now moving them to the front to avoid any possibility of my books being flagged / pulled. My books are now two pages longer at the front – does that mean I get an extra two-page KU payout? If so, I guess that will be small (tiny) compensation for having to jump through this hoop.

    • Here’s my question: why do novels need ToCs? I can see for non-fiction, but for a novel you start from the beginning and read to the end.

      • Will, many fiction readers have said they like to be able to go back to favorite scenes and reread,and they use the TOC to do that.

        • But isn’t the slider function that exists on a Kindle and within Kindle apps a better mechanism for that sort of quick, easy navigation? I don’t remember favorite scenes by chapter number or the way a chapter started; I remember them by the characters and position in a book, which are easier to find by scrubbing.

          • I never remember for sure where anything is in a book. I may remember it was in the beginning, or in the middle, or near the end. Certainly do not recall chapters. When it comes to ebooks it’s super easy to find something with the little magnifying glass search feature on my Paperwhite. I just put in a sentence or scene or some random hint and voila! I’m there.
            I cannot think of a single one of my favorite books – old school as in paperback or hardcover – that was not nonfiction that contained a TOC. Trying hard. Just skimmed a dozen. Nope. Nada. Zip. No TOC.
            Now nonfiction? Absolutely need a TOC.

          • Scrubbing does not work well for me on my phone. I’d have to be able to scrub very finely, and remember that I’m at position 8125.

            Or, I could just click the TOC, select chapter 20, and I can make my way from there. The “furthest place you read” function does not work if your Kindle suddenly zooms you several chapters ahead. Nor is it useful if I read on my phone in a place without wifi or 4G, and I’m now switching to my Kindle (or vice versa). And the search function is useless if the page you were on has mundane words.

            I’ve read novels with a TOC: The Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, Les Miserables, etc. They may not be needed in a random access dead-tree book, but not having them in an e-book is pointlessly annoying. It’s not a burden to the reader to have them there. It’s not a burden to the writer to keep them there. I have no idea how you’re building the books, but the way I do it, the burden is in purposely removing the TOC. Why bother when it’s so reader-hostile?

      • Novels don’t need ToCs, Will, but ebooks do. Speaking strictly from a reader’s point of view, anything that helps me navigate an ebook is welcome. My reading “style” is such that I often have two or three books going at one time. Sometimes I lose track of where I am. Sometimes my granddaughter gets her hands on my Kindle and by the time she finishes swiping pages, lord knows where I end up.

        I have this argument with writers all the time. Basically, if the reader doesn’t need it, they never have to see it. If they do need it, then it’s there.

        There are ways to reduce the number of “pages” the ToC takes up so it doesn’t eat up the sample.

      • The only time I can see using a TOC is in anthologies. But customers wanted them, so Amazon has started insisting on them. I heard from a friend she got dinged on a new book last year because she didn’t have one.

      • I’ll cop to being a TOC guy. I love my Voyage, but periodically, it flakes out on a page turn—or, admittedly, I flake out and tap it while boarding the train, which is where I do most of my reading—and I end up ahead of where I was.

        At that point, I’m afraid of stumbling into a bit of spoiler text while trying to reorient myself, so the easiest thing is to jump back to the TOC, go to a recent spot I know I’ve covered, and then page forward. That way, I avoid seeing that, say, the POV character is about to be shot and killed very shortly.

        Just my preference, of course. We readers are odd creatures. I am, anyway.

  9. Suzan>>>Not only did it not help the situation, it caused another backlash where all titles of certain authors were re-categorized to erotica, including one gal’s country cookbook.

    OMG…souffle of prurient succubus succotash–in the country, no less!

    All hail to the jerk and its knee.

  10. When I heard about putting the ToC in the back it seemed like a really smart idea but I didn’t bother to do the work to figure out how. So once again, my laziness has vindicated itself.

    • Ditto – but not laziness. I like my ToC in the front, and made sure it was just one page. PC is a LONG novel, and every page spread is labeled so you know where you are, and the ToC is useful, not just taking up space.

      I have always hated novels put out by publishers where the running headers and footers are basically useless – title on one side and author name on the other give you NO information as to where you are in the book.

      So I did it the way I wanted, and I use it myself when reading my own work (getting ready to do Book 2).

      Think of the READER.

      • If I read you right, you’re saying that in your print edition, your running headers include the chapter titles? That’s what I’m doing. I’m considering making an omnibus edition of three books, so I’m setting up the individual books to be as friendly as possible from the get-go.

    • Me, too, though it was a combo of laziness and fealty to tradition. I read David’s book and the recommendation to put it in the back. That made perfect sense. And then I didn’t do it anyway. My obstinance does come in handy now and again.

  11. Just to be certain I understand:

    Amazon TOS wants the TOC at the front of the book.
    Folks checking the “I agree to Amazon’s TOS” are putting the TOC at the back of the book instead.
    Amazon is now enforcing its TOC.

    I understand it might not be popular to say this but… following or not following TOS–and the consequences of the choice–is the burden of the user. As an author, I might not like it, but I have agreed to it.

    • Nope, I agree. I’d go a step further and say to read the TOS at all. PG posted a while back about some authors who were miffed because Amazon told them they broke a rule, and the authors didn’t know that the rule was clearly spelled out. They never bothered to check. Offhand, I can’t think of any part of the TOS that confused me. It’s not that long; there’s no reason not to read it.

  12. Please stop the whinging about KU. It is an experiment which is so far doing very well. Amazon is not a charity. Not for readers and certainly not for writers. It doesn’t take a genius to see what is bound to happen. Amazon is walking a tight-rope. Put too much money in the pool and they are throwing it away, not to mention attracting scammers. Too little and they lose authors and publishers. Whilst Amazon decides the amount of the pool without audited objective measures then Amazon is going to try to fund the pool at the optimum level where its business model is viable and attractive to both authors and readers, and will set the pool to the lowest amount consistent with this aim. It is still experimental so expect it to be regularly tweaked and for Amazon to make mistakes in setting the Pool. Many authors and even Publishers now have their books in KU. Some claim to make more money from KU than they would from Sales.

    In the meantime, KU is not compulsory! Authors can and do take their books in and out regularly. Many smart authors are themselves experimenting. Amazon will respond with a higher pool only if many authors pull their books, or perhaps if there are enough complaints from enough Authors that it fears this will happen.

    I myself have doubts about the subscription model. KU remains an experiment, and so far a good one. However, I repeat once again, Amazon is a business, not a charity. KU is not compulsory, and it is trivial to put your books in and take them out. Amazon does not owe you a living, nor do readers.

    • The only one whinging is you, Daryl. No one claimed Amazon is a charity. No one said Amazon owed them a living. When you straw man the other side by leaping down the slippery slope like that, it shows that you’re more interested in pontificating than in honest debate.

  13. Question: do we know how many readers are subscribed to KU?

    • “Question: do we know how many readers are subscribed to KU?”

      Does it really matter? Next you’d want to know how many books each of them read — or I guess how many pages …

      If one doesn’t like the rules one doesn’t need to play by them, there are other sandboxes, though I thought I saw a cat walking away from one shaking its hind leg …

      • Yes, it actually does. There is no mechanism to connect the money Amazon makes from KU to the money it pays its KU authors. The pot-based system is completely arbitrary. It’s like Amazon is saying:

        “We’ll pay you… something… but we won’t tell you how much until a month after your books have already been read. Also, there’s no measurable connection between what readers are paying to read your books and what we’re paying you. But you can totally trust us! (so long as we keep all the really useful data to ourselves)”

        • And yet, for some crazy/insane/idiotic/stupid reason(s) there are writers happily using the dang silly thing.

          Some writers and tricksters are gaming the system again and Amazon has made another attempt to curb them.

          But the mystery money going in/out has been there since day one of the org KU.

          Don’t ‘want/like/want to risk’ a surprise? Don’t play. I don’t hear all the writers lawyering up and demanding trad-pub open their books, why are you so worried about Amazon’s KU bookkeeping? Somehow I’m sure that if most writers thought it a ‘bad thingy’ there wouldn’t be any books in it to borrow.

          • Calm down, Allen. This is a business. Others have done the calculus and determined that KU works for them. When I do the calculus, it brings up red flags, which I’ve brought up here. If anyone has data to show otherwise, I’d like to see it. But I have to run my business in the way I see fit.

            And for the record, none of my books are in KU. I put my money where my mouth is.

            • Oh, me be calm, friend.

              And I can’t/won’t be using KU because my silly typings will be elsewhere, so I bomb the ‘exclusive’ bit.

              Amazon tells us the pages read and the value of a page, they have no need to tell us how many might be able to read them. No more than trad-pub is going to tell a writer how much they paid the editor or cover designer.

              I just find it amusing that someone not even in/using the system harps so much about not being able to see the insides of it — or at least thinks others should care more about the interworkings … 😉

              • We’re all selling books in the same market ecosystem, and Kindle Select has twisted that ecosystem in ways that harm all of us. When the big five give writers a bad deal on things like non competes or 25% of net, we call them on it. Yet Amazon gets a free pass from criticism, while the naysayers are shunned?

                • “and Kindle Select has twisted that ecosystem in ways that harm all of us.”

                  Some writers ‘seem’ to disagree with you, considering how many are selling on Amazon.

                  “When the big five give writers a bad deal on things like non competes or 25% of net, we call them on it.”

                  What do you call them? Do they come running? Or do we rant because nothing can be done because there are still plenty of writers willing to be tied in their pens and bleat to be sheared?

                  And then there’s Amazon, with plenty of writers rushing in despite all the ADS we see from the press. If Amazon is ‘evil’, is it a greater or lesser evil than what you see of the others?

                  Heck, maybe Apple is where to sell your ebooks, they’re still claiming they did nothing wrong, so they’re less evil than Amazon, right?

                  “Yet Amazon gets a free pass from criticism …”

                  Na this bi***-fest is well over 100 comments long already, but most have to admit for all its flaws, selling ebooks on Amazon in ‘most’ cases beats anything else you could be doing …

                  YMMV of course (and if other sellers are doing you better — why are you so worried about the interworkings of one company that other companies won’t show you their interworkings either?)

                • If there’s anything I’ve learned from this comment thread, it’s that everyone has their price. For most of us, that price is shockingly low.

                • Yet Amazon gets a free pass from criticism, while the naysayers are shunned?

                  When someone insists all writers are harmed by something, and the personal experience of many writers indicates they are not harmed, they tend to reject the claim. They shun the claim, not the naysayer.

                • If there’s anything I’ve learned from this comment thread, it’s that everyone has their price. For most of us, that price is shockingly low.

                  Most of us don’t get to set our price. We can set a list price in Amazon, but we can’t control volume. So, our total remuneration is beyond our control.

                  That leaves one with a set of options. It is quite likely all of the options deliver a remuneration in the shockingly low catagory.

                  One can reject all options as shockingly low, and do nothing. Or one can take the best available option even if some consider it shockingly low.

        • So . . . don’t . . . participate in it?

          I mean, Amazon is sort of known for not making proprietary data of all sorts public, isn’t it? I think I read just this week (maybe on the Verge?) that the Echo was a bestselling electronics under $100 over the holidays . . . but nobody knows how many were actually sold.

          So if you don’t like that, don’t participate in it.

          It’s even possible to be Amazon exclusive without being in Kindle Select. #protip

          • That’s more or less what I’ve done. It surprises me that so many authors turn a blind eye to these issues, though.

            • It’s also possible they are very well informed about the issues and don’t see much of a problem.

            • The fairly big checks I’ve been getting from Amazon (over 50% from KU) do provide an incentive not to look too deeply into the innards of the gold-laying goose 🙂

              Do I expect the good times to last forever? Nope. But meanwhile I’ve grown my readership (and mailing list) by leaps and bounds thanks to KU, so when/if the time comes to go wide, I’ll be much better off than if I’d done so a year ago.

              YMMV, of course.

              • I made that mistake in 2014. When Amazon rolled out KU, it revealed just how much I’d relied on Amazon up to that point. Pivoting was quite painful.

                • Like I said, YMMV. KU has made me tens of thousands of dollars richer. Unless Bezos somehow makes me give the money back, I can’t call sticking with AZ a mistake. Some writers are making more money going wide than sticking to Select, so more power to them. I know that the amount of income I’d be currently giving up cannot be realistically recouped from other venues.
                  I fail to see how hurting my bottom line today because AZ *may* hurt my bottom line tomorrow is in my best interests. No guarantees in life. Might as well worry about an EMP weapon taking down the Internet, or the next President (insert your political bugaboo of choice) adding a 50% VAT to ebook sales.

                • The irony of your comment is that those are scenarios I am actually prepared for. Certainly the electrical grid scenario, though a cyber terrorist attack is more likely than an EMP.

                • Well, if the grid goes down neither of us will be doing much business online, which was sort of my point. And I’d love to hear your plan to deal with the government actively trying to destroy ebook sales. 🙂

                  I picked up some prepper habits during the Y2K scare (including a basic gun collection), but I’ll happily concede you’re more likely to survive a disaster than me.

                  Meanwhile, I’ll enjoy my writing income and if I’m lucky I’ll drop dead before the end comes.

                • About a year ago, I started a series of blog posts titled “The Self-Sufficient Writer” where I answered some of those questions. Maybe it’s time to bring that series back.

          • By the way, Will (upthread) I’m one of those few who agree with you that ‘quality’ CAN be defined and is not necessarily ‘subjective.’

        • There is no mechanism to connect the money Amazon makes from KU to the money it pays its KU authors.

          Of course there is. Amazon looks at KU revenue, and compares it to payouts to authors. It’s simple.

          Is there some reason Amazon should open its books to authors or toaster makers?

          • In other words, the connection is arbitrary. No 70% or 35% royalty. No data to track how much of the subscription revenue goes to paying authors. For all we know, Amazon could be sitting on a cash cow with hundreds of thousands of subscribers never reading a page. Or all of the subscribers could be power readers, forcing Amazon to subsidize KU substantially. There is no data to tell us, and that’s my point.

            • Of course. Subscription revenue could be ten times the payout. Or it could be half the payout. I don’t know.

              I agree there is no data to tell us. It’s none of my business. Businesses don’t lay out their detailed cost structure for the public.

          • I have to agree with Joe on this one, KU is a very one-sided deal and heavily tilted in Amazons favor. If you were selling toasters or cars or buggy whips you would never enter into such a deal.

            You’re being paid per page yet you don’t know what the words per page calculation is.

            Even if you knew the words per page calculation you still don’t know the pay rate per page.

            You’re being paid a share of a pot whose sum is constantly changing.

            The number of books enrolled in the program is also constantly changing.

            You’re told how many pages are being read but not how many books those pages were read from.

            That’s five unknown metrics. Four of which can be changed by Amazon to fit whatever desired outcome they wish. With KUv1 this was true and with KUv2 it will still be true. The short answer is that Amazon will pay whatever Amazon wish’s to pay. All this talk about the amount in the pot and the page-count formula and the new dashboard is futile. It’s a smoke screen in my opinion. A distraction. It’s a puzzle for the indie author to scratch their head over until Amazon has enough data to figure out the sweet spot.

            What sweet spot you ask?

            The sweet spot = The payout needed to keep authors in the system and away from the other platforms.

            Which I feel was and still is the end goal of KU from the beginning.

            The questions Joe is asking are not outrageous for one company doing business with another. If anything they are standard questions, ones that all authors should be asking. Saying you know all you need to know when you know next to nothing to begin with is…unwise.

            Added: We cease being “the public” when we enter into a business deal. The structure/payout of the deal should be spelled out in detail or its not really a deal.

            • “The questions Joe is asking are not outrageous for one company doing business with another.”

              Really? So tell me, do we have any numbers on the way the qig5 manage their bookkeeping?

              You and Joe seem to think Amazon owes you answers the qig5 don’t answer.

              Very strange. The amount of noise over this when it’s the same everywhere else.

              I know why the qig5 hate Amazon, the losing of ‘control’ over what readers can find, the loss of being able to claim something’s a ‘best seller’ before the first books hit the shelves, the number of indie making good money without the old publishers and agents getting their cut. I understand all that.

              If Amazon simply sold your books to a library, you’d see the ‘sale’ and that’s it. Instead they created a lending library where the readers pay one fee for all the books they can read. To reward the writers, Amazon pays as your story entertains the reader, a dull book put down after five pages doesn’t get paid as well as one the the reader couldn’t put down.

              And you and Joe think it’s unfair that Amazon won’t tell you how many readers have signed up? I assume if a library has your books that you demand to know how many times it’s been checked out too.

              As Spock would say: Fascinating …

              Hmmm, maybe there’s a story to tell in it as well …

              • First, I’m not in a business relationship with a big publisher, but if I were it would be after we signed a detailed contract spelling out the what, when, how, how-much and several other details before any sales were even made. The kind of contract PG himself advises us to obtain. The amount of information Amazon gives me with a KDP deal is sufficient for me to approve of it. KU, not even close.

                Its also not loosing control, you only loose control if you A)allow someone to dictate terms to you, or B) give control away, or C) fail to have a way to get out.

                If you don’t think that you’re giving control away to Amazon by enrolling in KU you’re simply wrong. The only control you have is the ability to leave it. (After 90 days. They even control how you exit)

                For all the talk the Big 5 give to the word “monopoly” when bashing Amazon the indie authors scream back that they’re not one, and then turn around and give them exclusive access to their books. I find it perplexing that so many authors are willing to give them a monopoly without recognizing this. If you have all your books in KU you have given Amazon a monopoly.

                If a business deal hinges on the trust or good graces of one of the parties involved rather than the agreements spelled out in the contract it is simply not a good deal. I would not even call it a business deal at all. More of a written explanation of how you’re getting taken.

                • I always like it when this harry chestnut rolls in.

                  “For all the talk the Big 5 give to the word “monopoly” when bashing Amazon the indie authors scream back that they’re not one, and then turn around and give them exclusive access to their books. I find it perplexing that so many authors are willing to give them a monopoly without recognizing this”

                  Verses signing up with a ‘publisher’? Like one of the qig5? You don’t see signing one of those contracts as ‘giving them exclusive monopoly’ on your story? And for more than 90 days from my understanding of it!

                  “First, I’m not in a business relationship with a big publisher, but if I were it would be after we signed a detailed contract spelling out the what, when, how, how-much and several other details before any sales were even made.”

                  Unless you’re already a big name in the business, they’ll hand you a boiler plate and tell you to sign it or take a walk. Before Amazon opened the door it was sign or put it back in your bottom drawer.

                  “Its also not loosing control, you only loose control if you A)allow someone to dictate terms to you, or B) give control away, or C) fail to have a way to get out.”

                  Hmmm, which publisher lets ‘you’ set up the ToS? Lets you keep control? Lets you escape easily?

                  I’ll admit that I haven’t checked Smashwords and the like, so I don’t know, but Amazon doesn’t do the rights grab the qig5 are famous for.

                  Some writers seem to find KU a gold mine, others just find iron-pyrite. Like any type of gambling, you don’t have to play if it scares you — just walk away.

                  “If you have all your books in KU you have given Amazon a monopoly.”

                  And if you’re one of those folks with all their books signed to a publisher of old, they not only have a monopoly of all your works, they control them and dictate where and at what price they’ll sell at.

                  Dang, the more you complain about monopolies, the better Amazon looks. Kinda scary — huh?


                  The more you explain it, the more I don’t understand it. – Mark Twain

                  Its name is Public Opinion. It is held in reverence. It settles everything. Some think it is the voice of God. — Mark Twain

                • You forgot this relevant Mark Twain quote, Allen:

                  “Never argue with a fool, onlookers may not be able to tell the difference.”

                  At the risk of violating that sage advice, I’ll point out that Amazon does not allow you to “set up” the terms of service: they give it to you and you take it or leave it.

                  Also, your comparison between Amazon the Big 5 (I don’t know why you call them the “qig5,” or rather, I think I know and I don’t find it nearly as cutesy as you do) presents a false choice. Just because Amazon is better than the Big 5 doesn’t mean that they’re perfect, or even good. There’s a very wide gulf between the Big 5 and good.

              • You and Joe seem to think Amazon owes you answers the qig5 don’t answer.

                Yes, actually. I have three dealbreakers when it comes to publishing deals:

                No non-compete clauses.

                Firm and unambiguous rights reversion.

                No payment based on net.

                The “qig5” contracts violate all three, which is why I don’t do business with them. As for Kindle Select, their pot-based payment scheme means that you don’t know how much you’re going to be paid until after your books have been sold. That’s functionally no different from the “qig5” net-based royalties—it’s all creative accounting. So yes, KU falls into the same category.

                • There is an enormous functional difference between a Big Five publishing contract and KU:

                  You are not required to enrol in KU for the lifetime of the copyright.

            • “The questions Joe is asking are not outrageous for one company doing business with another.”

              Nothing is outrageous about questions. But lots of companies do business with each other without revealing anything about their internal accounts.

              Suppliers all over the world sell stuff to each other and don’t get any financial information from the other party. They get paid. That’s all they are entitled to.

              Books aren’t special. Neither are authors.

              • Internal accounts? What does that have to do with the topic at hand?

                THE STRUCTURE OF THE DEAL. That’s what matters. That’s all that matters.

                With KU you have nothing but a bunch of variables that Amazon can change at any time. Show me one of your hypothetical suppliers that’s willing to do the same and I’ll show you a guy who’s soon to be bankrupt. You think the guy selling toasters is going to accept a price of “whatever we feel like paying you this month”? No, he has to know up-front if he’s going to make a profit or not BEFORE he enters into the agreement.

                Bus 101. No, scratch that; high school econ 101. I can’t believe I even have explain this.

                • Internal accounts? What does that have to do with the topic at hand?

                  Joe wants data showing how much of KU subscription revenue is going to authors. That’s from internal accounts.

                  He wants to know how many KU subscribers there are. That’s from internal accounts.

                  Like most of these things, some authors will prosper, and some won’t. Those who can prosper have a competitive advantage over those who can’t. Those who can’t will do something else.

                • All I’m saying is that I want to know how the money flows from the reader to the writer. Those are the two most important people in the publishing value chain. Everyone else—including Amazon—is a middleman.

                • The money doesn’t flow from the reader to the writer. There are two separate flows.

                  Money flows from the consumer to Amazon. Amazon sells the book to the consumer. The writer is not party to this transaction.

                  Then a separate flow goes from Amazon to the writer. The consumer is not party to this transaction.

                  There is no commercial relationship between the consumer and the writer.

                  The greatest value in the chain comes from the middleman. He is the reason the book is available to millions of people at the click of a button.

                  We can test this at home. Just remove a book from Amazon and sell it. Now writer and reader remain, but the middleman is gone. Then observe sales.

                  Then put the book back into Amazon and observe sales. The difference in sales is the value added by the middleman.

                • I have a better thought experiment, Terrence. Let’s remove the writer and the reader, and see what happens to Amazon. If worse comes to worst, I can always hand-sell books direct to readers from my website, or the trunk of my car. But without suppliers and consumers, Amazon would cease to exist.

                • Joe, let’s remove the toaster makers and the consumer and see what happens to Amazon!

                  No other supplier gets to see Amazon’s internal stats on how much markup they make after costs. Amazon offers them an amount per toaster, and maybe a rough idea of what kind of volume they will be ordering. The toaster manufacturer takes it or deals with a different retailer.

                  Your questions imply that Amazon is cheating by either artificially propping up KU or siphoning money out. They might be doing both, propping up one month, siphoning another. And so what?

                  The only question at the end of the day is whether the price, and volume, they offer is worthwhile to suppliers. You clearly don’t think so, others do. I’m not in KU, but I don’t see authors who have joined as anything other than normal businessmen/women making a living.

                  You can obviously remove your books from Amazon and hand-sell or sell from your website. The same is true of any other supplier to Amazon, Walmart, Sears, Target, or any other retailer.

                  The only value in a middleman is if they can put your product in front of more people and make you money.

                  Now after that long list of statements of things you already know, why do you feel authors are different than other suppliers? I listed the above to be clear on what’s being discussed, not to be rude. It seems like people are dancing around pieces of the issue over what is a short term contract of 90 days.

                • Let’s remove the writer and the reader, and see what happens to Amazon. If worse comes to worst, I can always hand-sell books direct to readers from my website, or the trunk of my car. But without suppliers and consumers, Amazon would cease to exist.

                  Correct. Remove producer and consumer, and there is no market.

                  But, if we remove consumer, who will line up at the trunk of all those 1993 Honda Civics?

                • …who will line up at the trunk of all those 1993 Honda Civics?

                  I’m insulted, Terrence. I drive a 2005 Ford Focus Saleen. But my primary vehicle at this point is a 2014 Genuine Stella. After I sell the Saleen, I plan to buy a half-ton truck, preferably an old Toyota Tacoma.

                • Now after that long list of statements of things you already know, why do you feel authors are different than other suppliers?

                  I don’t think they’re different, Wayne. That’s the point. When Amazon negotiates a deal with any other supplier, the terms of that deal state exactly how much the supplier will get for each transaction. With KU, Amazon doesn’t tell you how much they’re going to pay you for your borrows until after the transaction has already taken place. That’s just as much of a headscratcher to me as the worst business practices of the Big 5.

                • That’s just as much of a headscratcher to me as the worst business practices of the Big 5.

                  It’s a risk. We all have varying risk profiles. Those who don’t want to assume the risk don’t. Those who do will take the risk.

                  Some look at the past KU rates per page and feel comfortable they have a good idea what the rate will be for next month. They don’t care if it is a few cents off their estimate. Others are not at all comfortable with the risk.

                  Different people have different standards. It’s not reasonable to expect all busines opportunities will meet all authors’ standards. A busines offers an opportunity, and those who find it attractive take it. The others do something else.

                  My personal perspective on KU is that the error in my estimate of volume dwarfs the error in my estinate of the rate. So, the error in my estimate of total remineration is much more a function of unknown volume than unknown rate.

                  But, I acknolwedge few follow my path.

                  God Bless the free market, for opportunity abounds.

                • As Terrence points out, it’s a risk that some people choose to take. Again I’m not in KU, but then I don’t buy risky stocks. I don’t think people are Stock fanboys though who do. Or idiots for taking what they feel is an informed risk.

                  Some of the authors have went wide and found they make less than using KU. I don’t see why you dismiss their experiences and choices when they are making choices to improve the income they make for their families.

                  Other authors have tried KU and had lower income, so they went wide. I don’t see anyone telling those people they have to rejoin KU.

                  It’s a business decision that like any other comes with risks. You can make it a philosophical decision like not investing in companies that sell meat, but that doesn’t mean people that disagree are stupid. They just weigh things differently.

  14. Why put the TOC in the back, anyway, unless you’re trying to inflate your percent read? Just put it in the front where it’s always been in books. Can’t you cue the ebook to start after the cover, TOC, dedication, etc., anyway?

    • Once inside the e-reader/app, yes, you can. But Amazon’s Look Inside starts from the very first page which is usually the cover. The traditional front eats up a lot of valuable sample book space, especially in short stories and novellas.

      • Barbara Morgenroth

        I have not purchased several books within the last couple months that had so much front matter that I never even got to the beginning of the book. If that’s a successful “Look Inside” then color me dumb.

    • Yeah, having a lot of your non story stuff at the back lets readers click to it but doesn’t eat up space in the reading samples most sites allow. And frankly I think most readers don’t read through the first few pages of non story stuff unless they are writing a book report anyway.

    • “Just put it in the front where it’s always been in books”

      One more difference between the English-speaking and French-speaking worlds, that I did’nt realize until now. In France the detailed TOCs are mostly at the very end of the books in most non-fiction, traditionnally. Of course you have exceptions, and it is not the cas for the most “pragmatic books”, like those about informatics, gardening…

  15. Re: Terrence – but I am a consumer. I’m not only an author. I buy books all the time. Buying books from Amazon has become a much less pleasant experience in recent years.
    I’m willing to bet good money that most authors are huge consumers of books.

    • Sure they are. But, as long as they keep on buying all those books, what’s the problem?

      Some find it unpleasant, others breeze through. But they all just keep clicking the BUY button.

      • There’s no problem. Not sure exactly what we’re discussing other than perhaps my concern regarding categories? Books in inappropriate categories? Which makes for a difficult shopping experience? At least in terms of eye grazing.

        • I guess I’m questioning the notion that the shopping experience is difficult when so many keep on clicking the buy button.

          Since sales keep increasing, is it reasonable to think consumers adjust and figure out how to get what they want without having a difficult experience?

          • I don’t find the shopping experience in general difficult. Exactly the opposite. I buy loads of stuff on Amazon – saves me drive time. What I do find difficult is book buying unless I’m looking for a specific title. In terms of browsing- no, just no. I avoid Amazon. I’m being honest here. It wasn’t always like that. Up until four-five years ago I loved browsing the Amazon bookstore and reading the reviews, searching for special books. I was passionate about it. Not now.
            Don’t misunderstand. I’m not angry or upset. Change happens. Huge change. Amazon was/is THE game-changer. I’m a fan of change, for the most part. I certainly appreciate the opportunities afforded me as an indie author.
            But as a reader, well, I’m going to come right out and say it – I’m back to browsing in physical bookstores.

            • Literary recidivism?

            • I’ve rediscovered the library for the same reason. I got burned by a couple of book purchases that were, let’s say, misleading in terms of categorization (one of which labelled as SF romance and was clearly erotica and which I promptly returned).

              Unfortunately, the library where I check out ebooks doesn’t yet have a lot of indie titles, but I’m hoping that will change.

              Interestingly (or maybe not), the Kindle borrows all go through my account on Amazon.

              • Maybe point your library towards ebooksareforever.com, Konrath’s initiative to get bigger indies into libraries with the metadata libraries need.

  16. I’ve posted an update on my blog, but I’ll copy it here for anyone following the comments. The story gets much worse. Anyone who knows me will know that I’m not one to reach for the pitchforks when it comes to Amazon. But it has acted very poorly here.

    UPDATE March 12:

    Turns out there is a lot more to this story, all of it worrying and none of it reflecting well on Amazon. I have a contact at KDP who I emailed two days ago and didn’t get any response. Which is poor, but exactly fits with how Amazon has handled this issue.

    The problem is much more serious than outlined above. And Amazon is fully aware of what is happening and is doing very little about it. The only conclusion I can draw is that Amazon doesn’t care.

    So here’s what I’ve been hearing over the last 24 hours: the scammer examples I linked to are actually quite tame. The serious guys aren’t just using TOCs to inflate their page reads, but, as I speculated in the post, links to the back of the book, footnotes, and all sorts of other wheezes (like filling books with page breaks, filling books with the same text in 10 different languages – done by Google Translate – and then having a link go to the English version at the back, etc. etc.).

    In other words, cracking down on rear TOCs is completely pointless and is only causing the innocent to suffer. Good job Amazon!

    And these scammers are far more successful than the examples linked to above. Many have been in receipt of All-Star Bonuses – taking that money from the authors who truly deserved it. Again, all of this has been reported to Amazon. Aside from not demanding the return of these fraudulently achieved bonuses and giving it to the authors who should have received them, Amazon is failing to sanction the culprits other than taking down the individual reported book – meaning the scammers are allowed to continue using these tricks in the rest of their books (and the most successful have giant catalogs), which don’t seem to be checked. This is basic stuff. Amazon should be checking the rest of their books, banning repeat offenders, withholding royalties, and giving the bonuses to those who should have received them. But Amazon is simply not taking this seriously.

    It gets worse.

    The main guy at the centre of this has been printing money – getting up to a million page reads A DAY (from a screenshot he posted). He was named on a KBoards thread, and you can dig that info out yourself if you wish, and he also appears to be selling a turnkey scammer system for $47 a pop to internet marketer types who want to grab some of this “easy” KU cash – one of the reasons this has exploded lately. He also has a private Facebook group with over 1,000 members learning his tricks.

    All of this was reported to Amazon publicly and privately weeks ago. Detailed information was sent to the jeff@ Amazon email address. But no action has been taken, aside from the piecemeal, half-hearted attempts to take down a book here and there. Meanwhile, these guys continue to rake it in – at everyone else’s expense.

    This is simply not good enough, and we need to send that message very clearly to Amazon.

    • Holy. Carp. Dear David, thank you for the update. You fight the good fight for all of us. This information makes me feel so sick…

    • Stand by for KU 3.0 and let a new round of scamming begin.

      Why deal with this when you have the option of going wide? I just don’t get it.

      I saw in that Kboards thread someone started referring to Amazon as Scamazon. I sincerely hope it doesn’t come to that but unless they take some serious steps to police these things it will happen.

      • KU2 was to kill the five page scam getting paid the same as the 400 page real story, I’d think you’d be looking forward to something that slows/kills off some of the spam …

      • Why deal with this when you have the option of going wide? I just don’t get it.

        Some find their total revenue is larger with Select and KU than by going wide.

        Others find they make more going wide than going with Select and KU.

        In both cases they believe their own lying eyes over some theory.

    • …is only causing the innocent to suffer…

      …taking that money from the authors who truly deserved it…

      …these guys continue to rake it in – at everyone else’s expense…

      Perhaps Tom is right and “fixed-sum game” is a better way of putting it than “zero-sum.” Both phrases describe what’s going on here. Under KU, it is impossible for authors to grow the pie. The more one author (or scammer) gains, the less there is for everyone else.

      There are two kinds of people in this world: makers and takers. When makers are presented with a narrow slice of pie, they immediately think “I should go make more pie.” Takers, on the other hand, are obsessed with fairness and redistribution—in other words, with how large everyone else’s slice of the pie is. They feel threatened by other people’s success, whereas makers can genuinely celebrate it.

      In KU, Amazon has set up a system that turns everyone into a taker, and that’s what irks me so much about it. It’s a fixed pie. If every author worked hard to promote their books and doubled the KU subscriber base, they would still get exactly the same proportion of the pot. Maybe Amazon would increase the pot, but maybe they wouldn’t. The system exalts the middleman at the expense of the reader and the writer.

      I am by nature a maker, not a taker. That’s what I love about self-publishing: it allows you to own both your successes and your failures. With Kindle Select, not so much.

      • Most market revenue is fixed* in the short term. Consumers spending on books is pretty predictable from month to month. Same with toasters. That’s why companies are so concerbed with market share. Market share is their slice of a relatively fixed pie.

        Each seller is competing for a slice of the consumer book spending.

        *In macro terms, fixed means we see little material change.

        • We’re talking past each other again, Terrence. By your own admission, you are using a completely different definition of “fixed” than I am. In the standard ebook market, if I work hard and sell more books, it doesn’t take anything away from anyone else (if anything, it increases the opportunities for writers in my genre as readers finish my books and ask “where can I find another great book just like this one?”). But when Amazon “fixes” the pot, we can observe mathematically how one writer’s (or scammer’s) success in the KU program diminishes another’s.

          • I recognize there is a KU amount set by Amazon which is divided among authors based on page reads.

            I recognize consumer spending by market sector is relatively fixed from month to month.

            In the standard book market, we see remarkably predictable monthly expenditures by consumers. Books compete with each other for sales. That means one book does indeed take sales that could have gone to another. Books compete for the consumer dollar. Consumer dollars are limited. Consumers don’t want all those books, so they select among them.

            In standard markets, firms compete for market share because they know consumer spending is relatively fixed. They take market share from each other.

            • Sounds like Amazon could use the help of casino industry consultants or promotional designers modeling how KU can be gamed. There’s expertise in the video game and banking industries too now that I think about it for analytical tools for spotting scammer behavior. It would also help if Amazon announced a dedicated contact for Report a Scammer for both readers and competing authors and also took more detailed reports on how the scammer was spotted so they can develop backend profiling.

      • Under KU, it is impossible for authors to grow the pie.

        Which is why Amazon does it. The KU royalty pool varies in size from month to month, and there is evidence to indicate that Amazon wishes to maintain a payout in the neighbourhood of half a cent per normalized page.

        In August, 2014, the KU royalty pool was $4.7 million. In December, 2015, it was $13.5 million. The only month-over-month decline during that period was from January 2015 ($8.5m) to February ($8.0m). The royalty pool is growing roughly pari passu with the number of pages borrowed and read through the KU program. That’s not a zero-sum game, and over any span of time longer than a month, it’s not a fixed-sum game either.

        • What evidence to we have the “the pool” even exist? Its just one of many variables that we’re told is there but they offer no real numbers.

          The whole KU formula consist of letters. Might as well replace it with a question mark.

          • Oh, silly me. How foolish I was to believe that when, for instance, Amazon announces that the KU royalty pool for month X is $13 million, they actually pay out $13 million. I guess the money doesn’t exist and is all letters, and might as well be replaced with a question mark.

    • See, this is the type of things that Publisher Weekly, The Bookseller or even regular papers should research and complain about instead of the stuff they seem to focus on.

      Complaints about Sock Puppets, people plagiarizing and then uploading books to Amazon and other retailers with new names, etc. are all topics that hurt not just authors but Amazon and other retailers reputations in the end.

      It’s not that Amazon doesn’t have rules against much of this, it’s that they aren’t enforcing them in a way that doesn’t force an undue burden to innocent authors and publishers.

    • How is this not upsetting readers? It’s one thing for me to be upset about it as a writer, but as a reader, if I came across this stuff I would be livid and making angry phone calls (to date, I’ve never seen anything like what’s been described here).

      • Well, it is upsetting readers. One of the “authors” skidmarking across the charts with regency stuff is using a bunch of these scams to get ahead. Unlike a lot of the scammers whose titles aren’t all over the charts, but they make bank on volume, this particular one is a bit slicker with better covers etc. and is doing very well with individual titles too. There are tons of one star reviews on her books. One of them was from January from a particularly irate reader who said she phoned Amazon to complain about this author’s scammy tactics.

        And Amazon didn’t do anything.

        This “author” has 8 titles all pulling the same shady tricks. I know tons of people were reporting that one because it was particularly high flying. It’s still up a week later.

        • I skimmed the Regency Top 100 list, and I looked at some with lower ratings, but I didn’t see any with a lot of bad reviews/scammy behavior. If I can’t have a link, can I at least get a clue to find what you’re talking about? 🙂

          • My apologies. Victorian, not Regency. You’ll see it near the top. The really slick guys are blending in very well so you’ll have to click through and then it’s pretty obvious from the shouty blurb.

            • Found her. Good grief. That’s ridiculous. How do these people get so high on lists when the majority of their book is filled with garbage? I don’t get it.

              We should probably let readers know that Amazon has links at the very bottom to report content – whether it be inappropriate or poorly formatted or whatever. 🙂

  17. The reason this is important to Amazon is that Kindle ereading software uses the ToC as a marker to help find the “last read location” when switching between Kindle devices/apps. Moving it the the very end of the book adds a degree of difficulty for resolving that. At least that was what my contact at KDP development told me.

    If an author is really concerned that moving the ToC to the front takes up too much valuable sample, then trim down what’s included in it. It can be as simple as a heading and links to the start of the story (Begin reading BOOK TITLE) and select items in the back matter. It can be just a couple of things, limiting it to a single page. There’s nothing in the spec that says each chapter has to be listed. We do this all time for clients who ask us to move the ToC to the very end.

  18. It strikes me that if we replaced “Amazon” with “Apple,” there would be no practical difference between most of you and the Apple fanboys who believe that Apple was wronged in United States v. Apple Inc.

    • Other than the minor fact that Amazon hasn’t been caught in a major crime yet?

      Or that unlike Apple, which some people don’t use because there are other things they see as just as good, you haven’t ‘voted with your wallet’ and told Amazon that you ‘aren’t going to take it any more’?

      But of course we ‘all’ know what ‘needs fixing’ though it would be nice if we didn’t break things worse in the process, which might be why Amazon doesn’t jump every time a couple of its suppliers cry out that something is wrong

      And that’s all a writer is, just one more supplier. How many writers is Amazon selling? So what % is crying out? Is it enough to be noticed? Are they crying out about KU but don’t even have any of their own ebooks in it? Are they demanding things no other business would give them in the first place?

      If you think we’re Amazon fanboys, please understand that that’s the very same reason we wonder about your ADS …


      When you understand why you dismiss all the other possible gods, you will understand why I dismiss yours.

    • It strikes me that if we replaced “Amazon” with “Apple,” there would be no practical difference between most of you and the Apple fanboys who believe that Apple was wronged in United States v. Apple Inc.

      I am an Apple fanboy. Apple engaged in clumsy and obvious collusion with publishers to fix prices. My only disappointment is the gross incompetence displayed by Apple and the publishers. I expected far better execution of the collusion by Apple.

      I’m not aware of Amazon doing anything similar. What have they done?

      • Nothing illegal ASAIK, but they do have done (is that really English?) something grossly incompetent : they have instituted a system in KU2 that was supposed to reward authors by the number of pages read, but they had in fact no real way to know how many pages were really read, as all those link-to-the-back scammers have understood. Or worse, AMZ had a way to do it, but didn’t implement it, leaving the door open to this type of enormous scam (so enormous that some of those scammers have got some KU all-stars bonuses, to add insult to injury).
        I am not in KU myself and my niche(s) is too small for the scammers to bother, but I do understand how many people can feel aggrieved.

  19. I’m sure a few people here would like to know that Amazon is now aware of the issue, has read the reports, and is on the case. Don’t have much more to share than that.

    • Thanks for all your work, David.

      This whole thing boggles me because Amazon’s solution isn’t going to fix the problem that they think they’re fixing.

      Nor do I want to have to ask my formatter to re-do all the books she just did for me!

    • David, when you said they were keeping silent, that was my gut suspicion– Amazon knows they have a major problem and are quietly getting ready to deal with it.

      God, I certainly hope so. Those of us who write actual books are getting buried so deep under scam titles our books never see the light of day. It’s very discouraging.

      When I started casually examining the categories, I was appalled to find page after page of what looked an awful lot like scam titles. In the “look inside,” I saw a lot of highlighted, blinking links that said things like “Click here for free books!” Then there are the collections of 65 and 70 books for 99 cents. Really???

      Yeah, definitely something going on. Thanks so much, David, for sharing your information here.

      • These aholes are flooding niches one at a time so not everyone realizes the scale of this problem. But you can easily see it for yourself if you do a search for something like Victorian Romance. The keyword stuffing in the title is the giveaway, and then from there you can follow the Alsobots/author names/publisher names into this whole bizarro world.

        Search is broken now for some niches because this crap dominates the results.

        • The keyword-stuffing is the first thing I noticed. Along with nonexistent author pages, oddly-written blurbs and similar covers and titles… Things appearing in completely inappropriate categories– shapeshifter erotica in Christian romance? Romantic comedy? It was pretty clear that somebody was up to SOMETHING, although my theory of that “something” was a little different than what your research turned up.

  20. I think the first indication we’ll see of a fix, outside of the scammers disappearing from the store, is a longer wait-time to publish. Right now a book can go up within an hour of clicking the button, that tells me the software is not checking for much beyond a search for porn and blatant plagiarism. If the new software (and lets face it, it’ll never go beyond that to real people)has to run more checks it will take longer to publish.

    Something I would have no issue with. I’d gladly wait an extra day or three if it cleaned up the store and prevented scamming.

    I would also not be surprised if Amazon asked for the help of the indie authors out there in policing the store. Nobody is going to police the store better than the ones making a living there.

    • “I would also not be surprised if Amazon asked for the help of the indie authors out there in policing the store. Nobody is going to police the store better than the ones making a living there.”

      I would.

      There’s no way Amazon is going to let the fox guard the hen-house. No, ‘you’ may be completely honest and aboveboard with which books you ban/block — but then there’s nothing to stop someone from banning/blocking yours …

      So whatever Amazon does will be where they can control it.

  21. Update: I spoke to someone from Amazon yesterday evening.

    I had, as you can imagine, a long list of questions. They will have to come back to me on most of those, but this is what I can share for now:

    (a) Amazon didn’t confirm whether the TOC mess was related to its own efforts to stop scammers, but did admit that there were enforcement issues around TOCs and apologized for same. It will be reviewing those procedures to try and prevent a recurrance.

    (b) Amazon will be trying to make it right with authors like Walter Jon Williams. It can’t discuss particulars but will begin reaching out to affected authors shortly.

    (c) It sounds like the matter is being taken seriously and Amazon appreciates all the scammer reports (which you should continue making). It has its own processes for identifying this stuff, and has been investigating this stuff itself, but your reports also help. Amazon doesn’t publicize such efforts because it doesn’t want to broadcast scamming techniques before they can plug the holes, but they are attempting to deal with it.

    That doesn’t cover everything. Far from it. But there were plenty of issues I raised that Amazon said they will be coming back to me on. Questions like:

    1. When will Amazon have a system in place which can actually count which pages were read, rather than skipped?

    2. When removing a scammer’s book, why does Amazon not look at their other titles?

    3. Will Amazon be attempting to claw back bonuses paid to scammers, and will they be paying those bonuses to the authors which should have received them instead?

    4. These scammers tend to be breaking all sorts of other rules too – it’s one easy way to identify them. Will Amazon have a more rigorous process to police such behaviors – e.g. title keyword stuffing – in the future?

    5. Will Amazon be updating the Kindle Publishing Guidelines and other Help Pages with regard to TOCs? The statement yesterday said that people now don’t have to move their TOCs but there is conflicting (and ambiguous) information out there. Will this be clarified?

    6. It hasn’t yet been established if any of the filler content these scammers are using was plagiarized, but that wouldn’t be a huge surprise given how little of that stuff the plagiarism tool actually seems to catch. Are there plans to improve same?

    7. There are hundreds of millions of dollars which are going to be paid out by KU this year. Is it too much to ask that some resources go towards policing this stuff?

    And there was lots more too – we had quite a long talk. That’s all I can remember off the top of my head. I’ll update again with any responses.

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