Amazon KU & Scammers

Amazon’s Kindle Unlimited is under attack from scammers – an attack that is hurting you and me as readers.

Let me be clear, I’m not a fan of Kindle Unlimited. Amazon requires that a book in KU not be offered anywhere else. In the short-term, this exclusivity requirement blocks any reader who prefers a different retailer from getting that book. In the long-term, it is part of Amazon’s goal to drive rivals out of business or at least into nonentity status. That would be great for Amazon, horrible for readers and authors. Amazon would then dictate all terms of how you read and how I sell books. Absolute power.

“Absolute power corrupts absolutely.” John Dalberg-Acton, 1st Baron Acton.

I have no books in KU as an author. Nor do I belong to it as a reader.

Amazon KU Fake Books - Scammers - David Gaughran - Patricia McLinnYet I’ve spotted and reported gobs of these KU scams over the past several months. I get thanked by Amazon … and nothing happens. This is the same experience of quite a few other authors trying to combat this KU cancer.

Amazon could block these scammers. For whatever reason, it is not doing so. 

For a great look at Amazon’s non-action, read this piece by David Gaughran.

Why do we even care?

There are many times when I think, what the heck, let KU drown in the scammer scum and good riddance. (I did say I was no fan of it. <wg>)  So, why on earth am I spending all this time writing this?

Speaking for myself alone:

–It ticks the heck out of me to see these scammers mistreating readers with these non-books, churning the same material over and over, and trying to bait the unsuspecting.

–These scam books take up space on the “bestseller” lists (See my related blog: When Bestseller Lists Aren’t), largely because Amazon’s system favors KU books over non-KU books. With the scammers taking up chunks of those lists, fewer legit books are there for you to see, explore, and possibly enjoy. The scam books are actively hiding legit books from you on Amazon. (Not so at other retailers.)

–There are so many good books out there from authors working extremely hard, trying to make ends meet, and these scammers are ripping them off, too, with each reader they lure away. (This is not my situation, thank heavens – well, the working hard part does apply. 😉 But I’m not in financial jeopardy at this point. Other authors are.)

This is especially true of legit authors who have books in KU. I think they’re misguided to be in KU, but that doesn’t mean I won’t point out they’re being cheated by these scammers. The reason is that when a KU member reads a KU book, Amazon tracks the number of pages read. (That’s the short version. The details boggle the mind. Scammers found a quick way to game that system, it hurt Amazon’s bottom line, so that, Amazon cracked down on.) KU authors are paid based on the number of pages read each month. The amount comes from a “pool” that Amazon allots each month. (The payment is a tiny fraction of a penny per page read and varies each month.) Each time scammers lure a reader to record “pages read” in one of their scam books, they cut down the amount in the pool left to be divided among the legit authors. 

–It ticks the heck out of me that these scammers demean creativity and the hard work of writing a true novel, novella, short story with this junk.

–There are more good books to read than there is time and it ticks the heck out of me that they’re stealing reading time from all of us with this dreck.

If you are a KU member, you can say that it doesn’t cost you to get one of these scam books, realize it, then junk it. But it does. It costs you time, it costs you lost opportunities to see legit books, it costs you lost opportunities to have a choice in the future as legit authors can’t support themselves, so won’t have time to write new stories for you.

What do I mean by scammers and non-books?

Let’s start with “non-books.”

One popular variation is taking a number of titles, say Titles A, B, C, D, E, F, G, H, in that order in the first “book,” which is called Title A. Then the second “Book” has a new title – Title B – with “bonus” stories  B, C, D, E, F, G, H, A. The third “Book” has the title of C, then inside are “bonus” titles D, E, F, G, H, A, B.

In other words, even if you wanted to read this stuff, you could get one book, read it, and be done. No reason to get any of the additional titles, because they were already “bonuses” in the first one.

Be aware that this is not the only variation and that they will continue to change and evolve.

Who are these scammers?

Scum using click-farms and other against-the-terms-of-service ploys to jump up in the “bestseller” rankings to pull this stuff off.  How they create the content is open to much speculation. A form of piracy is not out of the question.

At least one author’s research led to Eastern Europe. But another scammer was in Vancouver, according to this article.

Warning signs that should put you on alert

Amazon could develop algorithms to easily and efficiently flag a listing with multiples of these warning signs, then look at the listing. They do not. I’m left to the interpretation that Amazon is okay with its customers being subjected to this crud. I am not.

So you’re going to have to be you own algorithm.

These are things that have raised my antenna and prompted me to look more deeply at a title/author, frequently finding scam books/”authors.”

No single one of these items indicates a scammer. Look for combinations.

–A “book” that is listed as a thousand “pages” or more.

–That length becomes an especially major red flag if you get to the end of the “book” listed in the title before the end of the “Look Inside” and this is not a collection of short-short stories.  (To check, click in the Table of Contents for whatever comes after the supposed main part of this title to check if this happens. I just did one and I was to the “bonus story” with more than half of the “Look Inside” to go. That indicates you’re getting very short pieces that likely are rotated and repackaged as if each were a completely new book.)

–Beware of titles that never give you a sample of the writing in the “Look Inside” because they’ve filled up all the space with marketing/other stuff.

–Few or no authors whose names you recognize included in the “book’s” Also Bought section.

–No author photo, a book cover in place of an author photo, an object in place of an author photo, or the photo is the kind you’d find in a newly purchased wallet. (The scammers use stock photos for their pictures.)

–Strangely worded bios. They frequently skip a, an, the, etc., in places where people familiar with English would use them.

Author bio listing names of kids.–TMI – naming their family members in their bio, including children. Most legit authors are careful about and protective of family members, especially children.

–Few to no reviews, especially on books that have been out for a while.

–If there are reviews, they are short and nonspecific. “I enjoyed book.”

–Look at the 5* reviewers to see if they are doing a lot of reviews and all are 5*. That raises the likelihood they could be paid reviews.

14 books released one day by one author.–Lots and lots of books released – either in a short amount of time or very regularly over a long period of time. (You can see this by searching for the author name in Amazon, then change the “sort by” to “publication date.”

**There are legit authors who save up books and release a series all together or in a short time period. Those books will usually be branded as a series (titles and covers) and show the rest of the series in the “Other Books in this series” ribbon on the Amazon page.** 

The scammers will also hit many other red flags listed here. For example, one “author” ticked ~every~ other box on this list ~and~ released 14 books on the same day. None were listed as being part of a series.

Another “author” who hit most of the warnings signs have 154 releases since July 9, 2015. That’s more than 1.5 a week, every week for two years.

–They have “books” listed as being co-written, so there are two or more names listed as “author, yet only one author name appears on the cover.

–Duplicate phrasing shows up in multiple authors’ bios.

–Author name is generic/super easy to spell. **Many legit authors DO have easy names to spell! It’s essential with this one to not look at it alone, but in combination with multiple other items.**


–They have “books” listed as co-written with other authors who also have simple/generic names, and all the bios have issues as listed above.)

Two authors with duplicate phrasing in their author bios–Some (but not all by any means) will use the same cover over and over, sometimes with variations of color wash. Though they seem to be getting smarter about that.

— They will offer a “bonus” of a “bestseller” – I’m looking at one right now that says “#1 Amazon Seller,” yet that title doesn’t exist on Amazon.

–The writing is … less than stellar. Okay, this is subjective. But, again, combine this with the other elements. Definitely look at the “Look Inside.” Beware of odd phrases … almost as if someone were translating, perhaps?

— No website.

— If there is a Facebook page, it is not very active. All posts are only about releases. No author photo. Only other pages liked are other questionable authors whose FB pages are also not very active and only have posts about releases, with no author photo. And, lo and behold, Author A’s FB page cover actually touts Author B’s book, while trying to get you to sign up for a “publisher” newsletter.

–David Gaughran notes that the scammers frequently hit over weekends because Amazon’s doing even less about this then (though how it can be doing less, I’m having trouble imagining.)  I will note: The “author” with 14 titles released on one day, did that on July 4, a major U.S. holiday. Interesting.  So add weekend and holiday releases as another potential warning sign.

Is it right that you and I should have to do this much work to avoid being scammed on KU? No.

You can let Amazon know you’re unsatisfied as a customer with this state of affairs – phone, call, email. Leaving KU would have the most impact. Because that might hurt Amazon’s bottom line.

A Sidenote

While Amazon shows no sign of dealing with this widespread, easily spottable issue, it has taken to sending legit authors odd, draconian, and unreasonable demands for immediate U.S. copyright registration … while the U.S. Copyright Office reports it’s taking 6-8 months to process online registration applications or 8-10 months for paper forms. Not to mention that copyright protection is not reliant on registration. None of that matters to Amazon. And, in the meantime, it says it won’t publish the book.

If only it applied some of this energy to removing the glaringly obvious scammers in KU.


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