A story broke this past week that reminded me about a post I had been wanting to write.
Give me, a white man, a reason to live,” a user posted to the anonymous message board 4chan in the summer of 2017. “Should I get a hobby. What interests can I pursue to save myself from total despair. How do you go on living.”
A fellow user had a suggestion: “Please write a concise book of only factual indisputable information exposing the Jews,” focusing on “their selling of our high tech secrets to China/Russia” and “their long track record of pedophilia and perversion etc.”
The man seeking advice was intrigued. “And who would publish it and who would put it in their bookstores that would make it worth the trouble,” he asked.
The answer came a few minutes later. “Self-publish to Amazon,” his interlocutor replied.
“Kindle will publish anything,” a third user chimed in.
The thing about this story is that it is a slight variation on the same tale we’ve heard on an annual basis for the past decade. The current situation involves white supremacists, but in the past Amazon has been plagued by scammers, spammers, more scammers, content farmers (aka catfishing), book stuffers, yet more scammers, and even more spammers.
We’ve read this type of story so often that you can’t write them off as being the work of an Amazon hater like David Streitfeld of the NYTimes. You also can’t ignore them on the basis that Amazon is only getting coverage because of their high profile. Apple’s brand has similar value as clickbait, and yet we don’t see these stories about Apple Books (and that’s because Apple Books doesn’t have nearly the same volume of problems as the Kindle Store has).
No, as I explained to Ben Collins of CNBC last month when the Coronavirus spam books were first getting attention, the problem is unique to Amazon. “Most of Amazon’s e-book competitors have a content approval process in place that keeps the worst content out,” I told him.
When I was talking to Collins last month, I checked Kobo and Play Books and could not find any Coronavirus spam books. Amazon, on the other hand, was filled with them.
“I don’t know if it’s a case of can’t or won’t,” I told Collins. “What I do know is that Amazon is the only retailer with this problem. They have the lion’s share of the e-book market revenue, and could easily afford to use the same quality assurance processes as their competitors, and yet they still have this problem.”
As Google has demonstrated, it’s not impossible to build a system to keep out evil-doers. Back in 2015 Google had an epic piracy problem in Play Books which was on the same scale as any one of Amazon’s problems in the Kindle Store. Google responded by shutting down new registrations in their publisher portal, and leaving it shut down until they had a process in place to prevent pirates from registering.
As a result, Google reduced their piracy problem from a disaster to a nuisance.
The thing is, folks, Amazon could nip these problems in the bud by building the same systems used by their competitors. And while the retailer will insist that they have built these systems, Amazon keeps having problems, and Amazon’s competitors do not.
At some point we’re just going to have to conclude that the real problem is actually Amazon and its corporate culture. Until Amazon is willing to make fundamental changes, these stories are never going to stop.