How to Cheat the Kindle Store (and Get Away With it!): The Chance Carter Story
For quite some time now I have been reporting on Amazon’s over-reliance on poorly programmed bots that punish the innocent while letting scammers run rampant.
Today I have an example scammer to show you. "Chance Carter" is the nom de trompeur for one of the scammers currently infesting the Kindle Store. They are running a book stuffing scam in Kindle Unlimited, and have apparently been operating there with impunity for years. At the same time, "Carter" is also breaking Amazon’s rule on incentivized reviews via an ingenious "contest" trick.
Update: Amazon has responded to my coverage and the public outcry by first banning the KDP account behind Carter, and then banning other book stuffers.
The book-stuffing con is one of the long-running problems in Kindle Unlimited.
In the first year of Kindle Unlimited, scammers took advantage of the system by uploading ebooks so short that they got paid after only a few pages were read. Amazon put a stop to that in July 2015 by switching to a system that paid based on pages read, and in response the scammers invented the book-stuffing con and started uploading really long books.
The way that the book-stuffing con works is that scammers stuff lots of extra content into an ebook before uploading it to Kindle Unlimited, and then trick readers into jumping to the end of the book.
Thanks to a flaw in the Kindle platform, namely that the platform knows your location in a book but not how many pages you have actually read, the scammers can get paid for a user having "read" a book in Kindle Unlimited by getting the user to jump to the last page.
This has been a known problem in Kindle Unlimited for over two years now. Amazon has responded by limiting the length of ebooks in KU, and banning practices like putting a TOC at the end of a book, but neither has really had any impact on scammers.
Chance Carter is the perfect example of both how the book-stuffing con works, and how Amazon is completely incapable of stopping the scammers.
Carter’s trick is to publish a ghost-written novel, stuff an extra six or seven of their ghost-written novels in the back, and then add a free ebook offer on the last page as bait for unsuspecting readers.
Each of the six or seven novels in the back of the ebook Stranded are also published in the Kindle Store under their own title, and each has a bunch of extra novels in the back.
This is a blatant violation of Amazon’s existing rules for KDP (see the section on disappointing content) and yet Amazon can’t seem to spot Carter’s operation, or that of the other scammers.
Remember, some of the scammers have grown so large that Amazon took them to arbitration. While this may have been intended as an object lesson, what it really did was show that there were massive scam operations going on in the Kindle Store.
And operation is a good word for it, because not only does Carter publish scam books, they also instruct readers how to support the scam:
Back to Amazon KU scamming & chance carter. This is Chance's PA explaining a few times to readers how to do the "KU flip" & how to "double dip" & don't forget to flip that bonus content! we want chance to get max profits for the stories he probably bought from ghostwriters. pic.twitter.com/ixpXUjC2hy
— Nikki C. FisheRR (@ease_dropper) May 31, 2018
And Carter goes one better; they also encourage reviews through a contest:
So how are clever authors getting around Amazon's new review policies? By giving readers a chance to win some Tiffany jewelry of course. All you have to do is purchase & review Chance's new book on Amazon. This is so ridiculous pic.twitter.com/k3l9Z25jPa
— Nikki C. FisheRR (@ease_dropper) May 30, 2018
This, too, is against Amazon’s rules on incentivized reviews.
Amazon is not the first huge tech company to lose control of its ebookstore; in 2015 I showed how Google Play Books was so infested with piracy that Google had to shut down its book publisher portal, and start vetting everyone before letting them sell ebooks in Google Play Books.
One key difference between Amazon and Google, however, is that Amazon is unable to stop the major scammers while at the same is letting its bots go after innocent authors.
David Gaughran recounted his experience yesterday on Twitter.
Here’s how enforcement of rules and sanctioning is totally broken at Amazon right now. Last August, I got in trouble with Amazon. I remember clearly what happened because it was my birthday and I was dying in bed with a virus.
Amazon’s Kafkaesque "Compliance Team" sent me a nastygram. Said I was breaching the exclusivity terms of Select. I had no idea what they were talking about, of course, I’ve always played it straight and never took any risks.
Turned out a tiny German ebookstore had a bug and inadvertently reactivated a load of dead listings from 2013. Lots of authors were affected. It was nothing to do with me. I got no benefit from it. But Amazon dropped the hammer.
They threatened to boot me from Select and take away my page reads, and even close my account. For a bug on a site, nothing to do with me.
Not only that, Amazon cancelled my Countdown deal without even telling me. Cost me hundreds of dollars in promo. I was advertising a 99c deal to my readers that didn’t exist. It was a real dick move. I appealed – no good.
Even worse than what happened to me are the authors who were rank stripped, page stripped and had accounts closed because Amazon is using a dumb automated system to catch scammers which doesn’t work.
The human cost of the actions of cheap crooks like Chance Carter are real. One of my close friends was rank stripped when she was just getting her career back on track. It upset her so much she has given up writing. Thanks Amazon for nothing.
O O O
It is clear at this point that letting large automated systems run without human supervision is a failed idea.
We can see the consequence of bots run amok in Youtube’s ContentID, which has a history of false copyright claims, as well as a dozen other examples including the 2012 Hugo livestream getting blocked because it showed clips of the episodes that won awards.
In Google Play Books we have a tacit admission that the only way to keep pirates out of the store is to add humans to the control loop.
And even Amazon’s smaller competitor Kobo has realized that automation can only do so much without human supervision. Christine Munroe told me that Kobo has flesh and blood people vetting content:
From a self-published content perspective, we have created two systems: first, trust tiers at the account level where trusted account content goes through with low intervention, known spam/scam offenders are thoroughly vetted, and a substantial in-between yellow tier requires a combination of automation and human approval or rejection. Second, our analysis system scans for piracy and adult content.
Our Publisher Operations team works hand in hand with automation to classify all incoming content, as quickly and seamlessly as possible. When classifications are unclear or flagged, humans must intervene. Currently, our team looks at 65% of new KWL content being published every day, on average.
When do you suppose Amazon will figure this out?
P.S. Numerous complaints have been filed about Carter, and I also brought them to Amazon’s attention last night. That account was still active when I published this post.
Bill Peschel June 1, 2018 um 10:26 am
Meanwhile, Mark Dawson’s recent podcast on changes in Facebook had very positive things to say about KU. Of course, Amazon courted him to jump back in with some of his books, and he’ll never, ever, be one of those innocents caught up in scammy tactics like this.
Mike Cane June 1, 2018 um 12:05 pm
Kobo Clara videos debuted on YouTube. Keep up!
Penelope June 1, 2018 um 6:40 pm
Never mind Google (from whom I have so far not yet purchased a pirated book), Amazon isn’t exactly free of piracy itself! Bought 3 Kindle books a year or so back, because they hadn’t been available in the USA and after yet another check, there they were and I thought FINALLY, they’ve made it to Amazon and I can buy them legitimately. Wrong, I recently read them after getting my Oasis2.
Absolutely SHODDY proofreading, but wait, I went to look for the copyright page so I could contact the publisher and complain, you know, that non-essential front matter that Amazon SKIPS YOU RIGHT OVER? Yep, you guessed it, NO copyright page, NO publisher listed, I have to assume I was tricked into buying pirated books. The reviews make it clear that others experienced the same shoddy quality I did, though no one seems to have noticed the entire LACK OF A COPYRIGHT PAGE!
This is not a no name author either, this is Anne McCaffrey and the books are her Harper Hall trilogy. Dragonsong, Dragonsinger and Dragondrums. I bought them straight from my Kindle, never thought to read the reviews or get samples, because I knew I liked the books and simply wanted them as ebooks so I could enjoy a re-read at some point. Bad enough to find the quality so lacking, but so much worse to realize some scummy pirate tricked me into spending $15 for this junk.
I’d have scanned my own copies and OCR’d and proofread them before giving money to a pirate!
Now seriously, does Amazon just let anyone publish anything without checking into rights ownership? Because this is pretty awful and I’m glad the author is not arrive to see what hash was made of her books.
As I bought the books nearly a year before reading, I don’t figure I could get a refund, but I’m tempted to try anyway.
Will Entrekin June 5, 2018 um 9:03 am
Did you look in the back matter? I know I’ve taken to putting copyright and lots of other material in the back of books so that the sample is more robust. In fact, unless I’m publishing a book with absolutely killer reviews/testimonials, I tend to put almost everything in the back of the book.
But then, it sounds like you’ve already figured out the publisher/whom to contact. As a publisher (of Exciting Press) myself, I would reach out; my publishing house’s policy is that if readers contact me with an error, they get an updated copy of the title in question as well as any other title we publish free of charge. A year later, they might well have caught some of those errors and updated the text, but I still don’t think it would hurt to contact them and request such an updated file for yourself.
Shannon June 8, 2018 um 4:34 pm
Bad proofreading on out-of-print books that have been added to Kindle isn’t necessarily an indication of piracy. I’ve bought several older novels that I wanted to re-read and couldn’t find paperback copies of, and they were absolutely atrocious on that front… but they were legit. Some of these older books, especially ones where the author is dead, the publisher just doesn’t spend the time and resources on correcting the OCR issues and just vomits a badly-mangled product up on Kindle. I stopped reporting issues after about the 150th time, and just made the corrections in my head. Sadly, that wasn’t even halfway through the book. :/
Olivier June 2, 2018 um 2:02 am
Lazy and foolish authors who publish only through Amazon because it’s easy and the leading store need to understand what software entrepreneurs have known for some time, namely that if your business depends on a platform you don’t have a business: you are just a sharecropper on that platform.
Not holding my breath, though. Publishing is just about the most dysfunctional economic sector you can imagine, so this is just par for the course.
Will Entrekin June 5, 2018 um 9:12 am
I’m hopeful about what Apple might do with their new Books app, but like it or not Amazon is still the only company actively playing the game. Kobo is aaa at best. Apple, right now, unfortunately, is like MJ’s post-Bulls career with the Sox — he’s a great athlete for sure, but baseball was maybe not the game for him.
I’m hopeful Apple can do something with Books this year, and I was glad to see a bit of attention during WWDC, but there’s a long way to go.
Or maybe not. Maybe Apple just thinks ebooks are meant to be in the App Store, which might not be a terrible argument.
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