Animation by Kayelle Allen at The Author's Secret

Wednesday, October 16, 2019

Authors, are Amazon's bots eating your words?

If you've written a book and listed it for free on Amazon, you're probably seeing vastly higher rates of download than you ever see reflected back in reviews.  You may have attributed this to laziness, or perhaps some form of digital hoarding (which for sure does exist as well).  In actuality however, something a little darker may well be taking place.

As a result of Kindle Unlimited, authors can be paid for people reading their books.  Like all well-intentioned systems, it took very little time for people to figure out how to game the system.  Someone looking to do so starts by creating a fake book.  It could be plagiarised, a convincing copy, or entirely randomly generated garbage.  They then list the book, for a price, as Amazon does very little (i.e. basically nothing) to verify that this is a legitimate book.  They do nothing to promote the book, so it will not sell.  Instead, they list it in Kindle Unlimited.  They can then either use a bot, or a number of minimally compensated people, to 'read' the book on Kindle Unlimited.  As a result, the "author" gets paid, and can even use this to launder money from stolen bank accounts or cards.  So far you're probably wondering how this involves you.  You may also be surprised that these bots (or so called clickfarms, in the case of humans) exist at all.

As it happens, and as unbelievable as it sounds, bots account for almost 40% of all traffic on the internet.  Some bots are benign too - but around half are malicious.  This means 20% of all internet activity is actually from someone's bot somewhere, trying to cause harm.  As such, while most people may have no idea that bots exist, they are a big focus for large companies such as Amazon.  As a result, Amazon soon figured out what was going on, and shut down these dishonest "authors" because they could identify what activity came from a bot and what was legitimate.  The bots would be single-minded in helping their one "author", and so it was fairly obvious they weren't legitimate.  So, the bots had to evolve.

To do this, bots would now also download free books, and read those as well as reading the fake one.  Now your legitimate free book becomes an accessory for these bots, and you get nothing back - nobody's bothered to teach literary criticism to the bots yet.  Worse still, you run the risk of Amazon thinking you're involved in this shady practice as well, and having them shut you down or pull your content.  If they do, you'll be in for a lengthy and possibly futile argument with them.

I hope this has helped demystify the big difference in ratio between downloads and engagement of your content.  Feel free to leave a comment on your experiences, or ask any questions you may have.

(This post was written by guest blogger Alexander Sofras, a professional in the field of software development with many years of industry experience).

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