Home » Amazon, Ebook Borrowing/Lending » Dangers for Prawny Authors

Dangers for Prawny Authors

17 June 2016

PG was intrigued by comment to another TPV post from Ann Christy about innocent indie authors being seriously harmed by KU borrow scammers:

When I was doing my blog posts on the KU Scammers, several people on both sides of the issue wrote to me. One such was a woman who had her account shut down in exactly this manner.

She was a “prawn” and had almost no borrows to speak of. She had a one day spike on a book (much like the one in the kboards post referenced above) and was confused, but chalked it up to one of the many smaller newsletter services picking up her KCD without her applying. We all know that happens and we can’t always figure who picked it up.

Fast forward and she was shut down.

Now, it’s happened again. And there are more if you go to the Kindle community forums. All are completely innocent, all are prawns and the only common denominator seems to be a one day spike in borrows for a single book that they didn’t initiate.

I researched the KU Scams extensively for months, but you don’t have to do that to figure out what’s happening. Bot driven KU accounts are hired by click-farms. Just like with Adsense and other such click schemes, how do they obfuscate that they are bot driven?

They download a random real book and make sure to do the same to that one. By doing it enough times interspersed with the books they’re hired to click-farm, they make it hard to figure out they’re a click farmer at first glance.

Unfortunately, now that Amazon has responeded to the click farming, they are hammering the innocent victims of the click farmers attempts to hide what they are.

If you’re a prawn, you’re a potential target.

And there is absolutely nothing you can do.

It’s a real shame and I’m pretty shocked that Zon is doing this. I’m not in the Zon and I could figure it out in a hot second. This is their business and they couldn’t?

I’ve always been a huge fan of KDP and KDP Select, but this is worrisome. It is both capricious and stupid, which makes it dangerous to anyone who is a prawn that in good faith publishes with KDP-S.

As to why they choose prawns…obvious. They have no phone contacts at KDP to make take notice immediately. A prawn has no such recourse and is essentially at the mercy of whatever whim is currently blowing up the collective KDP skirt.

Also, this is now a way to target anyone you don’t like. Hire a click farmer for a one day shot at a book by someone you don’t like. Now, they will be ruined without even being asked about it.

In this context, PG believes a prawny author is someone who is not a big fish author.

Amazon, Ebook Borrowing/Lending

64 Comments to “Dangers for Prawny Authors”

  1. Wow, that’ll kill off good books from mid-list, self pubbed and indie authors in the KU program in a heartbeat. It’s one thing to shut down a single book, but to shut down the entire publisher’s acct without due process seems overly draconian.

    • I’ve been releasing books into Select for 90 days before taking them wide, but this latest development is worrisome. I’m definitely PG’s definition of a prawn (not a big fish), so this could happen to me. Perhaps I should remove the 4 books I have in Select and take them wide sooner, rather than later. Thinking about it.

      • Ditto. I think I’m going to keep mine out of Select now, unless Amazon split it off from KU.

        Just another way that KU has completely screwed up self-publishing.

      • I’m wondering if it would help if you and other KU members picked a target date to leave, and then left en masse. That might get Amazon’s attention … except I don’t know how massive the “masse” has to be.

        • Around this time last year there were just over a million titles in KU. I have no idea what the figure is now.

          Set “masse” as 10% arbitrarily.

          Amazon worries about titles, so that’s 100,000 titles.

          Assume the prawns average 10 titles per prawn, that’s 10,000 prawns.

          That’s a pretty big masse.

          But maybe Amazon would panic at losing 1% of the titles. That’s only 1,000 prawns. Of course what Amazon is concerned about is sales. If that 1% only accounts for 0.1% of sales…

          • It might make sense for anyone leaving KDP select to email KDP to let them know that the reason for leaving is Amazon’s way of dealing with KU scammers and the fact that they’re shutting down real authors’ accounts in the process. That might help get attention a little quicker than if people are just leaving.

      • nah JMN-G, you might be a prawn, but you’re a TIGER prawn. They are substantial, not like those little dinky shrimp in a can.

        • 😀

          A field hockey coach once told me – after a particularly good game – that I’d played like a tiger. I’ll admit that game felt great; as did my coach’s praise.

          Thanks, USAF! I’ll take it! Tiger prawn I am! Not mere prawn. Not mere plankton. TIGER prawn, and proud of it. 😉

    • As I noted on one of the other threads here, it wasn’t a month ago that we had people on this very site demanding to know why Amazon had left a scammer’s account open after finding one problem book — and it seems Amazon heard them and is now closing accounts.

      Can’t please everyone it seems.

      Reminds me that someone warned about passing ‘good laws’ if they could be used incorrectly in any way shape or form. Those demanding the new law promise it will never be used ‘wrong’, but like what we’re seeing here, ‘wrong’ is in the eye of the beholder …

      • Amazon is truly intellectually deficient if they can’t tell the difference between a strange one day spike and a serious, ongoing effort to game the system or steal content. We don’t know if this banned author is giving us accurate information, so it is not certain that Amazon is wrong here.

        However, if their algorithms are this dumb, they should seriously consider packing it in regarding the notion of automation, because they seem to employ less than intelligent programmers. Setting an absolute threshold (for a scam) at $125 total for an author that clearly has ongoing legitimate monthly revenue on a similar order of magnitude is profoundly stupid. Scam accounts don’t look like this, and no one in their right mind risks that regular revenue for a $125 bump. Amazon should have just not paid the $125, put the account on a watch list and moved on. Instead, they reveal how truly bad their automation is at judging proportion and making a proportional response.

    • I already started pulling my books from Select because I’ve been getting less and less bang for my buck as time goes on. I was going to leave a few things in KU, but after this news, I’m pulling everything out until Amazon gets their sh*t together on this issue. They’ve already spent years in both KU 1.0 and 2.0 letting the scammers clog up the categories without, it seems, being willing to put live human eyeballs on the problem. I’m not willing to be collateral damage in their attempts to automate the solution.

  2. Hmmm. Easy enough to do, having fiver or any of the others jump on random KU books, a different one each day (or each hour.) Almost makes me wonder if this isn’t someone’s way of trying to kill KU by getting Amazon to attack their own suppliers.

    (or they all just signed up for the wrong type of ‘boost’.)

    ETA

    “It’s a real shame and I’m pretty shocked that Zon is doing this. I’m not in the Zon and I could figure it out in a hot second. This is their business and they couldn’t?”

    Same words were spoken when KU was turned into KU2, to fix a type of gaming. I think this too will filter out as they fine tune it.

  3. Expect a spike in authors having their KDP accounts terminated for “suspicious” activity. Now that this is getting press many, many more people are going to know about it and a small fraction of those people are going to spike a book of someone they don’t like, or of a random person just for sh*ts and giggles.

    Eventually Amazon will correct their correction, but they really need to learn they can’t automate everything.

    ETA If the trigger is a KU borrow spike, are non-exclusive prawns immune? Go exclusive with Amazon and get these benefits, including never knowing when some random chance or malicious chancer might destroy your ability to publish.

    • There’s a spike happening already, judging from the “my KDP account was terminated” posts on the KDP forums.

      Same reason has been given to them. Some did use “promotional” programs. Can’t say they knew those programs were click farming things, or involved in click farming.

      • Hi Scath – I haven’t had a chance to do a deep down dig yet and I’m not sure I’m going to this round, but there is some hint that the click farmers are actually using the books on newsletters to select their books for covering up for click farms.

        It would make sense, because the author would expect a surge in reads during a promotion and it’s less like to be noticed.

        I can’t be sure about that yet, but it’s a little too common to be mere coincidence, particularly when the promotional venues most are reporting are on the up and up, just still pretty small when compared to the big dogs in the newsletter world. Again, that’s a good choice for scammers because a prawn is more likely to be accepted to a smaller, not yet established newsletter for promotion.

        • It makes sense!

          All I know is that I will avoid Select from here on out. I’ve experimented with it before, but forget it now. I’m already a little paranoid about KDP termination, simply because it has happened a lot and not necessarily to authors who did anything at all wrong. But there’s little to no recourse, and IF you can get someone to listen to you, it can still take quite awhile to be reinstated.

          I don’t what I am (plankton, algae, prawn, or a certain fish size, LOL) in the KDP ecosystem. I’ve received a couple of survey invitations, and even was contacted by a KDP person to schedule a phone call to ask me what I thought about things.

          I know of a few other authors who have as well, who aren’t big names like Hugh Howey, etc. One is contacted every couple of months, and has even had face-to-face meetings.

          But I’m realistic: those survey invitations and that phone call don’t mean I’d get the benefit of the doubt, or any sort of preferential treatment. I *might* be able to get someone to look into it, should such ever happen to me. That’s all.

  4. Would someone please define prawn and prawny? I keep running into it, but there are no relevant definitions online, that I can find.

  5. It’s a real shame and I’m pretty shocked that Zon is doing this. I’m not in the Zon and I could figure it out in a hot second. This is their business and they couldn’t?

    We hear this a lot. Amazon is stupid and independent authors are brilliant. Amazon doesn’t know what is happening, but independent authors do.

    Is there any reason to believe that?

    This is often matched with the incredulity test. If I can’t figure out what is happening, Amazon must be stupid.

    I suspect they know exactly what is happening because it is their business and their history indicates they manage it pretty well. We may not like the way they manage it, but that says nothing about what Amazon knows.

    • I’m waiting for everyone else to leave – if my competition takes itself out of KU based on rumors, there will be (for a while) more readers for me. At least statistically.

    • It was easy to identify the problem since you know that you are innocent. But Amazon can’t tell that in a few minutes like you can.

      Now that this is being pointed out, I expect Amazon to tweak their algorithm, but it’s still going to be hard to tell the difference between the ‘prawn’ victims and the actual books that are the targets.

      Amazon could look at things over a longer timeframe, but that just starts a race between Amazon and the bots. Instead of a 1-day spike on the prawns, there will be a 2-day spike, or a 3-week spike, or whatever it takes.

  6. This is sad, and it’s another reason against relying too much upon one retailer.

  7. “If you’re a prawn, you’re a potential target. And there is absolutely nothing you can do.”

    Except, you know, not put your books in KU. I’m a prawn. Teeny tiny. But I’m not playing the KU game currently. I got out and it’ll be a while before I try it again (6 months or more). It’s worth it to get out of KU if this stuff really bothers you (I did). It just takes more work to make a living on the other platforms.

  8. Amazon is nothing more than a massive, automated bureaucracy. Massive automated bureaucracies are a two-edged sword. On the one hand, they accomplish MANY, MANY THINGS without thinking. On the other, they accomplish many, many things WITHOUT THINKING.

    Hopefully the Zon can fine-tune their mechanism for dealing with KU scammers before too many indie authors get hurt.

  9. Reality Observer

    Let me see – this is the third piece on PV alone about the problem. I have no idea about how much fuss is being raised elsewhere, but this site is usually a pretty good indicator of what is “hot” right at the moment.

    I see Amazon probably instituting yet another scam blocker that is a compromise (and not perfect, and opening up new ways to scam – such is the life of a software developer).

    Being a developer, the first thing I think of is some kind of Fast Fourier algorithm being applied (these are used in digital audio and other fields to filter out unwanted “noise” – like a sudden 25K spike in borrows). Which algorithm will need a lot of tuning…

    • And the tuning will never stop. It reminds me of the old Mad Magazine Spy vs Spy.

      Subscriptions are here to stay. Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, Apple Music, and now we have Amazon Music about to debut. People like subscriptions, so they will get them.

      I have always suspected Amazon is happy to have low completion index books leave KU. That leaves a collection with a higher probability of delivering consumer satisfaction. It’s a self-correcting mechanism designed to encourage low index books to leave, and keep high index books.

  10. Wow. Just took my books out of KU. I will spread the word. KU is no longer safe unless you’re famous. I hope the sales at other retailers will make up for it.

  11. i wonder who by name owns the farms. And what use they are putting their loot to?

  12. Yet another phenomenon that’s worked its way through the SEO world. A few years back, Google launched its Penguin update and started spanking sites with links from known pay-to-play farms. It wasn’t long before link farmers began purposely linking to sites to cause harm and then offering to remove the link for a fee.

    To stop that, Google created a tool allowing sites to disavow bad links. But as I recall, it took an uncomfortably long time for them to do that.

    This won’t be fun.

  13. This is a beat up. That latest “oh no we haven’t done anything wrong story” is a bunch of authors put together a boxed set of over 20 books, priced it low and were trying to get onto the NYT and USAT lists. Except some of the books were in Select. Which of course is a breach of Amazon’s ToS. Tough luck. They knew exactly what they were doing.

    • I wouldn’t say that. Those boxed set authors were very clearly breaking TOS. It’s annoying that because they aren’t prawns they get to get everything fixed.

      This isn’t nearly the same thing. Not even the same wagon. Not even on the same road.

    • Yeah, that’s a very different thing. This is literally a case of innocent bystanders dragged into someone else’s crime. It’s sort of like identity theft: except there is NOTHING you can do about it.

      And I say this as a person who always rolls my eyes when writers whine about how unfair some policy is to them because it punishes them for some scammy thing they did that they think is legit because all their friends are doing it.

      Of course, the one thing you can do is not sign up for KU. However, there will aways be scammers playing the system, and they will always try to cover themselves by throwing other in front of the bus… so even staying out of KU is no guarantee that someday, someone won’t do something similar to you.

  14. Back in December, I had discovered that my KU experiment wasn’t a winner for me. I unclicked all the boxes, quietly exited Select/KU, and, in January, went wide once more.

    Looks like I picked the right thing. Not only are my sales at other sites eclipsing the ‘Zon, but now there’s all this…

    Sometimes my guardian angel whispers the right thing into my ear.

  15. Well, we have a few Texas sharpshooters here at TPV.

  16. Adrienne Lecter

    I won’t pull my books from select, but I won’t buy any ads until it’s clear what is really going on.

    • According to the author, the book that had the sudden spikes WAS NOT on any promo list. That’s what’s so weird about it.

      Likely it’s scammers clicking on a legitimate book to hide their behavior.

      Amazon was quick to payout $150K and hand out bonuses to scammers in the tune of thousands. But they bring down the ban hammer on $125 without an investigation. Makes a whole lotta sense, does it?

      • It might make sense to Amazon. Amazon is going to see scams that lead their good customers to buy books they don’t like as much more serious than scams that just rip-off Amazon. The scammers who stayed in book categories that most actual customers don’t buy from were smart.

        • On the other hand the scammers need to be able to hide their traffic in sufficiently high-traffic categories to not trip automated detection… if indie poetry anthologies were outselling genre fiction somebody would notice.

  17. BTW, the term “prawn” was started on KBoards by people who have very low sales for various reasons (poets, beginners, niche writers). Not mid-list, and not just “not big fish.” Originally defined as bottom of the list, or bottom feeders.

    This is important to note, because the fewer sales you have, the more a spike in your stats will stand out. Even midlisters have a better shot at surviving one of these hits than a prawn.

  18. I only have one short story in KU that is getting a few reads, but I’m definitely keeping my future books away until I get a better understanding about what’s going on. I can’t risk the Zon hammer coming down like this.

    I wonder if pulling my books from the overseas markets would help. A lot of this seems to be coming from Russia / China. I get no sales over there anyway.

  19. I pulled out of KU the first of March and managed to match any lost revenue via page reads by the end of May, so take heart, it can be done.

    Amazon and Indie authors have been victims of scammers, read and returners, revenge reviewers, and whatever else in the six years I’ve been published there. This is just the newest twist – albeit a more destructive twist – and I can’t help but wonder why? We never near about this sort of problem with the other booksellers.

    • Scammers go where the money is. The Apple Appstore and Google Play Store has similar, if not identical, problems; in fact some of the scams hitting KU are copies of scams used to make money from video game ads or promotions using the very same clickfarms. Maybe the same banking and IP masking networks.

      It doesnt matter what the online product is, be it books, videos, games, music, reimbursed ad viewing, or in the future 3D printable products — if money is offered for clicks, clicks will be farmed for money. If reviews can harm a competitor or be used to extort money or product, reviews will be abused. Heck, I had a customer try to extort free concert tickets from me when I owned a business by threatening a negative Yelp review.

      Going back in time to the offline world it was (and still is) coupon fraud, mail order scams, and the like. Every retail and marketing system has had people gaming them and has had innocents caught up in the backlash.

      It is not unique to Amazon.What surprises me is seeing Amazon repeatedly treating this as new problems. There’s a wealth of institutional knowledge from other industries — and older generations — that Amazon and other tech companies could have drawn upon. Flibbery floo. All those young whippersnappers dont know spit.

  20. Do you think maybe the OP was thinking of “pawns” or is prawns being used with this subject matter?

    • Prawns are shrimp, i.e. “little” authors (meaning they don’t sell a lot of books).

      Yes, Ann is using it on purpose. 😉

  21. Yikes! I just pulled my books out of KU–can’t risk this happening to my account. Unfortunately they will not exit the program until September.

  22. Those of us who are prawns call ourselves that. It’s not being done as a dismissive term, it’s something from kboards, as others have said.

    The thing about doing a massive pullout from KU is that for every one, or ten or thousand of us who do it, there are so many more signing up everyday. Amazon isn’t worried about us. We’re a dime a gross.

    The only real way to stop these sorts of issues is for Amazon to put live eyes on it. That will cost money and time to train these people to know what they’re looking at and the proper steps needed if and when something needs to be done.

    I’m not holding my breath.

  23. I just found your post via Anne R. Allen, and as a prawn this news is unsettling. Unfortunaley, I will have to wait until late August to opt out of KDP Select.

  24. Man oh man did I pick a great time to start dipping my toe into publishing again. I’m still probably going to go into KU. Due to the visibility bump – I’m just hoping the genre I’m in is low key enough that there won’t be problems. For the record this mostly seems to be people in “Romance” and related genre’s.. correct?

  25. Theres even a bigger crisis now with kdp, a small time author has no voice. A one day surge in one of my books and my account is terminated, royalties denied. amazon doesn’t want to listen or atleast investigate first. I experienced them more like conmen. Extreme and frustrating

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