From The Wall Street Journal:
Summaries of popular books have long been a staple in the publishing business. Now they are often hard to tell apart from the real thing.
Authors and publishers say they are concerned about a recent surge in summaries available on Amazon, some of which have covers that copy or mimic the original’s art and use the author’s name. Some consumers are mistakenly buying those summaries instead of the original works, they say, hurting their sales.
Summaries of top-selling self-help and business titles appear at or near the top of recent searches for the books on Amazon, a Wall Street Journal analysis found. In some cases, the covers of the summary and the original book were very similar—aside from a “summary” label at the top.
. . . .
After the Journal contacted Amazon.com Inc. last week, the company said it would remove the works from its store that violated its rules and subsequently pulled a number of summary titles highlighted by the Journal.
Amazon, much like Alphabet Inc.’s Google and Facebook Inc., has come under pressure to do a better job policing inappropriate activity on its platform. The company has struggled to entirely weed out makers of counterfeit products, as well as sellers who are finding new tricks to outsmart Amazon’s automated product-ranking system. Its sponsored-item advertisements have come under criticism for looking similar to regular listings and appearing in unexpected spots such as people’s baby registries. The book summaries, typically self-published using Amazon’s tools, are the latest challenge.
Publishers say the current offering of summaries—which retail for a fraction of the original’s price—differ from past ones such as CliffsNotes, which often had generic covers that looked nothing like the original, and ranked lower in search results.
The new breed of summary publishers have used Amazon’s powerful advertising platformto their advantage, buying up keywords that ensure their products appear above those of nonpaying sellers—albeit with a “sponsored” tag above the title. Sometimes, the summaries even carry a “best-seller” label.
. . . .
Amazon said in a securities filing last week that it may not be able to prevent sellers “from selling unlawful, counterfeit, pirated, or stolen goods, selling goods in an unlawful or unethical manner, violating the proprietary rights of others, or otherwise violating our policies.”
An Amazon spokesman said the company required that book summaries “be sufficiently differentiated to avoid customer confusion.”
. . . .
Among the titles removed by Amazon last week after the Journal inquired were several summaries of Marie Kondo’s “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up.”
. . . .
Summaries that use the same covers or mimic the covers of the original books may constitute unfair competition under state and federal laws, Mr. Brown added. Distinctive covers have value, he said, and those rights holders are protected. “It is really about causing confusion in the marketplace,” said Mr. Brown.
Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal
PG admits to being surprised that Amazon’s policing of this type of book has been so lax. Can it really be that difficult to build algorithms that highlight “books” that are designed to free-ride on bestsellers?