Home » Amazon, Self-Publishing » Think You Couldn’t Possibly Lose Your Amazon Publishing Account? Think Again.

Think You Couldn’t Possibly Lose Your Amazon Publishing Account? Think Again.

17 June 2016

From author Becca Mills:

There’s this indie author I know a little bit from the Kboards.com forum. Her name is Pauline Creeden, and she’s an ordinary midlister, like so many of us. I remember PMing her some time ago and gushing about how particularly beautiful one of her book covers is — the one for Chronicles of Steele: Raven.

. . . .

Anyway, today I tuned in to Kboards and noticed that Pauline had started a thread. It contained what’s surely the worst news possible for an indie author: Amazon had closed her publishing account. All her ebooks had been taken off sale. Permanently. Here’s the email she got from Amazon:

We are reaching out to you because 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 and your KDP Agreement effective immediately.

As part of the termination process, we will close your KDP account(s) and remove the books you have uploaded through KDP from the Kindle Store. We will issue a negative adjustment to any outstanding royalty payments. Additionally, as per our Terms and Conditions, you are not permitted to open new KDP accounts and will not receive future royalty payments from additional accounts created.

According to Pauline, she received no warnings. She just checked her email and discovered she’d been banned for life from selling on Amazon. Now, I don’t know Pauline well enough to ask about her sales details, but if this happened to me, 70% of my writing income would vanish. For most of us, Amazon is by far the best platform for selling books. Losing one’s account there would be a career-ending event for many of us.

While the email Pauline got sounds like a form letter, it does imply that her problem arose from two things: promotional activity and Kindle Unlimited (KU) borrows. Most of you are probably familiar with Amazon’s KU program. It’s a subscription service through which readers pay about $10/month to read as many books as they like. It’s a great deal for major bookworms. As a reader, I’m a member myself.

KU authors get paid as readers make their way through the books they borrow. So, if someone borrows your 300-page novel and reads the entire thing, you get paid for 300 page-reads (about $1.50). If they only get though half the book, you get paid half as much. When authors self-publish on Amazon, they have to choose whether or not to participate in KU.

. . . .

Amazon’s email to Pauline suggests that the KU accounts borrowing and reading her books were not legitimate. They’re implying, basically, that she paid a click-farm to borrow her books and race through them, so that she would get paid for pages that weren’t truly read. There are outfits that do this kind of thing. Someone in a developing nation will open twenty KU accounts, which are free for the first month, and then use those accounts to borrow books and either page though them at high speed or skip directly to the end, generating a pay-out for the author. This is a known scam plaguing KU.

. . . .

Pauline says she hasn’t used any shady promotional sites. The ones she says she’s hired are those most of us have used. They’re well known and, so far as we’ve heard, they’re perfectly legit, advertising real books to real readers.

Pauline does report that she saw a one-day increase in page-reads on one of her books (Raven, actually) in May — from the usual 80 per day to 25,000. (That’s a big spike, but not a terribly lucrative one. The payment rate for April was $.005/page; if May is similar, 25,000 page-reads will generate $125. Not enough to risk your KDP account over, that’s for sure!) Pauline doesn’t know what caused the spike. She hadn’t promoted the book recently. Did a click-farm hit her book by accident? Did someone with a grudge target her? Was it just a glitch? Was the one-day spike even the problem? The problem is that we don’t know what the problem was. No specifics have been shared.

Amazon has been “looking into” Pauline’s situation for ten days, now. They’re not telling her anything, and her ebooks remain offline, their rankings getting worse and worse. It’s got to be a terrifying situation for her.

. . . .

Taking career-destroying action without warning, in the shape of a form letter; offering no explanation as to why; sitting on the issue for day after day with no response … this isn’t nice or fair. It’s the way you treat adversaries, not partners. We want to be Amazon’s partners.

Beyond the issue of simple decency, there’s also the question of the damage this kind of thing will do to KU. Who’s going to put their books in the program if doing so makes one vulnerable to this sort of devastating blow?

Link to the rest at The Active Voice and thanks to Donna for the tip.

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

Amazon, Self-Publishing

50 Comments to “Think You Couldn’t Possibly Lose Your Amazon Publishing Account? Think Again.”

  1. “Pauline says she hasn’t used any shady promotional sites. The ones she says she’s hired are those most of us have used. They’re well known and, so far as we’ve heard, they’re perfectly legit, advertising real books to real readers.”

    So, getting caught over gaming the system can be bad for you?

    (Or you could sink someone else by ‘helping’ them with some of those gaming tricks?)

    An interesting thought to start a weekend with.

  2. Not her fault. Clickfarm bots target random books to borrow as ‘camouflage’ to disguise their paying customers’ real borrows. Ditto for reviews. Didn’t you even wonder where those one star/two star amazon reviews come from with a couple of word summaries . . . “this sucks” etc. Review bots trying to camouflage their 5 stars paid reviews by dishing out random bad reviews to disguise their artificial nature.

    • Additionally, if you as a writer have made a determined enemy, they can spend $100 on a click farm to promote your book and I don’t see how you could have any way of defending yourself.

      I’m seriously thinking about pulling my works from KU.

      🙁

  3. So glad I took 95% of my books out of KU. Oh, and I feel these problems with Amazon will only grow as the company gets larger, gains more market share, and ignores authors more and more. Just look at the names of the people replying to your Amazon contact emails:

    Charnay S.
    Azar A
    Yamuna P
    Palani kumar
    Niha
    Madhan
    Krish
    Sivakumar Ramasamy

    No, this company doesn’t care about you.

    • “No, this company doesn’t care about you.”

      Nope, and most writers don’t care about Amazon either …

      I know I won’t have to go back a month on this site to find people whining:

      ‘Why doesn’t Amazon close those scammers’ accounts rather than just taking down that one book down?’

      And now (as I predicted) we hear them screaming:

      ‘Why did Amazon take down MY account?’

      Please be careful what you ask for — they might just let you have it.

      • Amazon was great for writers until they started KU to compete against subscription services that mostly don’t exist any more. That was the point when it jumped the shark, and it’s been downhill ever since.

        Not just KU, but, for example, constantly reformatting books into new formats that break our formatting for no apparent reason. I still haven’t managed to fix KDP removing all the indents from my books even though they show up fine in the KDP previewer.

        And this whole problem is entirely due to KU removing the pricing mechanism between readers and writers so that, for only $9.99 a month, you can pay for as many book reads as you want. Combine that with attempts to automatically police the problems they created, and we’re screwed.

        • And yet we have writers posting on this very site whine that they can’t do KU and go wide. Those same writers complain that it’s ‘unfair’ because they think KU gives writers using it better discover-ability so they want to have their cake and eat it too.

          “And this whole problem is entirely due to KU removing the pricing mechanism between readers and writers so that, for only $9.99 a month, you can pay for as many book reads as you want.”

          Then don’t use it, problem solved. Those that do like the way it works can do so, no skin off your (or my) nose — right?

          “Combine that with attempts to automatically police the problems they created, and we’re screwed.”

          They could use more warm bodies — at the cost of ‘lowering’ what the writers get for their reads, that balancing act of cost vs profit.

          .

          A couple things from the notebooks of Lazarus Long …

          Never appeal to a man’s ‘better nature’. He may not have one. Invoking his self-interest gives you more leverage.

          Certainly the game is rigged. Don’t let that stop you, if you don’t bet, you can’t win.

          • “Then don’t use it, problem solved.”

            No, it’s not solved, because the scammers get artificially high rankings thanks to buying thousands of KU borrows which push them up the best-seller lists at very little cost.

            The only way to solve the problems KU created is to eliminate it.

            • If the scammers are being knocked off, they don’t get anything.

              KU offers what consumers want, not what authors want. Amazon cares much more about consumers than authors.

              • A Reader/Author

                And if the suppliers bolt? If the suppliers bolt, Amazon is left holding an empty bag–or a bag filled with dreck. Not good corporate “free” market thinking.

                • It’s basic free market thinking when a retailer is concentrating on consumer satisfaction. I don’t know what a “free” market is.

                  I think Amazon wants many suppliers to bolt from KU. It’s designed to get rid of them.

                  With the KU page system, authors are rewarded for providing books consumers like. A book with a high completion index is a book consumers like. A book with a low completion index is a book consumers don’t like.

                  The books with high completion indices generate money for the authors. Low completion index books don’t. The incentive is for high index authors to stay in KU, and the incentive for low index authors is to leave.

                  This will result in a premium service where a consumer has a high probability of finding a book he likes.

                  It’s a self-correcting system that lets Amazon create its own stable of popular authors. Fewer books with high indices is better for consumers than more books with lower indices.

                  Authors overestimate themselves. Amazon doesn’t want lots of books consumers don’t like in KU.

          • [T]hey want to have their cake and eat it too.

            I couldn’t help myself. 😀

    • No, this company doesn’t care about you.

      Of course they don’t. Authors are ASINs.

      Think they care about the toaster guy? Cargo pants guy? Flashlight guy? Why would they care any more about an author?

      But those other guys don’t expect Amazon to care about them.

    • I presume you are saying that the employee names suggest amazon is outsourcing some of its work to India. Why is that a sign that “they don’t care about you”?

      • They’ve outsourced most KDP customer support to India. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that most of these scammers also come from the same region. I wouldn’t be shocked if there was an inside connection.

  4. I’m a little nervous about this. I just joined KDP Select to run some free days with a couple of my titles, and all of a sudden I’ve had LOTS of KU pages read–a total of 3,845 pages read over the course of 13 days. It could be because the free days (June 4 & 5) were part of a HUGE promotion I participated in with dozens of other authors…or it could be I’m being farmed. :/ I guess I’ll wait and see…

    • I don’t think 3,845 pages is all that much, honestly. If you have a couple of titles with ~400 KENPC, it doesn’t take much to get you to that number. Amazon gives KU books visibility, and free days often get lots of borrows.

      I’m all in with KU, and even my worst selling books get a couple hundred page reads each day. My new releases are often 50-100k each day.

    • With standard caveats re the unpredictability of Amazon, I don’t think you have anything to worry about from those page-reads, Stephanie. Congrats on a successful promo! 🙂

    • For everyone nervous about promoting and the increase in page reads due to standard promotions, there are very specific and distinct behavior differences over how farmed titles present vs. promoted titles. A one-day spike in page reads with a corresponding rank that indicates the same number of books borrowed as books read all the way through in one day (assuming numbers greater than a handful) is not natural. That’s the kind of behavior being red-flagged.

      A normal, unfarmed promo will typically see a spike during the promo or shortly thereafter, followed by a day or two of even higher spiking, then a plateau for another couple of days, all followed by a gradual tailing of page reads. And from what I’ve seen, there are usually quite a few potential page reads left on the table (where folk have borrowed the book but only read part of it or none of it at all).

      Here’s a sample from one of our pages read graphs over our last 3 promo periods compared to when the free runs were. While there are very definite spikes, they are still ‘gradual’ spikes.
      https://4.bp.blogspot.com/-erW70GluJDQ/V2RuOLJYl7I/AAAAAAAAE4w/lY-pt7zUrFcmL5VquOJfbjXW-ezc_FJUwCLcB/s1600/KU-Mar-Jun.JPG

  5. For authors trying to make a living with their writing, enrolling in KDP Select looks to be way too risky at present. One can never be sure of ensnared authors’ claims, nor about what goes on in the ‘Zon, but wagering your livelihood on this being a false rumor seems unwise.

    • Depends on the probabilities in the wager, expected value, and the author’s personal risk profile.

    • I make 40% of my income off KDP page reads. As Amazon is about 75% of the ebook market, I stand to lose by going wide. So no complaints from me.

  6. Thank you for covering this story, Passive Guy!

  7. And here I thought “The Active Voice” was PG’s day job. *blush*

  8. It looks to me like her books are back up. Any update Becca?

  9. I wonder PG, that notice from Amazon seems so draconian. Ought there not be a probabtionary period where proofs of not being involved in scams can be given? I still wonder who by name, owns the scam farms and what they do with the money they make dishonestly.

    • If I were running KDP (they haven’t asked me to do so), I would have at least one preliminary notice or a step less draconian than shutting down the account before dropping the hammer.

      Also, I think I would do a review of the history of the account to see if there were previous irregularities.

      • remember that a lot of scammers do this by creating a bunch of different accounts, each account will not have a history of abuse, and not have a lot of titles getting abused.

        in other words, they will look very similar to a real author who’s book isn’t moving

      • Some folks on the KDP forums report having received an email similar to Pauline’s, but with an opportunity to pledge not to manipulate the Kindle platform in the future. Here’s an example:

        https://kdp.amazon.com/community/thread.jspa?threadID=280752

        Maybe KDP found it to be too much to deal with all the incoming pledges. Their scamming problem is huge, after all.

        But yeah, if everything weren’t so intensely automated over there, they’d have an opportunity to give seemingly legit accounts a little more care and examination than those belonging to obvious scammers. Instead, they seem to have gone for a one-size-fits-all solution.

        • Hers may have crossed a different threshold or limit before it was time to send the first notice she might have already been at the second.

          To be less ‘intensely automated over there’ would require more warm bodies doing these checks. Would we prefer they take these ‘checks’ overseas to save money, or would we not mind them lowering the value of pages read on KU? Or do we just allow that there will be a certain number of errors per thousand ebooks?

          And they ‘were’ at one point ‘killing’ just the spam/crap ebooks and leaving the accounts open — and I remember people on this site wondering why Amazon would leave the account open. It seems Amazon listened and now closes the account. Which those caught then complain about.

          Sadly I don’t think this is something Data Guy can check out for us, the number of actual KU account closures and why and how many have been later reinstated. From the comments of all the ones ‘puling out’, those still ‘in KU’ in July might be getting a whole nickle per page!

          • You know, I’ve been tracking one account from a legit author who turned darkside and stuffed her historical romance titles with bonus books that are all over the place sub-genre-wise and who keyword stuffs her subtitles to the gills. She has print versions of the legit historical titles so her ebook page counts are derived from those, and flat covers with no indicators that the bonus books are inside. Last week, Amazon took down all her ebooks. Huzzah, right. Someone who knows they’re scamming the poor man’s way because she doesn’t seem to have clickfarms but is pushing the limits. A couple of days ago, I noticed the ebooks are all back up without a single change. Keyword and bonus book stuffing all intact.

            Amazon let a known scammer with serial republishing history and padded books and keywords out the wazoo have her account back.

            Words fail me.

      • Thanks PG. I nominate you PG to be counsel to amz, department of sanity.

      • “Also, I think I would do a review of the history of the account to see if there were previous irregularities.”

        Who says they haven’t…?

  10. I was giving serious thought about enrolling my next book in KU/KDP Select until I read this post. Now I’ll just simply publish it the normal way, without enrolling in any of their special programs.

  11. She used this service which sounds shady as hell to me.

    “If you want to achieve a high ranking within Amazon’s algorithm- you need high number of downloads in a short amount of time. Our website can provide you with just that This is for paid works and we recommend that you order this gig 48 hours before your advertisement period.”

    https://www.fiverr.com/bknights/promote-and-market-your-self-published-kindle-book-to-4800-active-kindle-readers-on-my-facebook-page-during-your-promo-or-marketing-period

    • From the link above:

      I am an author and consultant with over 2 years of promoting my own works and the works of others.

      Yet hides behind a fake name and gives no other information.

      Yup, sketchy it is.

      • I used BKNights 2x last year. No problems. But the books I promoted weren’t in KU. I stopped using him because it wasn’t effective. (The first time was effective, the second time, not so much).

        I know MANY authors who use this service and he comes highly recommended. I’ve never heard of anyone having issues with this promoter.

        And in any case, the book that was targeted WAS NOT being promoted by anyone.

  12. I have a friend who had the exact same thing happen to him with the same form letter from KDP and he spat the dummy big time. It took KDP about two weeks to re-instate his books. He definitely isn’t scamming but certainly IS reappraising how he sells his books and in what markets.

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.