Spam Books


25 June 2011

Another article, this time from Salon, about spam books invading Amazon.


Exactly one year ago, I wrote of my fear that, in the current self-publishing boom, “slush fatigue” — a form of existential nausea, once suffered only by a few entry-level staffers in the book business, brought on by overexposure to terrible manuscripts — could infect the general public.

. . . .

Most PLR [Private Label Rights] texts seem to be the product of content farms, quickly-written, work-for-hire informational material cranked out by underpaid writers with little more than a passing knowledge of their subjects. It’s the same sort of stuff you’ll find on The content packages are filled out with public domain material, usually available elsewhere for free, such as old junior league-style cookbooks (“Cat Head Biscuits And Garlic Fried Chicken”) and self-help manuals (“Nice Guys, Shy Guys & Good Guys”). Some e-book spammers publish reformatted classic literature that’s gone out of copyright, passing themselves off as the “editor.”

One of the first to observe this phenomenon is British marketer Mike Essex, who found, in the Kindle store, nearly 3,000 99-cent e-books “created” by one Manuel Ortiz Braschi. Braschi is purportedly the author of “Canvas Painting 101,” “40 Ways to Prevent or Get Rid of Stretch Marks,” and “Seven Days to Profitable Blogging,” among many, many others. When he’s not providing this invaluable guidance to the public, Mr. Braschi somehow finds the time to offer his editorial assistance to such authors as D.H. Lawrence, Leo Tolstoy and Georgette Heyer. (Though how he reconciles publishing both “St. Michael The Archangel — The Prince Of Angels!” and “Lady Chatterly’s Lover” is an interesting question.) Since Braschi’s oeuvre first came to Essex’s attention in March, this authorial dynamo has added nearly 1000 new titles to his oeuvre.

. . . .

Why are $1 rip-offs worth getting upset about? Essex, himself an e-book author, says that some of Braschi’s reviewers have claimed to be so disillusioned they’ll never purchase an e-book again. Others, like Tony Bradley of PC World, worry that there will be “so much spam in the Kindle book store that nobody can find my [legitimately authored] book.” Many self-publishers set their prices low to encourage e-book buyers to take a chance on their titles, and e-book spam could end up discrediting the entire field of 99-cent books. Much as your email spam filter is set to screen out every message containing the word “Viagra,” a book buyer’s mental spam filter could learn to automatically rule out cheap e-books.

. . . .

Ernie Zelinski, who writes work and retirement guides, found that three of his titles had been posted to the Kindle store by a “publisher” named Mingfeng Lai. The self-published author S.K.S. Perry had a similar experience with his novel, “Darkside” and its sequel.

Zelinksi complained to Amazon and, he told me in an email, it took them two weeks to remove the pirated e-books from their store. He’s had less luck in persuading them that any copies sold by Mingfeng Lai should be withdrawn from their purchasers and their cost refunded. As he reminded me, Amazon takes at least 30 percent from every sale, legit and otherwise. “Amazon has earned money from my copyrighted material that shouldn’t have been on their system,” he wrote. “To me, this is totally wrong and definitely not a sign of a company that operates with integrity and decency. I don’t care how much of a problem it would be to take the three Kindle e-books from all the purchasers; Amazon should be doing it.” He also notes that Mingfeng Lai is still being permitted to sell e-books (apparently PLR titles) in the Kindle store.

An Amazon spokeswoman assured Reuters that the company has “processes to detect and remove undifferentiated versions of books with the goal of eliminating such content from our store.” However, Perry was able to upload his own version of “Darkside” without any difficulty, despite the fact that a pirated version of the same novel (with Perry also listed as author) had already been “published” by someone else. (This is less bewildering when you consider that many traditional books have multiple publishers in the course of their existence.) To test the system, Essex published a Kindle book that featured nothing but the phrase “This is the song that never ends” repeated over and over, without formatting, for 700 pages. It “went live” within 24 hours, leading Essex to conclude that whatever automated quality controls Amazon has in place are inadequate.

Link to the rest at Salon



Spam Clogging Amazon’s Kindle Self-Publishing

17 June 2011

From Reuters via Yahoo News:

Spam has hit the Kindle, clogging the online bookstore of the top-selling eReader with material that is far from being book worthy and threatening to undermine Inc’s publishing foray.

Thousands of digital books, called ebooks, are being published through Amazon’s self-publishing system each month. Many are not written in the traditional sense.

Instead, they are built using something known as Private Label Rights, or PLR content, which is information that can be bought very cheaply online then reformatted into a digital book.

These ebooks are listed for sale — often at 99 cents — alongside more traditional books on Amazon’s website, forcing readers to plow through many more titles to find what they want.

Aspiring spammers can even buy a DVD box set called Autopilot Kindle Cash that claims to teach people how to publish 10 to 20 new Kindle books a day without writing a word.

. . . .

Some of these books appear to be outright copies of other work. Earlier this year, Shayne Parkinson, a New Zealander who writes historical novels, discovered her debut “Sentence of Marriage” was on sale on Amazon under another author’s name.

The issue was initially spotted and then resolved by customers through Amazon’s British online forum.

“How did I feel? Shocked and somewhat incredulous, but at the same time, because of the way I found out, very grateful that someone had taken the trouble to let me know,” Parkinson said.

For Amazon, the wave of ebook spam crashing over the Kindle could undermine its push into self-publishing and tarnish the brand of the best-selling Kindle eReader, which is set to account for some 10 percent of the company’s 2012 revenue, according to Barclays Capital estimates.

“It’s getting to be a more widespread problem,” said Susan Daffron, president of Logical Expressions, a book and software publishing company. “Once a few spammers find a new outlet like this, hoards of them follow.”

Amazon pays authors 70 percent to 35 percent of revenue for ebooks, depending on the price. That gives spammers a financial incentive to focus on this new outlet.

“Amazon will definitely have to do more quality control, unless they want the integrity of their products to drop,” she added.

“Amazon will work hard to snuff this out as it undermines many of its advantages in the space,” said James McQuivey, an eReader analyst at Forrester Research.

Link to the rest at Yahoo News

Shortly before Passive Guy published his book about child custody, he discovered one of these spam books about child custody selling for 99 cents. It’s difficult for him to believe anyone who downloads a sample would ever buy the book, but, for 99 cents, some people will just buy.

As word of the spam ebooks on Kindle spreads, pricing strategy, including a Konrath 99-cent play, may have to be reconsidered.

PG believes Amazon will respond to this issue, just as it does with problem merchants, because this adversely impacts Amazon’s brand and it’s clear Amazon wants to be big in ebooks and paper books. One obvious solution would be to place “Report as Spam” buttons next to some or all of its ebooks.

Here’s a link to the spam child custody book.

If you don’t have a Kindle, here’s a link to free Kindle software for the PC. This software allows you to download and read ebooks, including free samples, from the Kindle store. Of course, you can also download a Kindle app for your iPhone or Android phone or iPad.