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Steal My Books, Please!

17 June 2016

From author P.J. Bayliss:

I know this seems like a strange request from an author, but I’d far rather you steal and pirate my Kindle books right now as opposed to borrowing them. Apparently, pirating of books is okay, whereas law-abiding Kindle borrowers are likely to shut the author down.

Let me explain further…

Last week I received an email from the Kindle Direct Publishing team informing me that they’d shut my Kindle account down. Apparently they had worked out that my books had been borrowed by illegitimate accounts and as a consequence of the irregular borrow activity, they terminated my agreement with Kindle publishing. The letter went something like this:

“..we have detected that borrows for your books are originating from systematically generated accounts. While we support the legitimate efforts of our publishers to promote their books, attempting to manipulate the Kindle platform and/or Kindle programs is not permitted. As a result of the irregular borrow activity, we have removed your books from the KDP store and are terminating your KDP account…”

Understandable I was upset with this news as it came with the penalty of removing my books from the Kindle store and taking back my outstanding royalty payments. That cost me money, and while I didn’t have a huge amount of cash stashed away in the scheme, it would’ve been nice to have in my bank account for the countless hours I’ve spent putting my books together.

Aside from the wallop to my wallet, the account closure is much more problematic. As I read their notice I couldn’t help but think that my budding author career has just been downsized to the roots.

My problem is that I am completely an innocent party in this situation. I haven’t employed borrowers, enlisted in any ‘golden egg’ book marketing schemes, or sought any kind of third party help at all to escalate my book sales. Obviously, I barely find time to post a blog once a month for starters, so where am I going to find the time for all of that rigmarole? Even if I managed to find hundreds of borrowers per week it still wouldn’t fill my car with gas in order to get to work for my real job – so what would be my motivation to even consider doing such a thing?

. . . .

While I have appealed to the Kindle folks to overturn their decision, I still have to wait for days before they even start to look into the situation. I don’t know if they’ll let me back into the scheme, but to be brutally honest, while this borrowing loophole remains where innocent authors can have all of their hard work and earnings ripped away without a moments notice, I’m not too sure if I want to participate. It’s not the only channel for digital books after all.

Link to the rest at P.J. Bayliss

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

Amazon does a lot of things well, but KDP’s approach to potential abuse can be heavy-handed and obtuse.

How about an inquiry to the author about what’s going on?

In this case, if KDP thinks the author is at fault, why not start by temporarily shutting off borrows and allowing sales to continue for the book? Or even better, shut off borrows they believe are programmatically based and don’t pay the borrowing royalties for those programmatic borrows?

Or cap borrows as a percentage of books sold? No borrowing royalties for borrows that are more than 150% of the number of books sold each month?

PG understands that bad folks are constantly trying to rip off Amazon, but immediately jumping to termination of an author’s KDP account and terminating sales and borrows of all books as the first step isn’t Amazon smart.

 

Amazon

26 Comments to “Steal My Books, Please!”

  1. If you click through to the original post, you will see that the author’s books have already been reinstated. The problem was solved faster than people can blog about it.

    • Zachariah Dracoulis

      It’s funny how quick a blog-post can change something these days.

    • Yay. I wonder what caused it in the first place? I wish there was a system people wouldn’t scam that would allow us legitimate authors the ability to work unfettered. But then that would probably require no people at all… because people.

    • It also happened to someone on kboards. http://www.kboards.com/index.php/topic,237687.0.html

      That’s what makes it scary. Two different authors, neither who did anything wrong. The one on kboards is still in limbo while KDP investigates.

      • I also found it scary when I read that on KB. I’d just decided against putting a new book in KDP Select a few days prior, and I have to say, I’m now very happy I made that decision. I just can’t risk my KDP account over something I have no control over. I’m sure there are other problems that could happen, but when I know about them ahead of time, I try to mitigate the risk as best as I can. No KDP Select is the best way to mitigate the risk of this particular issue as far as I’m concerned.

  2. Granted I haven’t had my caffeine yet, but I did read the OP, and this doesn’t make sense. Are we talking about borrows through KU? Isn’t that what Amazon wants? Amazon doesn’t like the customers that borrowed PJ’s book, so it’s his fault?

    PJ doesn’t have the scammy click to the back link. There’s a proper TOC. And a majority of his poetry volumes came out in 2014. Hell, I’d be totally confused too if I were him.

    I was thinking about putting some of my stuff in KU for the summer, but after this? Geesh!

  3. I experienced a somewhat related issue with Amazon. I’d had a book available on Amazon (not on KU) since 2010. I updated the book, kept the same cover just downloaded a version with a new ending. I waited for the book to go live, but it didn’t. After several days I received an email from Amazon stating that they had concerns about the book. It was available for free on multiple pirate sites and they wanted to know why.
    Huh?
    I replied that almost every single one of my books has been pirated, especially this book, and there is nothing I can do. If I send one pirate site a take-down notice, another pirate site will immediately pop up and offer the book. I gave up on take-down notices long ago. Couldn’t keep up.
    The book did eventually go live but the incident left me wondering if Amazon could punish me for something I cannot control, a fact of internet life affecting many authors– with which I have nothing to do.

    • Lately every time I publish a new issue of Curveball I essentially have to publish it again, because Amazon sends me an email saying “we’ve detected that this content is available for free on the Internet and we want you to confirm it’s yours.”

      Well yes, it is available for free, because I post it on my website as a web serial. And since I’m not enrolled in KDP Select I’m not required to stop doing it. But each time this happens (and it’s happened for the last four issues) I worry that eventually the anti-piracy algorithms are going to decide Authors Simply Would Never Do That and delist/ban/whatever me.

      Which, as I’m sure everyone will agree, would be awesome.

      • I too have my ‘book’ (so far) for free on a couple of sites. More like ‘read this book please’ than ‘steal’, but buy it if you’d like to support the writer (or are too lazy to modi format it for yourself.)

        No letter/email yet, but then again sales have been light (and no KU of course.)

    • I’ve had this email before too. My book was pirated to high hell and back (still is as far as I know).

      I read the email as a plagiarism query (your book is on another site, and we don’t think it’s yours). Or at least, that was my initial interpretation of it.

      I was so panicked by the email, I sent Amazon the copyright registration info, a copy of my ex-publisher’s reversion document, the original draft of the story and note that I was ready to go to court to prove I owned my own book.

      Two days later, I got an email back that basically said: ‘Not to worry. Just checking!’

      I understand the need to check for plagiarism, and I’m glad Amazon do check for it (even if their emails scare me into a panicked frenzy).

      But I don’t like this new trend of author-blaming for KU reads. The author has no control over what readers do, nor do they have any control over the kindle system. How can they be held responsible for things that they have absolutely no control over? It’s insane.

  4. 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.

    • I’m going to put my ignorance on display – what is a “prawn” in this context? I’m assuming it’s not a crustacean.

    • Patricia Sierra

      There are phone contacts at KDP, but I think they have to initiate the first call after you’ve emailed them. I’ve had quite a bit of contact with KDP recently because of what enhanced typesetting has done to my books’ formatting. I don’t remember if it was after my first or second email to KDP support that I received a phone call from them.

      There is a problem, though. The person who called me was not the same person who later contacted me in emails related to the problem discussed on the phone. Several different KDP reps responded, generally with a canned script saying they’d look into the problem but it’d take time to do so. A couple of times the original caller would pop back into the exchanges. It was frustrating because, as new KDP reps responded to me, I had to explain the problems all over again. Square one. And the problems weren’t being solved.

      Finally in a last-ditch effort to find a solution, I wrote to Jeff at Amazon.com. I knew I’d reach executive customer service there. I explained that I’d gone round and round with KDP and got nowhere. Yesterday a woman who had reviewed all my emails called and said Jeff had asked her to contact me. I doubt Jeff did that; I think all the reps who respond to Jeff’s emails say that. The woman’s title indicates she’s in executive customer support in KDP. She told me my case had been removed from the most recent KDP person who’d contacted me and that she was taking over. However, she did not give me much hope for a solution but said she’ll check with the tech folks to see if there is a fix or work-around available for the formatting.

      Last night I received an email from the woman along with her email address and her phone number with an invitation for me to contact her in case anything new came up regarding my situation before she is able to get back to me re the formatting problems.

      • Can’t she just remove your books from enhanced formatting and deliver them to customers as you uploaded them? Surely that doesn’t require much investigation by senior techs.

        • Make it too easy/quick and then it won’t slow/stop the real scammers. It’s all a balancing act.

        • Patricia Sierra

          I asked all the KDP folks I communicated with to do exactly that, but apparently it’s not that easy or just not an option. In my second to last email to a KDP person who’d told me they were searching for the problem, I told him to start with the Enhanced Typesetting and work backward. The last person I talked to told me they would look into disabling it, but she didn’t hold out much hope it could be done. But I think it may be possible because she said maybe they could make an exception in one case. Maybe that was just speculation with no relation to what’s possible.

    • There’s big crisis looming with kindle kdp, small time authors have no voice. A one day surge of downloads of one of my ebooks and my account is terminated, royalties not paid and amazon doesn’t want to listen or atleast investigate first. I experienced amazon more like conmen. Very frustated

  5. Soooo, here’s a question … PG suggests their heavy-handed approach is bad bad bad, but if I look at it from Amazon’s perspective, here they have a rampant problem that is people scamming the borrow program, with algorithm bots driving up supposed borrows etc, which they want to stop. Every time they find one, they want to stop it. Not slow it down, not reduce it’s effectiveness, it wants to stop it dead as it steals money from other authors and games the system, undermining any credibility they have.

    If you were them, wouldn’t you too kill the account and delist rather than simply stop borrows or take money back etc and leave the account active?

    We can argue about whether they had reasonable grounds to do so, but that’s a separate issue of the sentence handed down by the Amazon judges/executioner.

    I also take issue with all the people saying “I’m totally innocent”. Maybe they are, but honestly, I have my doubts that all of them were totally innocent. Hard to tell since even the ones proven to be in total violation say “I did nothing wrong, I’m innocent”.

    Poly

    • I don’t think you’re understanding the problem. These are not people making money…a one day surge of 25K pages is about 120 bucks. It would cost that much to hire the farmer. It’s not a win.

      The actual culprit is the KU account holder with 50 KU accounts that picks out one book for say…every ten or twenty they farm…in order to cover up that they are a farmer.

      So, basically, what is happening is that the victim is being punished because of a basic lack of understanding. Amazon is viewing the KU account holder as a customer, even while admitting in the form letter that they are a farmer.

      It would be the same as shutting down every blog that got hit by a click surge from some SEO farmer because they were the target of that day, despite the fact that they were a victim of the surge and not the perpetrator.

      • So in short…

        Farmer hits their own books, because Farming.

        Farmer hits some other books to try to disguise their activities.

        Other books now suffer guilt by association.

        Is that correct?

        • That’s what people are speculating on Kindle Boards and elsewhere, and the next 10 people say “Yes, that must be what is happening” and the next 10 people say “Amazon said that is what is happening”, but I have yet to see anyone in Amazon confirm that is what happens or alternative proof.

          I find the disguise explanation far from satisfying from a tech perspective as it makes almost no difference to the algorithm that Amazon runs — it doesn’t “trick” it into thinking they’re legitimate readers. On a 100 scam to one read, or 50 to 1, or even 20 to 1, the algorithm will still catch it. If it was a 1 scam in 50 read, the system won’t catch it, but that isn’t worth the time and money to do.

          The part that I find less than persuasive as the “proof” people offer i.e. oh they randomly targeted me from a farm is that out of hundreds of thousands of books in the program, and far bigger names than theirs that would look legitimate, they’re the ones the farmer targeted to prove it wasn’t a scam? If you were trying to look legitimate, you would target the books that are the most popular that everyone else is reading too.

          What I find much more likely is that the scammer is farming a lot of books, much of them by ASIN number to find and locate. Transpose or mistype a digit and you might get Joe Author’s book added to the farming by mistake. Not as a disguise but as a mistake. To be honest, most of the farmers are about as smart as the spammers to websites — they use templates, they use pre-programmed bots that they buy from farm developers, and they aren’t that sophisticated themselves. I love reading spam to my website and seeing the number of people who don’t even know how to configure their purchased spammer bot as it uploads an entire copy of the “possible” message to my comments (the bot, for example, might say “Hi (generic address), I was reading your (blog / article / website / content) and I think it is (awesome / great / wonderful / insightful).” And it continues that way for two pages…the spammers are supposed to configure the bot to only do some of those, but they don’t know what they’re doing to tailor it, so it just uploads the full spam template!

          But even as an “error”, I’m not sure that fully explains the people being caught either. From what I read, the Amazon algorithm seems to use a weighting factor a bit. Things like volume, sure, but also ToC formatting, the golden egg problem, etc. Hit two or more criteria i.e. farm + 2 or repeated farming + 1, and they flag it.

          If it wasn’t so serious for the ones that are truly innocently caught, it would be almost amusing — Amazon gets smacked for not cracking down harshly enough on the problem as spammers slip through (missed positives); then they go draconian, and get smacked for using too blunt an instrument that catches false positives.

          There are three other solutions:

          a. manual approval of every book that gets uploaded, and a wait time of somewhere around 3-4 weeks or even 2 months for your book to go live. Let the “gatekeeper” screams begin!

          b. Eliminate the borrowing system altogether or make it so you have to sell x number of books FIRST in order to qualify (i.e. to prove you’re a legitimate author with sales);

          c. Eliminate the free option for promotions so that people can’t build rankings any way other than full sales.

          I see each of those as far more likely than Amazon investing a lot of manpower and money to chase false positives, particularly as those who design the algorithms to stop the spammers are usually more draconian tech types, not socially-aware customer service types.

          Poly

  6. I think I’ll stop experimenting with Select from here on out. There are just too many issues that make participating in it bad news, as far as I’m concerned.

    Amazon IS heavy-handed about such abuses of the Select/KDP systems, without bothering to ask the affected author first if they did anything. (Just sayin’, an author who was gaming the system gets an warning email, they’ll probably stop because they won’t want to have their KDP account terminated.)

    Amazon is also heavy-handed about copyright claims (which is why I do file for “official” copyright on my works–I figure it’s unlikely someone’s going to go to the trouble and cost of doing it just to cause me problems–assuming they can beat me to the punch anyway). It’s pretty simple to check for date of publication via KDP. First published is probably the actual author/copyright holder.

    Sure, there will be some cases that’s not true, but instead of simply removing the book/terminating the KDP account, how about actually spending 15 minutes checking dates and shooting off an email asking for proof of copyright ownership first?

    You know, instead of going for the nuclear option and telling the affected author “This person claims to be the copyright holder, so you need to contact them and sort it out.”

    It’s gonna be hard to “sort it out” with someone who is lying about owning your work, and went to the trouble of sending an accusation/DMCA notice.

    Amazon seems to be less quick on the draw when it comes to reported plagiarism, considering not all titles by reported plagiarists are checked and pulled, and their accounts aren’t always terminated.

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