Scot Schad discovered that pirates had been ripping off freely available digital textbooks, and then using Amazon's POD service to sell print versions on Amazon.
Here's how it works.
The scammers identify a popular textbook, copy the name, and then start selling the paper copy of a pirated book under that name.
They're hoping to sell the pirated book to an unwary buyer who might mistake the knockoff for the legit textbook, and it must be working because they keep doing it.
Take, for example, Practical Electronics for Inventors. This is a real textbook from a legit publisher, but if you search for it on Amazon you will find that at least two of the results lead to pirated scam textbooks with identical names but different authors.
One of those books, by Benjamin Ward, uses content pirated from a textbook published by BookBoon. The other, by Naomi A. Patterson, rips off the syllabus for a course taught at Amity University in India.
Three pirated textbooks might not sound like much, but this is just the tip of the iceberg. Schad identified a half-dozen other pirated POD textbooks on Amazon, and I found at least dozen other titles sold by the same "authors" of the pirated books.
I also found dozens of books from those "authors" which were no longer available but also showed every sign of having been pulled because they were pirated.
This copy of Windows Azure for Students, for example, contains work originally published by SyncFusion. The book is no longer available, but the scammer is still in operation on Amazon, and the other scammers show a similar work history.
It is difficult to say how long this operation has been going on (months? years?), but I would say that we are looking at industrial scale pirates second only to the ones that used to infest Google Play Books (it looks like Google has fixed the problem).
The only real difference is that these scammers are targeting POD textbooks, rather than ebooks, and that the POD scammers are going after even the most arcane title.
Schad told me that he learned of this problem when the scammers copied the name of his graduate paper:
I only noticed the problem when two clones of my M.S. thesis appeared on Amazon. My title, Hydrocarbon Potential of the Caney Shale in Southeastern Oklahoma, is about as obscure as it gets. Amazingly, the two bogus books pretending to be mine boasted that they were the second edition!
Schad complained directly to Jeff Bezos, and those books are gone now, but Amazon continues to sell the other pirated textbooks.
But wait, there's more.
This isn't just a problem with pirated books on Amazon. What you see here are signs of a fundamental problem with one of Amazon's platforms.
All of the textbooks mentioned above, as well as all the other textbooks published by these scammers, were distributed through Createspace.
And that is a huge problem for everyone because Createspace doesn't just distribute to Amazon's website.
These books are available through every online book retailer that has a contract with Createspace. That Ward's Linear Algebra, for example, is available from Amazon sites around the globe as well as Powell's, Abe Books, Half.com, and Barnes & Noble.
A quick check of BookFinder shows that the "author" in question has a half dozen other books to his name, all of which were distributed by Createspace, and all of which are widely available.
Folks, Amazon has a well-deserved reputation for keeping pirated, public domain, and spam ebooks out of the Kindle Store. They earned that reputation by keeping a close eye on ebooks uploaded to the KDP portal and discouraging or deleting undesirable books.
The pirated textbooks mentioned above are not available in the Kindle Store because the pirates know that Amazon would catch on quickly, but unfortunately Amazon's vigilance does not extend to its other platforms.
Createspace clearly does not have the same safeguards as KDP.
But something tells me that Amazon will make it a priority to address this issue.
image by Marcus Jeffrey