From David Gaughran at Let’s Get Digital:
Phoenix Sullivan is well-known in the indie community – I’ve known her myself since 2009 or 2010 and consider her a close friend.
Aside from being exceptionally generous with her time and knowledge, tirelessly sharing her insights on marketing and algorithms, Phoenix is also well known as a vocal campaigner against scammers and cheaters – particularly on the current big issues of book stuffing and clickfarming.
And now she is being targeted.
Phoenix made a box set free for a few days at the very start of October, advertising on Freebooksy, KND/BookGorilla, and Digital Book Today – all legitimate sites – and there was no other promotion involved with this title. No BookBub CPM ads, no Facebook campaign, no tweets, no newsletter swaps, no mailing lists.
On the third day of her free run, Phoenix’s box set was rank-stripped by Amazon, a punishment normally reserved for those who have used clickfarms or bots. Phoenix reached out to Amazon to ask what was going on, but they only replied with a canned response accusing her of using artificial means to manipulate her rank.
Exactly one week later, they sent an automated mail with essentially the same content and implied threat:
We are reaching out to you because we detected purchases or borrows of your book(s) originating from accounts attempting to manipulate sales rank. As a result, the sales rank on the following book(s) will not be visible until we determine this activity has ceased.
Wild Hearts Box Set (Books 1 & 2 + Bonus Novella)(ASIN: B01MYP56J8)
Please be aware that you are responsible for ensuring the strategies used to promote your book(s) comply with our Terms and Conditions. We encourage you to thoroughly review any marketing services employed for promotional purposes.
Please be aware, any additional activity attempting to manipulate the Kindle services may result in account level action.
As I said, Phoenix is a close friend. I know her well and we are in contact almost every day. I know exactly what methods she uses to promote her books, and they are all legitimate. Her ethics are above reproach and she would never engage in any grey hat behavior, let alone go near the black hat territory of bots and clickfarms or mass gifting/incentivized purchasing.
In short, there is no possible way that Phoenix is guilty of any wrongdoing.
. . . .
Successive emails from her to KDP, the Compliance Team, and Executive Customer Relations achieved nothing other than repeated boilerplate about rank manipulation – accusing her of employing illicit methods to artificially inflate her downloads.
At least that’s what we think Amazon is accusing her of doing. In keeping with the general Kafkaesque vibe of the whole situation, Phoenix is being warned not to do it again, but in the half-dozen emails Phoenix has received on this issue, Amazon hasn’t explained what “it” means exactly, and has refused point blank to elaborate (my emphasis):
As we previously stated, we still detect purchases or borrows of your book(s) are originating from accounts attempting to manipulate sales rank. You are responsible for ensuring the strategies used to promote your books comply with our Terms and Conditions.
We cannot offer advice on marketing services or details of our investigations.
Please be aware we will not be providing additional details.
This all unfolded while I was at NINC. I approached a senior Amazon person and explained the situation. He seemed genuinely concerned and said that he would investigate.
All that seemed to achieve was that the rank was eventually returned to Phoenix’s book fifteen days later, but her promo was ruined at that point and, most importantly, she is still being accused of rank manipulation and is on a warning as to her future conduct.
Link to the rest at Let’s Get Digital and thanks to T. for the tip.