Kindle Unlimited – A Cheater Magnet Amazon Bewares

I don’t hate Kindle Unlimited. While all my own books are currently wide, I also work on marketing campaigns for others which regularly get 10m reads per month, or more. I’m not saying that to brag — the respective authors are doing the hardest part of the equation by writing books which resonate so widely — I merely state this to show that I understand how to (ethically) work Kindle Unlimited, and that I have nothing against it per se.

Such caveats are necessary as Kindle Unlimited elicits strong feelings — and it’s not just down to self-interest. Some authors object to exclusivity on principle and refuse to enroll. Others are concerned with the compensation model or the market as a whole. These are concerns I shared seven years ago when KDP Select was first launched in December 2011:

By accepting the compensation system Amazon is proposing, we are agreeing to fight for a limited pot of cash – no matter how many authors are scrambling for it. Amazon say they will raise it if the scheme is popular, but it’s all at their discretion. We have no say. They have all the power under this new model.

Under Amazon’s scheme, we never know what we will be paid until well after the fact. We’re not even being made a crummy offer. There’s no minimum guaranteed payment per rental. We know what the size of the pot is (for one month of the three month exclusivity they demand), but have no idea how many rentals it will cover. We’re being told afterwards what we did (or didn’t) get paid.

Despite these concerns, it must be stated that Kindle Unlimited has been very positive for many authors. It has made careers for some hard-working, honest writers. While no one likes granting Amazon exclusivity, lots of people clearly view it pragmatically and enroll their books in the program if they feel that being exclusive earns them more money overall.

It’s hard to argue with that sentiment; everyone needs to put food on the table. Although it must also be said that many authors feel they must enroll to get any kind of visibility in the Kindle Store, or their primary source of income collapses — a problem exacerbated by Amazon’s tendency to strongly prefer exclusive books for any promo.

The biggest problem for the market overall, more than individual concerns, forced exclusivity, and a skewed compensation model, perhaps, has been the exponential rise in scamming — compounded by the catch-and-release approach Amazon has historically taken to those gaming the system.

Bad Boy Book Stuffers

We aren’t talking minor infractions here. A hardcore group of internet marketers invaded the Kindle Store and constructed an elaborate system for purloining millions of dollars from the Kindle Unlimited pot — from our end, in other words. Various seamy behaviors were engaged in from a menu containing rank manipulation, incentivizing purchases, mass gifting, clickfarms, fake reviews, formatting hacks, plagiarism, and book stuffing, but the actual approach varied on a case-by-case basis.

These were all serious breaches in isolation, but when deployed together they acted like a turbo-charged smash-and-grab on the author pot. One that Amazon turned a blind eye to again and again.

Amazon eventually took action in June 2018, after a concerted PR campaign by a bunch of writers on social media and via the press — a step taken in desperation after Amazon refused to listen to endless reports exhaustively documenting these abuses.

Amazon had instituted a bunch of automated system to detect fraud in the latter part of 2017, but these seemed to catch more innocent authors than cheaters. And when direct sanctions were finally applied in June 2018, they were far from comprehensive.

Amazon Takes (Some) Action

Chance Carter was nuked from the Kindle Store after one particularly ill-advised competition aimed at manipulating reviews led to his entire shady business model being exposed on social media. Tia Siren was next, after she was shown to be using, amongst other things, a series of tricks to artificially inflate her page count. Cassandra Dee was also taken down after her mosaic book stuffing was detailed.

It was no accident that these “authors” — I use that term very loosely here — were all part of the same shady mastermind circle, or that others banned from Amazon around this time were part of the same crew.

Media articles like this excellent piece from Kayleigh Donaldson in Pajiba and this in-depth article from Sarah Jeong in The Verge kept the pressure on Amazon. While this blog has been the more visible face of the campaign, at times, it should be clearly stated that huge numbers of authors have been working in the background on this: collating information, sending reports to Amazon, talking to journalists, exerting pressure on social media, expressing their concerns to contacts and reps at KDP. It was a widespread, collective effort — which didn’t stop just because Amazon put one head on a pike.

A second wave of purges ensued in July and, when the dust settled, perhaps half of Chance Carter’s mastermind circle had been ousted from the Kindle Store: not just Tia Siren and Cassandra Dee, but others like Rye Hart, Nikki Chase, Juliana Conners, Alexis Angel, and Kira Blakely — the latter infamous for being a married man who was secretly pretending to be female on social media to elicit private sexual information from young women. This is the kind of person we are dealing with here.

While these purges were extremely welcome, they were far from complete. Many questionable figures were left completely intact — despite Amazon being in possession of clear evidence as to their behavior for over nine months. Millions of dollars from our compensation fund were paid out to these people in that period, let us not forget.

Cleaner Charts… For A While

For a month or two, though, things improved. The charts cleaned up. Real, actual authors — not faceless book stuffers powered by ghostwriters — started surfacing again. Readers were saying that it was easier to find good books in the charts. I noticed the difference myself in July when helping someone with a launch; it seemed to take less of a push to get in the Top 100. I stopped paying attention to what the scammers were doing. Life was good.

It seems like Amazon stopped paying attention too. It was far harder to get into the Top 100 in September, and a quick look at the charts showed why. Many of those “authors” from Chance Carter’s mastermind circle who inexplicably survived the purges of June/July — grotesque characters like RR Banks — were suddenly charting again. En masse. With multiple books each, simultaneously.

They had figured out a new hole in the fence. I looked at the Contemporary Romance charts for the first time in a while and all the real authors were being pushed down again, while all the ghostwritten trash was swamping the Kindle Store once more.

This is the usual pattern with Amazon and scammers: they find a hole in the fence, we scream like crazy pointing it out, Amazon takes forever to click into gear — usually only after negative PR — fails to deal with the problem comprehensively, and then the scammers get smarter. Harder to detect. Better at grabbing more cash before the next fence-hole is patched. The cycle has been continuing for four years.

I was just about to write off the action in June/July as merely an isolated attempt to counter the negative publicity, when I got some news last night that more authors had been taken down — again from that same infamous circle: Nicole Elliot, Alice Ward, and Amy Brent.

Bad Boys Return

Many more remain, however. And what’s worse is this: I’ve heard reports that many of those who were banned in June and July have either already returned under new pen names or are gearing up to do so: forming companies, hiring ghostwriters, commissioning covers. That they are all doing so simultaneously is no surprise. It’s clear they have find a new way to game the system and are all going to attack the fence at the same time, with as much content as possible.

While Amazon had been successful at stopping a handful of these guys from returning under new names over the summer, it is clear now that it has missed many more. But Amazon is in possession of all that information now, so we’ll see what action it takes.

Aside from permanently decommissioning these guys, however, a deeper conversation needs to be had about why these internet marketers are choosing the Kindle Store as their playground when they could be hawking diet pills or flipping real estate. Because these guys aren’t writers. They aren’t even readers!

The Kindle Unlimited Effect

I will always be grateful to Amazon for so many things. Democratizing publishing. Opening up distribution. Giving us access to readers in unprecedented ways. Thinking deeply about the problems of visibility and discoverability, and building a recommendation engine which was (largely) agnostic, one which allowed any book, by any author or publisher, at any price, to be the one recommended.

Amazon didn’t just popularize ebooks, it revolutionized the ways that books get recommended to readers, which created a massive opportunity for authors — and we then capitalized on to an unbelievable extent. Self-publishers have taken over around half the US ebook market in less than ten years, which is just crazy. And that was largely made possible by Amazon.

That said, it hasn’t all been positive, and the trend in the last few years is very choppy. The introduction of Kindle Unlimited has been a big win for some writers and a huge loss for others. Any disruptive innovation will shake up the population of winners and losers — that’s what disruption does. However, this particular innovation seems to have worsened the power curve considerably. While those winners are getting unprecedented riches, everyone else seems to be either writing faster and advertising more to stay still, or is slipping back. I don’t think that’s healthy for the market overall or sustainable in the long-term — and it’s encouraging practices which worsen all those trends, such as the use of ghostwriters to power an incredible release schedule.

The amount of grifters and cheaters and fraudsters which have flooded Amazon since the introduction of Kindle Unlimited is remarkable. You will always get scamming anywhere that money and the internet intersect, and Amazon has always had some level of it, but it exploded exponentially since the introduction of Kindle Unlimited — particularly the per-page, communal pot compensation system brought in during its second year.

Amazon’s response has always been to take a very light touch approach to regulating the Kindle Store. It lets bad actors get away with an incredible amount before it makes a move. While it would be welcome if this philosophy was inspired by a desire to be absolutely sure of someone’s guilt before taking action, it appears to be led by a desire to have automated systems — rather than expensive human beings — doing all the heavy lifting. Systems which have led to innocent authors getting rank-stripped and losing page reads.

Meanwhile, the big scammy whales don’t get spotted by these systems, it seems. Amazon will then ignore dozens of reports from all sorts of sources about someone who is clearly scamming the system before it eventually (sometimes) takes action — usually in response to a PR black eye. And this leaves authors in a difficult position because Amazon doesn’t listen to us: either we go to the press or the scamming gets worse.

That’s not a healthy situation for anyone involved.

I’ve never understood Amazon’s approach to this mess. Amazon spent so much time and money creating the best recommendation engine on the planet, which has led to it being repeatedly named as the #1 most trusted brand in the world by consumers. The quality of recommendations that customers get surely plays a huge part in that — and Amazon has consistently taken the long-term approach of foregoing easy money to build trust in those recommendations.

Letting scammers piss all over the charts hugely undercuts that.

I wonder if Amazon ever thinks about this. Does it ever wonder why these cheaters have chosen the Kindle Store as their playground? Does Amazon ever ask itself this: what it is specifically about Kindle Unlimited that makes the publishing business suddenly attractive to these shitweasels?

It’s time to have that conversation.

64 Replies to “Kindle Unlimited – A Cheater Magnet”

  1. Excellent, David. When Kindle Unlimited was announced, I didn’t care for the idea either from a reader-consumer’s viewpoint or a writer-creator’s. And that was before the scammers flocked in like vultures. I still doubt it can be made to work reliably, to achieve what Amazon claims without serious distortions and confusions in the marketplace.

  2. Thanks for the education! For a while now, I’ve wondered what has happened to my ebook sales on Amazon. When I first began publishing there, I could make a couple of hundred dollars on a new book with no advertising at all. Now, I’m knocking myself out with advertising and begging for reviews. My books are winding up at the bottom of charts. Then, when I check out the competition, I kept seeing very low quality work at the top with tons of reviews and couldn’t figure out how that was possible. I knew something shady was probably going on but not to this extent. This article explains what has been happening. I also do freelance writing and graphic design and kept wondering at the ads I’ve been seeing for freelance fiction work. I wondered how anyone could be making money off of it. I have to work very hard to see any profit at all on Amazon. Now, it all makes sense. The scammers are gaming the system. I do well on ITunes but Amazon has turned into pretty much a black hole. Thanks for the information!

  3. Hi David,

    I am so glad you posted this. I have been wondering about how to deal with all the scammy copyright violators that are in my niche (knitting and crochet). There are so many books out there that are literally pdfs of patterns from older books that are compiled together in books that are put on KU. I have been wondering what information I would need to contact Amazon about this stuff too. It has really made rankings in our genre tank as well. I know in many cases the publishers need to litigate the copyrights but how do we as authors let Amazon know how to deal with this type of thing?

    1. There is a button to report problematic content on every book’s page. Just scroll down until you see the light blue box with “Feedback” at the top and click the respective link.

      1. Thanks David! That helps! I am going to forward this article to others in my genre. Even though I am not a novelist per se, I love your books and posts and newsletter because everything you write has helped me learn more about self-publishing my books too! (I’m working on book 7)

  4. OMG I literally thought I was losing my mind. I’m writing contemporary romance and some of the author’s you named I’ve even used as keywords in my ads thinking they were legit authors. I started right around the time that Amazon was cracking down this year, and my book which still had yet to be properly launched went from rankng in the millions to the low 300K’s overnight. I thought “that was easy!” Once I started learning and gaining footing I was in the top 100 for weeks, and I thought I was getting a hang of it, then it suddenly…just…stopped. Other than the drastic changes with the AMS platform, I just thought everyone else was just writing faster than me. And seems as though they all are, just not the way that I thought. But I couldn’t understand how my book could just disappear, how the algorithm that was helping me get “sticky” could no longer even sense that I was there anymore. I was mostly disturbed that the system seemed to be different from the way everyone that I was learning from was telling me it was supposed to go. I thought “maybe it’s harder for me.” Throwing all my books in KU last minute in September was the only thing that kept me afloat last month. The only good thing to come out of it is the quickly growing desire to somehow find independence from Amazon.

  5. As a reader, I tried KU for awhile. But readers are limited to 10 books at a time and we don’t own them. I read voraciously and much of that is rereading books I love. So the only time I use KU anymore is when I’m not sure I will like the book. If I love it, I buy it.

  6. What about some of the other authors who were taken down by Amazon in the science fiction and fantasy categories, not romance. I remember seeing a Yahoo article with Jason Cipriano and then Michael Scott Earle got banned too. Same thing?

    1. I didn’t personally witness what they were alleged to have been up to, which caused their permanent account ban from KDP, but several people have told me that there was funky formatting in their books which could be indicative of shenanigans. They claim innocence, but not very convincingly, and it further undermines that claim when they both attempted to come back to Amazon through back doors – Michael Scott Earle via a publisher and JA Cipriano under a new pen name – rather than clear their names. So not the same as the Chance Carter crew, but seem to have been doing something which triggered the ban hammer.

      1. Actually, when it comes to MSE’s attempt to go through a publisher, that wasn’t a back door. I’m pretty sure it was a stipulation given by Amazon that he go through a publisher. In regards to clearing their names, that isn’t how burden of proof works. Amazon, as the accuser, is burden to provide said evidence for any breach of ethics on the author’s part. So far, they’ve failed to provide that. MSE has been pretty open about trying to get the exact reasons why Amazon blanket-banned him, but Amazon hasn’t received any specifics. This isn’t a uncommon problem. Several well known and respected authors in various genres have been deplatformed without warning or given specific cause. The assumed reason for this is because Amazon used an algorithm that track ‘suspected’ activity, allowing it to deplatform the author immediately. Unfortunately, like many Youtubers who have found themselves unfairly demonetized, self-published authors are finding their main source of income threatened by an unfair algorithm. Point is, the situation is more nuanced that you’re implying it to be, and I believe that if we are here to support indie authors, we have to recognize the systemic issues and figure out a way to prevent blind deplatforming of innocent authors.

        1. I keep hearing this claim that innocent authors have had accounts shut down by Amazon, but haven’t heard any actual examples, so feel free to give any you can think of. And I’m not convinced by MSE/JA’s claims of innocence. I didn’t find any of their statements believable. And I also know what circles they ran in…

        2. No, Amazon doesn’t have to prove anything. They will observe the legal niceties in order to pre-empt the possibility of lawsuits, , but at the end of the day, they can throw an author off their platform for anything or nothing, just the same way you can tell someone to leave your residence.

          And, I read a lot of forums, and I haven’t seen any credible reports of any dolphins (innocent authors) being caught in the nets within the last six months or so. Most of those which were, a while ago, were quickly reinstated, though with a lot of nail-biting, of course. So, that objection, once important, has largely become moot.

      2. You didn’t witness it, didn’t research it, have nothing but third party information on it, and have never examined the books personally, but are still making a comment about them? WHY? Authors getting falsely banned are as terrifying an issue as scammers running free- more terrifying, in some ways. Please examine the issue further. Third-party accusations without details is a terrible thing to propagate in the indie community, as it is an easy way to create witch-hunts and help actual scammers escape attention.

        1. I’ve heard a lot about these guys from authors I trust, and that’s good enough for me. If you want to disregard my opinion, you are free to do so. But if you are genuinely concerned and want to get to the truth of the matter, then feel free to ask around and make your own determination.

      3. It seems I can’t reply to your most recent comment. In regards to citing specific authors, I know a few personally who are small time self-published authors and haven’t done any kind of book stuffing, but they’re viewcounts for KDP were severely cut. I don’t feel comfortable sharing their names without permission because it’s such a personal matter. However, Steven Rowland posted below his own experiences, and it’s a pretty traumatic event. A reliable resource for you might be the Facebook group Author Support Network. It’s been flooded recently with authors who have been both deplatformed and/or had their Kindle Unlimited reads cut without warning or explanation. Industry leaders like Mark Dawson have even remarked on his SPF Podcast and group about the blanket deplatforming and read cuts several times and measures people can do to either prevent or cope with the loss. The reason I bring this up is because I don’t want anyone to be so dismissive about this systemic issue just because there really are a ton of cheating authors. It’s affecting real authors who worked hard for what they’ve done. Most of them aren’t so vocal about it because they don’t feel like they have a voice. I just ask you keep an open mind about the situation and check out that facebook group. If you want to discuss further, feel free to reach out to me on Facebook. I believe this is an issue that needs to be addressed and I am happy to discuss it with anyone.

        1. Hi Ryan, it’s important to be specific here – which is why I specifically asked about account termination. I’m not aware of any innocent authors who have had accounts terminated.

          I’m well aware of the issues of rank stripping and page stripping which I have covered on this blog a number of times, and I’ve made multiple representations to Amazon on this issue, both generally, and on behalf of specific authors. The article above even clearly states the following:

          “While it would be welcome if this philosophy was inspired by a desire to be absolutely sure of someone’s guilt before taking action, it appears to be led by a desire to have automated systems — rather than expensive human beings — doing all the heavy lifting. Systems which have led to innocent authors getting rank-stripped and losing page reads.

          Meanwhile, the big scammy whales don’t get spotted by these systems, it seems.”

      4. For some reason, I still can’t reply to your most recent comment. Anyway, I agree that specificity is important because it provides clarity, and therefore, transparency. However, the authors I do know are those whom I know personally. Once again, it may sound like I’m dodging your answer, but I’m trying to practice a sense of empathy. That’s why I referred you to the Author Support Network group because it may interest you to reach out to those there directly and filter their responses for yourself. In terms of journalistic quality, you’ll have a primary source of information rather than a secondary source, me. If you move forward in that direction, I’d be curious to see if you’d be able to get some of the smaller authors comfortable enough to share their side of the story. Personally, I’ve had a difficult time getting some to do so because they’re still dealing with the trauma of it. If I have any success in having them share their story, I’ll send them your way. Personally, I have a vested interest in learning more about deplatforming because I’m an indie author myself. I’ve now had to focus my business efforts in creating a system that doesn’t totally hinge on my relationship with Amazon. In common business phrasing, I am making a robust business that can survive and pivot during black swan events.

        I do have a question though, have you personally reached out to a number of authors who have claimed innocence and asked their perspective directly? From the way you’ve written your article, you have an incredibly objective way of thinking, and you should be able to filter the b.s. from the facts rather quickly. The reason I ask is because you asked me to provide names, and I provided a resource of names. I just hope you have been able to provide the same amount of effort to get both sides of the story. Thanks again for the quick responses and great article.

        1. Hi Ryan, I’m a member of the Author Support Network and have been for a long time, and was involved in the background in May/June in making representations on behalf of all sorts of authors who suffered rank-stripping and page stripping – although I’ve been less involved lately.

          I’m still not aware of any innocent authors who have had accounts terminated. I’m aware of plenty who have been rank stripped and page stripped – which is a separate issue.

          As for reaching out to authors, who are you referring to exactly? In respect of any authors named in the article above, I witnessed the behaviors discussed. The book stuffing was obvious. Before the crackdown in June, all you had to do was click Look Inside on their books to see it. I’ve also linked to posts above documenting other problematic behaviours from the authors named above.

          I’ve been covering this issue – and documenting it here – for years.

          (As for replies, there is a limit to how many nested replies the comments will allow or it gets out of hand and becomes unreadable, especially on mobile.)

      5. Now I’m curious. What specific behaviors of MSE’s do you believe caused him to become banned? You didn’t cite him in the article, but you’ve mentioned him a couple times in the comments. Because if it is a measurable set of behaviors and they really were cause of banning, then we should be made aware of those to help other authors avoid them.

        I just believe that since you’re taking a journalistic approach to this article, and have been for quite a while, that it behooves you at least attempt to get a comment from someone like Michael Scott-Earle. By dismissing even the smallest possibility that Amazon’s banning wasn’t as fair as they claim it was, we are therefore dismissing the even just the possibility of a systemic issue at hand. I’ve switched to using the word possibility because that’s really all I am able to present to you at the moment, unless one of the indies steps forward and is open to a candid conversation.

        Since you’re such an integral part of the Author Support Network, why don’t you make a post and ask for some of those affected by this to reach out to you directly? Waiting passively for someone in your comment section to supply a primary source doesn’t seem to be as effective as proactively seeking a voice who can articulate the issue from their perspective. You don’t have to do it, but I’m just surprised that hasn’t been a step toward a solution that’s been presented yet.

      6. Okay. I agree it isn’t about MSE. It’s about the possibility of a systemic issue that shouldn’t be dismissed. It’s about the entire truth.

        Then don’t choose MSE. The reason I keep bringing him up is to keep the conversation consistent. All I’m saying is I’m interested in nothing but the whole truth, not just a facet of it, simply for the sake of empowering indie authors with knowledge to protect and enhance their own livelihood. Choose a different author. Heck, pick Cipriano. I don’t know enough about him, but you mentioned him. Follow through with your claim and ask for an interview. Filter his response for facts. Or reach out to the Network as I previously suggested.

        You’ve taken the position of calling people out on their bullshit. That’s a strong stance that comes with it a certain level of responsibility, due diligence, and journalistic follow-through. That means reaching out to those affected by this, regardless of their claims of innocence.

        However, if getting to the entire truth of the matter isn’t your intent, then I’ve misread your article, and I apologize for my line of inquiry.

        1. I actually didn’t mention either of them – or even allude to them above – because, at the danger of repeating myself, this article is not about them. I was asked a question in the comments (the one at the top of this thread) about whether their cases were the same as Chance Carter et al. And I responded that, to the best of my knowledge, they were not, but that Amazon had cause to terminate them. IMO, YMMV.

      7. Fine. Regardless of whether or not you were the first to bring up MSE or Cipriano, it doesn’t take away the expected due diligence when opining such a strong stance. Will you be making a post in the Network group to ask people if they’ve been affected by this and to have an honest conversation? Will you be reaching out to those who were deplatformed to discern fact from fiction? You don’t have to, but there are consequences for claiming, or at least opining, that Amazon was completely in the right and that there isn’t a possibility of a systemic issue. Aren’t you concerned about even the smallest possibility that Amazon has or could wipe out several indie author’s income without giving a specific reason?

        I am. In fact, I’m terrified that even if I do everything right Amazon may still knock me off their platform due to a miscalculation in a bot and give me the silent god treatment. I terrified for other authors as well. All I ask is we get all the facts, and if we take Amazon’s side completely on this, then we may be blinding ourselves to an issue we could have prevented.

        Also, I haven’t made any post in the Network because

        A) I’m a new member
        B) I don’t have the responsibility of journalistic due diligence since I didn’t create an article with such a strong stance

        1. For the final time, this article wasn’t about MSE or Cipriano, doesn’t mention them, and doesn’t allude to them. Someone asked in the comments if their cases were similar to those discussed above, and I gave my opinion that their cases were not similar to Chance Carter et al (who this post was about), but that it looked like Amazon had cause to terminate. You are free to make whatever determinations, and investigations, you wish. And if that’s not good enough for you, I’m perfectly comfortable with that.

      8. Honestly, I’m disappointed by your response. I already said to set MSE and Cipriano aside. I agreed that they don’t matter in this. The only thing that matters is getting to the truth of it and holding ourselves to a journalistic standard when writing articles like this. If we don’t hold ourselves to that standard, then all we are doing is spreading a facet of the truth, instead of the entire truth. That’s misinformation, which is much more dangerous in the hands of someone speaking as if they are an authority. It cripples any attempt for a solution to the problem. I was really hoping you wanted to get to the heart of the issue and try to find a solution to the banning. You seemed passionate about the subject that I thought it might be the case.

        1. The truth about what exactly? The authors specifically mentioned in the article? Did you read any of the linked articles with their behavior documented in painstaking detail? Have you read all my previous posts on the subject? Have you seen all the screenshots?

          Or are you suggesting that I should dig into some Grander Truth about Things not covered here?

      9. I have and I did. The problem I’ve brought up many times is that there is a possibility that Amazon’s algorithms could have and/or will cause a systemic issue by banning authors who didn’t deserve to be banned. When it comes to providing the names, I asked asked multiple times whether or not you will be asking for names directly in the Network group or asking banned authors for a candid conversation directly. At this point in the conversation, I believe we’re just two ships passing in the night and no real communication is actually being made. I’m sorry for that.

        1. First, this article isn’t about all-and-any authors who may have been sanctioned by Amazon in the past. It’s about a specific group of authors – commonly known as the book stuffers, or the bad boy stuffers, or Chance Carter’s mastermind circle, among other names. It explicitly names who it is about.

          Second, even though it’s not relevant whatsoever to this article, I have been covering the issue for four years and I’ve never heard of an innocent author getting banned from Amazon.

          Third, I’ve been active in the Author Support Network for over a year and I’ve never seen any evidence of an innocent author getting banned from Amazon.

          Fourth, I’ve seen lots of people CLAIM that innocent authors are getting banned from Amazon over the last year or so, both in the Author Support Network and elsewhere, but I’ve never seen one single example ever given.

          So, no, I won’t go and post in the Author Support Network asking for the same thing that has been asked for there and elsewhere. However, if you or anyone else has any evidence you would like me to look at, you can post it here, there, or email me.

          (Please note that this offer has been repeatedly made both here and elsewhere and in the Author Support Network over the last year and no one has taken me up on it.)

        2. I, too, am unclear what you want from David, Ryan. We all saw Cipriano attempt to return to KDP and KU under a new account pen name. I believe the correspondence from Amazon that he shared (which was boilerplate, iirc) in advance of his return attempt, expressly told him not to try that. And not only did KDP pull his books down, Audible did as well. Instead of attempting yet another violation of Amazon’s terms, if Cipriano was considering arbitration, he really should have gone that route before digging himself deeper into contract (TOS) violations.

          Perhaps MSE shared the email where Amazon told him he could return under a publisher account. I didn’t see it; I only saw his posts saying that’s what Amazon said, right before he attempted it. Amazon apparently had an issue with that. It certainly wasn’t bots that removed those books within a few hours of them appearing on the site.

          Here’s the thing. Even if authors and Amazon both abide by the TOS, selling on Amazon remains at Amazon’s pleasure. There is no constitutional right-to-publish granted authors. We can or Amazon can dissolve the relationship at will.

          In counterpoint, many of us have turned over reams of evidence against authors/publishers absolutely, positively violating TOS terms, only to see those authors remain selling on Amazon. We’ve seen temporary account suspensions of authors who were later reinstated. Some of those were apparently warnings, because some of those folk were absolutely violating TOS — I’ve seen some of those authors ‘reform’ and stop their violations; I’ve seen others who dug in deeper and later had their accounts permanently terminated.

          Reinstatement does not always equal innocence. Although in some cases, it does. Amazon actually permanently bans very, very few accounts. Far fewer than all the heavily documented violations would suggest should be banned. And far, far fewer than those abiding by the TOS would like.

          To echo David, what account of an innocent author/publisher has been permanently banned?

          Amazon’s arbitration process will even pay for the plaintiff’s arbitration fees if it turns out Amazon is deemed to be in the wrong and the complaint is not a frivolous one. Have Cipriano or MSE actually filed an arbitration suit? Talking about doing it and doing it are two vastly different things. If they haven’t, and they truly know they haven’t done anything that violated the TOS in major ways, then why have they waited so long?

          At this point, I don’t think those defending Cipriano and MSE will be satisfied with anything less than an arbitration ruling. As those siding with Amazon would likewise need to be satisfied if they’re cleared.

        3. Look up the definition of sealioning.”

          For those not in the know, it means someone endlessly saying “prove it, prove it, prove it,” even when there’s no way to definitively prove anything in public without causing more problems than it solves.

          This behavior is usually accompanied by attempts to hijack or divert the discussion; moving the goalposts; trying to focus on one contentious issue rather than the main issue; defending the indefensible with by fearmongering about the possibility of the process going too far; raising unjustified fears of the collateral damage of necessary policing; straw man arguments (assigning an indefensible stance to the opponent in order to easily knock it down); using the fallacy of the excluded middle (the only way we can do A is if we allow the even worse B to happen, as in “reporting these scammers causes more harm than good)–ad nauseam.

          I’m pointing this out because the poster Ryan DiCinque is using all these tactics to try to confuse people reading these comments. S/he’s spending one hell of a lot of time and energy defending the indefensible. Anyone reading this comment thread needs to understand that these scammers are well organized, well funded, and they have spokespeople cruising the internet trying very hard to tell everyone “nothing to see here, go back to your houses, nothing to report.”

  7. I remember seeing other authors outside romance being banned too. Jason Cipriano was in a Yahoo article discussing being banned from Amazon, and then Michael Scott Earle. Both of those are science fiction fantasy authors. Were they caught up in the innocents being banned or something else?

    1. I know both of them and have read many of their books. Whatever they were accused of wasn’t obvious inside their books. They used the same formatter that Michael Anderlee uses. In MSE’s case he got permission from Amazon to come back on through a publisher. Then Amazon kept blocking said publisher for various and innumerable reasons. For Jason, they wouldn’t even talk to him. He’s moving into arbitration. Guilty people rarely work as hard as those two men do. I can’t say for sure but whatever algorithm Amazon uses to spot scammers misfired on them. Regardless of what circles they move in, they’re indie and they work their butts of eight hours a day writing. No good writers, very few collaborations, just fun, exciting books. For some reason, most likely personal, some authors really hate those two guys. Don’t ask me why. Point being, whoever told David they were shady has an ax to grind. MSE and JC are legit.

      1. They both have a lot in common, as you suggest. Both of them were tight with Rebecca Hamilton – someone else whose account was terminated by Amazon, who claims absolute innocence, despite having her behaviors witnessed by scores of people. You say both didn’t use ghostwriters, yet both had an incredibly fast release schedule – one that almost seems… impossible for someone without… assistance of some sort. Both of them sold like crazy right out of the gate, for reasons that weren’t immediately obvious, shall we say. And then both attempted to return to the Kindle Store when they were explicitly barred from doing so, rather than publish elsewhere. Almost as if they needed to be in Kindle Unlimited for their business to be viable. Funny that. JA Cipriano’s attempt to return under a pen name was particularly shady. Now you have your opinion, which you have freely expressed, and I have mine, but the relevant opinion here is that of Amazon – which it has made abundantly clear.

      2. As for the formatting, that reminds me of something. I was approached by an author when I first wrote about Tia Siren’s formatting hacks (linked above) who said that Michael Scott Earle had similarly suspicious formatting, and that page counts of his book didn’t reflect how short they were in actuality. This definitely wasn’t someone with an ax to grind, this was someone who was reading his books and unsure if they were seeing something wrong or not, and they wanted to be very careful about that. But when I went to check myself, just as Amazon started moving on the stuffers, MSE had already quickly republished new versions without the funky formatting. Not quickly enough for Amazon, it seems.

        On top of that, when searching my inbox just now for that message, I came across another one about MSE – someone suspicious of his reviews. His books were always remarkably well reviewed, with an eerily high average, always right out of the gate. This author had noticed that Tamer had a very suspicious review pattern, and that several of the main reviewers across MSE’s books were all relatively new accounts, all created at the same time, reviewing dozens of books with similar phrases. Again, before I had a chance to investigate, Amazon had already moved to terminate his account permanently. Not a slam dunk case perhaps, but yet another red flag. Those are piling up…

  8. Thanks for this David 🙂 Love your posts.

    I’ve got a somewhat-successful series in KU right now, but despite very good click-through on ads (some of the best ever, with very well adjusted and happy-family Relevancy on Facebook) pagereads have taken a waterboarding this month.

    A continued problem with KU is transparency. Did people read the book? Who knows! It’s related to your point about minimum payout per borrow. We kind of need to take it on faith that people are reading and then we’re getting appropriately recompensed.

    It might be time to relaunch my new series wide as an experiment. At the very least it could increase my chances of a Bub, as they favor wide authors.

    1. Lack of transparency has been baked into the system since the beginning and it has only gotten worse. Amazon used to tell us how many borrows we got under the first iteration of KU, and it no longer does. This is pretty critical information for us and they withhold it. It’s bizarre.

  9. Problem is I’m not sure if this rapid-release, ghostwritten stuff is actually in breach of the terms and conditions. In fact, I don’t think it is, even if it is utter crap.

    Only if it can be proven the new names are definitely the banned authors, then we might have a leg to stand on complaining to Amazon – and even then, do they really care?

    1. @Caitlyn, I think you’re on to something here. Follow the money, and we see Amazon make the same cash from their KU fees regardless of who gets paid.

      Their interest in resolving this stems from reader satisfaction. This is difficult to measure, because from a machine intelligence (ha) perspective, pagereads are the metric of choice. The scammers appear to get good read-through/sell-through, which means Amazon customers are happy. Right?

      Right??

      Longer-term, customers won’t be (I know I’m not as a Kindle owner!) but it takes a long-ish time for those results to be seen in the mighty dashboards of Amazon, I’d hazard. I’d imagine they act when they note a specific linked outcome (like a drop in KU subs, or book business falling substantially).

      From an author perspective, this means things are fraught with peril. It’s hard to argue with the juggernaut. More, long-term KU teaches readers books should be free and writers that their work is worth pennies. The real thorn here is exclusivity; if KU was a boon for the industry there wouldn’t be lock-in and people would flock to it because it was a viable beneficial outcome for all. You’ll note this doesn’t happen 😀

    2. Rapid release + ghostwriters isn’t against the TOS, but in the case of the authors in question, I’d be very surprised if it wasn’t pair with some of the other non-book-stuffing problematic behaviors listed above. I’ve seen some evidence that is the case, there are certainly lots of red flags.

      1. David, how does someone tell if they are reading a real person or not? Can we assume if there is never a real-life picture on their social media that they are not real? I read people like Scott Hildreth, Willow Winters and Vivian Wood. They are routinely post pictures and videos of themselves. Others that I have read have been banned like Alice Ward, Lana Hartley and Alexis Angel. I have never seen actual photos of them. It is very confusing to the consumer. I really enjoyed the Alice Ward books but have found out that is a pen name?? I just wish there was a way to know.

        1. Many (genuine) authors don’t use photographs or their real names for perfectly valid reasons. And use of a photograph, or even your real name, is not proof of bona fides either of course.

        2. There are a lot of reasons why someone would choose to write under a pen name, and it’s not all nefarious. I know a lot of people who write erotica and steamy romance under a pen name because they don’t want that kind of content associated with their real name. Authors will write under a pen name to better separate their brands and avoid confusion with customers. I know guys who write romance under female pen names because writing under a male name is an uphill battle, and vice versa.

          The question you should be asking isn’t “is this author a real person” but rather “is this author branding ghostwritten content as their own.” It’s a little more difficult to determine, but if there’s an inconsistency with the quality of writing or voice then that’s a good tipoff that you’re reading a content farm being marketed cleverly rather than an author putting their stuff out there.

          Pen names aren’t really the problem. Content mills are the real issue and what you need to watch out for.

  10. I think the danger here is generalising a genre as crap or ghostwriten just because it is not to the article authors taste is a rocky path.
    The majority of these authors Tia Siren etc are self promoted on mediums like Facebook etc to their key audience women between 20-60 who are most likely to be the majority of kindle unlimited subscribers. So maybe they’re not guilty of number stuffing they’re guilty of having too good promotion. I compare it to the music charts, manufactured pop music will always sell more than classical trained performers and so will “frothy romance” books because they’re in demand.
    A lot of women of a certain age at home looking after children etc don’t want to read about the drudgery of life, they want the Prince charming fantasy. We have enough serious issues in real life, we don’t usually want to read about it. They may not hold any true substance but you try following a plot when you re read the same paragraph half a dozen times because you play referee to children or your so tired you can barely lift your arms. Sometimes it’s good to have something to read that you don’t have to think about. I certainly did when doing my finals at Uni.

    1. Nobody is making any generalizations about a genre, or niche within that genre. As for Tia Siren in particular, her problematic business model has been well documented, such as in the articles linked above.

  11. It is so bizarre that Amazon would allow their product to be so easily and heavily manipulated. Like as a long-term survival of the kindle/kindle unlimited product they should be looking to stamp that stuff down.

  12. Thank you for explaining in terms I can actually understand. Many reports were rather confusing to me. Also is there a list of these scammers so I can add to my do not purchase list. I added the ones you mentioned but how big is the chance circle and its crazy they keep coming back. As a reader I wish all the authors good luck in all their efforts. Thank you David

  13. Great post. I’m a small fish and also one of the innocent authors who have been hit by page read stripping the last few months. 3 out of 4 to be specific. 2 of those months were on new releases and the only advertising I used was AMS. I’ve tried to contact amazon about this, but continually receive stock replies. I have over a years worth of data showing my sales to page read ratio, which is dramatically off on the adjusted months. And somehow, on the one month I wasn’t hit, 3 months after release when I also canceled AMS ads because I felt they were connected , the page reads are higher than on launch month when I spent money on ads. It’s impossible to talk to a real human and no one seems to care that it’s affecting the livelihood of those on the bubble of supporting themselves fully through writing. Ive lost faith in the system and don’t know what to do anymore.

    1. I’ve tried talking to Amazon on this issue, as have several writer organizations, and everyone gets the same response: Amazon refuses to disclose the evidence behind the determinations it is unilaterally making that these page reads are fraudulent. We are supposed to blindly trust that Amazon’s systems are infallible when all the evidence suggests otherwise. For example, Amazon’s systems can’t even measure the length of a book accurately – if you upload the exact same file five times to KDP, it will give you five different page counts. It’s completely unacceptable.

    2. Rankstripping and pagestripping are different beasts from banning, and likely bot-driven. Amazon in all probability doesn’t permanently terminate an account without human intervention.

      Rankstripping of innocent authors has of late not been nearly the problem it was early on. Could the bots have learned and become better at detecting true manipulation? Could they have been tweaked to specifically exclude sales/borrows/downloads originating from known and clean promotional sites?

      Pagestripping might be tied to reader accounts — people who are being inappropriately incentivized to read. If the reader accounts are targeted, then it’s possible even books they aren’t being incentivized to read are being targeted. And that could be why we see potentially innocent authors’ books that are in genres rife with scammers that are being pagestripped the most. And could be another reason why scammers harm (in the legal sense) all authors.

      While I firmly believe Amazon needs more transparent reporting and that it’s really unacceptable for those page reads to be ‘on the books’ for 2-6 weeks before being removed, I’ll also note that the official royalty statement doesn’t come out until the 15th of the following month. Until then, everything is still subject to tweaking. And once the statements have been posted, I’ve not seen a case when Amazon has clawed back any monies from innocent authors, where I have seen Amazon add the odd money *into* bank accounts.

      Casual observation: It seems there were far fewer reports of pagestripping happening in the couple of months after the first wave of romance and LitRPG and harem authors. Can anyone confirm or refute?

      1. Amending:
        It seems there were far fewer reports of pagestripping happening in the couple of months after the first wave of romance and LitRPG and harem authors *were banned.*

  14. Yet another reason not to go with Kindle Unlimited, god what is wrong with people? I wish amazon would get on to finding a better solution for this already, as what they are doing isn’t working! Kindle needs to be completely redone imop. My heart goes out to all of you dealing with this nightmare! ;-; I’m still new and haven’t put up any books yet am going to wait until I have at least three books before putting anything up… (ack.) I’m not putting my email in the fourm as bots will take it, here: vaporlightATaolDOTcom

  15. There’s evidence Chance Carter and the others have hired social media managers after Get Loud blew them up last time. Some of the comments here plus contrived manipulations on another forum recently when this subject came up make it too obvious. Expect strawman arguments, diversions, and aggressive threats of litigation every time the terminated publishers are discussed online. They’re very vulnerable behind their new KDP accounts and will lash out. They’ll do everything they can to stop their new names from getting discussed publicly because enough reports will get Amazon to look at them. Just a fair warning. Remember every new account ban means real pain, no royalties, and raises the likelihood of KDP pursuing legal action against this group. The heat is on. Now we’ll see if their professional trolling gives them the silence needed to operate or if KU authors who play by the rules get Amazon to see the problem first.

  16. As I’ve said many times on forums, there’s a simple fix to reduce the problems by half, I estimate:

    Reduce the KENPC cap from 3000 to 1000. This reduces the incentive to scam, because it’s almost solely KU that’s being scammed. Not “Amazon” or even “KDP,” but the KU/Select unlimited-reading model.

    Reducing the cap by 2/3 would chop at least half of the stuffers/botters/scammers’ ill-gotten gains. Incentivized/faked/botted reads of bloated 3000-page ghostwritten tomes would yield $4 instead of $12 each, so that even if they got away with their practices, the rewards would drop. Less money means less incentive, and less excess cash to plow back into schemes to abuse the system.

    How is organized crime most effectively attacked? Going after the money. Take away the money, and all sorts of good things happen.

    1. I think the pros and cons of that solution are pretty clear, however I should mention that it – or some variation of same – has been pitched to Amazon multiple times over the last six months or so, via reps and writing orgs and other submissions made to KDP on this issue. Amazon hasn’t shown much interest in it, so I don’t think it’s a runner.

      Personally, I’m not hugely in favor of it for all the reasons that have been mentioned before. I’ve always felt that Amazon had sufficient existing rules to handle these guys and didn’t need any new ones – what it needed was the will to apply the rules, a situation which it would arguably still face even if it adopted this more aggressive cap. My fear was also that stuffing was just one part of the overall scam and that if that was nixed, they would move onto something else, and we would still have the problem of Amazon not having the will to really tackle these guys head-on.

      And, in fact, that’s where we are now. Stuffing seems to have ceased for the most part – at least at the higher end of the rankings – thanks to Amazon actually applying its rules for once and banning (some) authors. But the surviving scammers are still engaging in some or all of the other practices I mentioned, and have found some new tricks to bankroll their schemes to take the place of stuffing. And the same problem remains: Amazon is weirdly reticent to move on these guys.

  17. I’ve been on Amazon since 2011, had what I considered good success with them so instead of going wide, I stayed. Last year my KU was more than my sales, then in 2018 it dropped way off. If this is due to the scammers, it makes sense. About to launch my 8th book, and I’m F’ng depressed at the not so rosy future.

    1. I should point out that not all of the visibility squeeze happening on Amazon right now is down to scammers – not even most of it, except perhaps in certain niches and for those playing regularly at or near the top of the charts for that niche (and those shooting for All Stars generally).

      For all those other people, the other phenomenons I touched on above are what is putting on that squeeze. Kindle Unlimited rewards price-aggression and ad spend which has created this feedback loop where a lot of visibility on Amazon is becoming pay-to-play – and KU authors can afford to pay several factors more as they get 70% on those 99c Countdown Deals and borrows as the cream on top of whatever sales a promo will generate. This allows them to go into the red during a promo, sometimes significantly, with the knowledge they will get it back – and then some – in the form of reads the following week.

      That’s really tough to compete with if you are not in KU, or even if you are in KU and don’t have the budget or knowledge to run effective ads at any scale. Collectively, all this has worsened the power curve in KU, so that those at the top get even greater rewards and everyone else is suffering – often including people who are spending more on ads and releasing faster, but still sliding back. While I think this situation is severaly exacerbated by the scammers, especially in certain niches, I don’t think they are causing it. (Arguably they are more of a symptom of this phenomenon…)

      It’s pretty tough out there right now, but perhaps there is some hope that this dynamic will shift. I’ve heard rumors that Amazon is aware that KU is feeding this kind of rising inequality, for want of a better phrase, and they want the Kindle Store to be more sustainable for more authors – and are aware that the “middle class” of indies is suffering right now, and are seeking to address that.

      We’ll see.

  18. Makes me sick watching them climb up the charts! Ya know the worst part??? They’ll be getting paid big bonuses real fast if KDP doesn’t do something. KC Crowne and Natasha Black are Rye Hart. Both new names republishing her crappy old books. Character names and places barely changed. Did a line by line comparison. She’s slapping the word series on the books trying to look different. Ain’t fooling anybody with two brain cells to rub together. Reported to Amazon. Everyone should do the same.

  19. It’s getting to the point where Amazon should require the publishing author to state they are actually the author of the book and if it’s found they aren’t, they will be banned from Amazon permanently. Authors will have to credit ghost-writers as co-authors getting a split of the royalties.

    Keep pointing out the scammers. I just reported a book stuffer this week. A “short read” that somehow had more than 1000 pages…yeah, right.

  20. Wow…having just read all of the above posts, I’m amazed at my own ignorance. I always knew there
    was a certain amount of gaming going on in most systems…but I had no idea it was this industrial. I’ll certainly be looking outside of AMS for other forms of book promotion. I will go away and update my brain on page stripping and book stuffing! Thank you David for your in depth and time consuming work explaining the worrying situation that moves like a parasite through the creative gut!

  21. The scamming is industrial, it is organized and many of the hated terminated publishers are returning like a malicious cancer. Names need to be known and spread if David approves mentioning them here.

    Chance Carter himself, the ringleader, is under Johanna Hawke and a new company called RomanceShare.

    Olivia Rush and Tara Starr are Kira Blakely and Emily Bishop.

    KC Crowne and Natasha L Black are Rye Hart.

    Farrah Paige is Juliana Conners and Eva Luxe.

    They’re moving faster and unloading new books every time another week goes by without Amazon shutting down the new accounts. These names need to be reported to KDP content-review and Jeff@amazon.com before they overwhelm the Kindle store again, steal KU bonuses and come up with new blackhat tricks to rig page reads in their favor. Amazon can find them behind their proxies and new EINs if the reports are frequent and taken seriously. Victoria Belle was terminated several weeks ago for this reason. Please encourage Amazon to seek legal action against these scammers for repeated KU fraud and avoiding bans. It’s against the Terms of Service to create a new KDP account after being banned. Amazon says so. Internet marketers continue to do it by hiding their real identities and using proxy services to mask their logins and locations. We need to help Amazon locate and ban them again. Repeated bans and heavy handed legal action by KDP will stop them from continuing to flood the Kindle store with new accounts to destroy real authors. They’re making a joke out of KDP’s ability to control its own store and shut down offenders. Spread the word to Twitter and Facebook. Write journalists who covered the Chance Carter and bookstuffing scandals. Don’t let up.

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