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An Open Letter to Jeff Bezos

15 June 2018

From The Cheeky Wench:

Dear Mr. Bezos,

I am Suzan Tisdale. I began my self-publishing career in December of 2011. Within a year of releasing my first three novels, I was able to give up my day job.  As a self-published, indie author, I made in one month what would have taken me a year to earn at my regular, 9-5 day job. I was a KDP Select Princess and constantly extolled the virtues of the KDP Select Program. Nothing and no one could get me out of it.
Then you launched KU 1.0, and my income dropped 90% in the first month of its inception. With that inception came the scammers. And those scammers have only become more brazen and prevalent, as time has passed. Due to the blatant scamming, the loss of income, I had to pull all of my titles from the KU Program. I had to do that in order to survive this ever changing business.

I am quite certain you are aware of the current state of the Kindle Unlimited Program. It is fraught with what we in the industry call ”book stuffers,” ”book scammers,” and other names I won’t repeat in front of polite company.

The scammers are employing a tactic that, again, I’m quite certain you are familiar with. It is called surround and suffocate. They are flooding the sponsored ads and inundating their newsletters subscribers with a bare minimum of ten emails per day, all in an effort to push the legitimate, honest, hardworking authors off the also-boughts and the best-sellers lists. Their end goal, I am certain, is to get rid of any and all legitimate authors and books.

They get their subscribers to download KU books written by legitimate authors, instruct them to flip to the end of the book, just so that their ‘compilations” will show up in the also-boughts of those legitimate authors’ books.

In turn, these innocent authors, who have no idea what is going on, see an unexpected and unexplained spike in their pages read. Your KDP bots see it too. And this leads to your employees sending out those lovely little letters that accuse these innocent people of wrongdoing. The authors are not given the opportunity to investigate or debate the matter. The Amazon bots and those people you employ will withhold all funds for pages read for that month. And in some cases, accounts are being shut down, all because someone the author doesn’t know and never hired used their book to scam the system for someone else.

. . . .

Time and time again, we have proven to our reps and others at Amazon, that these books are breaking Amazon’s TOS. The scammers slap together a 3,000-page book, stuffed to the gills with 10 to 20 other stories they’ve written or bought from ghostwriters on Fiverr. Then they recycle and rearrange those same 10 to 20 stories and shove them into another book with a different cover and title. So in effect, they have 10 to 20 books all with the same 10 to 20 stories stuffed inside, thus the 3,000 page compilations with such titillating titles as Pregnant By My Boss or My Friend’s Dirty Uncle.

With their parasitic approach, they also feed on the kind hearts of their readers. These stuffers are notorious for instructing their readers to download the book using their (the reader’s) KU Subscription and “flip to the end of the book” without reading it. After doing that, they then instruct and sometimes demand their readers also purchase the book. That 3,000 page book is worth $13-$14. Far more than the 30 cents they make off any sales at the $.99 listing price.

. . . .

While we have presented the evidence to our reps and other Amazon employees for over three years now, these scammers are still allowed to feast like kings at the KU table. The rest of us, the legitimate authors, are left like starving urchins to feed off naught more than scraps and crumbs they toss on the floor.

Link to the rest at The Cheeky Wench and thanks to T.M. for the tip.

Amazon

15 Comments to “An Open Letter to Jeff Bezos”

  1. Richard Hershberger

    This is the Achilles heal of the self-publishing model, as it has developed. If you depend on one company to distribute your work, you are at the mercy of that company. When that company is a behemoth like Amazon, you can be squished not through malice, but inadvertently. The revenue Suzan Tinsdale brings isn’t even a rounding error to Amazon. They will tinker with their model without giving its effects on her even a fleeting thought.

    This isn’t to say that self-publishing through Amazon is a bad idea. It just means that you need to treat it as temporary: a gig, not a career. You are earning far more than you had at your day job! Wonderful! Save most of it, to tide you over when Amazon does whatever comes next.

    Since someone else will raise this if I don’t: This also isn’t to say that traditional publishing doesn’t have its own Amazon problem, but it is better equipped to respond and adapt. I fully expect that ten years from now, there will still be something largely similar to today’s traditional publishing industry. Self-published ebooks? They will still exist, but I have no idea on what platform, or with what financial model.

  2. “These stuffers are notorious for instructing their readers to download the book using their (the reader’s) KU Subscription and “flip to the end of the book” without reading it. After doing that, they then instruct and sometimes demand their readers also purchase the book”

    I get that this is perhaps old news and I’m asking an old question… but why would customers do these things for the scammers? Especially by “demand.” But in even without that word, what’s in it for the customer?

    • That’s my question. Are these real customers, or are they in on the scam in some fashion? I don’t think I’d heard of the scammers asking for assistance. I was under the impression that they trick readers into going to the end of the book by putting certain links there, like the book’s TOC.

      • They hire the fifr crew to ‘read’ their stuffed ebooks and a few ‘honest’ ebooks to throw off the bots. 😉

      • Check out the #GetLoud thread on Twitter for a detailed explanation of how the scammers operate. Basically they lure KU subscribers into joining FB “fan groups” with promises of gift cards and other prizes. Then they woo them with sexy banter, pretending to be personally interested in these readers’ lives. Once they’ve gathered a few thousand KU “fans,” they start instructing them on how to “page flip” the stuffed books so the scammer (who the fans now consider their close personal “Book Boyfriend”) gets the max KU payout + an All-Star bonus. The readers have no idea they’re being used as homegrown, unpaid KU click farms.

        • Ah ha. I think I had heard of Chance Carter, but I didn’t know all the details. That letter was surreal. And I thought AnonymousTwo was being facetious about the “sexy banter.” Wow!

    • With putting links on the back of the books and for a chance to win a prize.

  3. Hey Suzan, if you think KU isn’t working you can always pull out – right?

    We’ve covered this before, the scammers are there because it’s easy money. To make it harder for scammers will also make it harder for ‘honest’ writers and will cost Amazon more to run – so less pay per page.

    All Jeff can do is find an uneven balancing point and have his people tweak the bots – or he can say ‘enough’ and close it down.

    Vote with your pocketbook, if you’re not in KU just in the hopes of being seen/discovered then pull out. No ‘one’ writer is such a special snowflake that Amazon owes them a living …

  4. As a reader I don’t do subscriptions; I like to re-read good books which means owning them. But from Tisdale’s description, it sounds as if KU now sucks as a discovery tool for those readers who do like to subscribe. At first I wondered why Amazon isn’t inundated with open letters from customers. But then again, most angry customers don’t complain. They just walk away.

  5. The Zon giveth and the Zon taketh away.

  6. Terrence OBrien

    If nothing is done to fix the KU program, and soon, you will have nothing left to offer your readers other than books such as, Claiming His Virgin In the Pool, Triple Daddies, and 6 Mountain Men for Christmas. How do you think your readers will react when that happens?

    Readers won’t notice. They know how to use the system to get what they want. For the last ten years we have heard one forecast of reader revolt after another, and nothing happens.

    The KU collection size, revenue, downloads, and pages read define the success of KU. Amazon knows the numbers. Nobody else does.

  7. I think it is more than ‘why dont you just…’

    Suzan Tisdale is a prominent, very deep selling author who helps to lead way more than a handful other authors in her genre esp, in useful directions. She is speaking not only about herself, but about the many she hears from every day . There was a meeting between authors and amz last week, in which amz tried to say what they are doing on several fronts and they also listened. No snowflakes on either side. Just people who know developing businesses need adjustments and adaptations

    It is an issue just as surely as if at walmart or saks, others came in and laid their counterfeit jewelry in the case and thought it a good idea for walmart or saks to sell it for them and pay them by the lot.

    I believe there is a way to send an app to seek out books that in any way encourage in the book itself to ‘flip to the back’ to be deceitful… and with an aim to be invasive plant matter in a garden of many diverse plants.

    Regarding readers, it appears to me that many are thinkers, some are reactors, some follow. Some lead. Whatever squishers are putting out in koolaide appently some drink without thought

    • Since Nate threw in ‘scammers got too much of the KU pie’ in with his post that KU payout was up to 22.5 million for may, I’ll copy/paste my comment here (with a couple corrections that don’t change the meaning.)

      I know you like to focus on the KU cheaters that Amazon seems to be letting get away with it, but most stores figure into their numbers that they won’t be able to stop each and every shoplifter without locking the store down so tight that no one would want to shop there.

      So let’s focus on the page scammers. Do we know for a fact they blinked Amazon’s KU for over ten million(50%)? A million(<5%)? $225K(1%)? Without facts we don't know how bad things really are or how well/poorly Amazon is over/under reacting.

      • Terrence OBrien

        Amazon knows its monthly KU revenue. Authors don’t.

        Amazon knows how the KU payout is calculated. Authors don’t.

        Amazon knows the factors considered in determining the KU payout. Authors don’t.

        Amazon has much better information than authors on the extent of KU scammers.

        Some authors think the KU payout is somehow fixed, and eliminating the scammers would increase payout to the rest of the authors. Since they don’t know how Amazon determines the payout, they don’t know what it would be without scammers.

        A good way to deal with ignorance is to acknowledge it, and try to get facts. A poor way is to presume one knows what one does not.

        Anyone think the KU payout is fixed and they know what it is? OK. What will the payout be for October 2018?

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