Amazon Faces Test Of Book Stuffing Policy Amazon Bewares

Amazon quietly rolled out new content guidelines on Friday to tackle the plague of book stuffing, along with some new metadata rules which all seem to be aimed at cleaning up the Kindle Store – something long overdue. However, one infamous book stuffer is already bragging about a loophole. This is a huge test for Amazon’s new policy and whether KDP will actually enforce it.

After the initial celebrations about the new policy, discussion immediately turned to Amazon and enforcement. From my post on the new guidelines:

This bonus content clarification from Amazon is welcome, but what change this brings about depends on whether KDP actually bothers enforcing the rules this time — something that has been very patchy to date. My hope is that simplifying the rule will allow ground-level staff, or algos I guess, make an easier determination about is permitted, and that this is the beginning of a wider crackdown. Perhaps that is wishful thinking on my part.

There was a push among some authors a few weeks back to get Amazon to lower the max payout size in Kindle Unlimited to 1,000 pages. Everyone proposing it knew it was an imperfect solution but argued it was better than the status quo. That was true, but the reason I didn’t join that call was simple: Amazon didn’t need new rules to tackle book stuffing, it needed a change in attitude. Stuffing was already breaking existing rules, Amazon was just not applying them. I was wondering what the point of new rules would be unless it was also accompanied by actual enforcement.

And now Amazon faces a test in the shape of book stuffer Tia Siren, who has made the most cosmetic of changes to her stuffed books — she has just appended the phrase “A Romance Compilation” to her book titles. — and is clearly thumbing her nose at Amazon and her fellow authors, while she continues to hoover up money from the communal author pot.

This is the solitary change she made to her skeavy business model:

Tia Siren title change

I’m not kidding. This book — Love Next Door — is 2,665 pages long, and retailing for 99¢ like most stuffer books. It has three full novels stuffed in the back, along with an excerpt for a fourth.

Tia Siren clearly feels confident that Amazon’s new rules have no teeth.

This kind of Kindle Unlimited cheating is extremely lucrative: Tia Siren is currently in the Top 20 of the Kindle Store and is a KU All Star. Amazon is paying her fat bonuses every month, in other words. From your pocket.

While Tia Siren may have quickly appended “A Romance Compilation” to her latest release in an attempt to comply with the rules, she hasn’t even bothered doing that with the rest of her 30 books, which are all still stuffed.

Over to you, Amazon. And time for the rest of us to find out if the new rules are a complete sham.

UPDATE: Thanks to Nicola in the comments for this. It blows my mind that three years on from the launch of the page read model in Kindle Unlimited that Amazon still can’t count pages accurately. That would seem like a prerequisite for basing an author compensation model on pages read…

48 Replies to “Amazon Faces Test Of Book Stuffing Policy”

  1. This makes my blood boil *Grrr* I checked out the sample of this book and also noted the formatting – HUGE spacing between paragraphs. I’m assuming this somehow adds to the Kindle page count too and is all part of maximising page read strategy?

      1. It would not solve all issues, but I’ve never understood why Amazon doesn’t cap the payout to the price of the book. If you can’t make more than 99 cents for a 99 cent book, it seems like it would remove much of the incentive for stuffing. But perhaps I am not fully understanding.

    1. Hi,

      Thanks, David, for being such a warrior in all this and sharing your knowledge and information. I’ve come to find you an invaluable resource, but I know you take a lot of heat. Here’s some love back at you.

      I recently became aware of the formatting trickery during the #cockygate debacle. The romance community came out to support Jamila Jasper in full force when she was targeted and victimized by Ms. Hopkins. However, upon using the “Look Inside” feature on a couple of her books, I found the formatting to be so obviously perverted that it could only be a tactic to inflate the length of her books.

      Inspection of a novella revealed more stories packed in the back matter. Caveat: I didn’t purchase or borrow the book to check where the original ended or whether the back matter was, in fact, full stories (whether short or novella length isn’t the issue). But it sure looks dodgy.

      How discouraging, and demoralizing, for the romance community to support an author who, in turn, screws over other authors. Honestly, the moral vacuum in this industry is breathtaking.

      1. Opposing that TM and its ridiculous enforcement was the right thing to do regardless. But it is problematic of course if people are promoting books with anything questionable like that – and I’m sure the people promoting those books would like to know that. Can you link to any evidence?

        1. Hi, David.

          First, I want you to know I agree wholeheartedly about opposing that ridiculous nonsense TM. And it was heartening to see the indie and romance community come together the way they did. So, I absolutely agree.

          And I’ll be the first to admit I’m pretty new at this “spotting scammers” skill. But I’ll send you screenshots of what I saw (I’m going to tweet them as I don’t know how to include them here). If I’m wrong, I definitely want to know and I’ll apologize profusely. I’ll see you on Twitter and look forward to hearing what you think.

      2. I’m a little cautious having almost made a big flub myself – I thought someone was a stuffer because of a huge file size and, what looked like, 5 novels shoved in the back. They were just blurbs for the books and the file size was big because they had hi-res unoptimized covers in the back by mistake. I nearly accused someone in the wrong, so now I double, triple check everything first.

        I also had a friend incorrectly accused of being a stuffer and saw the damage that can cause so double cautious.

        1. MEA CULPA to all those reading (I’d delete my comment but I have no idea how):

          My suspicions about Jamila’s books look to be unfounded so please (PLEASE) don’t take them as true. I apologize to everyone, especially Jamila, but everyone who read this. Clearly, I’m not sure what to look for when it comes to formatting wonkiness and stuffing.

          I deeply, wholeheartedly apologize.

    2. I’ve seen “legit” authors do this, too. It is SO frustrating, and people won’t call them out on it, because they’re “legit”

  2. 1k limit. No staff needed. Dealt with on upload. I’d lose cash from my three book box sets, but it’ll even out.

    1. Better than the current mess? Sure. But that still gives stuffers almost $5 per borrow which is pretty lucrative for those 99c ghostwritten books. Also an issue of moral hazard, I’d argue.

    2. But hey, could be part of the solution for sure. Or a first step while they get the house in order. It’s something, at least.

  3. There would be only one reason Amazon is allowing this situation to go on: They are making money from those authors. So, the blind eye.

    1. I have a bunch of theories: Amazon doesn’t want to police the Kindle Store, and certainly not with human resources; Amazon doesn’t care because the payment mostly comes from our end, not theirs; Amazon doesn’t see the issue because it is looking at it like an engineer and seeing it represent 0.0002% of the Kindle Store, instead of a marketer who sees these guys squatting on the front tables; and, yes, Amazon is making money from these guys who roll back most of those royalty checks into AMS ads and gift cards and giveaways.

  4. 3 spaces between paragraphs? And yet Amazon sends out a quality notification when you have a misplaced comma. Ugh. It’s really depressing to think that there two sets of rules.One set for the scammers, and another for the rest of us.

    I have to ask, are their reviews fake?

    1. Review shenanigans are popular with the stuffers – they engage in different things like doling out gift cards and other inducements to both review, and to purchase, so it’s all Verifed and “legit”

      Just look at any of their books. 100s of reviews in the first month, average of 4.8 etc. And whatever is driving that, it’s not the writing, that’s for damn sure! MY EYES.

  5. David, thank you for all that you do on this issue. I am a romance writer (gasp! i know!) who absolutely HATES these book stuffers. As a writer it obviously negatively affects me because I refuse to engage in the practice but also as a reader it makes the whole reading and browsing experience so much more… ugly. The kindle store is a mess because of these types of books. I hope every author and reader alike lines up lists of every single author who violates this now pretty unambiguous new rule from Amazon and complains LOUDLY to Amazon’s customer service.

    This is a welcome new rule from Amazon. I just hope they actually enforce it.

  6. Since Amazon refuses to do anything about this, one has to wonder if Amazon is the face behind the name of Tia Siren. Maybe it’s too conspiracy theory, but why else would Amazon continue to ignore a known problem unless they are using book stuffing to line their pockets.

    1. Anything is possible, but more realistically, I think, are some of the other theories: Amazon doesn’t want to invest messy and expensive human resources to policing the Kindle Store; Amazon doesn’t care so much because it comes out of our end; or Amazon just doesn’t get how much it’s hurting us and thinks authors are just paranoid. And so on.

  7. As a reader i think Amazon needs to enforce the rules. I spent hours last night going through my books checking for stuffers. I didn’t find any in my bought books. Though I did find a freebie in my TBR by the author who wants to trade mark shifter world. She went into my delete pile. Over the next couple of weeks I am going to go through my returned KU books. Ifthere are any in there I will report them. This morning, one of the newsletters I subscribe to, reccomenended Chance Carter. So I reported him and several other books on his people also bought list as stuffers. One of them was Tia Siren. I am going to check each auther that is in my newsletters and report if needed. If stuffers I will unsubscribe from newsletters.

  8. Thanks, David, for all of your efforts to shed light on these scams. As a non-stuffer who’s already mostly out of KU, it’s beyond discouraging. I was one of the romance authors who contacted Amazon begging them to reduce upper KU page-limit. And in fact, I asked for an upper limit of 500 pages, just because this would immediately make the scams unprofitable for these so-called authors.

    It’s also amazing to me that I can get little nastygrams from Amazon on grammar stuff (often not even a mistake, but just something that a reader didn’t like), but these scammers go on month after month, year after year, cheating their way to the front of the store and raking in an artificially inflated portion of the communal pot with stuffed crap that’s barely edited, poorly formatted, and beyond misleading.

    Short-term, I guess this is working for Amazon and for the scammers, but I’ve gotta say, as a genuine author and as a reader, I HATE what’s become of the Amazon bookstore. It’s cluttered, ugly and confusing. I was due to buy another Kindle, but I’ve decided that instead, I’m going to begin reading on my iPad and buy my romance ebooks from Kobo or Barnes & Noble, because their stores are so much better than Amazon now.

  9. My question is this: Is it really adding ‘compilation ‘ to the title if the title of the book is front and center in large print, and the compilation wording is in teeny tiny letters in the upper corner? Can that really be classified as adding it to the title?!

  10. I just don’t get it. Why does Amazon allow anything other than 1 book plus 10% bonus content for books in KU. I understand the value of a boxed set for non-KU books, i.e. convenience and value, but the whole point of KU is the consumer can read all the books available in KU. So why do they need to be bundled or boxed ? If all the books in the boxed sets are read individually, the author still achieves the same number of page reads. So why do they need to be boxed ?

    If convenience is the only reason, quite frankly that seems counterintuitive to the idea that books are supposed to be a consumer magnet for Amazon. Presumably the consumer can download all 5 books in a 5 book series either individually or all at once in a boxed set, but given the choice, I assume Amazon would prefer the consumer visit the store on 5 separate occasions to download a five book series in KU, rather than download all 5 books at once, which would eliminate 4 more buying opportunities for the consumer to buy more than just books. How does the bundled or boxed set in KU benefit Amazon ?

    One book + 10% bonus content = zero expenditure on human resources to police this issue.

    1. This is an excellent point! Why are boxed sets allowed on KU. If anything the individual books could be linked on the page to their individual book files in KU or something.

  11. David, thanks for your tireless efforts to document the stuffers. I think this is a good move by Amazon but as with all polices, unless it is policed effectively, the stuffers will merely use “collections” and “boxed sets.” Which is fine as long as there is no duplicate content. I don’t care. BUT — Amazon will have to police the collections/sets to ensure there is no duplication of product, which they have been notoriously bed at doing and which is the stuffer’s game plan. In the end, while we authors who play by the rules find the stuffers enraging and frustrating, I think Amazon sees the stuffers as WMAMM – What Makes Amazon the Most Money. The stuffers spend huge $$$ on AMS each month. Much of the money taken out of the KU pot and given to the stuffers as KENP or All Star Bonuses goes right back into Amazon coffers in advertising money and gift cards for verified purchase reviews. I think in Amazon’s mind, the KU pot is disconnected to any concept of what authors are due. They add to it in order to meet their own plans or interests and none of us know what or how. That KU pot money gets recycled and achieves Amazon’s goals. If readers aren’t complaining, why would Amazon care? It’s win-win for them and the stuffers. I don’t see a real solution except for a cap on the size of titles in KU. Huge doorstop novels like A Storm of Swords are 1200 pages and I would hate to see great authors harmed by a 1,000 page cap. Maybe 1500 words would be more realistic for Fantasy authors.

  12. I think what will ultimately influence Amazon is if more and more legitimate authors withdraw their books from KU because it no longer makes sense to keep them in. If we can’t make money on it, why give exclusivity?

  13. I guess readers don’t mind getting multiple books for $.99.
    The “stuffed” book would be similar to a single-author box set except from what I’ve seen they often include the same books and shuffle them around.
    So where I have one box set with four books, a stuffer would have 4 box sets with the same 4 books featuring a different title in each.

  14. Two easy fixes for these issues where they could even leave their bots running.
    1. No duplicate content at all. Sure it kicks box sets from KU, but we’ll deal with it and move on.
    2. Hard word count for KENPC for the primary work (excluding backmatter and whatever bonus is allowable). It would be nice to have books of the same length be counted the same without trickery. And if you think it’s only romance authors doing it, you’d be wrong. I’ve seen it with a certain group of authors in fantasy where I write. There may need to be exceptions for books with illustrations.

    1. Yep. No duplicate content is the solution. Kobo uses plagiarism software upon upload and they have no issues. Amazon could easily do this. No extra hands on needed.

  15. This is the first I’ve ever heard the term “book stuffing”. It took me quite a while to grasp the concept because it would have never occurred to me to tack on excessive content or spaces to get more page clicks on KU. Man, if there’s the tiniest chink anywhere people will loophole the hell out of it! Thank you for sharing this article!

  16. Add Rye Hart, RR Banks (also RS Lively), and Emily Bishop to the list of well known stuffer names using the Tia Siren strategy. They’re updating all their books today to say “A Romance Collection” with tiny lettering on the cover. More serial stuffers are likely to follow.

  17. David Gaughran, I’m interested in your opinion — given this state of things, do you think there is any real benefit for most (i.e., honest and ethical) authors to put their titles in KU? Would it be better to make people buy the book, rather than letting them read it in KU and getting only a pittance in return?

  18. David Gaughran,

    I’ve suggested this in a few places already, but maybe you could push this at Amazon. Why don’t they start a “Verified” system like the ones on Facebook and Twitter? An author submits a book for auditing. That is: the book is checked for the content inside by a person. If the book contains the story listed on the book cover, it earns a “Verified” tag that cannot be added by the author, it happens when the person at Amazon finds the book to be 100% one book, with any bonus material being 10% or less per their rules. Like Twitter, the “Verified badge can be rolled out on a rolling basis, and if an author re-uploads a book the badge is temporarily removed and once re-verified it’s added again.

    I’d get badges on every single of my books because I know I’m an honest author.

    I think this suggested system would stop people bypassing the rules with self-invented, imagined loopholes like the author mentioned in your article did with the wording in her title. If this suggested system existed, she wouldn’t get the “Verified” badge on the book because a HUMAN would check the books. Yes, with over a million titles it would go slow, but in the end, the honest authors will win, because the thing Amazon CAN do to reward them, regardless of their status of how many books are sold (whether they’re in the top 100 or at position 3 million in the list) IF they are selling in an honest way, they float up HIGHER than those who didn’t pass the check (or know they wouldn’t).

    Since finding out about this news I’ve been wondering: “What if books of mine have been trying to compete with stuffers?” I’ve written eight books to date. Three of them respectively have 638, 660 and 730 pages. All 100% a single story. Okay maybe after the second edit they’ll be fewer pages, but… I’m up against the stuffers. I’ve coined it as “Amazon Search Engine Stuffing”. Not just doing book stuffing, but by doing so they also stuff the search engine on the website, with their artificial higher “rating” pushing the honest books (such as mine) down the list and making it even harder for discovery.

    The suggested idea would reverse this trend I think. Honesty rating would push the non-rated books DOWN the list, first with those who decide not to do or are waiting, then those who are currently the stuffers. It wouldn’t affect the current bestseller listings, apart from that Amazon could ALSO create the additional “Honesty Bestseller” list in addition to everything. Yes, the “stuffers” would still appear in the original bestseller list, but over time all those of us who are “HONEST AUTHORS” can push this idea: “Buy books from the Honest Author/Bestseller list, ignore the cheaters, stuffers and other dishonest authors playing the system.”

    I’m posting this idea as much as I can so authors with clout and the ability to speak to Amazon in an influential way (like you for example) can push for this sort of thing to be done. Any author who wants to “steal” this text to spread the idea in the community, feel free to do so if David replies to this post that it’s okay. It’s his website, and legally any comments left here belong to him.

    In my opinion, the solution for this already exists. If it was implemented by Amazon I know I’ll get my “Verified” badges just like David and all other authors out there who DO run their author entrepreneur business in an honest way…

    Thanks for reading.

  19. This is the first I’ve ever heard the term “book stuffing”. It took me quite a while to grasp the concept because it would have never occurred to me to tack on excessive content or spaces to get more page clicks on KU. Man, if there’s the tiniest chink anywhere people will loophole the hell out of it! Thank you for sharing this article!

  20. The answer to Amazon’s problem is easy. Upon uploading an ebook for sale in their store, Kobo runs it through plagiarism software. If it is duplicated, they will contact the parties involved to let them know and refuse to accept the book. This is why Kobo has ZERO problems with pirating that I know of.

    Amazon could simply run each upload through the software, and ding it if it’s duplicate, even if it’s your own. There. Done.

    Yes, I know you would no longer be able to put excerpts in the back, but they show 10% free on the site anyway. Just link the book in the back and consumers can read the first 10% on the amazon Look Inside function.

    I’m so tired of them avoiding fixing this as if it’s unsurmountable, when in reality, there are several obvious, not that difficult, solutions.

  21. I don’t understand what you mean by book stuffing. Perhaps a better explanation would enlighten us ignorant folks. I get the idea that some people are formatting their books so that the page count is inaccurately long. But bundling extra books at the end puzzles me. Do the tears feel that they are getting more books for their money? As for putting more that one book in a title, I’ve seen this done legitimately in two ways. 1) authors put the first three or four books into a boxed set at a discount with the idea that readers will want to buy the next three partsof the series. 2) a collection of authors put together a bundled set of, let’s say, ten first installments in various series. If readers like what they read, they can buy the next installments in that series from the author they like. Is this also called book stuffing?

    1. A box set is legitimate. A box set is presented as a collection of books, generally done for promotional reasons (often, but not always, temporary) and it is explicitly communicated to readers via the title, cover, and blurb that it is a box set.

      Stuffed books are very different – there is an element of deception here. They are presented as single titles, not collections. The page count is manipulated so people can’t see it is 2500+ pages, but made to look like 400 pages when it isn’t. Unlike box sets where you might get the first (for example) 3 books in a series to hook you on the rest, these guys will stuff all their books in the back of all their other books. So if you were a genuine reader that bought all their books, you would end up with maybe 5 or 6 copies of everything they own – books are duplicated again and again and again. Often too, the books stuffed inside bear no relation to the advertised book. You could have military romance stuffed in historical romance. Or M/M erotica stuffed in M/F romance. Etc. Some authors even stuff in all their newsletters. Others have stuffed in 8 different translations of the same book. Some stuff in garbled code.

      The aim is to increase the page count, and thus the payout, not to hook readers with your stories or provide them a deal or promote your series. It’s to cheat.

    1. Black hole, black toilet- sounds like good description of Amazon these days if you ask me.

    2. Hehe. Now that you mention it, I see it. I think it is actually a hooded scammer at a computer. Of course now all I can see is a toilet.

  22. AFAIK, Amazon DOES use plagiarism software, but are only applying it to potential copyright violations. Try releasing a solo book that was in a (now unpublished) multi-author boxed set, and you’ll get an email asking for proof of publishing rights. Same goes for including public domain content as a “bonus”. Possibly that only checks title and author name, not content?
    The problem allowing the book stuffers to work is with how Amazon apply the rules regarding whatever software they use. The same publisher is allowed to release their content as many times as they want on KU. Which I am happy with to an extent – it means I can launch a single author boxed set with four of my stories without needing to unpublish the single books.
    Simply changing that so even the same publisher is allowed to use the same content only twice at any time would fix the stuffing problem. Also, I’m not a programmer but I can’t see it would be too complex to write software to check for links within the book (apart from in the ToC) that lead to elsewhere in the book. That would eliminate the click-to-the-end scam that the necessary second part of the book stuffers’ strategy to clock up the massive page reads. Okay, banning that also would be an issue for non-fiction books that want to cross-reference content, but it could apply only to fiction.
    I suspect the real reason only honest authors will get affected by the rule change (as with the last big KU change last January which hit me hard) is what a couple of people have mentioned. The scammers spend huge amounts on AMS ads and the gift cards they use to buy their fake reviews. Ads for Tia Siren’s books and other romances from book stuffers constantly appear in the sponsored content on my book pages. it annoys the %$# out of me, as I write clean Christian romance and really do not want that stuff on my book product pages!

  23. Ethical dilemma: someone is book stuffing, ‘her’ book finishes in the 10% sample. The author is ahead of me on a new release chart. If I say anything about it I’m in effect kneeing the competition, right?

    1. I used to be very relunctant to report anything. I didn’t want to move against individual authors, I wanted Amazon to fix the system/the problem generally. Then after watching these guys for years thumb their noses at everyone else, after seeing how they treat their ghostwriters, and the damage they have wreaked, I don’t care anymore. If I see a suspected TOS violation like stuffing, I’ll report it. Let Amazon decide what action it wants to take.

    2. Since the people stuffing the books are successfully gaming the system, which hurts everybody, there is nothing ethically questionable about reporting them. Of course they are ahead of you on a new release chart, they are cheating. If it weren’t working, they wouldn’t do it, and if enough people report them and Amazon acts (the big if here), the scammers would likely take their games elsewhere or reform.

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