June 20, 2011

Complaints mount that Amazon's publishing program is mostly spam so far


Lots of reports on the interwebs lately saying the same thing as this commentary from PC World: “Amazon’s Kindle e-reader store has a spam problem, and that isn’t good news for legitimate authors and consumers trying to find their books.” Or, as another PC World report puts it, self-publishing authors are “overwhelming the system with crap, making it harder for customers to sift through the spam and find legitimate titles.”

As Eric Mack details the problem in the first article,

The spammers have been utilizing two tactics.

The first is to use available software that advertises the ability to easily publish 10 -20 Kindle books per day by basically grabbing public domain content from elsewhere and slapping it up on Amazon with a new cover. Ironically, if you don’t want to use the software, there’s plenty of e-books available on Amazon that will teach you how to flood Amazon with spam e-books.

The second spam-publishing method involves copying an already successful e-book and republishing it with a new author, title and cover aimed at a slightly different audience. A number of authors have been surprised to find their Kindle-published works available under different titles and bylines elsewhere on Amazon.

There is some sort of internal approval process within Amazon that it takes most titles less than 48 hours to pass. With such quick turnover and the multitude of new titles being electronically published to the site every day, it’s easy for spammers to mix in with legitimate authors.

Awareness seems to have been sparked by a Reuters wire story by Alistair Barr that sees the problem as not only damaging of the Kindle store, but of mothership Amazon’s ultra-aggressive program to take over the publishing industry itself. As he puts it, the “phenomenon represents the dark side” of the online revolution.

And as Barr details, the numbers are staggering:

In 2010, almost 2.8 million nontraditional books, including ebooks, were published in the United States, while just more than 316,000 traditional books came out. That compares with 1.33 million nontraditional books and 302,000 conventional books in 2009, according to Albert Greco, a publishing-industry expert at Fordham University‘s business school.

In 2002, fewer than 33,000 nontraditional books were published, while over 215,000 traditional books came out in the United States, Greco noted.

“This is a staggering increase. It’s mind boggling,” Greco said.

There are some effective solutions that can be implemented quickly, says PC World‘s Mack:

One solution could be to start charging authors to publish an e-book. Changing the economics should drastically reduce the number of spam titles. Currently, any sales of spam e-books are pure profit for spammers, encouraging them to publish dozens of titles in the hopes of just selling a few copies of each to make their time more than worthwhile.

Or, as Tony Bradley points out in the other PC World story,

Amazon could impose some sort of submission process giving Amazon an opportunity to review and approve content before it can be sold in the Kindle store. However, that would raise the overhead for Amazon, increase the length of time involved to publish a title, and complicate the process for everyone involved.

In other words, if Amazon is going to be a publisher, it should consider acting like one.

Dennis Johnson is the founder of MobyLives, and the co-founder and co-publisher of Melville House. Follow him on Twitter at @mobylives