Amazon’s Hall of Spinning Knives

Rank stripping strikes again, and this time it’s someone I know: Phoenix Sullivan. And Amazon’s handling of the situation has been terrible.

This post is from 20 October 2017. It has not been updated except to clean up broken links but the comments remain open.

Phoenix is well-known in the indie community; I’ve known her myself for ten years and consider her a close friend. Aside from being exceptionally generous with her time and knowledge, tirelessly sharing her insights on marketing and algorithms, Phoenix is also well known as a vocal campaigner against scammers and cheaters – particularly on the current big issues of book stuffing and clickfarming.

And now she is being targeted.

When Rank Stripping Strikes

Phoenix made a box set free for a few days at the very start of October, advertising on Freebooksy, KND/BookGorilla, and Digital Book Today – all legitimate sites – and there was no other promotion involved with this title. No BookBub CPM ads, no Facebook campaign, no tweets, no newsletter swaps, no mailing lists.

On the third day of her free run, Phoenix’s box set was rank-stripped by Amazon, a punishment normally reserved for those who have used clickfarms or bots. Phoenix reached out to Amazon to ask what was going on, but they only replied with a canned response accusing her of using artificial means to manipulate her rank.

Exactly one week later, they sent an automated mail with essentially the same content and implied threat:

We are reaching out to you because we detected purchases or borrows of your book(s) originating from accounts attempting to manipulate sales rank.  As a result, the sales rank on the following book(s) will not be visible until we determine this activity has ceased.

Wild Hearts Box Set (Books 1 & 2 + Bonus Novella)(ASIN: B01MYP56J8)

Please be aware that you are responsible for ensuring the strategies used to promote your book(s) comply with our Terms and Conditions. We encourage you to thoroughly review any marketing services employed for promotional purposes.

Please be aware, any additional activity attempting to manipulate the Kindle services may result in account level action.

As I said, Phoenix is a close friend. I know her well and we are in contact almost every day. I know exactly what methods she uses to promote her books, and they are all legitimate. Her ethics are above reproach and she would never engage in any grey hat behavior, let alone go near the black hat territory of bots and clickfarms or mass gifting/incentivized purchasing.

In short, there is no possible way that Phoenix is guilty of any wrongdoing.

Amazon’s Response

All of this happened a couple of weeks ago and Phoenix did not want to go public at first, instead preferring to give Amazon an opportunity to fix it. Successive emails from her to KDP, the Compliance Team, and Executive Customer Relations achieved nothing other than repeated boilerplate about rank manipulation – accusing her of employing illicit methods to artificially inflate her downloads.

At least that’s what we think Amazon is accusing her of doing. In keeping with the general Kafkaesque vibe of the whole situation, Phoenix is being warned not to do it again, but in the half-dozen emails Phoenix has received on this issue, Amazon hasn’t explained what “it” means exactly, and has refused point blank to elaborate (my emphasis):

As we previously stated, we still detect purchases or borrows of your book(s) are originating from accounts attempting to manipulate sales rank. You are responsible for ensuring the strategies used to promote your books comply with our Terms and Conditions.

We cannot offer advice on marketing services or details of our investigations.

Please be aware we will not be providing additional details.

This all unfolded while I was at NINC. I approached a senior Amazon person and explained the situation. He seemed genuinely concerned and said that he would investigate.

All that seemed to achieve was that the rank was eventually returned to Phoenix’s book fifteen days later, but her promo was ruined at that point and, most importantly, she is still being accused of rank manipulation and is on a warning as to her future conduct.

Here is the most disturbing part: it’s possible that Phoenix was deliberately targeted. She has been particularly vocal against scammers and cheaters, and some of the also boughts which attached themselves to her title after her rank stripping were highly suspicious. I offered this information to Amazon but they did not seem interested in pursuing that line of inquiry.

In the last two weeks, while Phoenix was waiting for Amazon to conclude their investigations, I have been contacted by a whole group of authors in a similar situation – including Cheri Lasota, Kristi Belcamino, Leigh LaValle, Alison Foster, Nikky Kaye, and an Australian romance author who wishes to remain nameless.

All of these authors had a similar experience to Phoenix – and suffered rank stripping – in the same two-week period at the end of September. They shared with me which promo sites they used – and, I must stress, all were legitimate sites. I didn’t see anything at all which would cause concern.

Several more authors on KBoards have made similar reports.

Causes of Rank Stripping

Going through all of the details, I searched for commonalities. Some of the books were in KU, some were not. A few of them advertised on BookBub and similar (legitimate) discount sites, and others were backed by a Facebook campaign or newsletter swaps. The only common thread was that all the books were free and had some kind of promo.

I’ve seen some speculation on this point so let me be absolutely clear: there is zero indication that any of the discount sites are the problem here. The only apparent commonality is that all these books were visible in the charts. And Amazon is refusing to engage on the matter outside vague canned responses accusing them of rank manipulation – the exact same messages that I quoted above.

And all these titles were still rank-stripped as of this morning.

The consequences of rank-stripping are severe. When Amazon strips rank from a book, it immediately disappears from the charts, it also disappears from the Popularity List, which feeds a lot of recommendations in the Amazon system. Your book becomes pretty much invisible to Amazon customers unless they directly navigate to your product page somehow. In other words, it chokes off your visibility and kills discoverability.

Needless to say, this pretty much wastes any promo you throw at a book, meaning authors can be seriously out of pocket as a result of this sanction. And, of course, all of these authors have a sword hanging over them now, having been warned as to future conduct (my emphasis):

Please be aware, any additional activity attempting to manipulate the Kindle services may result in account level action.

This is very shabby treatment from Amazon. Even when someone engages in the most egregious law-breaking, there is a trial where they see the evidence against them and they are permitted to mount a defense. In this case, Amazon has just asserted guilt without offering any evidence, has immediately instituted sanctions, threatened even more severe punishment in the future, and is not giving any of the victims a right of reply. This violates any basic principle of fairness and justice, and is no way to act when people’s livelihoods and reputations are at stake.

And it gets worse.

Yesterday, there was a new case – the first one involving a paid title. Veil Nights Box Set #1 by Rowan Casey is a shared world/shared pen-name between twelve high-profile authors, including New York Times bestellers and Amazon Publishing authors – which is all above board and legitimate, and they detail that arrangement in their bio on Amazon.

They ran the box set on BookBub on Wednesday, and deployed no other promo aside from mentioning it to their own mailing lists in the days leading up to the BookBub feature – when it sold approximately 1,500 copies and hit #97 in the Kindle Store.

Then the next day it was rank stripped.

So, this is getting pretty serious. It doesn’t matter if you are wide or in KU, it doesn’t matter if you are big name author or New York Times bestseller, it doesn’t even matter if you are published by Amazon’s imprints, you could be rank-stripped too, with no way to appeal.

But why is all this happening? I see two probable causes, not necessarily exclusive:

  1. Amazon has instituted a new fraud detection system, one which isn’t working very well, and is generating lots of false positives.
  2. Scammers are deliberately targeting innocent authors, pointing clickfarms/bots at their books or using some form of incentivized gifting, which is triggering Amazon’s fraud detection system.

The first theory seems the most immediately plausible, but there is some evidence pointing to the second theory: the same suspicious also boughts appeared on several of the rank-stripped books, and the selection of books affected appears to indicate someone paging through the free charts and manually picking some of those visible, rather than the randomness of a malfunctioning fraud detection system.

Why would scammers do this? There are any number of possibilities, from a general muddying of the waters so Amazon can’t detect actual fraud, to specific testing of Amazon’s fraud detection systems to see what level of artificial downloads triggers a sanction.

Whatever the reason, Amazon has a serious problem on its hands and is refusing to admit it. Rubbing further salt in the wound is that the most egregious scammers and cheaters are still stealing from the KU pot and riding high in the charts.

Self-publishers are worried now about running any kind of promotion and whether they will make it through the Hall of Spinning Knives without suffering the ordeal of rank stripping – honest authors who have only ever used legitimate means to promote their work. (And I’m sure it won’t escape anyone’s notice that two of the most high-profile campaigners against KU scammers have recently run into enforcement issues with Amazon.)

I can’t understand Amazon’s approach here. It has invested so much in building up goodwill among self-publishers and horrendous episodes like this – and its refusal to admit fault even in the most egregious cases – is destroying that. Meanwhile, the actual scammers and cheaters are still flooding the charts, eroding precious reader trust in Amazon’s recommendations. It’s all so crazy, and all so avoidable.

None of it makes any damn sense.

David Gaughran

David Gaughran

Born in Ireland, he now lives in a little fishing village in Portugal, although this hasn’t increased the time spent outside. He writes novels under another name, has helped thousands of authors build a readership with his books, blogs, workshops, and courses, and has created marketing campaigns for some of the biggest self-publishers on the planet. Friend to all dogs.

235 Replies to “Amazon’s Hall of Spinning Knives”

  1. Thank you for this article. It explains what has happened to my books and sales.

    My books are now impossible to find unless you type in the title … and even then the first result is a book with my title as part of its title. Previously, the title would be suggested first.

    For context, the first novel was published in 2015; second in 2017. Both had a nice 6mth burst (selling 13k and 5k respectively) with the first getting a bump on release of the second. After this, there was a very useful long tail, which was still delivering 1-a-day sales until 30 April. This ceased on 1 May, with no sales but one bought by my boyfriend to prove the reporting was not the issue.

    I’ve never done any kind of marketing of any kind or hat colour … I just published on KDP Select, and hoped for the best. I don’t have a street team, Facebook page or blog, so I have nothing to generate any kind of surge in hits either.

    I did make a negative comment on the Kindle authors forum related to the opacity of the whole KDP system when everyone was reporting a sudden absence of reported sales … and I suggested a class action. My comment got modded. I’ve also suggested that authors unionise. But that’s the only thing I can think of that would have made Amazon ‘angry’.

    Amazon’s only response was that there was nothing wrong with their systems, and then they stopped responding when I asked for a explanation of the cessation of sales.

    My guess is that it’s related to algorithms, key-word stripping (due to CreateSpace migration) or an attempt to force authors into their marketing programmes … but it’s all wild speculation, since Amazon says nothing.

    I have since raised a case with the UK Competitions and Markets Authority, since part of their role is to prevent monopolies in any industry operating in the UK. Since Amazon hold about 80-85% of the UK book-selling market, they are a de facto monopoly. I doubt the CMA can do anything about the actions of this global ‘super power’, but it was worth a punt. It would certainly be good if *someone* stood up to their acquisitions … before they buy B&N or Kobo!

  2. Hi David
    Thanks for sharing this. It’s happening to me at this very moment. I am a UK-based indie author with 9 titles out in the past 3 years. I don’t chart particularly high and my sales/pages read in the .com area are extremely limited i.e. a handful of books a month across all the titles … yet I received a lovely early Christmas gift from Amazon with this same email on Monday (17th Dec 2018) accusing me of wrongdoings in the area for my debut novel. In your article, you talk about all the authors running a promotion at the time this happened. I was not running any sort of promotion. My debut hardly sells any copies now in the UK, never mind .com. In June this year, I had a blog tour to celebrate my 3 year book-birthday but that’s the last time I did anything to promote that particular book and, although a couple of the bloggers were .com based, I’ve never done any direct promo in .com.
    We’re on Day 4 now and I have emailed Amazon KDP Sales asking for clarification on what on earth I’m supposed to have done but the emails are the same automated ones you’ve shown, the latest received last night telling me that I am “still” doing whatever naughtiness they seem to think it is I’m doing. The absurd part is that I have sold NO copies of the book in .com over the current 30-day period and it looks like 2 people might have read the whole book about a week ago. Hardly high activity levels yet I’m being threatened with “account-level action” i.e. removal of my book(s).
    I’ve been in tears about it, had sleepless nights, and am at my wits end yet there is no help. The emails are all guilty until proven innocent and I feel like I’ve been arrested for a crime I didn’t commit yet my captors won’t tell me what I’m really accused of.
    Praying an end is in sight but terrified of being permanently blacklisted when I don’t exactly set the charts alight anyway. So sorry to hear of all these authors who’ve been affected … although a teeny tiny bit relieved I’m not alone.
    Again, thanks for sharing.

  3. This is horrible! What can we, as KU subscribers and amazon customers, do to help? I buy a ridiculous number of both kindle and audible books. This treatment of legitimate authors is appalling!

    1. Hi Melodi,

      How about, the next time you’re about to buy a book from Amazon, spare a few moments to see if you can get it from one of the other retailers (Kobo, Google Play Books, Smashwords [Since you say you buy indie books]…).

      I’m not saying you should boycott Amazon entirely–that’s up to your own conscience–but if you bought LESS from Amazon, and tell all your friends to do the same, maybe Amazon will start to feel the pinch a bit.

      It’s a drop in the ocean, I realise, but every little bit helps. Amazon needs to be sent a message that they can’t just bully everyone, and that there ARE other options, and that message starts with book buyers like yourself. :/

  4. Here is the list of Contemporary Romance authors to which Amazon awarded All Star Bonuses for September. It’s pretty easy to click on Look Inside and see the cheats who engage in book stuffing.
    KDP is enabling and rewarding this crappy behavior (while punishing the innocent):

    1. Not sure if the evidence supports that. The 99c box site was only advertised on BookBub and to the authors’ own lists. Some of the freebies I mentioned only used FB ads, or only used newsletter swaps.

      1. I still have the feeling we’re dealing with more than one issue here. The 99c book which got flagged seems like an entirely different scenario from the free ones, and I think they were flagged for different things. The Veil Knights boxed set had enough “oddball” things about it that it’s understandable a computer could have mistook it for a click-farmed fake book. The free books were more odd, and I think there was something else going on.

        But I doubt it is the promo sites *intentionally* using click farms, for one simple reason: click-farms cost money. In most cases, they cost more money to use than the promo site is making by advertising a book. It makes zero sense for them to hand out all, most, or even MORE money to a click farm than they earn from promoting the book. Does not pass the common sense test. 😉

        David, do we have a very clear, certain example of someone who used only FB ads and was rank stripped? One that we’re *sure* of?

      2. Yes, absolutely. Not all the authors wished to be named in the piece but they all shared links and very detailed emails with me detailing everything they did to market their books. Some had extensive multi-pronged marketing campaigns, some just use Facebook, or just used mailing lists and newsletter swaps. Not all affected used promo sites. Some didn’t use any. Some were well reviewed, some had few reviews. Some were selling well going into promo time, some were moving slowly.

        As I said, the only common thread was they were all visible in the charts. That speaks more to manual selection than the randomness of a fraud detection system gone awry. It could still be random selection of course, but it becomes less likely.

        I wouldn’t be so quick to dismiss the click farm theory. I’ve detailed all sorts of reasons above why someone might target a third party’s book with clickfarms/bots/mass gifting/whatever – the most obvious being testing the thresholds of the fraud detection system. If I was botting freebies to the top of the charts, and getting caught, and starting again under a new name, I might want to know how many downloads I can get away with before the hammer drops. And if I’m going to test that, I’m going to do it on someone else’s book first.

      3. Agreed, and I think that the click-farm war likely IS involved. Your suggestion that they could be deliberately targeting books to test the parameters of the new algorithm is one possibility. My earlier thoughts that they might subscribe their entire click-farm to a book promo site, in order to help obfuscate the fact that it’s a click farm (by having the farm accounts randomly download assorted other books to mimic “real” behavior) is another.

        Problem is, Amazon almost certainly has identified certain accounts as belonging to click-farms, and has left them up as “trap” accounts to flag click-farming attacks on their site. The whole mess is pretty complicated. =/

  5. The problem with monopolies is that they can do whatever they like. I can think of two solutions. The first, and easiest, would be to find a lawyer and threaten a class-action lawsuit, citing everything from financial and potential financial losses to defamation of character. Amazon, like most big companies, thinks it can push the little guy around because the little guy has no recourse, so you must band together and be a bunch of little guys together to get action. Then you take this to CNN instead of your blog.

    The second, and better solution in the long-term, would be to make a legal challenge against Amazon as a monopoly and force it to divide itself, though I’m not sure how that’s done. Laws and politics do not currently support this, but this would mean a lot less high-handed jerkery from the monopoly overall.

    1. The only recourse allowed by the KDP TOS is arbitration. Which they will almost certainly win, since arbitration will favor the side with the better lawyers.

      It’s very hard to demonstrate financial distress beyond what is legal, when the KDP agreement is at-will, and can be terminated by Amazon at any time for virtually any reason. In these cases, they will show evidence that their anti-scammer algorithms picked up suspicious activity that would be harmful to their customers, and they took action to freeze the books to prevent that damage. They could simply have shut off all of the Amazon accounts involved; they didn’t. The fact that they were more lenient than they had to be, and that they restores the rank to books caught by accident, means that any attempt to bring the case to arbitration will almost certainly fail. Likewise, there is no direct defamation of character done by Amazon because they did not publicly name any names.

      The US DOJ has tried to investigate Amazon for anti-trust practices three times in the last six years. It has yet to find anything actionable. The problem is a simple one: to be actionable, the monopoly must not just exist – it must also cause harm to consumers (readers, not us – we are suppliers). Amazon is not causing harm to consumers, so they’re pretty much untouchable by anti-trust law until/unless they do.

      1. So do you work for Amazon? Or are you a lawyer who works in corporate civil litigation? I think people ought to consult professionals before giving up, and I believe professionals might be able to see a different approach.

        I realize the contract denotes arbitration, but if there is some evidence that Amazon broke the contract first, or that the contract was coercive — which it is, if they hold 85% of the English language online literary market — then it’s null and void, and civil litigation may proceed.

        As to the other matter, I think a case could be made for their monopoly causing harm to consumers, by controlling access to everything English-speaking people read. It certainly can already be proven to have restricted access to books in independent bookstores, because they’ve all closed due to Amazon’s deliberately undercutting pricing. Perhaps it might be better to bring the case against them in a country other than the US. The US DOJ never seems to find anyone guilty of anti-trust practices. I wonder why?

        Giving up before you even start is exactly what big corporations want. They want everyone nice and oppressed so they don’t make any trouble. What you need to understand about civil law as opposed to criminal law is that a) reasonable doubt is not needed, it just has to look *likely* 2. You have no rights unless you claim them. If you don’t claim them, then yes, these guys can do whatever they want.

        There are always options, people, especially if you’re pursuing something based on a principle. The costs, such as time and expense, might be more than you’re willing to pay, but that’s up to you, and some guy on the internet telling you it isn’t worth it is not the same as getting an expert opinion. Reading back through Kevin’s posts, he clearly thinks you should just suck it up and take it, and learn to like it. One wonders why he’s so convinced of that?

      2. Sable, I’m a businessman with significant experience in contract law.

        You’d have a very difficult time convincing a court to take the case, rather than sending it to arbitration, based on a claim of coercion. Unless Amazon is forcing people to sign the KDP contract under some sort of threat or duress, there’s no legal coercion involved. If you found evidence that Amazon had broken the contract in some way, you might have a case, but that’s not what’s being discussed here, since Amazon’s actions in this case don’t constitute a breach of contract.

        Small bookstores have actually blossomed in the years since the Kindle was first release. The total number of bookstores in the US is higher today than it was in 2007. And reducing costs for consumers is never considered harm for purposes of anti-trust, even if it puts other less competitive businesses out of business. The EU might be a better venue to try to bring suit against Amazon, however; their anti-trust laws are more strict than those in the US, although Amazon is already compliant with them, having made adjustments to how they sell books in Europe to compensate (Amazon had some run-ins with the EU courts a while back).

        I don’t actually think we should “suck it up and take it, and learn to like it”. But I do draw the line between effective and ineffective action. I’m working with a committee of a national writing organization to assess the KDP contract and give feedback on it to Amazon, with suggestions for improvement. I’m engaged daily in helping to educate newer writers on best practices, and ways to avoid problems with Amazon and other retailers. I posted about the Veil Knight boxed set problem to my social media, encouraging my followers and fans to buy a copy to help set the matter right, and it’s being re-carried by several other others and groups in their newsletters. Because I’m all about doing things which CAN make a difference.

        I understand your frustration. I feel it too. It’s important we work at controlling what we can, and not waste energy chasing things that we cannot.

      3. At last, the voice of reason! It’s time there was some common sense among the hysteria.
        Well done!

    2. Your very first problem with that line of thought is the not-so-minor-fact that Amazon is ‘not’ a monopoly. If they were there’d be no option to ‘go wide’. (hint, if there’s anywhere else you can sell – including your own website or a street corner …) Just because Amazon is popular doesn’t give you any rights to demand they let you in – or to keep you if they do let you in – or do things your way.

      And since you’re whole stance is that they ‘are’ a monopoly, it collapses under that error.

      Band together? Sure, go for it. Call it a union, collect dues and hire lawyers to fight Amazon. Hmm, there are already some writers banded together, the authors guide and that other one as I recall. They’ve whined about Amazon, they even sent letters to the DoJ. The Doj looked into Amazon’s doings back when Apple and the price fix 5(or was it 6 back then?) were in the spotlight. DoJ had nothing to charge Amazon on – unlike Apple and the price fix publishers …

      And I’m guessing you’re either new or you can’t remember very far into the past. One of the big 5 let their contracts with Amazon lapse because they thought they could force Amazon to give them a better deal, remember that? Do you remember who won that little staring contest? It wasn’t the big publisher with its gaggle of lawyers.

      Do you want to know how you’ll know if you’ve hired an honest lawyer for your class-action lawsuit? An honest lawyer will warn you that you’re wasting his/her time and your money. A dishonest lawyer will just take your money.

      1. That DOJ was corrupt. Amazon’s Look Inside feature is questionable, where they require 100% of a print book in order to supply excerpts… (even in violation of copyright where ebook rights have been reserved) just as Google’s claim that they only show very short snippets in Google Books is utter baloney. In that case, you can read multiple consecutive pages, as long as you don’t search by authorname or book title.

      2. Again, no. Since you are licensing the right to Amazon to present part of the book on their site if they choose, they have every right to do so. It’s right in your contract with them. You (the publisher, anyway) gave them that right.

        As for Google Books (which is different from Google Play), they were strictly limited in what and how they can present pages and partial pages in search results by a VERY long string of court cases. Whether we we like what they are currently doing with books on Google Books is nice or not is irrelevant; it’s clearly considered legal at this point.

      3. Replying to Kevin…the trouble in my case is, since Amazon had the entire book file for Look Inside, it was able to (mistakenly) sell the entire book as an ebook without rights to do so. As for Google, they apparently lied to Denny Chin. If you want to study World Civilization without buying it, you can get four consecutive pages on Google Books, (multiple times), and if you want the entire book, google will direct you to a ru site that will give you the entire thing…from the Google page that promises only to show 4-line snippets.

      4. Amazon has your ENTIRE print book available in the Look Inside sample, Rowena? Did you report that to them? That’s one heck of a bug. While they do have the right to show as much as they want (you gave them that in the contract), they don’t do that. Ever. So make sure you report that bug.

        Unless I’m misunderstanding you; you said something about “selling the ebook”, which is different from Look Inside, so I’m not sure I understand. :/

      5. To Kevin, I never licensed any right to Amazon, but in violation of my copyright they created illegal ebooks versions of the print books that traditional publisher Dorchester sold on Amazon. As a result, Amazon-created illegal ebooks are all over the internet. Amazon blamed Dorch. Dorch blamed Amazon. As for Google….

      6. If you licensed print rights to Dorchester, and then Dorchester published an ebook as well as a print book to Amazon, then it’s very much Dorchester’s fault, not Amazon’s, Rowena. Amazon does not check every file that every person or publishing company uploads to their servers to ensure that person has the rights to the work. Such an undertaking would be, frankly, impossible. They DO force you to assert that you have the rights to publish the work, but they have zero way to check if you’re lying or not.

        In your case, it sounds like Dorchester asserted it had the ebook rights (they had to do so, in order to upload the work to Amazon) even though they didn’t. I’m sorry that happened to you, but it’s not Amazon’s fault. Amazon never “creates ebooks” (well, except for the Amazon-owned imprints like 47 North, but that’s not what we’re talking about here). They sell the ebooks a publisher creates and uploads to their service.

        The answer in this sort of scenario is to send a DMCA takedown notice to Amazon informing them that someone has published a work which violates your copyright. They’ll generally pull the book down within 72 hours of receiving the notice. They are in fact *required* to do so by law.

        I’m not sure why YouTube pulled down the parody you mentioned. The article doesn’t say. It might well be that Apple sent in a DMCA takedown to Google. If, say, the music or any direct scripting was taken from those ads, then they had some grounds (sorta; not really; but enough to send in a notice and be able to defend it enough to get to court if counter-sued). YouTube is then required by law to take the video down and ask questions later.

        Or it could just be that YouTube wasn’t thrilled by someone uploading a video that critiqued their service to their service. ? After all, they have no *obligation* to host any video they don’t want to.

        I’m unclear how that is related to your comments about Google Books, though. Google is another megacorp out for its own good; it’s nobody’s buddy any more or less than any other megacorp; we all know that. ?

  6. Hmm, this kind of thing is happening more and more lately, along with people having their reviews pulled for no apparent reason, permafree price-matching being reversed, etc. Plenty of authors are unhappy with Amazon right now.

    And Amazon don’t seem to care. Because we all still sell our books there, and for as long as we do, they will continue to be the most popular e-book site on the planet.

    Is it time for indies to boycott Amazon? I know *I* wouldn’t lose any sleep if my books weren’t available on Amazon at all. Let’s give Kobo/Google Play a shot at the big leagues for a change, eh? Give it a few months, and see how Amazon woos us back… or if they still don’t care, in which case, we’ll know exactly where we stand.

    Who’s with me?

      1. No, not at all. While sometimes pirate works arrive there, same as Amazon, Kobo, B&N, and Apple, Google Play is the fifth largest retailer of English language ebooks in the world. They’re also part of *Google*, and therefore have a lot to lose if someone is able to sue them for selling pirated works. As a result, they’re very responsive to DMCA takedown notices.

  7. Some kind of boycott has been mooted a number of times. I don’t think that would be effective, or wise. Most people depend on Amazon for their income – you would be asking people to give up 50-100% of their earnings. Never going to happen. I also don’t think it would have much effect, not least because the numbers participating would be small.

    There’s also a lot of debate about leaving KU in protest.

    I actually have left KU very recently, but it’s not a protest. Well, all this scammy crap and Amazon’s response is a factor, for sure, but probably bigger factors are falling pay rates and that KU just doesn’t work for some of my books.

    A lot of people are asking themselves (for this and other reasons) whether they should remain in KU. I think that’s the wrong question. Perhaps they should be asking themselves how they will find readers wide.

    I’ve written about that today:

    1. Ja, you make a good point: it probably wouldn’t work anyway. Even if every indie author pulled their books (not very likely), Amazon still has millions of traditionally published books–and there’s no way traditional publishing companies are going to participate because they aren’t feeling the heat… HAS this problem affected any traditionally published books, that you know of?

      Given that, indies boycotting Amazon would only heart indies in general. Amazon would continue to be the most popular bookstore in the world, only readers would stop buying self-published books, and self-publishing would die a slow, painful death.

      And Amazon knows all this. So there’s nothing we or anyone else can do.

      On reflection, you know, I’m actually rather GLAD Amazon doesn’t have a native store in South Africa, although having said that, even many South African e-book readers prefer to buy from Amazon in US Dollars, rather than from, say, Kobo, and pay in South African Rand.

      You just can’t fight that kind of market dominance. Amazon does what they want, and will continue to do what they want, until they literally are the only e-book store in the world, and they’re selling your book for $99 a pop but paying you $0.10 in royalties. 🙁

      1. You would be surprised how tricky it is to implement an edit button on the user side. I have one in my interface as the site admin, but putting one on your side causes all sorts of issues. I know Passive Guy went through multiple attempts and ended up crashing his site a few times just trying to do it. So I figured… screw everyone else! I have an edit button!

      2. I haven’t seen any trad pub books impacted by this, but with the exception of Bookbub their books are also not marketed with the same tools indies use, generally speaking – so that’s not surprising. (Although if trad distribution IS being given preferential treatment that might be one more advantage for Pronoun, since those books are distributed by Macmillan…)

        As for a boycott – I don’t think it would have any impact, and asking authors to give up 50-100% of their income isn’t going to happen unless someone is subsidizing that income for the duration of the boycott.

        The hypothetical future you pointed out is probably half right. Amazon is never going to push for $99 ebooks. They can’t; they have a legal monopoly on the market right now (85% of global English ebook sales), and if they increase costs to consumers they will come under immediate fire from the US DOJ and EU courts, among others, who are waiting for a mistake like that so they can pounce. Amazon won’t make that error while Bezos is alive, at least. Instead, they have consistently been reducing the effective cost of books to consumers, which also has the side effect of reducing income per sale for authors. Both will continue to trend down in the years ahead.

  8. Update: Amazon has restored the ranks on some of the affected books. Hopefully this is the beginning of a process to fix this huge problem and not the end of an attempt to clean up the PR mess.

  9. Reblogged this on I DReaM Free and commented:
    Interesting about what is going on at Amazon. I do admit, I’m no fan of Amazon and believe they are as close to a monopoly as possible without government intervention. I try not to support Amazon but when they are the biggest dog in the yard, it’s hard to ignore it.

  10. Only a matter of time before Amazon treats/treated authors as they do manufacturers that sell on their site. Manufacturers are *entirely* beholden to Amazon’s whims to be able to sell on Amazon. They pay Amazon to be able to sell there. They have to have Customer Service people constantly replying to reviews because Amazon will pull any product that has an unsatisfactory complaint – the customer can have done something completely stupid, but because they ranted in an Amazon review, the manufacturer has to soothe them and “make it right” pronto or Amazon will pull the product for being “defective”. The manufacturer can try to prove all they want that a customer was at fault and they were not, but all Amazon will say is get in line and do what you’re told, or we won’t let you sell here.

    Talk to any manufacturer/vendor about how Amazon conducts business with them. They’ll tell you it’s like dealing with the mob (as in organized crime). This is how Bezos *wants* to do business, so nothing about that will change unless the government makes Amazon change something illegal.

    1. They also watch new products carefully and when sales begin to rise, they create their own version of the product, out price the original, and drive the inventor out of business. Shady.

  11. The rank on the Veil Knights Box Set has been restored. It isn’t at position #104, which is where we were when they took the rank away, but at least it is back. (Position #2366 for the moment.)

  12. Maybe it’s as simple as: Amazon has decided their interest in being a clearinghouse for 0.99 & Free Kindle books is low.

    Maybe part of the equation in deciding what authors are targeted is what percentage of their total sales are at $0.99 & 0.00 (in that a Free book is a sale at 0.00) price points.

    If that number is very high for an author, maybe Amazon isn’t that interested in retaining him or her…

  13. I agree with annerallen and her comment that Amazon is throwing out babies with the bathwater again. Just as they ripped out hundreds if not thousands of honest reviews in their attempt to remove bogus ones, Amazon is doing the same to try and solve click-farm fraud.

    As Kevin quite rightly said, we asked for them to fix the click-farm issue, and we got it, but not in the way we hoped. Kevin’s best guess (which is usually right) is now that Amazon is flagging ANY BOOK which jumps up significantly in rank over a short period of time. I intend to agree given Amazon’s despotic approach to trying to resolve issues in the past.

    As already mentioned “the bad news is, authors have no recourse, and Amazon REALLY doesn’t care if a few score authors get hurt in the process”. So in future we need to consider alternative ways of bringing these issues up than contacting Amazon Support since their policing and “template email” replies just don’t cut it.

    I’m just hoping that Amazon concludes that the new fraud detection rules they use are just not working well enough and will go back to the way it was… but I’m not betting the farm on it.

    Perhaps Amazon should just stop books being available for free on its store? Harsh but it could stop all this click-farm fraud. After all, isn’t it the free books that the click-farmers are really preying on? I can’t see click-farms working if they have to buy thousands of books at $0.99 or higher. Can you?

  14. From the article, “Whatever the reason, Amazon has a serious problem on its hands and is refusing to admit it. Rubbing further salt in the wound is that the most egregious scammers and cheaters are still stealing from the KU pot and riding high in the charts.” I have seen these claims in various articles about “egregious scammers” yet I have not found any of these claims which back it up with evidence. Just which book is “riding high on the charts” because of cheats and scammers? All the anti-amazon articles like this (as the title of this articles makes clear) all claim wide-scale cheating, but do not show what evidence they have for it. If there is evidence of wide-scale cheating, which is current, (not some years old) I have not seen it. And to accuse Amazon of not addressing the issues seems really unfair, when for whatever reason Amazon looks to have had some reason to initiate action. I sure do want to know why this happened to the specific author, but painting Amazon as uncaring and refusing to do anything does not seem to be fair.
    What is to stop traditional publishing houses from using clickfarms and obvious manipulation techniques AGAINST indie authors? That style of attack would trigger Amazon’s legitimate security, hurt the indie author, and cause strife between the indie author and Amazon. In that scenario, the trad publishers wins, and the indie author loses, and Amazon is played and riled by both sides. I see that as much more likely than Amazon punishing a successful indie author. Think about it, Amazon benefits from successful indie authors, but trad publishers are threatened by them.
    So who is the real culprit?

    1. If you think I’m some kind of anti-Amazon person… maybe you should look around the site a bit more.

      “If there is evidence of wide-scale cheating, which is current, (not some years old) I have not seen it.”

      Again, take a look around. I’ve been documenting this stuff for 2+ years.

      As for the rest, well, that’s sounds pretty crazy, to be honest. It *could* be all sorts of things. I prefer to stick to evidence and logic.

  15. Great post, thanks. It’s inexcusable behavior by Amazon regardless of what’s prompting it.

    I’ll be blunt: to me, the discount book alert sites have created, inflated, and perpetuated the “culture of free” that is disastrously unhealthy for the indie market as a whole. Yes, I know that individual authors make money via these sites, but I believe that generally speaking the sites themselves turn a far better profit than the authors who are their customers. Promoting our books should not be about how low we can price, or getting 5% paid conversion from giving away thousands of copies. Just yesterday a reviewer of one of my books stated (unironically) that he had paid the “princely sum of $8” for two of my titles totaling 1000 pages. HUH!? Readers have been trained to think that way. Like drug dealers, even though these bargain book sites don’t create the demand for free and dirt-cheap books, they are a huge part of the problem. I would love nothing more than to see them crushed by Amazon. But again, Amazon has no excuse for crushing innocent authors along the way. Whatever their aim, they are going about it badly.

    I would suggest it might not matter that “these sites are legit” (a blanket statement that’s hard to trust fully) but rather that they have no control over their subscribers. What if a site has 10k subscribers, and every day, 10 “book hoarders” with OCD click on every single link in the bargain book list sent by that site? I’d say that those users’ accounts are likely to be flagged by Amazon as suspicious, and so will the site/email that referred them to Amazon. As a service grows, more and more flagged accounts will accumulate in their subscriber list.

    IMO, the solution is for us indie authors to decide not to use these sites, regardless of their intentions.

    Thanks again for the great info.

  16. I haven’t trusted Amazon for many months due to their unilateral action on reviews they deem invalid. This is simply an extension of that high-handed attitude. The most disturbing aspect is not just the initial action, it’s the lack of prior warning and subsequent unwillingness to engage regarding mistakes on their part or assistance to the author in assessing if they are accidentally in breach. The idea that we have control over the people who access our work is completely ridiculous but they still say we are responsible, it’s absurd. Also, they seem to make little or no effort to restore any damage caused or to repay out of pocket expenses, often leaving a black flag on the injured party. This debacle is hitting the bottom line of individuals and corporates alike… let’s hope it’s a watershed moment. I have a new book in the final edit now and I’ll be trying Pronoun as loyalty to Amazon seems to be an ill-advised one-way street.

  17. They have taken away 60+ of my legit reviews in their witch hunt. I hear of them doing more and more unfair things. They don’t care at ALL. All you get is a canned response and they didn’t respond to the huge petition with thousands of signatures about that issue. Until we all find a better alternative (Smashwords!) and pull away from them, they will continue to abuse their power.

  18. Just wanted to say thank you for all that you do for indie authors! This is very worrisome, and the most frustrating thing is that Amazon is letting OBVIOUS scammers keep their rank, while destroying the livelihood of honest authors.

    The scammer authors don’t offer a good customer experience. The honest authors do offer a good customer experience. I realize that Amazon is a business and their sole purpose is to make a profit, and that they don’t care about individual authors, but you’d think they would at least realize that keeping scam products high in the ranks harms their business rather than helps it.

    I have heard some people suggest that somehow publishing through Pronoun might help, because Amazon can’t shut down your account if you publish through Pronoun. Is this correct? (Downside is, you can’t be in KU and you can’t use AMS ads.)

    1. I’m not crazy about Pronoun for a bunch of reasons* but AFAIK Pronoun-published books still have to obey a TOS. It might not be exactly the same as the KDP TOS, but it’s not a free for all either, and I’d be very, very surprised if there weren’t any number of catch-all provisions to cover scamming/cheating, as there are in the KDP TOS (along with explicit provisions banning stuffing and clickfarming and so on).

      I’ve also heard that part of Pronoun’s deal with Amazon is an agreement not to publish anyone who has had their account terminated by KDP. One particular author is getting around that at the moment by publishing through a “publishing company” – but I imagine that will eventually get shut down.

      Anyway, publishing via Pronoun is sub-optimal for a bunch of reasons. Publishing your Amazon books there is a crazy idea IMO.

      *if you are curious what they are:,255990.msg3577941.html#msg3577941

      1. Well, bummer. I did not realize that they’re not collecting any percentage of royalties. I agree, how are they going to survive in the long term?

        Amazon is my entire livelihood. Right now it is a very good, six figure livelihood, and there is literally no other way for me to earn that much money. I’m just trying to come up with ways to protect myself if they were to shut me down for reasons beyond my control.

        In theory, if you were willing to start over completely using a new pen name, I would think that you could go through Draft 2 Digital or some other aggregator, publishing under that pen name. But that’s kind of a nuclear option, and I hate that I have to sit here and come up with back-up plans for what to do if I fall victim to Amazon’s random Inquisition. (Nobody expects the Spanish inquisition!)

      2. I moved my books from KDP to Pronoun in June. They have been an absolute JOY to work with compared to KDP. I have sold as many copies since June as I did in the 18 months prior on KDP — of course, that is mostly due to my own efforts and ad expenditures. But the point is I’ve made money and been paid on time. There are plenty of benefits to Pronoun, only one of which is the ability to list pre-orders without the worry of KDP’s Draconian terms & punishments.

        What the future holds, I dunno, but they’re great for now. I can switch back at any time. I have 2 ASIN’s for each book, and hence got 2 launches with 2 New Release periods on Amazon.

        Anyone can safely try Pronoun by relaunching some back catalog books. My reviews carried over from the old editions within hours, and the transition was smooth as can be.

      3. Sorry PK, I don’t think this is very good advice. I don’t recommend using Pronoun for a bunch of reasons (which I’ll get to), but using any distributor to reach Amazon instead of going directly is – generally speaking – a terrible idea.

        For the moment, you get paid the same, but there’s no way that can last as Pronoun are making a loss and have no path to monetization. You do get paid slower, and I’ve heard reports of people questioning their royalty statements.

        You get no live sales reports – this is huge, as you can’t accurately measure marketing efforts. Your flying blind all the time. And every single distributor, and Pronoun is no exception, has metadata mapping issues, meaning that your metadata (such as keywords and categories) often either doesn’t survive the transition intact or doesn’t map correctly – e.g. you won’t get into the granular sub-category you need to be in.

        And then of course you are barred from various Amazon programs, such as KDP Select and AMS, plus you will never be picked for any on-site promo (I’m currently in two Kindle Monthly Deals – you don’t get that at Pronoun).

        Finally, if anything goes wrong with Pronoun/your distributor, you will have to move your book, losing all hard-won momentum and sales history in the algos (and possibly all reviews). In the worst cases – and this has happened with distributors – your book could be stuck up there, and you can’t pull it down, and aren’t getting paid, and now you have two editions of the same book and are trying to direct readers away from one and towards the other – a nightmare.

        They are the general reasons for avoiding any distributor, and why going direct to Amazon is best. Here are the specific reasons I don’t recommend Pronoun:

        First, what is the path to monetization? Pronoun are passing on all received royalties to authors, meaning they are running at a massive loss. They have pivoted several times (originally starting off as Vook) and haven’t found a formula for making money yet. That doesn’t give me much trust, as a potential customer, that they will find a path to monetization which works for authors. Currently they are being subsidized by Macmillan, but to what end? How long will that continue? I have great skepticism that Macmillan are just doing it for the data, that they would be able to put that to any use – essentially that this will be valuable enough for them to keep subsidizing Pronoun. We’ve seen what happens with retailers and distributors that can’t turn a profit – books can get tied up, a danger if you ever want to take them down for whatever reason, whether that’s selling the rights to a publisher or enrolling in Select or whatever.

        Second, the guys behind Pronoun have a little bit of history in not being exactly upfront. Back when they were Vook, the marketed themselves as “paying 100% royalties” when in fact they had a wholesale agreement with Amazon which meant the effective royalty rate was around 50%. So that also creates a little distrust.

        And, of course, I don’t trust their parent company at all: Macmillan – one of the Big 5, who has engaged in all sorts of author and reader dispositive behaviors such as price-fixing and rotten contracts.

      4. That would make sense, David, except of course we all know Pronoun is NOT taking a loss by giving that 70% on 99c ebooks; they’re simply passing along the Macmillan-Amazon deal. Plus, the royalties they pay for overseas Amazon sales are significantly less than the Macmillan deal, which means THOSE sales generate a profit for them. Pronoun is hiring more staff, hardly the action of a company division that is failing. We can’t see their accounting, of course, but the indications are not of a company in distress.

        And worst case, the Pronoun deal is at-will; any book which you put up there, you simply take down and republish through other means if they start having issues.

        On the flip side, I agree with you completely re: Macmillan, which is if anything a company that has a much WORSE track record for dealing with authors than Amazon does. I don’t rely on Amazon not changing things in a manner that I won’t like. But I don’t trust Macmillan even that far.

        Best advice I can give? Don’t trust large corporations; they exist to benefit themselves and their stockholders, not you, and the very best you can ever expect from any of them is a mutually beneficial arrangement.

        Using Pronoun is one possible backup for me, therefore, should KDP become completely untenable. It’s also a possible viable tool to use for certain books (like, if I was launching a 99c serial wide, maybe, or for $14.99 wide boxed sets). But as a general rule, KDP has too many advantages to skip if you can possibly avoid it.

      5. Yeah, I mean that more in the sense that Pronoun obviously has expenses but no revenue. It’s running at a loss and Macmillan is essentially subsidizing it.

        When Pronoun first launched it was independent, yet it still had the same royalty deal. People asked how they could afford it and they basically said “we’ll figure it out somehow.” And that somehow turned out to be “sell ourselves to Macmillan.” I don’t see any strategy here – and that goes right back to when they were Vook and thought video e-books would be The Thing. And then it bought Byliner thinking “boutique non-fiction” was the future. Not exactly confidence-building.

      6. I’m still not sure it’s running at a loss. The overseas royalties are low enough compared to what Macmillan likely takes in that it seems probable they’re making some money that way. If they are keeping 20-29% of each overseas Amazon sale, which ought to be about 20% or so of their gross Amazon sales, then they’re making in the ballpark of 5% on their overall Amazon sales. They’d only need a few million a year in total (US and overseas) Amazon sales coming through their distribution to break even, then.

        But of course, this is all guesswork. Ultimately if they screw up and close down, authors can just put their books back up with KDP or some other distributor. FWIW, I completely agree with the idea of not trusting Macmillan any further than you can throw them. 😉

  19. Interesting insight. I’ve been crippled by this weird vendetta against indies by the Amazon monopoly. They seem to have given certain small people large powers to damage the talented individuals out there. It doesn’t make sense – they should be glad of the revenue, yet allow this misguided policy to spread ruin. My books are well-edited and professional, I doubt any of the Amazon staff who issue these threats (I’ve had one) are discerning readers, if they read at all. Strangely, I’ve never heard of any traditional authors suffering this. Who knows who may be friends with who and whose backs get scratched. Those crazy billionaire guys 🙂

    1. In what capacity? Yes, I’ve run an AMS ad in the past for the title that was stripped, but I wasn’t running an AMS ad on it while it was free. I’m not sure what you’re asking, however. If I knew what specific information you were wanting, I’d be happy to supply it.

  20. I am working very hard at improving my wide income so Amazon is not the main earner add they ate piss poor, if you’ll pardon my French. Their measures are always primarily about looking as if they are taking action rather than … well … actually taking action.

  21. I have a Bookbub promo on Tuesday. Slightly worried, but not enough to cancel. In any case, as I’m wide, I also hope to get lots of downloads in the other e-book stores. We’ll see.

  22. This is insanity! I have a promo starting October 27th for free and loads of ads lined up. You betcha I’ll be watching this. Hope this gets resolved for authors soon! Thanks for the detailed post.

  23. Amazon should never be anything other than a plan B when it comes to running your business. They can’t be trusted, are totally unaccountable and will happily ruin your business without a second thought. I know this first hand. Don’t get involved with them if you can avoid it.

  24. Thank you, David! Your efforts and consistently keeping your eye on the ball does you credit. You are making a difference in this world. Much appreciation for all you do for authors.

  25. Mr. Gaughran, did you have a change of heart, or are you merely only concerned when it affects one of your friends? As cited in this thread:

    You made numerous inflammatory statements judging other authors who had ranks stripped guilty, including but not limited to:

    “It’s abundantly clear that these authors who have been rank-stripped have copied scammer tactics – that’s the kind of people we are dealing with.” -David Gaughran, page 25

    Much of your arguments were against these authors due to book stuffing and duplicate content with no other evidence that scamming took place. Coincidentally (maybe?), Sullivan’s boxed set that was rank stripped is a boxed set of content that is also available in Kindle Unlimited, or duplicate content. Is the previous case still so clear cut?

    1. Ah let me guess: you are one of the bad boy romance stuffers?

      This is the group that were caught stuffing extraneous content into all of their books sometimes the same four or five novels recycled across their entire catalogue repeatedly or sometimes all of their newsletters, to artificially inflate their page count – often mixed in with inducements to fool readers into clicking through to the end – thumbing their nose at all the authors they were stealing from, but whining when Amazon sanctioned them.

      Yes, I remember that thread.

      And if you can’t see the difference between honest authors getting rank-stripped for no reason and a bunch of cheaters engaged in all sorts of shady crap getting punished by Amazon then I can’t help you.

      1. I’m not one of them. I’m simply an observer that saw a zealous person with an axe to grind against duplicate content (which, I might add, he only has because Amazon has turned their payment system into a zero sum game of author vs author) convince a group of people that the victims of Amazon’s flawed system were undeserving of their sympathy. Now that it’s his friend, and even though the circumstances are similar, suddenly this duplicate content is of no concern.

        Said person also, at the time, had a boxed set of two of his novels in Kindle Unlimited and saw no problem with it, although at this point it seems that boxed set has been delisted. I guess because they weren’t “bad boy romances” it was okay.

      2. The circumstances are not remotely similar. And the problem here isn’t the genre, as you well know, but the shady tactics employed by a certain group working in that genre who are happy to break the rules and steal from their fellow authors.

        Which you feel the need to defend. As an “observer.”

      3. For the record, I’d never heard of Mr. Gaughran (and I’m certain he’d never heard of me) before this happened to me and turned to him for help. So, no I can’t believe he is only “helping his friends” as we were complete strangers until a few days ago.

      4. @kristibelcamino

        The article focuses on Ms. Sullivan’s books. I make no judgement on your or anyone else’s rank stripping situation, and I guess that’s kind of the point. Mr. Gaughran was so eager to believe that action was being taken rightly that he eagerly pilloried (and continues to do so as you can see by his reply) other authors who were targeted by Amazon’s faulty algorithms.

      5. You mean the group of bad boy romance stuffers who were breaking the rules and stealing from their fellow authors through artificially inflating their page count and inserting Click Here inducements to fool readers into clicking to the end.

        Those are the guys you are referring to, right? Just checking who it is you are so eager to defend.

      6. @David

        Why don’t you explain the difference to me? The only “tactic” you have that supposedly is different is the volume of duplicate content. Ms. Sullivan’s book has no original content – it is ALL duplicate content. And, for the record, I think it’s a shame that her book had it’s promotion ruined. It’s bad, really bad, and Amazon should realize that they’re pushing authors away from their system with these moves.

      7. The differences are obvious.

        1. Phoenix’s title is a genuine box set, and advertised as such, a chance for readers to buy a bundle of books. This is long-standing, accepted practice, and doesn’t contravene the TOS in any way.

        2. The bad boy romance stuffers were doing the following. Let’s say they had five books out. In the back of Book A, they would stuff in Book B, C, D, E. And then after Book E, they would often insert an EXCLUSIVE short story, and induce readers to click directly to it so they would trigger a full payment for all 2,000 pages right away, even though the reader hasn’t read them. Then in Book B, they stuff in Book A, C, D, and E. And then the same in Book C. And they do this across their entire catalog, and across all their different pen names. Of course, this is against the TOS, as Amazon has repeatedly and clearly stated – as it should be, it’s a terrible reader experience, and stealing from fellow KU authors. And that’s only the tip of the shady iceberg with this crew. I’ve learned a lot about them over the last few weeks.

        As I said, if you can’t tell the difference, I can’t help you.

      8. I believe “a genuine box set” means nothing in Amazon’s eyes, and shouldn’t. Why should a package of duplicate content be treated any different than another? There’s no specific “box set” carve-out in Amazon’s TOS that doesn’t apply equally to “bonus novel”.

        For your other point. One of the books in the last round of rank stripping was this one. It’s not my book so, please, anyone reading this, don’t 1-star the author to get back at me.

        The book contains a single bonus novel (less duplicate content than Ms. Sullivan’s book). It was a new release so the original novel was not a bonus in any other book. There’s no exclusive short story. The only link in the beginning of the book is to the author’s newsletter. This book has remained unchanged since publication. But none of that mattered to you at the time, because the author included a bonus novel, the only criteria that you needed to judge it a scam.

      9. So your defence is that, in this one very carefully selected example, the author is only cheating a little bit.

        That is pretty weak.

        If you want to start linking to things, I can link to tons and tons of books from this group engaging in all sorts of shady crap. Screenshots too. Maybe we’ll call in some German authors to tell us what’s going on over there at the moment.

        If you want to go down that road, I’m happy to.

      10. If this book was the one that was rank-stripped, then conversation should be restricted to this book. If the author deserves to get banned from Amazon, then yeah I think you should be required to show proof of that before introducing it as part of your argument. If you think that they broke the rules only a little bit, then you acknowledge that Phoenix (and yourself) broke the rules a little bit as well.

      11. You’re going to have to show some kind of link between the author of the book you screenshotted and the book I linked. Some of the authors rank stripped in this latest round have no connection to Ms. Sullivan and it would be inappropriate of me to lump them all together.

      12. This is one of the authors that was rank-stripped at the same time – part of the same group that promote together and share street teams and PAs and do NL swaps, and engage in a lot of stuff that people are side-eyeing.

        As you know.

      13. Additionally, with regard to that file size, you may not be aware that the cover size counts toward the download size on the Amazon product page but does not count toward your download fee in Kindle Direct Publishing. There is, as far as I know, no way to list a book whose KDP download size is larger than 3 MB at $0.99.

      14. “This is one of the authors that was rank-stripped at the same time – part of the same group that promote together and share street teams and PAs and do NL swaps, and engage in a lot of stuff that people are side-eyeing.”

        Again, you haven’t shown any proof of any of this. It is improper to link all these authors together, essentially declaring them all guilty of the crimes of the scammers, without doing anything but declaring it. Just as it would be improper for anyone to link Phoenix Sullivan to the another scammer the day that her book was rank stripped.

      15. I know because he emailed me when he got rank stripped. I checked his books and immediately saw that he was engaged in shady stuff like book stuffing. I would copy the email here but I’m sure he doesn’t want his real name published.

      16. “And I love that we are getting lessons about what is proper from a book stuffer.”

        I’m published wide, but it’s good to know that you can’t help but attack me rather than my argument.

      17. And I’m published wide because these little errors that Amazon make are devastating, to everyone. I don’t take the benefit of the doubt away from authors because I have an axe to grind about Amazon’s subscription payment scheme.

      18. “And yet the issue you are strangely drawn to is defending the reputation of an unnamed group of book stuffers. Fun hobby!”

        You’re gonna get the last word here but I hope to any casual observers out there, the difference between two groups of well-reviewed and top selling authors is less than clear-cut just because David Gaughran says he has a ton of proof that one group does some “shady stuff”. The bottom line is that Amazon has fucked both groups and instead of just acknowledging that, David Gaughran insists that his group is different because he chats with a few of them on KBoards and trusts that they’re on the up-and-up. This is Amazon’s fuck up and it’s incredible to me that David Gaughran continues to attack one group while defending the other.

        The Californian sun has risen and my kids are up so I must leave this conversation here. Good day.

      19. Sam Spade, you are making a number of incorrect assumptions in your posts.

        First off: provided the publisher of the work has exclusive rights to the works being published, it is NOT against the KDP TOS to repackage them multiple times. This means if you have a six book series, you can have all six books as single titles, boxed sets of books 1-3 and 4-6, and ANOTHER boxed set of books 1-6, all of them in KU, and there is no TOS violation.

        This also means if you write ten stand-alone novels, you can package them ten times in ten different “boxed sets” in ten different orders with ten different covers, put them all in KU, and NOT violate the TOS. No, the stuffed boxed sets don’t violate the TOS.

        But Amazon has the right under the TOS to strip ranks from whatever books it wants to, if it feels they are providing a poor customer experience. In fact, they can take down a book entirely *at their sole discretion* if they feel that book is providing a bad customer experience.

        I have never seen them do this to a “normal” boxed set – several books of a given series, or even the entire series in a set, for example.

        I *have* seen them do this for “stuffers” – people who take the same X books and simply repackage them a whole bunch of times. Why? Because readers might buy one, end up with the same ten books they just bought in another stuffed set, and get ticked off. It’s a bad customer experience. Amazon does not like unhappy customers. They tend to respond with the hammer.

        In any event, that is completely unrelated to what we are seeing right now, which is sets AND single books losing rank because of sudden increases in rank from a strong promotion. While it looks like this is a side effect from Amazon trying to take on the click-farmers, it’s going to be a serious issue for legitimate authors if any time you get a Bookbub you have to worry about whether or not your book will get taken down!

    2. “What rules did I break exactly?”

      If duplicate content is against the rules (and whether I think it is or not, I don’t think that’s why ANY of those books got rank stripped), then these books were against the rules:

      At the time of this post, none of these books are in Kindle Unlimited. Hpwever. at the time that the last round of rank stripping occurred, these books were all in Kindle Unlimited. I didn’t take screenshots of this and have no proof of it, so you’re welcome to deny it, but they were in there. I’m not judging at all, but duplicate content is duplicate content.

      1. You’re welcome to explain the difference between including a bonus novel and making a boxed set when all duplicate content is paid the same, I’ll hear you out. All I’m hearing, however, is that it’s okay when I do it but not okay when they do it.

      2. Again, Sam, duplicate content is NOT against the rules. The only caveat: to put a book in KU, the publisher of the work must have exclusive ebook rights to that content. (So you cannot for example have your book in KU and ALSO in a book bundle published by someone else at the same time.)

        However, publishing books which provide a bad customer experience is something that Amazon can and does take action about – whether that is stripping ranks or taking down books entirely. If they believe that repackaging the same ten books ten times in ten different orders under ten different ASINs presents a bad customer experience (and I think they should), then it is completely within their rights to pull those books.

        If they feel that a series bundle that is well-advertised as such (noting the titles of the books in the bundle is normal; even listing “Series X: Books 1-3” in the title itself is also normal) provides a good experience for their customers, then they will probably continue to allow those books. So far, that’s the case. If they change their mind, then series bundles will probably begin to vanish, too.

    3. Sam Spade, maybe I can help you see the difference between a genuine bundle and a scammy one.

      Let’s take a look at “The Surprise” by Alice Ward and “Knocked Up by the Master: A BDSM Secret Baby Romance” by Penelope Bloom (currently the #1 and #2 bestsellers in Contemporary Romance).
      – The Surprise:
      – Knocked Up by the Master: A BDSM Secret Baby Romance:

      If you click the Look Inside, you will see that both are definitely bundles. But their titles, blurbs and covers are designed to conceal that fact. What readers see is a new book. What they get is mostly old content.

      Now let’s look at “McCallister’s Paradise – Complete Series: Books 1 through 5” by (one of the very few genuine bundles on the Romance Top 100 list): Every element of the page (cover, title, blurb) identifies the product as a bundle. The author IS NOT trying to make her product look like a new book. Readers get exactly what they see.

      I hope this helps.

      1. I think Sam knows the difference, all right, he’s just wheeling out his bargain bin sophistry.

        As for the stuffer you linked to, my general experience is that people don’t just cross one ethical line, so I wouldn’t be hugely surprised if there was other shadiness going on – and that goes for all the stuffers. There’s certainly enough to be suspicious about when you start looking at these guys closely.

  26. Thank you all for the great amount of sharing that has been going on – it definitely helps. I think that Amazon is starting to realize that it didn’t take the issue with requisite seriousness or perhaps underestimated the level of harm this issue is causing and the amount of anger out there surrounding it. The more people express how they feel about this, the better idea they will get of that – so thank you.

    And thanks for all the comments. Obviously lots of stuff to be teased out, I’ll try and respond to some of it:

    1. I spoke with Amazon by phone yesterday evening just as I was publishing this piece. First with Executive Customer Relations and second with someone a little more senior. The first call was… well, I’m quite frustrated with ECR and the dance they have led me on over the last two or three years on this issue, and I was pretty frank about all of that, and how I feel they have performed. I’m sure they weren’t wild about some of my feedback, but at least they know I was being honest. The second call seemed to indicate that Amazon is looking into all of this, but I’m sure you guys feel similarly to me now – that this is the time for action and change, rather than pledges to investigate etc.

    2. I absolutely do not agree that this is Amazon attempting to squash BookBub or any other promo site. That theory simply does not make sense. First, senior Amazon people have confirmed directly to me that they have no issue with BookBub – and lots of other authors have heard the exact same on numerous occasions. Yes, Amazon might somewhat side-eye the influence BB has over its charts, but BB is also a huge traffic source which brings *buyers* – the conversion rates on those feature deals are insanely good, so it’s really high quality traffic they deliver every single day, and lots of it. Second, Amazon has far more subtle tools at its disposal if it wants to suppress or amplify the influence of any entity over its charts – taking out random selections of books doesn’t fit with how it has historically done this, nor does it make much sense. Third, if Amazon wanted to put a serious dent in BookBub there are lots of other ways it could do it, rather than nixing a book or two, like booting it from the affiliate program. Fourth, most of the affected books weren’t even on BookBub. Fifth, many of the affected books didn’t use promo sites at all. This theory collapses under any analysis.

    3. “I have a promo next week, should I be worried?” In one sense, yes, because no one seems safe. Big names, small names, bestsellers, activists, Apub authors, paid, free, wide, KU – the victims are a cross-section. On the other hand, 100s of books are promoted every day without issue so try and maintain some perspective.

    4. Is Amazon trying to squash free? Again, no. Amazon has a variety of much more tools at its disposal to suppress or amplify the power of free and regularly plays with those levers. If it really wanted to kill free they would completely ban deal sites from featuring free books, reduce the power of freeloads on the pop list even further, or stop price-matching altogether (they really don’t have to do that – it’s a courtesy).

    5. Various theories about how the fraud detection system works. This discussion is perhaps moot. It’s predicated on some unclear assumptions at least – chiefly that the fraud detection system is malfunctioning somehow or generating false positives. That could be the case, but it’s entirely possible that the system is working perfectly and that it is detecting fraudulent activity on these books. Not by the authors themselves, but by scammers pointing their clickfarms at these titles – for reasons explained above.

    6. I should/we should boycott KU. Honestly not sure if that would have any effect at all. Personally, I think it’s better to get the message to Amazon loud and clear that the whole approach to scammers and cheaters is completely wrong and needs to radically change. Whether you want to stay in KU or not is up to you. Whether this is a factor for you or not, is also up to you. Make the best decision for you and your books – and whatever you decide it doesn’t mean you can’t agitate for change.

    1. Too bad Amazon can’t implement a ridiculously simple solution, such as an author-publisher maintaining a calendar in KDP of all KDP and non-KDP promotions of each title, so that Amazon knows when to call off its spambots for which ASIN. At this point I get the feeling that even a manual calendar system can — and would — be scammed. :-/

  27. Sounds like the new(ish) spamming technique hackers call “salmon spawning” – monitor promos on Bookbub etc, then hide your own cheating among the “spawn “… confuses anti-cheating algorithms. Basically, the cheaters are using legitimate promoted books as decoy flares and chaff to attract Amazon’s RIM-66s.

  28. I haven’t heard of this issue with plain old promos. It has come up before with respect to pages read while the book is in KU. There, an author can be targeted by other authors. A huge spike in pages read, i.e., manipulation of the system, will result in your book being banned on Amazon.

    As to the promos, I don’t understand it, really. If your book is in Kindle Select, you can have it free for a few days out of the 90-day period. Other than that, you can’t make your book free on Amazon, except through price matching. If you’re Kindle Select, you can’t sell your ebook anywhere else, so there can’t be price matching. If you book is free through Amazon, I don’t think it affects the sales rank.

    The common thread is that the books are being sold through advertisers outside of Amazon. That means that either 1) the advertisers are using a system to click bot your book to improve the results, and thereby make themselves look better; 2) Amazon is trying to discourage people from using outside advertisers, and wants you to advertise on Amazon; or 3) both.

    The problem is that Amazon is holding all the guns. It’s their site, and they can do whatever they want. The problem is also that Amazon is the only game in town. On the upside, they put self-published books on an equal footing in their search engine as traditionally published books. B&N, for example, never shows them. I never figured out how to find a self-published book there. All the others are irrelevant, and if you want to be in Kindle Select/KU, you can’t use them, anyway.

    For these reasons, Amazon does not have to treat us fairly. We do not have a right to sell on their site, we do so at their whim. As one commenter pointed out, we are sharecroppers, and Amazon is the landowner.

    For whatever it’s worth, I have never found any benefit to marketing of any kind. I sell more books, but the cost exceeds the additional profit. With few exceptions, the only people making money in self-publishing are those selling things to self-publishers. The secret to success is to write a really good book people want to read, and have readership (and sales) climb slowly over time through word of mouth. So far, that has eluded me.

    1. “With few exceptions, the only people making money in self-publishing are those selling things to self-publishers.” That in a few few words says it all. Good comment Michael Henderson!
      That’s why I switched to writing non-fiction and am selling other products outside of the book itself.

    2. “With few exceptions, the only people making money in self-publishing are those selling things to self-publishers.”

      I’m sorry, but that’s a completely ridiculous claim. You only need to look at the charts and see they are filled with self-published novels. Lots of these people are making six figures a year – many are making seven figures a year. Look at the Kindle All Stars that is published every month – 100 authors, getting a minimum of 4m or so page reads in that month. That’s around $18,000 in page read income alone – and 100 authors are earning at least that (I know some who getting up to 20m page reads in a month – or $90,000). That’s just read income, in a single month. Sales would be comparable also.

      I don’t know where these ridiculous assertions come from but they are completely untethered from reality.

      Your analysis is equally shoddy. If you had read the piece carefully you would have seen that there is no common thread in advertising venues – the article explicitly states that on more than one occasion. Which means your conclusions are equally flawed.

  29. I’m late to this party, but quite shocked to read this! Were any of the targeted books in KDP? Also BookBub seems to be mentioned a lot. Is there any link there?
    Regardless, Amazon, in it’s zeal to protect its customers, would do well to remember that authors are also customers, And without authors, they would not have a book business at all.
    At the risk of sounding predictable – Power corrupts; absolute power corrupts absolutely.

  30. It’s pretty simple. This is happening to Nikky Kaye that I know of, so it’s happening a lot. You file a class action. You serve Amazon on Connecticut. It’s online. No author can be held responsible for who downloads a free book. Might as well blame the host site. They get away with this crap because we let them. Zon’s got the deepest pockets around. Go after them.

    1. I’ll say it again, you cannot file a class action lawsuit against Amazon if you publish books on their site. Here it is right in the TOS.

      10 General Legal Provisions.

      10.1 Disputes. Any dispute or claim relating in any way to this Agreement or KDP will be resolved by binding arbitration, rather than in court, except that you may assert claims in small claims court if your claims qualify. The United States Federal Arbitration Act and federal arbitration law apply to this Agreement. There is no judge or jury in arbitration, and court review of an arbitration award is limited. However, an arbitrator can award on an individual basis the same damages and relief as a court (including injunctive and declaratory relief or statutory damages), and must follow the terms of this Agreement as a court would.

      1. I’m not even published, yet, but I’d contribute to a good campaign to get the word out in a public way that maybe shames Amazon into doing better by its authors.

  31. Or 3: Some services are contracting bots to boost downloads to keep authors buying spots in their NLs vs. actually recruiting new readers for their lists. There are a few legit sites out there that have a more skeevy internet marketer feel than others. And managing a NL is getting hard now. Easier to just bot it and keep cashing in.

    ALSO scammers use these NLs too. Which creates scam data points for Amazon. They love BKNights btw. And they try to get Bookbub spots too. (I managed to get into a spammer group last year.)

    I’m booking with very few services now as a result.

  32. Reblogged this on Ice Cream Castles in the Air and commented:
    As I get closer to publishing, these kinds of stories are frightening. Amazon makes unilateral decisions, doesn’t explain their rationale, and doesn’t give due process. They are, of course, a private business that doesn’t need to give due process, but they should realize that shaming people without giving them a chance to respond is bad for business.

    1. Actually, Amazon is not a private company at all.It is a publicly-held stock company. It is more answerable to its shareholders than it is to its sales product providers.

      1. We need representatives asking awkward questions at the next shareholder meeting… sadly I’m in the UK.

  33. This situation seems so utterly random and inexplicable, it defies understanding. I mean, without even trying you can go out there in the Zon trenches and see who is obviously scamming. No sweat worked up at all. And yet they seem to continually miss those dudes and go after authors with clean records and hands.

    You’d think there’d be a way for Amazon (at the very least) to look over that author’s record to see if this behavior is consistent with past behavior and conduct (as to promotions, marketing, book publication etc) and yet they don’t seem to do even the most obvious things to check.

    Oh crap, just when I thought the waters had calmed at Amazon….

  34. I think you can not also look pass the possibility that this an effort to manipulate higher sales for competitive authors also. Amazon may be very well asking for a group action lawsuit from these authors…and it would be warranted.

    1. I think you’ll find the ToS allows them to decline to sell anything from anyone for any reason. And what they do/don’t show (like sales ranking) is at their discretion as well.

      As far as lawsuits go, Amazon would be well within their rights to ‘not’ sell anything from parties attacking them until the lawsuit is over – if then.

      Why doesn’t Amazon explain what triggered these events? Because telling would tell the scammers how to better get around the blocks Amazon is trying to put in their way.

      The indie/self-publishing writers have the same choices the big 5 do when it comes to selling e/a/books on Amazon. Don’t like the rules of the game? You can take your marbles and go play somewhere else.

      Writers keep demanding Amazon ‘do something’ about the scammers and gamers, so Amazon tightened things up a bit, to the point that some writers are finding things they thought were okay are getting them cut off.

      Amazon can’t win this battle in your eyes, anything that makes it easy for writers to sell makes it easy for scammers to play, and anything Amazon does to stop the scammers will also trip up the writers. (And throwing warm bodies at it will cost money which will have to come from somewhere.)

      There are a few things nobody outside Amazon knows.

      How many scammers/gamers hit them every day/hour/minute – we only know about the ones that not only get through but get up where they are noticed.

      How many ‘honest writer’ books have been affected? A handful or three? Out of how many millions of books on Amazon? Heck, let’s claim 500 e/books were ‘wrongfully’ dropped/changed by Amazon. And I just went looking for ‘ebooks’ and Amazon showed me the first 16 out of over 5.6 million. That means while trying to stop the scammers the writers were crying about, Amazon caught in their net 0.000089% non scammers (add another 0 if it was only 50).

      I myself like six nines ( 99.9999%) odds that if I’m ‘not’ playing any games to increase my rank or sales that Amazon won’t notice/bother with me.

  35. We asked for them to fix the click-farm issue. I warned folks a while back that Amazon *does not* take its suppliers into account when making changes. It alters things to benefit customers, and author-publishers are not customers.

    In other words, if they have identified click-farms as an issue, and are taking steps to fight click-farms, they *do not care* how many legitimate authors are impacted by their efforts. There’s always plenty more where we came from.

    My best guess here is the click-farms have infiltrated one or more of the major promo sites and are downloading random books advertised on those sites in an attempt to fake legitimacy. But Amazon has probably already logged the IP addresses some click-farms operate from.

    When someone uses the “infected” promotion site their ebook gets X regular downloads, and then also gets Y downloads from click-farms which are subscribed to the infected promo site. Amazon spots the suspect IPs and flags the KDP account for using a click-farm. Which it probably did – without knowing it.

    Best advice: do analysis of the promotions which have been hit by this, figure out which promo sites they have in common, and don’t use those sites. At least for a while. They’re compromised.

    Note: this probably only impacts free books, but could also be expanded to negatively impact KU books as well, so watch for that.

      1. Which is precisely the sort of book the click farms would target to “prove” their legitimacy to Amazon. Again – this is all best guess, but I used to do intelligence work against “black hat” operations.

        It would be quite normal and easy for them to infiltrate a promo site (all of them are free signups and just ask for an email). They have the click farm account sign up, then click through on some free books and download them. By performing something which looks like “normal reader activity” they attempt to foil Amazon’s tracking systems.

        But Amazon has most likely allowed certain known click farm accounts to remain active as traps. They then flag any downloads coming from the same IP and catch the entire farm.

        The problem is that if that IS what is happening, then one or more promo sites are likely poisoned, at least for free books. This is why we see wide books are being hit, because a high percentage of free books promoted are wide.

      2. I’m agreeing with Kevin here. I used to write about hackers for a magazine, and his comments are spot-on about what is likely happening. It sounds like their tactics and Amazon definitely knows their IP addresses, which is why that is the particular accusation leveled.

    1. And…I was wrong. We now have confirmation of rank stripping for a boxed set which was 99c and NOT in KU, so it’s very clearly NOT click-farms infesting promo sites causing this. (Click-farms would not target a 99c ebook for “rehab” purposes. It’s not cost-efficient for them. They would target free ebooks or maybe KU ones. Assuming this author didn’t use a “bad” promo service in addition to the Bookbub they got, it’s probably NOT click-farms.)

      Best guess is now that Amazon is flagging ANY BOOK which jumps up significantly in rank over a short period of time.

      Best practice would then seem to be to stack some smaller promotions in front of a book before getting a Bookbub. In this case, it was a boxed set with zero reviews and almost no sales – which got a Bookbub. That catapulted this no-review, few-sale book up into #97 free in the store, which probably was what triggered the action from Amazon’s algorithms. If you think about it, it makes sense: that’s precisely the same “warning signs” we use to look for click-farmed books: no reviews, poor history of sales, sudden surge of sales.

      Hopefully the author will get a good resolution from this. But it’s becoming clear that Amazon is taking action to fight back against click-farming ebooks, which is a net positive if they can set up some sort of means for legitimate authors to NOT get hammered by the same actions.

      1. There are plenty of plausible reasons a clickfarmer/scammer could target a wide, 99c book – such as testing the fences, covering their tracks, or general muddying of the waters. My money would be on the first.

      2. In this case I think it was just a matter of the new “click farm alert” algorithm going bad. I mean, what metrics do YOU use to look for a click-farmed book, David?
        – No or very few reviews.
        – History of poor sales.
        – Sudden one-day rise into the top 100 paid or free ranks.

        This boxed set had no reviews, virtually no sales since a March 2017 release, and suddenly went from the bottom rungs of the Kindle store to the top 100 paid in less than a day. Because it got a Bookbub, sure; but if you didn’t know it had a Bookbub, it would be VERY easy to assume they had somehow click-farmed their way to success.

        I think Amazon has simply set into place some automated systems to spot KDP books which experience a meteoric rise in ranking.

        What this means for us…? If we suddenly get a lucky Bookbub on a book which has a sub-500k ranking, my advice would be to stack some other promotions first. Get FB and AMS ads on that book. Maybe do a few smaller promos in the days and weeks before the Bub ad goes live.

        I don’t assume this is what happened in ALL of these cases. Phoenix’s case might be something very different, so it *could also be* that there are some poisoned well issues at one or more of the big promo sites. It’s even plausible that the click-farms bought enough copies of this 99c book to trigger Amazon alarm bells, but this seems less likely as that would be an expensive practice for what is a very low-margin “business”.

      3. There are two problems with this.

        1. Not all affected books fit this pattern. Some have lots of reviews. Some have a strong sales history. Some were permafree and/or stepped up to the top, rather than arriving there from the telephone rankings.

        2. This assumes Amazon’s fraud detection system was malfunctioning or generating false positives. Perhaps it was 100% accurate and there was fraudulent downloads on all these books – not from the authors themselves, but a third party – such as a scammer wanting to kick up dust or a clickfarmer testing thresholds.

        However, yes, if I was to design a system to detect clickfarmed books the metrics you mentioned would be tested for red flags, along with a whole bunch of others. But, really, I laboriously went through all the marketing that every author affected engaged in and there are no commonalities – aside from being visible in the charts just before getting rank-stripped (another bit of evidence for them being deliberately/manually targeted).

        Also, if you look at the Movers and Shakers list every hour you will see a fresh set of books with few reviews and no sales history making much bigger leaps than these guys did, without triggering the system. Every single hour.

      4. Regarding…

        1. Agreed. Which is why I think we may have multiple things going on at the same time here. It’s possible for example that some promo sites have become “poisoned wells”, with click-farm accounts hidden amongst their subscribers, AND that there is a new flagging system having an impact on other books through other means.

        2. I’m not sure it was a malfunction so much as bad coding. For example, if they wrote the code to flag any book which jumped from say, under 1 million ranking to above #100 inside of 24 hours as immediately suspect, then the 99c boxed set (which is the single example of a legitimate paid, non-KU book being stripped that I have seen so far – the Veiled Knights boxed set) would have triggered that alarm.

        Similarly, if they have “trap accounts” which they know belong to click-farms but allow continued use in order to better trap click farmers (this is a common practice to fight click-farms across many industries), then any book which gets above X number of click-farmed downloads in a small period of time will be suspect. If the click-farms have infiltrated promo sites, then any free or KU book marketed by that promo site might get sufficient downloads from known click-farm accounts to trigger an alarm.

        It’s probably a case of “both”.

        The good news is, they will probably fine-tune the system better in the future.

        The bad news is, authors have no recourse, and Amazon REALLY doesn’t care if a few score authors get hurt in the process.

        This is what I meant way back when we discussed this before, David… Whenever Amazon makes changes to stop an abuse of their KDP system, it inevitably ends up hurting as many legit authors as it does scammers. Unfortunately, that’s the nature of the game. They’re dealing with several million KDP ebooks now, and hundreds of thousands of new ones are published every year. Anything they do to stop scams will be an automated system change, and those will always be flawed. Those flaws will always nail some legitimate authors in the same nets as the scammers.

        People like Phoenix with a long history of being reliable and honest can likely point to that and not end up losing their accounts over the matter. But we’re probably going to see some folks without her reputation lose their KDP accounts before all is said and done; and not all of those who do will be scammers. And Amazon is under no obligation to continue allowing someone access to KDP if their automation tells them that account is suspect.

        The sooner we can figure out what methods Amazon is actually using to spot scammers, the sooner we can adjust our own practices to avoid them. But they’re not going to tell us, because that would also tell the scammers, which would allows the scammers to adjust as well.

    2. Interesting hypothesis. Don’t packets have a chain of IPs in a table showing the whole route? If CRCs stop that being spoofed Amazon could take a more nuanced approach by following the IPs in the routing of the traffic and simply block the download from the black site origin without sanctioning the innocent nodes it passed through… but subtlety really isn’t their thing, is it? 🙂

      1. Ultimately, that’s one of the main problems in dealing with Amazon, yes. Subtlety is not their thing. They have a tendency to see a problem, and take a “nuke the site from orbit, only way to be sure” approach to solving it.

      2. Which is easier to do – IDing a crooks car so you’ll know to watch for it the next time they try to use it – or booting the crooks car so the next time you won’t know which car they’re now driving?

  36. This has nothing to do with Amazon’s emails or threats. This is just a hypothesis about SOME of the non-KU free books that had rank stripped.

    I wonder if some of the problems with free ranks can be attributed to the price-matching system.

    What we’ve noticed is that the more a book is selling paid, the quicker it’s price-matched to free.
    So the price matching mechanism triggers more frequently when the book is popular.

    What if that mechanism fails sometimes and tries to push the book back to paid, stripping the rank as it recalculates, then finds it’s free elsewhere and puts it back?

    1. Interesting hypothesis… a feedback loop. If all sites have price matching with varying latency it could end up a real mess.

  37. This happened to me in early October on a KU book during a free promo, on the highest volume day. The rank disappeared for much of the day and then was restored. Naturally the missing hours were, or would have been, the best ranking. The ads I ran were with reputable newsletters, as well as Bookbub CPM ads. Thanks for your efforts.

  38. A few years ago Becca Mills was the victim of a fraudulent DMCA take down scheme. An email campaign by multiple authors was the only thing that got her book reinstated. In that spirit, I sent an email to . Here are my words. Please feel free to copy and use them to contact “jeff” yourself.

    Dear Sir or Madam:

    I’m writing because two box sets have recently been stripped of rank. I understand and support the cracking down on bot farms and scammers, but I’m afraid innocent authors are getting caught up in the fray.

    This box set was ranked stripped in September:
    Wild Hearts:
    The author in this box set has been very vocal champion of Amazon’s TOS. I really think she was targeted because of it. Her box set’s rank is back, but she is worried that she now has a “stained” record.

    This collection is still rank stripped:
    Veil Knights:
    They had a BookBub promo at 99-cents. BookBub, to the best of my knowledge has always been a legitimate website. Has that changed?

    I’m currently in KU with six books, but this is making me want to pull them all out. At least if this happened to me I’d still have income from non-Amazon sites. I don’t want to leave KU, it helps so many of my customers on limited budgets. Please look into this as soon as you can.

    Thank you,

    C. Gockel

    A longer run down is here:

  39. I’ve been following this, but not saying anything, mostly because I don’t have a lot of stuff up on Amazon just yet.

    I’m now inclined to stay out of Kindle Unlimited because of this and because the page count business is, in my view, suspicious. I have sent an e-mail to the CSR at CreateSpace about my concerns regarding ownership of my creations, as I meant to use Wattpadd, a freebie site for introducing your work to people, as well as Goodreads. I tend to take a more conservative approach to it.

    I’ve made note of David’s suggestions for PR for your own creations, but this dustup with legitimate counts seems to indicate that the authors won’t get paid, although the cheaters will. If so, I will be more likely to take matters into my own hands and give Bezos a piece of my mind over his mismanagement of his own company. Perhaps the problem is that Amazon has gotten too big for its own britches.

    At the same time, I tend to prefer print books over electronic versions, and would rather promote that than the digital format. I can take down my print copies and go a different route. I do, after all, own the content of my product.

    I would say that, in view of the fact that my most recent e-mail from Amazon about KDF funding said “top this and that” but gave no indication that there is a problem with self-promotion, the cheaters are going to get away with it until or unless someone sues the pants off of Amazon and rattles Bezos;’s cage door. If they can’t tell the difference between legitimate runs and fakes, they should stop this crap, remove KU from this funding program, and admit that they have no idea what they are doing.

    1. *Perhaps the problem is that Amazon has gotten too big for its own britches*

      I think you hit the nail on the head there!

    2. We can’t sue. When we publish on KDP, you give up the right to class action or other lawsuits, agreeing to arbitration for any legal complaints. Trust me, I’ve looked into it.

  40. As if there isn’t enough in the world to be discouraged about, this just kills me. I worry about it often. I have two close friends, also very honest and ethical people, who have received the nebulous rebuke letter from Amazon telling them it is believed they have tried to manipulate product reviews. And of course, they have not and would not. When one of them answered, she was given more vague information and told that further emails would most likely be ignored.

    It’s very sad that Amazon is so quick to make life miserable for hardworking, ethical authors who make a lot of money for them. Very upsetting.

    Thank you for putting it all out there, David. Your blog, your knowledge, and your willingness to share and inform are invaluable.

  41. Meanwhile there are KU marketing machines which are gaming the system all over the place and nothing happens to the giant market share they are gobbling up. Amazon is looking in the wrong place for the wrong solution to a problem they refuse to admit is a problem. iBooks is now the new place where gifting to game the system is taking place; here’s hoping they crack down faster than Amazon has.

  42. The rank-stripping happened to me on one of my romance books I write under a pen name, on the 3rd day of a 5-day free run (it’s a KU book)–but it happened near the end of August . The book was somewhere around #62 on the Free list–and then an hour later its rank was gone. I called KDP customer service and emailed Bezos. They said they would look into it, and the rank reappeared a few hours later (much lower by then, of course). They didn’t accuse me of rank manipulation, though–they kept trying to tell me that it was because the book wasn’t paid and so it didn’t have a paid ranking, but it was “eligible” to be ranked on the Free list and would show up there eventually if I had any downloads. As if I were upset because the book disappeared off the “Paid” list when it was free (duh!). They didn’t even address the fact that it had already been ranked on the Free list and was well into the top 100 when its ranking disappeared. I had no idea this had happened to anyone else.

    1. That actually seems to be either a different thing or else a first-level review of some sort. I’ve seen numerous titles now that were in the Top 100 (and heard about a couple that weren’t that high up) get stripped for what usually lasts 2-4 hours only. Many come back at a higher rank, many at a lower rank — it all depends on which way the book was headed anyway and what time of the day it happens. We had one that went missing from the ranks for about 2 hours (its rank improved). Even Jackie Collins (yes, THAT Jackie Collins) had a freebie on BookBub that was pulled for a few hours.

  43. I’m no expert in this area, but after reading this blog for years, I can see a pattern emerging, and the pattern points squarely at Amazon’s ‘free’ promotions. I think they are being used as the backbone of pretty much all the scamming schemes going on, /including/ all the books that end up on for sale or free on scammers websites – i.e. to lure unsuspecting readers in.
    I think we all have to find other ways of promoting our books because ‘free’ has become too dangerous.
    If we could all go on a creative strike, Amazon might finally sit up and pay attention.

    1. Re that “creative strike” idea, I’d LOVE to see every independent author, ALL of us, pull our titles from Amazon for six months. Unfortunately, any sales through Amazon outweigh our own pride and sense of what’s morally right. And this IS a moral question. Should we continue to support a store that treats our fellow authors like crap? Absolutely not. Will we? Yeah, proably so (blush).

  44. Thank you, thank you, thank you. I’ve never felt so helpless or wrongly accused. It is injust! And frankly, my emails to Jeff Bezos have not helped. At least not that I’ve noticed …

  45. Amazon is throwing out babies with the bathwater again. There has been some major boxed-set scamming going on, with authors using the gifting system and freebies to manipulate rank. Amazon is trying to crack down on those and is obviously taking a massive number of innocent indies with them.

    1. I’d very much like to believe that there is a crackdown going on. Has anyone recently seen the boxed-set scammers being rank-stripped? Some top freebie scammers seem to have disappeared from being in the Top 100 Free every day, and some of the more egregious free botters have been removed from the store. But the paid-side scammers? I’d love to hear about any recent wins from that side.

      1. Amazon is onto them. I’ve seen evidence, but it’s not public. It’s confidential since the scammers are being sued and the information isn’t public.

      2. I’m also skeptical that Amazon is tackling the problem as a whole, rather than a few trophy cases. The clickfarmed books that hit #1 on the paid side of the Kindle Store are still on sale, only having received a temporary rank strip (some for less time than the authors mentioned above who did nothing wrong). The guy who clickfarmed several titles into the Top 10 paid over the course of several weeks this summer has all his books back on sale – seemingly without sanction other than a temporary interruption. The guy who has been botting his books to the top of the free charts every single goddamn month for the last two years was, again, only temporarily rank stripped for a week or so and is still active. The scammy publisher with 150+ titles engaged in all sorts is operating normally. The circle of asshole bad boy romance authors who continually engage in book stuffing and other shenanigans are still at it – again only suffering a temporary rank-stripping.

        I don’t see much change at all. Except for the part where Amazon is cracking down on innocent authors.

    2. Why can’t they have a human based right to reply to an accusation? We’re creating their content for them and we’re getting treated like servants, or at least some kind of underclass. I get that the battle against bots and scammers is automatic, but the tone of those notes was just nasty and bullying and so unnecessary from a company who’s main mission should be to sell other peoples stuff. Our stuff. The scammers aren’t going to use a right to reply system, but innocently accused folk will. Seems simple from the outside.

      1. “Why can’t they have a human based right to reply to an accusation?”

        Because money. They could slow things down and have a human look each and every issue over. But paying for that human will have to come out of somewhere. Would you mind if their wages came out of your 35/70%?

        We keep seeing the cries that Amazon ‘must do something now!’ about the scammers/gamers, but the more they do the more likely they’ll catch those that thought they weren’t doing anything wrong. So which do we want – a bank that gets robbed every now and then – or a bank so locked down that you can’t do any banking there?

        “The scammers aren’t going to use a right to reply system, but innocently accused folk will.”

        Sure they will, once they know the trick works they’ll use it – which is why Amazon doesn’t spell out what/why they caught someone – why tell someone how to avoid being caught?

        “Seems simple from the outside.”

        It’s always simple when you aren’t the one trying to make it work. 😉

      2. “That’s a false choice. The options available to Amazon aren’t limited to ignoring all scamming or targeting the innocent.”

        Yes and no.

        They could have a warm body vet every book before they allow it to go on sale. That takes time and money. Right now I can put up an ebook and it’s ready to be bought in a few hours if not sooner. You want to hear these writers scream? Just tell them they’ll not only get less but it’ll be a few weeks from the time they hit ‘done’ and their work showing up on Amazon.

        Or Amazon can let the computers try to weed out the scammers. As we’ve seen with that option, the tighter they try to make it to nail the scammers the more false positives they’ll have. (and if they’ve caught scammers getting in through BB, then others using BB may trigger the trap too.

        YMMV as they say.

      3. Another false choice. The only options are not manually vetting each published book, and the current mess. We don’t even need to be theoretical about this, there are two real-world examples to point to: iBooks and Kobo, who have both solved this problem in different ways with considerably less resources than KDP has at its disposal.

        iBooks uses a combination of manual and automated systems – the automated processes filter out anything which trips the wires for human review. Kobo has tiering and whitelisting, where known non-scammy/cheaty entities who publish non-troublesome content will sail through the process quickly, whereas those who publish edgy stuff in terms of content rules, or who have breached rules before, will go through a slower, more careful review.

        And they aren’t the only options Amazon is limited to. I’ll also remind you that Amazon hasn’t taken action when handed details of out-and-out scammers.

      4. Um…David, iBooks is the most gamed ebook sales platform in the world. Any publisher can simply “gift” a copy of the ebook to any valid email address, pay the money for it, and each gift received counts as an individual sale.

        Apple “solved” the problem by deciding to not care. I’m not sure I prefer that attitude.

      5. “iBooks is the most gamed ebook sales platform in the world.”

        That must be news to the scammers which hit #1 in the Kindle Store twice this summer. I don’t remember anything remotely similar ever happening at Apple.

        Apple has had some piracy and plagiarism issues, but it isn’t infected with scammers to anything like the same level.

        So, Apple is not without its problems, but they are considerably less in number, and surely that is in large part down to the automated+manual review system they have for new content.

        The point is that there are not only two approaches here – one of complete laissez faire and the other of indiscriminate enforcement. There are real-world examples of other approaches.

        (P.S. You could gift in that way on Amazon for years and years, and you can still manipulate rank in that way through mass-gifting via Amazon Giveaways.)

      6. I agree with you completely that there are middle roads these companies can take. My objection was the implication Apple is somehow doing it better. They’re not. The reason you see gaming the system happening there less often is mostly because they’re only a little more than 10% of Amazon’s size, when it comes to ebook sales.

        But yes, most people could afford to buy their way into the top hundred on Apple tomorrow, if they wanted to. (You can use a similar technique on Amazon – and I’m trying to not give specifics on black hat techniques I neither use nor condone in a public venue – but Amazon, unlike Apple, has an algorithm in place to block most abuse of this system and stop it cold when the remaining loophole is abused).

        I think all online retailers are struggling with this to one degree or another. I saw similar stuff happen in the 1999-2010 era with MMORPGs and click-farmed game gold (that’s still an issue in games, but I’m not in the business anymore). There are solutions. Some will work and most people won’t even notice the impact. Some will backfire – like we are seeing here – but the company cannot even so much as apologize without admitting culpability and opening themselves to lawsuits. It is a tough problem.

        They screwed up applying this solution, but Amazon tends toward “over solving” things and then toning back the approach. We’ve always known this.

      7. “Kobo has tiering and whitelisting, where known non-scammy/cheaty entities who publish non-troublesome content will sail through the process quickly, whereas those who publish edgy stuff in terms of content rules, or who have breached rules before, will go through a slower, more careful review.”

        And how well do you think that would scale to something the size of Amazon? And add how much of a delay? Then there’s the fact that Jeff has seemed to be a fairly bright lad, he steals good ideas when he sees them – yet he didn’t go the Kobo route.

        I have a funny feeling that if we asked the writers on this page they’d prefer the current Amazon ‘devil’ they’re dealing with to having Amazon try a ‘whole new idea’ on them.

      8. Rule #1 of dealing with KDP: Any change Amazon makes to its systems will inevitable inconvenience or damage a number of legitimate authors.

        This is *extremely* consistent.

        We have no way to gauge how effective the tools they put in place are at stopping scammers. For all we know, they’re blocking a hundred scam books for every one legitimate book which gets in trouble. Or maybe it’s ten. Or five. Or two. We have no idea.

        Obviously we would like Amazon to create systems which minimize the carnage they generate. But historically with *great consistency*, Amazon changes to KDP have proven detrimental in the short term to many.

        When enough authors ask for change, they will eventually act.

        Whatever action they take, it will hurt some legitimate authors in the process.

        Best practice to me seems to be to roll with the hits when they come. Yes, it sucks to be in the 0.0001% of legitimate books that took a hit on this. Just like it has hurt to be in the group negatively impacted by every other change. But things will change. We adapt, adjust, and move on. We try to help each other pick up the pieces (buying a copy of the affected legit books is a good start, and I strongly recommend that!), and we get back to work.

      9. “Your position is essentially that Amazon can’t possibly come up with a better system than the current one.”

        No, I’m saying that we’re seeing the results of one of those ‘minor’ changes right now and a few writers got caught in/upset by it. You want them to make a ‘major’ change – without considering all the problems that could have.

        You also never answered to if you actually thought the Kobo way would scale to what Amazon would need to handle the number of books that are added every day.

      10. The problem with Amazon is that you can ask 100 authors, 1000 authors, or 10,000 authors to complain to Amazon and they give exactly two shits.
        They care about CUSTOMERS. The readers. And with KU, readers are no longer complaining about massive, scammy, title stuffed books. They simply delete it from their kindle, download something else, and go about their day.
        Without action on the part of the consumer, we will continue to be unheard.

      11. “Of course it could scale. Whitelisting/blacklisting/greylisting can scale to the level of handling millions of emails a second to decide which goes into spam.”

        That might work for short emails that dozens/hundreds see, but we’re talking books – which do take a bit longer to read all the way through. (And though I keep marking MSN as spam, hotmail keeps dumping them in my ‘in’ basket.) Somehow I wouldn’t expect my next ebook to show up in less than 72 hours (last one took under two hours for the US Amazon.)

        If you’re suggesting Amazon should allow some third party help them vet their ebooks I’m sure the scammers/gamers would love to help by setting up accounts to vet theirs and mark as scam all others. (Not that I expect Amazon will give control to any third party – that’s why they’ve reduced their usage of FedEx, it was making them look bad.)

  46. Reblogged this on Ruth Nestvold – Indie Adventures and commented:
    I read about an incident of this on Kboards just today, and I was reminded of the Pageflip controversy, and my own recent attempts to prove that I have the rights to my own novella, Looking Through Lace. It seems that Amazon has gone from taking writers seriously to relying on canned responses, making it nearly impossible to resolve issues like this. Sigh. I used to be a huge defender of Amazon …

  47. Amazon isn’t a marketplace, it’s a private company. I know we need to be selling our books where people buy them, but we also have to remember that Amazon is the landowner and we’re sharecroppers.

      1. What I mean is that it’s not like owning our own store. We may be selling direct to consumers, but Amazon is still completely in control, as your posts eloquently illustrate on a regular basis.

      2. Sure, I hear you. But while it might be “their house, their rules” Amazon still presumably cares about author goodwill – previous investment of time and energy there would seem to indicate that – and still presumably cares about the value of its recommendations to customers, both of which are impacted generally by this.

  48. This is a discouraging turn of events. I’ve never run a free promo but was actually considering one for the 1st book in a series. Could it be that Amazon wants to knock out promo sites and take the ad dollars themselves?

    1. No, I don’t think so. If they wanted to do that there would be much easier ways to do so. One simple and legal way: close their affiliate program or ban the deal sites from using it.

      Really, though, all of this is explainable through more plausible theories and probably amounts to nothing more fanciful than Amazon misreading the problem and applying a dumb automated solution which doesn’t work.

      1. Although a lot of affiliate sites have shut down, like Sweet Free Books or the dearly missed Rainbow Shelf. So something is not working right for them vis-a-vis Amazon somehow.

      2. Amazon has recently shut down several affiliate accounts belonging to ebook promotion sites. Prior to that, Amz reduced affiliate payout from 8% to 4% on ebooks, got rid of the tiered payout system (based upon the number of sales the affiliate drove to Amazon), and re-did the reports system such that an affiliate could no longer tell how many free ebooks were being assigned to the affiliate by Amazon. Prior to that, AMZ hog-tied affiliates by limiting the number of free downloads permitted to 20k/month. Over run 20K and that month’s affiliate income was forfeit to Amazon. All in the last 24-ish months.

  49. David, I posted this on KBoards, but could it be that Amazon/KDP have implemented an algo designed to search for a % increase in sales over x3 days? This would then apply to any book, whether it’s free, in KU, 99c, or even normal prices. It’s specifically designed to look for that massive sales spike… It would need to be a certain % increase, so it doesn’t catch 98% of the books moving about the charts, but when it spots a sudden spike over 2/3 days (like that of the Veil Knights set) it triggers a “rank strip”

    1. If you were to design such a system from scratch surely that would be one of the elements you considered – plus Amazon already has a means of measuring huge rank jumps (the algo which feeds into Movers and Shakers). But that mustn’t be the only factor here because plenty of books have huge rank jumps every hour that haven’t been sanctioned.

      1. Yes, as a theory, it’s close, but there must be something else that is the final nail in the coffin, so to speak. Perhaps that’s where the nefarious clicks come in.

    2. My rank was reasonable before my free Bookbub (and subsequent rank stripping)- around 12,000. I know it’s not bestseller status but it’s not like I was in the weeds. Who knows with any of it.

    3. David – This just happened to me last week, but like *most* of those who notice it, it was only for a few hours. Like so many others I’ve spoken with, we share the following:

      a) It was a wide book (not KU)
      b) It was paid, not free
      c) BookBub paid feature during that promo
      d) All super up-and-up authors
      And here’s the important one:
      e) We hadn’t paid much attention to that book in a while and the ranks were very low when the promo kicked in.

      It looks to me like a book that’s been largely ignored for a while and isn’t doing well because of it and then suddenly jumps because of a BookBub (or whatever else) is going to trip the wire for a second tier check. If that book passes the second tier check, then the rank comes back after a couple of hours. If not, then the same thing that Phoenix had happen starts up.

      I’m a numbers person and I analyze everything. Right now there does seem to be a pattern emerging. Best advice so far? Prime the sales pump with a small ad somewhere as soon as you start your promo to get it moving a little. The Bub will be less likely to trip it later.

      1. Ann, Leigh mentioned just above that her book started with a rank around #12,000 and remained stripped. Our anchor author happened to have a BookBub ad around then too in the same category and was in Leigh’s alsobots, so I noticed that her alsobots looked great. There’s just nothing in her book’s profile I can see that should have triggered sustained rank stripping. I know our anchor author’s rank was worse than #12K when her BB ad started, and hers didn’t lose rank at all.

      2. This could very well be the case–with one exception: My publisher has a distribution deal with Amazon–who have complete control over how and when my books are promoted. Interestingly, they almost always choose a month-long promotion (with price reduction) on a “discount” amazon page, then throw a Bookbub in there somewhere during the month–usually in the middle. Hence, the sales for the book drag up for a week or so prior to the BB making it spike.

        But note: It’s Amazon themselves who put my books on BB. So I don’t think they’re trying to shut that artery down?

      3. Exactly. As several people have pointed out elsewhere, Amazon’s own imprints regularly advertise on BookBub.

        The idea that Amazon would want to shut down BookBub and do it by randomly selected books and stripping their ranks never made sense.

    4. If you are correct, it feeds into the conspiracy theory that Zon is after BookBub and the other outside advertisers as well – attempting to drive all ad money into their own limited offerings.

    5. That would catch out the Big 5 (6?) launching stuff with TV ads unless they have a flag in the database to protect them from sanctions.

  50. One thing I read on Kboards, and it’s probably a conspiracy theory, that Zon are trying to make folk use AMS only.

    But on the realistic side, for a company the size of Amazon, their attitude is bordering on unprofessional. No, IS unprofessional. They should be jumping through hoops not threatening innocent authors without proof. If I accused Jeff Bozo without proof he’d have my ass in court.

    I’m so sorry for the authors, even though sympathy doesn’t rectify the damage. I hope they get back on track. My heart goes out to them.

  51. David, thank you for collating all of this and shining a light on it. The frustrating thing is being wrongly accused and having no way of fighting that accusation. It’s an awful thing to do to genuine, hard-working authors. And the impact of having a title rank-stripped goes far beyond not appearing in the charts. It has the potential to ruin careers. These accusations by Amazon are also damaging to legitimate promo sites, such as BookBub, even though it’s not directly their fault. Amazon need to rethink how they deal with these instances of supposed “rank manipulation”. If they detect “suspicious” accounts, they should shut those accounts down, not punish the author who has NO control over who clicks their book page on the store. This is appalling behavior and business practice from KDP.

    1. I wouldn’t discount this as a conspiracy theory. I would further add to David’s list of potential explanation a third cause: “rank manipulation” has been expanded to include unauthorized promotional tools, regardless of whether authors consider them to be legitimate.

      The following activities by Bookbub et al likely run counter to Amazon’s own goals and priorities:

      A) Maintaining a giant list of Amazon customers
      B) Encouraging behavior that runs counter to Amazon’s own navigational and promotional tools
      C) Diverting money away from potential AMS spending
      D) Running up affiliate payouts
      E) Providing potential cover for actual botters and scammers, who mix in among legit authors and hope they won’t get noticed.

      In short, Amazon values iron control over its platform, and wants to extend its power. That’s its MO. Newsletters, which are basically mini platforms that depend on Amazon to survive, may be causing too many problems, and not generating enough value in return.

      Does Amazon really care if Bookbub et al loses business, especially if skittish authors decide to stick with AMS? I suppose you could argue that these newsletters increase sales, but from Amazon’s POV those sales might have happened anyway — and in a more profitable way for Amazon — if customers just used Amazon search, Amazon recommendations, Amazon sponsored ads, and Amazon newsletters to find good deals.

      That’s my theory, anyway. And one thing that goes against it – if it really wanted to crack down on newsletters, it could do so in ways that don’t piss off the author community and increase resentment. A change in stated policy (“you can’t use affiliate links or newsletters to increase sales”) or cease & desist letters to newsletter operators based on real or supposed TOS violations could effectively end these types of promotions in a very short period of time.

      1. I agree 1000%. Bookbub also breaks Amazon’s TOS by including affiliate links in an email. *eyeroll*
        They’re probably trying to get rid of BB and others in order to increase usage of AMS.
        You hit the nail on the head.

      2. Whenever a company makes any change — regardless of altruistic claims it might make in support of the decision — it is ALWAYS about the money. Period.

        Several years ago, Facebook changed its display algorithms and killed the concept of organic reach because they wanted people to pay to promote their posts. Same with Amazon, it seems, and their efforts to herd author-publishers into using Amazon Marketing Services (AMS), where we are forced to compete with each other’s books, like surly dogs, in order to score a few scraps from the Master’s table.

        I’ve used AMS a few times, in very specific, experimental ways, and I have concluded that it is so =not= worth the money that it’s ridiculous.

        Since 2015 I have run several highly successful promotions of most of my full-length fiction titles, including BookBub promotions in conjunction with other advertising (though always for 99-cent e-books), the most successful of which landed my book in the #1 paid slot for all time-travel books on Amazon, Nook, and Kobo for at least a week.

        I and my books thus far (knock on wood!) have slipped unscathed through Amazon’s Hall of Spinning Knives. However, I will be including this article’s link in the latest edition of my Business of Writing nonfiction book, the chapter that’s titled “Digital Distribution Strategies for E-books, Or Bewitched, Bothered, and Bewildered by Amazon.” Just please give me a couple of days to effect the changes! 😀

      1. Of course they don’t care about authors. No big business cares about any supplier of goods unless that supplier is big enough to cause them harm in some way. The Big Five publishers are large enough to bring Amazon to the negotiating table. We are not.

        Working with Amazon is a lot like working with a big publisher back in the pre-Kindle days. We need them way more than they need us. There is no negotiating table. We have no leverage from which to negotiate.

  52. UGH, this is so infuriating, especially after the conversations I had with KDP at NINC. Thank you for reporting on this issue, David. I just submitted a book for a BookBub (not free, but still). Do I need to worry? I think I might.

    1. I think anyone with any promo in the near future should be a little bit worried as no one seems safe – whether it’s free or paid, wide or in KU – but perhaps temper that a little by reminding yourself that plenty of books are promoted every day without running into issues.

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