Amazon Being Appalling…Again

If you haven’t already read Oghenechovwe Ekpeki’s Twitter thread on his mistreatment by Amazon, you really should as it is very alarming. I’m just putting it here to remind me to come back to some of these issues at a later point. The short version is they have terminated his account just a day before they were due to pay him royalties. He can’t access that money at all now and has no effective means of appeal or redress.

14 responses to “Amazon Being Appalling…Again”

  1. Amazon seems to be on an account banning spree of late, also see the problems of Ruby Dixon and Lexi Ostrow that Mike linked to on File 770.

    But this case of a respected writer and editor like Oghenechovwe Donald Ekpeki having his account closed without warning is particularly egregious, especially since it’s obvious that racism and prejudice against Nigerians is at work here.

    Anyway, I hope he gets everything sorted out. This is one case where SFWA can probably help, whether he’s a member or not.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Well this was always going to be the problem when Amazon effectively sicked the U.S. government on Apple iBooks and shut down the growth of the e-book market so that they could maintain their near full sales monopoly of self-published and small press e-books and a substantial control over the license publishing e-books as well. With the tech companies soured on e-books as a retail market, Borders going under thanks to corporate mismanagement and Barnes & Noble slow to develop infrastructure to successfully market e-books as a non-tech company, the North American e-book market became limited and flatlined as expected after the initial years of growth. And in other countries where Amazon successfully became a purveyor of goods and computer services, they also blocked the development of many non-English competitors for e-book sales, particularly for self-published and small press works.

    For a decade, industry people have been warning self-publishing authors about the dangers of them having nearly everything put in the one Amazon basket. When Amazon started Kindle Unlimited and other services that required authors to only have their stuff on Amazon and nowhere else, these warnings got more urgent. Amazon also exercised market control by refusing to let self-published authors and small presses make discount deals with any other e-book vendor if they were also selling on Amazon, dropping people’s prices if they found a better price or free giveaway was being offered elsewhere or shutting the person’s account down altogether. Amazon’s vendor contract with self-publishing authors and small presses includes that Amazon can change the terms of the contract at any time, and that includes payment terms. Amazon eventually switched their fee schedule, taking more fees from gross sales as their cut and using that to discourage self-pub authors from pricing works at lower prices after having initially encouraged self-publishing authors to do so in the first years of the Kindle launch.

    None of what Amazon has done is technically illegal, though calling the authors’ net sales “royalties” is again false advertising (but all e-book vendors do it and it’s possible that Smashwords actually started it.) It is the corporate policy of a company whose business philosophy is to completely dominate any area and geographic location they try to enter, from taking loses while using predatory pricing to bounce others out of the market, buying their competitors and ruthless restrictions on those wanting to sell through their platform. For the last twenty years, long before the e-books, Amazon was well known for pummeling small presses (“gazelles”) into the ground by demanding the same sort of terms and discounts from them as they got from larger, better funded publishers. If you could get enough bulk sales you couldn’t get elsewhere, it was worth it for the small presses for the huge distribution, but a lot of those gambles didn’t work out. And Amazon has regularly prevented large publishers from being able to sell their books on Amazon, claiming technical glitches that turn off the button or wipe out the entries, when negotiating with those publishers on business terms.

    All of which has made Amazon very necessary to the self-pub and small press market globally but also making the e-book market particularly very limited. And it also makes it easy for those looking to harm authors they don’t like by the usual organized reporting of them to Amazon, which makes authors/small press publishers like Ekpeki particularly vulnerable, especially if they aren’t based in the U.S. That Amazon is doing a purge of supposedly problematic accounts that involves seizing the money in the accounts? Well, their contract with Ekpeki and others says that they can do that. They don’t need the money but it continues to give them a lot of leverage over the market.

    So one issue here is whether Amazon is trying to force self-pub and small press authors into Kindle Unlimited and KDP who aren’t currently in those programs if they want to sell in the Amazon platform, a platform which makes up about 85% of their e-book market. Or is Amazon actually trying to dump a lot of the self-pub and small press vendors, something that again it was speculated that they might eventually do after having used the self-pub authors to establish themselves in several industries through the Kindle, including e-books?

    So it’s not really like Disney, which is taking the legal position that they don’t have to honor the terms of old tie-in contracts of companies they’ve acquired while still holding the rights to the IP of those companies. Amazon doesn’t own the rights to the works of any of the small presses and self-pub authors they are shutting down. The money they are holding on to isn’t money that is to be paid to content creators who worked for them; it’s not royalties. It’s sales money owned by Ekpeki that they are refusing to transfer to him on the grounds that they claim Ekpeki broke the terms of their vendor contract (the one whose terms Amazon can change at any time.) Which is something they’ve done before.

    Hopefully with enough PR support, he’ll be able to get it released eventually. But this is probably going to be a problem for a lot of folk for awhile. And they don’t have enough other e-book markets to go to for decent sales, thanks to Amazon’s efforts to control the market.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Going exclusive with Amazon has always been a bad idea for small presses and self-publishers, but Amazon sweetened the pot enough, so that a lot of them do. And even if you’re not exclusive, Amazon is likely a large part of your sales.

      Due to being based in Nigeria, Ekpeki is also unable to use many alternate vendors like Smashwords, because they pay via PayPal which does not operate in Nigeria. It’s a nasty situation that I hope will be resolved soon.

      Finally, if we want a truly global publishing industry, vendors like Amazon and payment processors like Paypal must also cease seeing countries like Nigeria purely as the realm of scammers. Nigeria has more than 200 million inhabitants. Even if some of them are scammers, that doesn’t justify condemning the whole country.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. It just goes to show the impossibility of automation at scale, whether in content moderation or this. Anyone with a lick of sense should realize that Amazon isn’t trying to chisel a writer out of his royalties. He just got caught up in some automated process. For every legitimate author accidentally affected, there are likely hundreds, if not thousands, of bots trying to scam Amazon’s systems.


    • Most of these banning processes are automatic, because someone accidentally triggered something. Any human reviewing this case would quickly see that Oghenechovwe Donald Ekpeki is a respected writer and editor and not a scammer. However, it’s almost impossible to get an actual human being at Amazon to review any case.

      Liked by 3 people

  4. It’s been almost a decade since I worked at Amazon, but, back then, an automated process might suggest locking an author’s account, but only a human being could actually do it. The #1 reason for doing this was to stop someone from collecting money for someone else’s work.

    Ekpeki needs to figure out why Amazon thinks he’s publishing works he doesn’t have the rights to. (Assuming that’s what’s happening here.) Complaining on Twitter isn’t going to help him.


    • One possible cause is that he is publishing an anthology (ie work that has appeared elsewhere).

      However, the notifications he got from Amazon was about his account being connected with other infringing accounts – so presumably his name and account details resemble that of another account that has misused (or appeared to misuse) Amazon before. That isn’t going to help him because he’d have no way of identifying which account he was being confused with.

      Liked by 1 person

      • In that case, I guess it depends on what those details are. E.g. if his account and the other infringing accounts all have the same mailing address and bank account number, that’d be pretty damning.

        I should add that you also see people complaining that they notified Amazon that someone was selling their copyrighted text illegally but that Amazon was too slow about shutting those folks down. There are going to be errors on both sides of the equation, since we lack a true global ID system.


      • The way that self-published authors got caught up in banning sprees for being linked to infringing accounts was that they had done cross promotions or were in box sets with authors who were scammers and paying click farms and/or using all sorts of underhanded methods to get Kindle Unlimite page reads. The algotrithm noticed that the same accounts were reading the scammer’s books and the innocent party’s books and shut down both accounts.

        However, this doesn’t make any sense in the case of Ekpeki.Maybe he became the victim of a copyright or identity theft, which again is something that happens.

        Liked by 1 person

    • On the contrary, complaining on Twitter is absolutely essential for Ekpeki to get this resolved. It musters mass support and people with more influence contacting Amazon, which then gets Amazon to pay attention and bring an actual person in to fix things. Which is, as noted by others, extremely hard to do these days. It’s the same process as people yelling on Twitter at other corporate accounts when they have a problem with that corporation — it gets the attention as at least a mild PR situation, which leads to direct contact and resolution. Squeaky wheel gets the grease.

      And the reality is, as Ekpeki states with his tweets, that he can’t figure out why Amazon thinks his publishing works are a problem of any kind. Amazon deliberately doesn’t tell people this information, most of the time. (Ironically, Twitter also often doesn’t explain to people why their Twitter accounts have been suspended or banned.) Only if he gets a person to help him at Amazon can he find out what actually happened. And he’s unlikely to get a person unless he publicly yells about them withholding his money and refusing to communicate with him, since he tried contacting them and they ignored him. And there is a very real possibility that Ekpeki was the target of right-wing false reports that tripped Amazon’s wires. It’s happened before and it’s going to keep happening when these systems operate like this.

      Amazon and other big corporations, especially social media ones, could improve how they handle this system with their monitoring algorithms. But none of them seem much interested in bothering these days. And Amazon does seem to be doing this to a lot of accounts, which then becomes worrisome for all because they have positioned themselves in control of the market Ekpeki is in. It’s a market that financially means almost nothing to Amazon — they could stop all self-publishing and small press offerings at any time and it would have no effect on the company. So that monopoly and actions to purge accounts, for whatever reasons they don’t feel like disclosing, becomes worrisome for millions of authors and small presses.

      Whether he manages to resolve with Amazon the issue with the particular anthology or not, Ekpeki indicates he now has to shut down his press because he can’t operate it at Amazon under these conditions and he’s not able to use any other vendor platform than Amazon where he is. And this is why, even though what Amazon has done has greatly increased potential markets and ease of use for self-pub authors and small presses, it also puts a lot of those operations in danger of shutting down — without even knowing why it’s happening.

      As always, I hope that the Amazon market keeps going, but I’d also dearly like to see the e-book market expanded beyond them, both in the U.S. and globally.

      Liked by 1 person

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