Scammers Cheated Their Way on to the Kindle Best-Seller List Yesterday, But to What End?

The strangest case of scamming in the Kindle Store crossed my desk on Sunday, and I am still scratching my head.

On Sunday several authors started commenting on Kboards that obviously fake ebooks were moving up the various best-seller lists in the Kindle Store. The scam titles were first noticed on the "Movers & Shakers" list (it tracks sudden increases in popularity) as they started moving up the best-seller list.

For example:

The ebooks all had similar generic covers, similar generic titles, and you could frequently find two or three different copies of an ebook from multiple authors.

And according to reports, the ebooks had large file sizes but little original content. Many just had the same couple paragraphs repeated over and over.

So they were obviously scam ebooks, and some even got high on the children's best-sellers list before disappearing.

But the question remains, what were the scammers trying to accomplish?

I ask this question because by the time I heard about this scam on Sunday afternoon, most of the scam ebooks were no longer available. Amazon had pulled them and vanished the ebooks' listing pages.

What's even more interesting is that some of the titles kept going up the lists even after they were gone; it's almost as if their trajectory kept propelling them upward.

But still, it's not clear what the scammers gained from this attempt.

The consensus opinion over at KBoards was that the scammers were running a page count scam in Kindle Unlimited, and I have to admit that this is the most likely possibility.

The idea behind this scam is that the scammers would upload junk ebooks and then use bots to "read" the ebooks in Kindle Unlimited. The scammers get paid, Amazon gets bilked, and authors lose out on the visibility of getting on the best-seller lists (and no, authors aren't losing any money here).

But one problem with that theory is that the ebooks were all published within the past few days, and were pulled quickly by Amazon. So clearly Amazon had identified the scam and responded promptly.

That's not what scammers want, as one commenter put it over at KBoards:

That was too fast and hard, too visible, to be scammers out to make money. Because you do not draw attention to yourself like that if you want to get away with it. You stay under the radar.

And since Amazon declines to pay out earnings when they think you're scamming them, what exactly did the scammers gain, here?

Nate Hoffelder

View posts by Nate Hoffelder
Nate Hoffelder is the founder and editor of The Digital Reader: He's here to chew bubble gum and fix broken websites, and he is all out of bubble gum. He has been blogging about indie authors since 2010 while learning new tech skills at the drop of a hat. He fixes author sites, and shares what he learns on The Digital Reader's blog. In his spare time, he fosters dogs for A Forever Home, a local rescue group.

9 Comments

  1. Michael W Lucas31 October, 2016

    They were testing limits. How quickly can they raise a book’s profile? Where do Amazon’s detection algorithms kick in?

    I suspect one such test was a little too aggressive…

    Reply
    1. Long time reader first time caller9 November, 2016

      lol I came here to say the same thing. 🙂

      Reply
      1. Nate Hoffelder9 November, 2016

        It is the most likely possibility, yes.

        Reply
  2. Anon1 November, 2016

    The Russians have hacked the Kindle bestseller lists.

    Reply
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