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Innocent Authors Are Getting Burned in Amazon’s Fight Against KU Bot Farms


Remember earlier this year when authors were being punished for putting a table of contents at the end of their ebooks?

As David Gaughran inferred and Amazon confirmed, those authors were getting caught up in one of Amazon’s fights against Kindle Unlimited scammers who were tricking readers into clicking links which lead to the end of an ebook (this enabled the scammers to get paid for an entire read).

Now authors are getting caught up in another enforcement action, only with much more serious consequences. Author Becca Mills writes on her blog, The Active Voice (which I found via The Passive Voice), about an author who was banned because the author had books in KU which showed suspicious reading behavior.

Here’s the email Amazon sent the author:

We are reaching out to you because we have detected that borrows for your books are originating from systematically generated accounts. While we support the legitimate efforts of our publishers to promote their books, attempting to manipulate the Kindle platform and/or Kindle programs is not permitted. As a result of the irregular borrow activity, we have removed your books from the KDP store and are terminating your KDP account and your KDP Agreement effective immediately.

As part of the termination process, we will close your KDP account(s) and remove the books you have uploaded through KDP from the Kindle Store. We will issue a negative adjustment to any outstanding royalty payments. Additionally, as per our Terms and Conditions, you are not permitted to open new KDP accounts and will not receive future royalty payments from additional accounts created.

A search of the KDP support forums turned up two more authors with similar tales. One dates to early May, and was posted by an author who had made the mistake of submitting their book to the wrong KU readers list on FB, but the other may be from an innocent victim.

All of these authors are either innocent victims of, or participants in, shady book promotions scams which are designed to scam Amazon out of Kindle Unlimited royalties by pumping up page views.

As Ann Christy explained over on TPV, the innocent authors with just one or two low ranking books (aka "prawns") are being used for camouflage by the scammers:

Bot driven KU accounts are hired by click-farms. Just like with Adsense and other such click schemes, how do they obfuscate that they are bot driven?

They download a random real book and make sure to do the same to that one. By doing it enough times interspersed with the books they’re hired to click-farm, they make it hard to figure out they’re a click farmer at first glance.

Unfortunately, now that Amazon has responeded to the click farming, they are hammering the innocent victims of the click farmers attempts to hide what they are.

If you’re a prawn, you’re a potential target.

I don’t know which authors were willing participants, unwitting participants, or innocent victims, but that doesn’t matter here.

What matters is that Amazon is banning both scammers and victims. In all fairness, I don’t think Amazon can tell the difference (the willing participants look a lot like the victims), but again, that doesn’t matter.

What matters is that there is a problem, and only one real solution. All authors can do to protect themselves is remove their books from Kindle Unlimited.

That stinks, yes, but what else can authors do?

image by garann

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Avery K Tingle June 17, 2016 um 10:19 pm

Authors can publish elsewhere. Amazon may be the big boy on the block, but they’re not the only place we can go. Research options. Kobo is extremely friendly to indie authors. There are other venues for us to show our work. You just have to do a little homework.

Darryl June 17, 2016 um 11:25 pm

Amazon handles these situations very badly a lot of the time. Like a lot of web firms they make the decision and communication from their is made very difficult and frustrating. An internal ombudsman for authors and readers might be one way of doing better and avoiding this type of publicity.

Having said that, the suggestion that the only solution is for authors to remove books from KU is incorrect and imho ridiculous. Authors are not trade unionists, and such a boycott would hurt them far more taan it would Amazon.

@Avery K Tingle. With respect I think your post misses the point. Authors do have other options. However, the problem is that by and large the vast majority of readers buy from Amazon and are not likely to change because a few authors leave. Authors who leave Amazon are quite literally hurting themselves.

This is an issue which is affecting only a few unlucky authors who have my sympathy. I think you will find Amazon will address it, if not as quickly as we would like.

TheSFReader June 18, 2016 um 1:00 am

Darryl, as far as I understand, the suggestion of removing the books from Select is not a boycott, but a way to "protect" the account by making sure that books won’t be targetted by the click-bot.

Of course, a massive removal of KU books could get an effect, but that’s secondary to making sure the books are not anymore on the field for scammers to target

Joydip July 26, 2016 um 3:51 pm

Removing books are no solution. Make a press release, talk to your country’s information technology ministry, share your story on social media. If everyone does the same protest all over the world, then they will compromise or close their business down.

David North June 18, 2016 um 2:26 am

These never-ending issues with KU have convinced me not to release books through it.

I’ve also avoided getting a KU membership because I think paying authors pennies on the dollar to have their books read is insulting and bad for those trying to eke out part of a living on Amazon.

KU forced authors into the "pages read' formula" (which devalues their sales) and created an over-saturated market where browsers instead of readers download far more books than they will ever finish reading.

Throw in these sorts of situations where the author is shot in order to stop the cheater and I am totally opposed to KU.

KU was always a bad solution to a problem that didn’t exist.

Steven Ramirez June 18, 2016 um 11:33 am

I’m used to being a pawn, but a “prawn”? 🙂

David North June 18, 2016 um 12:32 pm

Didn’t I see you in "District 9"?

Greg Strandberg June 19, 2016 um 12:19 pm

I decided to pull out of KU when it was clear my borrows were only going to amount to pennies a day, perhaps a few dozen extra dollars a month.

Pulling out of KU gave me the highest eBook earnings I’ve ever seen in the 3 years I’ve been doing this.

I’m so glad I pulled out. For a long time I thought clinging to those pennies a day was somehow helping me. Well, it was helping Amazon. Now I’m helping myself by allowing readers to pay a firm price for my books. Boy, that helps me a lot!

Thanks, Amazon, for starting KU. It took me awhile to realize how much of a joke it was, but when I did, wow, things took off for me. Thanks so much for starting it, and thank you all the authors that stay in it. My, I can’t help but think that helps me a lot.

Cassie Jones June 27, 2016 um 9:41 pm

Theres even a bigger crisis now with kdp, a small time author has no voice. A one day surge in one of my books and my account is terminated, royalties denied. Amazon doesn’t want to listen or atleast investigate first. I experienced them more like conmen. Extreme and frustrating

Joydip July 26, 2016 um 3:44 pm

Notify the incident to your local authority. Your country probably has a information technology ministry. Write to them, make protest to press. Ask your Government to take actions. Don’t just let them go away with your hard earned royalties.

David North July 1, 2016 um 7:19 am

Cassie–your comment is spot on in illuminating the negative impact of this policy. A new author gets blacklisted right after publishing and if they’ve invested in promotion and advertising (or even just word-of-mouth), all that investment is scuttled–"to protect the author".

It’s the equivalent of your doctor saying, "You may have cancer but don’t worry–we can run 2 billion volts of high amperage current through your body and completely kill all the cancer cells".

Worse, unethical authors and their fans can target someone else’s books this way specifically to throw off their sales or recognition.

It creates a new weapon that didn’t exist that can be used just as illicitly and this is a piss poor solution to a problem that is already self-created by Amazon.

Joydip July 26, 2016 um 3:38 pm

Why don’t you send them a legal notice and make your information available to your information technology ministry. If they cheated you, then demand to your Government for banning them. Make a press release to all media’s of your country. You can do a lot to bring them down.

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Joydip July 26, 2016 um 3:33 pm

I have around 12 books, in July they have not sent me payment notification. When asked they told that they have not scheduled yet. From this post now I am guessing what is going on. May be have to setup own online book retail shop in future.

Kathryn Bax July 18, 2017 um 4:16 pm

Just started a petition to Jeff Bezos for this very thing. Would appreciate all your help and support. Together we can make great things happen!

terri tiffany April 12, 2018 um 8:41 pm

I know this is an older post but this same situation just happened to me. I was sent an email saying that they detected illegal borrowing on my books. I was in shock, emailed them as they have threatened to end my account if it continues. I asked them for ways to protect my book and continue to get the same form letter. I worry because the count is going up again this month and would not want to be kicked out, I also have not found a way to get out of KU until June.

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