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Amazon Won Arbitration That Addresses The Six-Figure ‘Book Stuffing’ Kindle Scam

9 April 2018

From Forbes:

Last Tuesday, an Amazon subsidiary filed in federal court seeking to confirm an arbitration award against British book publisher Jake Dryan and his companies, relating to claims that the publisher’s companies abused Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP), the Amazon self-publishing program. According to Amazon Digital Services LLC’s petition, Law360 reports, the self-publisher breached Amazon’s terms by using bots or “clickfarms” to inflate page views and manipulate their ranking. However, the petition also identified another practice in violation of Kindle’s terms: The act of “combining selections of works they had already published into purportedly new books.” It’s a much-hated move that’s called “book stuffing” by the self-publishing community. While book stuffing is a minor element in the arbitration case, Amazon’s win is the first indication of a legal precedent against the practice.

Why is book stuffing so offensive that Amazon filed and won an arbitration case that included it alongside other more well-known abuses in the self-publishing sector? It comes down to the way the Kindle program pays authors: Through a global royalty fund that is split between all of the self-publishing authors included in the Kindle subscription services. The fund is doled out per number of pages read. Book stuffers slip entire books into the back of their latest ebook, getting significantly more pages in front of their reader’s eyeballs and taking a larger chunk of that month’s royalty fund as a result — earning as much as $100,000 per month.

“Authors have very strong feelings about any kind of cheating or scamming, but book stuffing stands out because it artificially inflates the payout that cheaters receive from Amazon — money which comes from a communal pot,” David Gaughran, author of several books on digital publishing, tells me. “Our end, in other words. Many feel that’s why Amazon has been very slow to do anything about this problem, because it is costing us more than them.

“It’s hard to know if this is the beginning of Amazon finally cracking down on cheaters and scammers, or a one-off warning shot. I hope it’s the former, but I’m skeptical because since arbitration was first filed in this matter in September 2017, Amazon has continued to reward the biggest cheaters every single month with huge All Star bonuses — money which should have gone to hard-working, honest authors. These cheaters are a plague on the Kindle Store,” Gaughran adds.

Link to the rest at Forbes and thanks to Ned and others for the tip.

Amazon

46 Comments to “Amazon Won Arbitration That Addresses The Six-Figure ‘Book Stuffing’ Kindle Scam”

  1. “Many feel that’s why Amazon has been very slow to do anything about this problem, because it is costing us more than them.”

    That and every time Amazon ‘has’ done anything/something about it we’ve heard cries that they were targeting ‘honest’ writers as well.

    I still wonder how writers would have taken Amazon saying ‘to heck with all this noise’ and turning off that KU tap entirely – removing ‘all’ the ebooks – and then reloading them only ‘after’ Amazon themselves have verified each and every one. (As they have many many ebooks already loaded that need verifying, it may be a few months (years?) before any new ebooks would show up.)

  2. Felix J. Torres


    Book stuffers slip entire books into the back of their latest ebook, getting significantly more pages in front of their reader’s eyeballs and taking a larger chunk of that month’s royalty fund as a result — earning as much as $100,000 per month.
    —-
    ???
    For bookstuffing to work it would have to put the stuffing in the front, no?
    Not in the back.

    That way readers would jump to the new material and read to the end.
    If the stuffing is at the end, readers would only read until they reach the stuffing…?

    • They usually put incentives at the back, such as the “new bonus epilogue.”

      • Felix J. Torres

        But that’s a common practice with re-releases. Hardly nefarious.
        No different than a bonus first chapter of a sequel.
        There’s got to be more than that.

      • They also use clickfarms for page reads. Easier to farm a huge book stuffed with the same old 12 novels for that.

    • “For bookstuffing to work it would have to put the stuffing in the front, no?”

      No. They just need a junk ebook that their friends/bots will ‘read’ every page to rake in the money. (until Amazon catches on and they lose that month’s work, only to start again as a new writer with a new junk ebook.)

      • But then the issue isn’t the structure of the book but the roboclicks.

        The thing is that adding contents to a previous release isn’t by itself nefarious. Omnibusses, combo editions, and series marketing are situations where adding content to a previous release is useful. Rereleasing volume one in a series with a bonus chapter from volume two, volume two with a chapter from the third, etc, as a series grows is longstanding practice to “daisychain” readers along a series.
        Likewise, adding newer prequel or sequel short stories to an older novel is a value add for the reader.

        A clear distinction should be made between expanding story and expanding page count for scamming purposes.

        • And most readers will page past what they’ve already read – or if it’s been a while reread it to remind themselves of what’s happened so far.

          There’s a reason organized crime has mostly stayed out of the lottery – the payout just isn’t worth it (to buy one of each number combo costs more that the jackpot is worth.)

          On the other hand, the KU is worth gaming – otherwise honest people wouldn’t be able to pay to read it.

          I haven’t looked of late, but let’s say being able to read the KU ebooks is $9.99 a month and KU pays a tenth of a cent per page read. That would make the break even at 9990 pages – anything read over that is making money. (Reading a mere page per minute eight hours a day, a person could do that in a little under twenty-one days and a ‘speed reader’ in even less – so that shouldn’t trip any Amazon filters.)

          Anything over those 9990 pages is profit – all you need is enough pages on KU to read to get ‘paid’. For added protection from detection, have your bot ‘read’ a few other KU books that aren’t yours to throw off the Amazon systems watching for bots (which helps explain some ‘honest’ writers seeing sudden surges in page reads – and them getting suspended by Amazon while they try to sort the crooks from the bystanders.)

          The problem for Amazon is not throwing out the wheat with the chaff, and each trick they try the chaff learns how to skirt the filters better while the wheat cries about being treated like chaff.

        • I don’t think you are quite grasping what a stuffed book looks like – they are quite visible in the contemp. romance charts right now if you want to look for yourself. Generally you see something like this: a huge file, 3000 pages long. The advertised novel, and then anything from 4-9 additional novels stuffed in the back. Then the exclusive short story, often heavily flagged with click her inducements. That’s just one variant, and one aspect of the scam. Like most people who cross lines, they don’t stop at one.

    • They use a variety of tricks to get an insta-payout for the full 3000 pages. The various click-to-the-end tricks are the only ones that have been made public – there are more. And that loophole was not fully closed, as popularly believed.

  3. Well, what’s the problem? They are getting paid for pages read. Why does the package containing the page matter?

    I see a problem if there are click-farms involved, or click-to-end, but that would also apply to any single book.

    • This specific case referred to above explicitly states that this book stuffer used both click-to-the-end tricks and clickfarms/bots.

      I’ve been tracking a high profile group of stuffers for a while. Many of them also used those same click to the end tricks. I’ve seen evidence they are engaged in other problematic tactics too like mass gifting and review manipulation. Clickfarming wouldn’t be such a huge stretch, but Amazon is best placed to know about that. I do know for certain they have been accused of rank manipulation by Amazon previously, whatever weight you place in that.

      • That would indicate, like Felix said above, that the problem is click abuse rather than stuffed books. How does having a big book harm other authors? Who cares?

        Is the author of a 200 page book harmed by the author of a 400 page book? How? Each is selling pages, not books.

        • You misunderstand the way KU pays authors. They have a pool of money and the amount paid to authors is, effectively, that pool of money divided by all the pages read via KU during the month. Amazon sends an announcement each month with the payout per page read, and it varies from month to month.

          A book stuffer is taking money from authors because they create incredibly long “books” and either entice readers to skip most of the pages or use bots to “read” those pages. Every page falsely recorded as read inflates the total pages read and, as a result, reduces the payout to honest authors.

          This isn’t someone complaining, “That guy’s book is longer than mine. No fair!” This is people gaming the system with fake books and (mostly) fake readers. Every page read recorded for those fake books reduces the payout for authors who write actually their books.

          • Amazon does indeed fund a monthly pot of money that is distributed based on pages read.

            If skipped pages are counted as pages read, then that applies to any book, not just a large book.

            If bots read the pages, then it is a case of bogus page reads and that is a problem. However, bogus page reads can be generated from any book of any size.

            A large book is neither sufficient nor necessary to generate bogus age reads. Click abuse is both necessary and sufficient.

            The argument against this practice would be strengthened by dropping the notion that large books constitute a problem.

  4. I’m wondering what they’ll do about short fiction collections and boxed sets or bundles.
    I publish all my short fiction individually and then create a collection when I have enough.
    I’m not in KU, and I know that’s who Amazon polices most heavily.

    • Exactly.
      There are plenty of honest reasons to bundle content that need protecting.
      The crime is the farming not the book structure.

      • Except that it’s the book structure that makes the click farms worthwhile. It would be expensive to pay click farms to go through the average 200 to 300 page book (which would have a bit more KENPC, say 300 to 500). Far cheaper and quicker to have the farms go through 3K books, for massive payouts of about $13 or more in one swoop. It’s all a matter of scale.

        No one is worried about short story collections, or someone putting a bonus chapter, or on occasion a bonus book in a file. Where the issue comes is these massive books — and they used to be even bigger, until Amazon cut back the number of pages it would pay for in a single volume — all “read” by click farms, over and over again.

        To fully muddy the waters, these people have wised up, and they now will borrow books and zap innocent authors by having them suddenly get massive amounts of pages read, which, oddly enough, will get their accounts terminated while the true scammers go merrily on. And they collect huge bonuses from the program!

        • Why is it more expensive to click farm through four 400 page books compared to one 1,600 page book? Exactly what makes it more expensive? How much more?

          • Paying the guy/gal to load each book, more pages per book means less total books needed for same payout.

            Paying the guy/gal programming the bot, the more books the more time to add, though it shouldn’t be a great deal of savings either way.

            • So, what’s the price difference? Who here knows how the click farms price their services? Is it a matter of entering four ASINs vs one ASIN?

              • If I were (me ain’t) a click farmer, why would I explain how we game the system? Amazon might be watching and learn another trick in shutting us down! 😛

                Joking aside, the click farmers are in a business, just like a writer or Amazon. Like Amazon they are always looking to better their game and make more profit for what effort they put forth. KU(1) paid a full read at 10%, so nine page books were instant wins for the scammers. Right now KU pays by the page for up to but not beyond 3000 pages so the click farmer plans accordingly. Why not shorter books? I’m guessing they tested it and with the current KU the 3K page shows the most profit for their efforts.

                • The claim was made that it was far cheaper and quicker for click farms to go through a 3,000 page books compared to multiple 400 page books. So, who can tell us about the click farms pricing?

  5. I imagine Amazon may get to the point where they will pay for X pages and no more per book. Say, 400 or 500 pages per book…and no more. That would cover all short stories, all novellas, all short novels, a large number of regular/longer novels, and shorter bundles ( ie bundles of short stories or novellas or short novels).

    IT would penalize those with longer books, but you won’t get thousand-page stuffed items getting outsized payouts.

    • There already is a cap.
      The maximum payout is 3000 KENPC.

      “We released KENPC v3.0 to improve the way we measure how many pages of each book Kindle Unlimited and KOLL customers read. We’re constantly working to improve our programs and increase fairness of how we allocate the KDP Select Global Fund. These changes continue to improve the program and reward authors whose books are being borrowed and read the most by customers.

      The KENPC v3.0 update applies uniformly to all KDP Select books and all versions of those books. Regardless of which version a customer may be reading, all future royalties will be paid using KENPC v3.0. If a customer previously borrowed your book and is still reading it, any new pages read will be based on KENPC v3.0.

      Authors are able to earn a maximum of 3,000 Kindle Edition Normalized Pages (KENPs) read per title per customer. This means that each time your book is borrowed and read, you will receive credit for up to 3,000 pages. We believe this results in an equitable distribution of the KDP Select Global Fund. ”

      https://kdp.amazon.com/en_US/help/topic/G201541130

      • Yeah, I remember when they announced that cap, some box set authors were screaming about how terrible it’d be, because they couldn’t put 20 authors in a box set and get paid for the full readthrough of all pages included.

      • 3000 is a lot of pages. 🙂

        OK, looked up various authors discussing their KENPC, and a cap at 1000 KENP covers most novels, and 1500 the vast majority of novels. One wrote that her 600 page novel in KENP was 120K words written.

        • Hence: the cap can be drastically reduced,even by half, and take out the higher monetary value for scammers, but keep authors of longer novels covered well.

          • Sure, but it doesn’t cover the author who wants to put all five of his books in a single KU item. How does that hurt anyone?

  6. If there was no KU, then certain authors would stop including “bonus” books which vastly inflate their page reads.

    • If consumers didn’t like the pages, they wouldn’t be reading them. Bundled books look like reasonable and effective competition.

      • Again, this isn’t ordinary bonus content, it’s books stuffed to the maximum KENPC, often with gibberish. Sometimes it’s the same books in different order, with a link in some manner to the “new” content, conveniently in the back.

        Legitimate bonus content isn’t done like this, and frankly, so many people who can’t see the difference is astounding. Or suspicious, if one’s mind runs that way.

        • If it is gibberish, then consumers are not reading the pages, and the problem isn’t the size of the book, it’s the bogus gibberish clicks.

          Can someone tell us how stuffing ten books into one KU title hurts anyone?

          All the examples so far have involved click farms. That is a problem, but nobody has demonstrated how size itself is harms anyone.

          • That’s my take.
            File size isn’t the issue: it’s the farming.
            Limiting file size won’t stop the farming, they’ll just farm 2000, or 1000 KENPC files.

            • They’re just stuck on stuffed books because of how much a full read earns.

              If Amazon did cap it at 300 pages, next week they would complain that 300 pages was unfair to author’s of 200 page books.

              If someone had a terrible illness with a cough as the side effect, they would cure the cough and leave the terrible illness.

  7. What I would really love to see is arbitration looking into Amazon’s inability to count pages. (Which they said pay would be based on.)

    indies cheer when Amazon uses its power to sue authors.

    Indies even want authors to sue other auhors in regards to this KU fiasco.

    Yet, Anazon’s negligence is always overlooked or dismissed. “We’re just little prawns, ” indies say, “we can’t sue the giant.”

    Justice is not justice if it is only available for the strong to use against the weak, the rich to use against the poor.

    Justice must be available to all.

    Amazon’s hands are far from clean in TOS violations. When will indies seek true justice and stand against Amazon’s corrosive power and abuse?

    • It’s not going to happen. For every author you find who sees how this works against us, there are ten who read some “Get rich with Kindle books!” article and happily sign on. Sometimes they wise up, but I’ve seen far too many who have no clue about writing itself, much less how self publishing works, and they have no interest in being told how it does. They just whine when their millions don’t appear at the end of the month.

      • One thing I find sad is how history repeats itself.

        Has anyone ever wondered how writers lost so much power to traditional pubishers and agents?

        No matter how bad the contract was, how lousy the agent, how horrible the system, writers didn’t care because that was the only way to get published.

        Publishers and agents took advantage of that desire.

        Now years after the “revolution”, its all starting again, only this time Amazon is the “only” option.

        • Nothing will happen because thousands of independent authors are very happy with Amazon. They reject the idea that Amazon is corrosive and abusive, and see no similarity between the traditional contracts and Amazon’s.

          Other authors may tell them they are misguided, but they disagree.

    • When will indies seek true justice and stand against Amazon’s corrosive power and abuse?

      Never.

    • Be careful what ye asks for, least ye gets it.

      KU is a ‘game’, and like any other, players come and go, sometimes getting to be the king of the hill for a bit before fading back into the backfield. There will be cheaters – some more obvious than others. The game goes on.

      The moment this game starts costing more than Amazon thinks it’s worth they will ‘close’ it.

      No one is forced to play in the KU ballpark, no arms are twisted. If you think the umpires are blind or leaning too much towards the home team then take your ball and go home. That is a choice of all those playing the KU game.

      You want others to stand up and strike against the KU game? Go for it, pull your books and have them pull theirs and see if the readers agree by no longer paying for/using KU. You might win your strike – or you may never even be noticed.

      Better yet, start your own KU and show the writers/readers and Amazon how well run it could be.

      • Sure it’s a game, and the players don’t get to make the rules or act as refs. It’s a game for those who like it, and choose to play.

        • Which is what I said …

          And like you, I don’t see enough writers taking their balls and going home to make a difference to Amazon. Like trad-pub, there are always more trying to join the game.

          • That would indicate the benefits to authors outweigh the costs. Those who find the costs too high, or the net benefits too low, are already gone. And some have indeed chosen to remain on Amazon, but not participate in Select/KU

            Others think everything Amazon offers should be designed to appeal to them.

  8. The issue isn’t with big or small books. Book stuffing is just a tactic. The issue is with the objectives of the two different players.

    One is to defraud. The other is to do honest business.

    Amazon established KU as a marketplace to provide actual services to actual customers. Amazon then invited authors to place their products in the marketplace.

    The legit authors are trying to conduct honest business, offering readers a desired experience measured in pages read in exchange for money.

    The scammers aren’t putting pages in for the reader’s delight. They’re not trying to deliver a service to the reader. Their goal is to simply game the system and get a big payout.

    Click farms are an obvious case of fraud. The scammers use click farms to deceive Amazon, telling Amazon they’ve provided x pages of enjoyment when they haven’t.

    But here’s another method that doesn’t need a bot or farm. You create 70 pages of new content that’s decent. You then stuff the book with 2,500 other pages the reader doesn’t care about. And you jigger links inside the book so that the reader gets the 70 pages by skipping over the other 2,500 pages.

    Said author just gave the reader 70 pages worth of enjoyment. But the goal was to deceive Amazon into thinking it was 2,570 pages worth of real stuff.

    Fraud: “A wrongful or criminal deception intended to result in financial or personal gain.”

    So the scammers are defrauding Amazon.

    Unfortunately, the fraud also affects the honest business folk. It affects the visibility of their books and their payouts per page. It makes the marketplace less desirable to them.

    By how much? I don’t know.

    It’s like medical fraud. How much does that affect your premiums? Who knows?

    I would suppose the perceived damage depends on how infested your genre is with the scammers. If they take up all the visibility, that’s something you’ll notice. If not, I think it would be hard to see the problem.

    I don’t think anyone knows how much of the total pages read in the marketplace are scam pages, so it’s hard to perceive the effect on your personal payout as well.

    There are still enough honest business folk making good money to attract other authors to try the marketplace.

    However, if Amazon doesn’t continue to expose and remove the scammers, if they don’t continue to make it harder to defraud, the market will soon be overrun, and the honest business folk with go elsewhere.

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