As I’ve mentioned before, Amazon is a victim of rampant click-fraud attempts, as scammers out there think they’ve found some new way of banging on the Amazon piñata until some money falls out. Frequently, Amazon’s attempts to rebuff this fraud sweep up innocent parties in the net. This was the case when Amazon attempted to crack down on biased reviews (and removed reviews from people who simply followed the author’s social media accounts), and when it took a hard line against people links to the back of their books (and pulled books by authors who thought tables of contents looked better at the back).
According to a series of posts on The Passive Voice today, it’s apparently happening again.
It started with author P.J. Bayliss announcing that Amazon had just closed his Kindle Direct Publishing account and delisted his books because it had determined his books had been borrowed by bot accounts. Bayliss wrote:
My problem is that I am completely an innocent party in this situation. I haven’t employed borrowers, enlisted in any ‘golden egg’ book marketing schemes, or sought any kind of third party help at all to escalate my book sales. Obviously, I barely find time to post a blog once a month for starters, so where am I going to find the time for all of that rigmarole? Even if I managed to find hundreds of borrowers per week it still wouldn’t fill my car with gas in order to get to work for my real job – so what would be my motivation to even consider doing such a thing?
According to Pauline, she received no warnings. She just checked her email and discovered she’d been banned for life from selling on Amazon. Now, I don’t know Pauline well enough to ask about her sales details, but if this happened to me, 70% of my writing income would vanish. For most of us, Amazon is by far the best platform for selling books. Losing one’s account there would be a career-ending event for many of us.
Finally, Passive Guy reposted a comment from the Bayliss story from Ann Christy, who had done research into KU scammers and thought she understood what was going on. She’d heard from another “prawny” (i.e. “not a big fish”) author in the same situation. She’d experienced a one-day spike on a book, and subsequently had her account shut down. Christy explains:
I researched the KU Scams extensively for months, but you don’t have to do that to figure out what’s happening. 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 responded to the click farming, they are hammering the innocent victims of the click farmers’ attempts to hide what they are.
It follows the same old pattern: in an attempt to cut down on illegitimate activity, Amazon throws the baby out with the bathwater. To make it worse, there’s no easy way for authors to contact Amazon directly to protest their innocence. They have to reply by email and wait until Amazon deems it worth getting back to them.
This also provides a handy way for anyone to torpedo the account of an Amazon author they don’t like: just buy the services of a click-farmer and point it at their books. And given that Amazon accounts for the vast majority of many authors’ sales, this could effectively end many authors’ careers.
Presumably—hopefully—Amazon will figure it out and reinstate the unjustly-terminated authors before too long. But this is just another case where excessive automation turns out to sweep up too many false positives in Amazon’s many attempts to deal with fraudulent activity. It would be nice if Amazon could get its act together and be a little more discriminating in its targeting.
It would also be nice if there were a good competitor to Amazon who could provide a decent alternative, but that doesn’t seem likely to happen any time soon.