Book Shopping on Amazon? Don’t Be Duped Into Buying a Summary

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 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?

12 thoughts on “Book Shopping on Amazon? Don’t Be Duped Into Buying a Summary”

  1. Like organisms, businesses respond to pleasure and pain. If it gives pleasure (profits) they do more of it (ignore scam listings.) If it gives pain (loss of reputation and business), then they’ll take steps to do less of it. Apparently it isn’t causing enough pain yet.

  2. Buyers must always beware, or at least make sure of what you think you’re getting.

    Perhaps down the left-hand side Amazon needs to add a ‘No Summaries’ check box?

    But it’s like that everywhere. On the DAZ 3D site there are all sorts of pretty pictures you can click on to buy. But you still have to read to see what you’re actually getting. There’s a head shot, are they selling the figure, hair, hat, jewelry, head morphs or skin/makeup?

    In the past I remember seeing ‘unabridged’ on some books, do we need Amazon to add that button?

  3. Think of all the people who would be delighted to have a summary of Brief History of Timee or Franzen’s latest page-turner.

    We could have a new line called Poseur’s Briefs.

  4. the issue is not only taking of rights,under thin guise, but utter cr__ interpretations

    Book Rags is one of the worst . Has complex books ‘summarized’
    with stupid interpretations clearly done by barely engish speakng

  5. I don’t know why you are surprised. The first response to this sort of thing is “a sale is a sale.” This lasts until it becomes a legal or public relations problem. The next problem is that Amazon’s business model is to involve human employees as little as possible, and when absolutely necessary to have these humans be a low-level (and therefore as low paid) as possible. Hence the wackiness whenever a situation arises that the canned responses can’t address.

    So in the case of these summaries, the distinction between them and the actual books is immediately obvious to a human, but that doesn’t mean it is obvious to an algorithm, especially given that the people providing Amazon with the information about the book have every incentive to game the system.

    This is merely a variant on the problems with third party vendors. Amazon desperately wants to avoid using real people to vet these vendors and the products. The resulting quality control issues are inevitable. This is, I believe, a long term threat. I personally am reluctant to use Amazon for anything other than books and music for just this reason. There is too much uncertainty about what will actually arrive at my door.

  6. Barnes & Noble once stole A Fire Upon the Deep, the first commercial ebook I ever bought (via Peanut Press, who later ended up becoming part of B&N and taking my library with it) by dint of replacing it with a summary. I didn’t have much luck getting their customer service department to fix it, either, until I wrote the linked blog post about it at which point they finally gave it back.

  7. Yet another Amazon scam that’s been going on for ages, pretty much unnoticed by the press/the book industry until now. Readers know, writers know…Amazon either doesn’t know or doesn’t care. How about the Amazon bookstores with prices double or triple the usual prices, that can only be money-laundering platforms? The “publishers” that sell POD bad scans of old books, sometimes incomplete? Amazon is a Caveat Emptorium of gigantic proportions, and has been heading in that direction ever since it allowed third party sales with minimal supervision.

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