April 13, 2018

Amazon, victorious in its arbitration claims against users of the Kindle Unlimited program, has filed in federal court to confirm the ruling

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Back in September of 2017, we wrote about a series of complaints Amazon had filed against users of the Kindle Unlimited and Kindle Direct publishing platforms. In briefs filed with the American Arbitration Association, Amazon alleged that a number of authors, users, and publishers had engaged in practices designed to artificially increase payouts and inflate sales ranking, which Amazon claimed constituted violation of its terms of use.

Now, Adam Rowe at Forbes is reporting that Amazon has won its arbitration case, and filed papers with a federal court in Washington state, seeking to confirm and enforce the results of that arbitration. As noted David Gaughran notes on Twitter, Amazon’s petition specifically mentions two practices it seeks to enjoin: “the use of a bot, clickfarm, or other tools to artificially increase page views,” and “the creation or publication of duplicate content.” Most people probably have a more or less accurate intuitive understanding of what it means to “farm” clicks, but what exactly is “duplicate content”?

According to Rowe, the “duplicate content” claim refers to a practice commonly known in the self-publishing community as “book-stuffing.” As Rowe explains, book-stuffing is a lucrative method of increasing the number of pages from a particular book that are read in a given payment period. Why does that matter? Because authors on the Kindle Direct platform are paid out of a “global royalty fund,” and payment amounts are determined by the number of pages read. Book-stuffers take advantage of this scheme by adding previously published content to the ends of their books, inflating their total page counts. According to Gaughran, such practices can earn scammers hundreds of thousands of dollars a month. It’s a weird tactic, and one that really pisses off “legitimate” participants in the Kindle Unlimited ecosystem. As Dorothy Grant writes at her blog, Mad Genius Club, “if book stuffers are making $100,00/mo (and some are making more than that), then there’s that much less money to go around for all the other authors in the KU program.”

Figures like Gaughran and Grant have been beating this drum for a long time, and with good reason. Assuming that the federal court confirms the arbitration ruling, they will have won an important fight against book-stuffing and click-farming. But Amazon will still need to be diligent and active in monitoring activity on their platform and enforcing the ruling of the court where necessary.

As we mentioned last time we covered this, Amazon has worked hard to establish what’s basically a monopoly in the self-publishing market. As the only game in town, they have an obligation to make sure that the dice aren’t loaded. But in the long run, depending on the good will of a multi-billion-dollar, tax-avoiding juggernaut isn’t a winning strategy for authors, publishers, or readers.

 

 

Simon Reichley is the rights and operations manager at Melville House.

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