Is the Kindle store broken?

This series of posts from David Gaughran has set the cat among the pigeons:

The first one (and most recent) alleges that click farms are using the Kindle Unlimited program (which allows subscribers to borrow books) to manipulate rankings. The specific case being a single book that reached number 1 on 14 July despite very little sales previously.

I’ve not got any particular insights to add other than I think this will be a story to watch. The comment thread is interesting also (one Puppy-adjacent author makes some defence of Amazon).

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16 comments

  1. JJ

    It was already well-known that self-published authors who participated in the Kindle Unlimited program (which pays authors based on number of pages read and percent of a given book which has been read, based on page-turning clicks) had arrangements with each other and with friends and family, to read significant enough portions of their books so that the “book has been read” payment kicked in. This is just a logical extension of that, and it does not surprise me at all.

    The problem isn’t that the Kindle Unlimited program is being gamed by clickfarms. The problem is that the Kindle Unlimited program is a poor business model to begin with, and the self-pubbed authors who were gaming it are now being outgamed by the clickfarms.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Cora

      Kindle Unlimited was an invitation to scammers from the start. But Amazon was so eager to lure away authors and customers from the competition (authors have to be exclusive to Amazon to participate in Kindle Unlimited) that they don’t care.

      Liked by 2 people

      • Cora

        For self-published authors, a book has to be exclusive to Amazon to be eligible for Kindle Unlimited as well as for some other perks such as making it free without jumping through a lot of hoops, countdown deals, etc… So if you put your book in Kindle Unlimited, you forego sales at Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Apple, Smashwords, Scribd, Tolino, etc…. Amazon’s advantage is of course that they have a bigger inventory than other stores.

        Trade-published books don’t have to be exclusive to Amazon for inclusion in Kindle Unlimited, since those are the publishers Amazon actively wants to woe into the program.

        And because Amazon’s algorithms are designed to push books that are exclusive over those that are not, those authors who decide against exclusivity are doubly punished, because their books are already less visible due to the algorithms and become even less visible due to the scammers.

        Liked by 3 people

  2. Mark

    Interesting stuff.

    Whenever some issue with Amazon comes up, my reaction is broadly the same – Amazon is a massive company dedicated to building its market share in order to make huge wads of cash, don’t expect it to act in any other way. If anything it does happens to benefit consumers or authors then assume that it’s a) incidental to their main aim and b) temporary. E.G. their attacks on book pricing may have been good for readers, but that wasn’t why they did it.
    That doesn’t mean I dislike or avoid Amazon – quite the reverse, I use it all the time – but I work on the theory that they may do something that screws me over at any point, hence why I calibre-archive everything I get from them, and have been finding non-Amazon alternatives for my magazine subs which are more difficult to get archived.
    KU is a pretty obvious attempt to build their market share both in readers _and_ in authors – they’d like a nice ecosystem of Amazon-dependent self-pubbers producing content for them to turn over. Again, that doesn’t mean self-pubbers should avoid Amazon and/or KU, but they need to be aware that anything beneficial about it for them is entirely incidental to its purpose, and may end at any time.
    Gaughren’s article is a good example of what the more sensible self-pubbers seem to be doing – keeping a close eye on how Amazon’s schemes work.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Cora

      I’ve been an Amazon customer since the early 2000s, when most people in Germany were still, “You can buy things over the internet? Is that safe?”

      However, in recent years I find that I increasingly choose local competitor Thalia over Amazon for books by mainstream publishers, though I still head to Amazon for small press books, academic books and self-published books.

      Like

      • JJ

        I placed an order on Amazon yesterday and was a bit shocked to see “customer since 1998”. It sure doesn’t feel as though it’s been almost 20 years.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Mark

        Hmmm, my first Amazon purchase was an ad&d manual that was really overpriced in the UK. I opted for the cheapest shipping and it took about a month to arrive from the US! Probably wasn’t quite as early as 98 though – 99 or 2000 would be more likely. I was definitely a bit nervous about the whole thing though, even more so when the book turned up with a horrible printing error (basically the first half printed twice!) – the typical “customer service” in the UK at the time would probably have involved me posting it back at my own expense while apologising profusely for putting them to the trouble of taking my money. The US approach of believing me without argument and urgently airmailling me a replacement was a rather pleasant shock!

        Liked by 1 person

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  4. Lurkertype

    KU has ALWAYS been broken. This is not news.

    I bought 3 books from them in 1998. I think books were all you could get back then. I didn’t buy anything from 2000-mid2002, because we got a Barnes and Noble in town. It was 2007 when I started buying random things from them. I bought books from Amazon UK in 2000 and 2001 because publishers were waiting too long between releases in different countries.

    But yes, Kindle is all about making money for themselves, not anyone else. I’ve always thought KU was a bad idea — being the literal fight over one pot of money, so that someone else’s success might hurt yours. Wonder if that’s where Puppies and some other less-clueful indie authors got the idea the whole biz is like that — you must lose so I can win!

    Different scams have been plaguing it since the beginning, much farther back than these articles. Scammers repackaging content (or sometimes just nonsense) to get enough pages read, “books” consisting of Wiki articles, of course the family and friends cheating, now clickbait spam.

    Again, not news.

    Various authors I know try various experiments to see what maximizes their income, whether KU is worth not having it everywhere. A lot of them will have a book in KU for just one month, then put it everywhere, or they’ll have the first in the series in KU and the rest not.

    One wonders why this guy is continuing to write them and send them all the charts and graphs. Isn’t he tired of doing all that unproductive work and them doing nothing? Hasn’t he figured out the situation as it stands works great for them and they’re not going to change anything, no matter what stats he turns up or how many impassioned blogs he writes? This is a yooge waste of effort on his part. He’s not going to crack that brick wall with his head. And he’s too “noble” to go to the press. (eyeroll)

    Absolutely NONE of the actions he lists in his tweet are going to help, no matter how hard he tries or how many other people do it. They’ll change when it becomes unprofitable for Amazon, and not a moment before.

    Getting out of KU entirely is the only thing he can do to help himself. If every actual writer quit KU, it might change. But that’s never going to happen. If every subscriber quit, something would change, but that’s not going to happen either.

    Everything people are all het up about here is FUTILE.

    I like the one who said “I have said from its inception that it was a pig in a poke”. Yep.

    Like

  5. greghullender

    Kindle Unlimited is a bold attempt to solve the problem that the public wants everything for free, but somehow authors have to get paid. Amazon has really struggled to make that idea work, although some authors seem to rave about it. If I were still at Amazon, fixing the sort of problems described in these articles is exactly the sort of thing I’d want to be working on.

    I can take a few guesses as to why it’s taking them this long to deal with the problems the author mentions, but attracting more attention to the problem makes it more likely to get fixed sooner rather than later. The author clearly wants KU to succeed, and raising issues like this is probably the best way to make that happen.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Lurkertype

      Not going to the press is just stupid. He can send them charts and graphs and emails from now until doomsday, but unless he can get mass media (old and new type) attention, nothing’s going to happen.

      Like

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