Thursday, April 12, 2018

Amazon, please tell us why | Kindle Unlimited page reads stripping

Amazon has recently filed a lawsuit against a UK self-publisher for using clickfarms, bots and book stuffing to gain page reads in the Kindle Unlimited program thereby scamming the program. This is a good move for the industry since scamming the Kindle Unlimited program has been a big issue for a long time, and many legitimate authors who do nothing wrong are adversely affected by it. In particular, Amazon has stated clearly that book stuffing is against their terms of service. This is a good thing. You can find more information here. David Gaughran has a Twitter thread about it too.

Amazon logo

That's all well and good, but here's what's bothering me. And yeah, lots of things are bothering me lately. I really need to take up yoga or meditation, and chill. Legitimate authors who are not involved in book stuffing are being affected in Amazon's sweep to clean up the book stuffers and the people who use clickfarms to game the system.

I can totally understand that with a broad-brush algorithm-driven sweep, sometimes legit people get caught up in it. However, if they are legit, they should have some recourse through Amazon to have the consequences reversed. For example, sometime last year, Amazon did a big clean up for fake reviewers and bot driven review accounts. A lot of legit reviewers got caught up in that and all their reviews were deleted. Those reviewers who were affected who were not fake reviewers appealed to Amazon, and their reviews and their ability to post reviews restored. Of course, this time it affects authors and Amazon's bottom line, but the results so far have been less than satisfactory for authors who genuinely have not done anything wrong.

Report

The first time an author noticed something had happened was sometime early April while looking at their March earnings. Posting in an author Facebook group yielded many responses from other authors who checked their accounts and found the same thing had happened to them. Their page reads for books enrolled in the Kindle Unlimited program had been significantly stripped - for some, by as much as 50%. Many of these authors depend on their Amazon Kindle Unlimited earnings as their source of income and livelihood. This is devastating for them. And confusing. Why has this happened to them? They have done nothing wrong.

KU page stripping

One author reportedly lost $1,200 in earnings overnight. That is not an insignificant amount of money. You see why they are concerned?

Emails to Amazon were met with canned responses that were uninformative and unhelpful. The responses were vague, and further inquiries led to slightly threatening responses that implied the authors' KDP account could be suspended. One author I know of did get his account suspended. It's terrible.

The first email inquiry to Amazon resulted in this response.

KU Amazon response 1

Followed by another email saying that they had detected reading or borrowing activity originating from accounts attempting to manipulate Kindle services, and further violations of their policies could results in account-level actions, up to and including termination of the KDP account.

KU Amazon response 2

This is an example of an author trying to gain clarification and asking for an explanation of what Amazon had found in their investigation while defending her position.

Amazon request for clarification

For the author above, as she explained - she had a great month in March because she released three new books, one book a week for the last three weeks of March. Each new book release saw a spike in page reads, and continued increases as more people read the book then downloaded the next book to read, and so on. The spikes were all organic increases directly correlating to each book release. They are attributable. Cause and effect. And yet she saw half her page reads disappear overnight. Amazon tells her she is not getting them back.

Back to the correspondence from Amazon, the requests for clarification resulted in this response.

Hello,

Thank you for your email regarding the status of your account.

We re-reviewed your account and have decided to uphold our decision. You will not receive royalties for illegitimate reading or borrowing activity.

As we previously stated, we cannot offer details of our investigations or advice on marketing services. If you have additional questions, you can email us at content-review@amazon.com.

Regards,

Amazon KDP

And this was the email received by the author who got his account suspended.

Hello,

We are reaching out to you as a follow-up on our previous communication regarding reading or borrow activity originating from accounts attempting to manipulate Kindle services. We detected continued illegitimate activity after our communication and, as a result, we have suspended your account to protect our publishers and readers experience.

We need you to take the necessary actions to stop the activity. We encourage you to review any marketing services you may have used, since you are responsible for ensuring that the strategies used to promote your books comply with our Terms and Conditions. Once you have done so, please send a response to content-review@amazon.com which includes a statement that you reviewed all marketing services you may have used, and confirms the discontinued use of any that might be responsible for this activity.

Once we receive this affirmation, we will reactivate your account. Please be aware, any additional illegitimate activity may result in termination. If we don’t receive this affirmation, we will terminate your account after 14 days.

Regards,

Amazon KDP

As far as I know, these authors claim they have not violated any terms of service. The only advertising they've done is through Amazon's advertising engine - Amazon Marketing Services, Facebook ads, and Bookbub ads. No clickfarms. No book stuffing. I will accept what these authors say at face value and believe they are being unfairly or incorrectly targetted and they have not violated Amazon's terms of service. However, there is also the possibility that the dishonest scammers are using clickfarms and legit authors' books to hide their scamming activity. I have learned that scammers using clickfarm bots will not only click-through the fake books or books some people have paid for to falsely increase their page reads, but the bots will also target other (legit) books in the same category and bot them too. This strengthens the bots of the original paid for book, creates a thread of botted books bolstering each other, and hiding the activity of the original botted book. So perhaps these authors do have clickfarm generated page reads unbeknownst to them and through no fault of their own. I do not know and I do not have any way of verifying it.

Speculation of the causes of this wave of page stripping aside, what bothers me is Amazon's response. I get that they are a big organization, and they own at least 70% of the ebook market if not more, and can do whatever they want. But their vaguely worded responses and unwillingness to provide evidence of what the authors have done wrong so they can correct the situation and prevent future incidents when asked are not helpful. For the author who got his account suspended, Amazon has asked in their email for him to "take the necessary actions to stop the activity". Only they don't tell him what that "activity" is, merely saying it's "illegitimate activity". Specifics in this instance would be useful.

I do believe that the authors affected are genuinely distressed, confused, and want to understand what's happened to prevent it from happening again. But there is no recourse. There is no way to appeal. There isn't even a phone number to call to talk to a real person, only an email address to send more emails. Is persistence going to help by sending email after email? Or will they piss Amazon off since they say their decision is final? Will it lead to their accounts being suspended? Certainly, no one expects to see their stripped page reads reinstated even if some may be holding out hope of that.

Email letters

I'm not saying what Amazon did is wrong. I don't know enough to make that judgment. They probably have very good reasons for targetting the authors in Kindle Unlimited who were affected. Yes, what they did was arbitrary but it's their company, their program, and they are cleaning house. They can do whatever they want. However, I do think that honest authors deserve an explanation beyond the form letters they are getting. It's probably a lot of work and a lot of authors to respond to (I do not know how many are affected), but I think they deserve to know what Amazon thinks they did wrong and be presented with the evidence to shut down their appeals once and for all, or prove their innocence, and prevent future occurrences of the same.

The poor author who got his account suspended doesn't know why his account was suspended. They won't tell him EXACTLY what they think he did wrong. Many authors are now fearful they will be next. Afraid their accounts will be suspended and their source of income cut off. Some are considering taking their books out of the Kindle Unlimited program, eschewing the exclusivity it gives Amazon and going wide, i.e., selling their books on other platforms and with other ebook retailers. I know many have gone into their dashboard and unchecked the little box which says "auto renew" for their Kindle Unlimited listed books.

One author said this, which I think echoes the sentiment of many of the authors who have been affected.

"It's just a nightmare. I fear my account will be suspended tbh. I'm planning and preparing for it mentally. April has started very strongly as a result of a strong March. The snowball has gained momentum. And what should be a moment of enjoyment and pride and relief and happiness, is a time of fear and disappointment."

There are other options if their account is suspended or terminated by Amazon, or if they simply want to leave Kindle Unlimited and Amazon. They can sell through Draft2Digital where their books will still be available on Amazon as well as other major ebook retailers. There's also Smashwords, another ebook retailer who publishes books for sale on their own website and distributes the books to other major ebook retailers. They can consider setting up their own e-commerce website to sell their books directly to their readers although that would require a large existing fanbase and serious advertising for discoverability. There are other options but none of them as convenient and as far reaching as Amazon.

Draft2Digital logo

Personally, I do not have a Kindle Unlimited subscription as a reader. I prefer to buy my books and "own" them, and I buy ALL my books from Amazon. However, I know a lot of people who rely on the Kindle Unlimited program for their reading because they are voracious readers and cannot afford to feed their reading habit otherwise. Why am I interested in writing an entire blog post about this if I do not use Kindle Unlimited, you ask? Because it affects a group of authors I care about - romance authors and thereby affecting romance readers. Romance readers are EXTREMELY voracious readers. Some claim to read as many as three books a day. If authors can't make money via the Kindle Unlimted program, they will leave it. This means fewer books in Kindle Unlimited, fewer books for voracious romance readers to consume. It's pretty much a lose-lose situation. Of course, it's not just romance authors. Other fiction and non-fiction authors have been hit too. For once, I don't think the authors are overreacting. This hurts their bottom line. Their livelihood. They have a right to ask for answers. And I think they are entitled to answers.

Here's the thing. An author has set up a change.org petition asking Amazon to be more transparent about their reasons for their actions. I don't think it's unreasonable. If you're so inclined, signing the petition would be a big help. Perhaps it will change things with mass support.

So, do you use Kindle Unlimited? Do you know any authors who have been affected? Will you sign the petition? Tell me what you think about all this.


Find Deanna around SOCIAL MEDIA:
blogger  blogger  rss  facebook  twitter  instagram  email  youtube  pinterest  google+  goodreads

8 comments:

  1. WOW I don't use KU but I heard about this from a Aussie author the other day and as a person who got caught up in the review mess I know how honest authors must be feeling at the moment and sometimes trying to prove you are innocent with Amazon is frustrating. I do hope that the honest authors get things fixed up and soon and that they are back payed for what they have lost

    Have Fun

    Helen

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I don't use KU either but I do buy pretty much all my books from Amazon. They just own so much of the market.

      Delete
  2. As an Amazon author, I haven't had any issues with my page reads but I'm based here in the US. I'm sorry it's happened to authors who did nothing wrong and that they can't seem to get any answers. This is why, as an author, I fear using any type of promotion tool or company but Amazon. There are just too many opportunities for it to end like this in that gray area.
    I do have a KU account, and all 68 of my novels are offered on KU for my readers and I've never had any issues. I hope that continues. Honestly, Amazon has been nothing but a good thing for my books. It's a tough predicament either way.

    I hope it gets handled soon. It's unfair to all authors who played by the rules, and it's sad that a good thing was ruined by people who cheated.

    ReplyDelete
  3. I've only just gone into KU, but think I will discontinue after my month's trial. As a fast reader i tend to click over pages and would have to get caught up in this. Or an I bring too suspicious

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I do not know. I know some people who read very fast and read as many as three books a day. I don't know how Amazon calculates the speed at which a person clicks through pages read.

      Delete
  4. A lot of people were talking about this on FB yesterday and I agree, something should be done about all the book stuffing and cheating, it's not fair to the authors who are doing things the right way. I haven't subscribed to KU so I had no idea it was that bad.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I got to know about it first hand because it happened to an author I know well. It's awful. I think most readers would not be aware of it either.

      Delete