The Problem With Amazon Is…

There are a lot of problems facing the indie publishing industry right now. Each vendor—Amazon, Nook, iTunes, Kobo, and Google Play—has their own unique problems. But those problems pale in comparison to the problems plaguing Amazon. 

You might want to grab a cup of coffee and settle in. This could take a while.

Pick any day of the week and invariably someone is posting a question to a board or a group that begins with “Is anyone else having issues at Amazon involving [insert problem here]?” Someone will usually reply with “Yes, I’m having same issue. When I called, they said there was a ‘glitch’ in the system.”

For a multi billion dollar corporation, they certainly seem to have a lot of ‘glitches’. I don’t mean one or two glitches spread across the timespan of a year. I’m talking near daily ‘glitches’. Issues ranging from files not uploading, can’t get new covers to take, sales ranks frozen for days after a new release, reviews disappearing, non existent quality control issues, accounts frozen for no reason; the list is endless.

For a multi billion dollar corporation, they certainly seem to have a lot of ‘glitches’.

One of my personal favorites are the ever-increasing preorder fiascos, whereby on released day Amazon sends out the placeholder file instead of the actual book.

Don’t even get me started on the KDP Print issues.

But the biggest problem Amazon has is they don’t care. They. Do. Not. Care. David Gaughran said it best on twitter this morning.

They. Do. Not. Care.

Why would they? They’re making money hand over fist. Billions every year. The problems aren’t just limited to the indie authors. They treat all their ‘vendors’ the same way: with repugnant indifference.

The current hot topic issue is plagiarism (#CopyPasteCris). This is nothing new on the Amazon front. It’s been going on for years. Years. David Gaughran talks about his own experience on this front that dates back to 2012. Read his twitter from this morning. If that doesn’t make your blood boil, I don’t know what will.

The issues that we have at Amazon are never replicated with the other vendors. Kobo checks each and every one of its books for plagiarism before they allow it to be published. Amazon is a hell of a lot bigger than Kobo, makes God-only-knows-how-much more money than Kobo, yet they can’t seem to get any kind of system to check for plagiarism. 

iTunes and Nook allow us to set up asset-less preorders. For those non-authors reading this, it simply means we can put up a book for a preorder without having to have any kind of file attached to it. Then a week before the book is set to go live, we upload the final book files. Easy peasy and never an issue.

Amazon requires a placeholder file. Doesn’t matter what is in that file just so long as you have one. Which doesn’t sound too bad until you’ve had the lovely experience of Amazon sending out the placeholder file instead of the actual book. This happens about every other week. So, Author Jane uploads the final book file weeks before said book is to go live, but instead of sending out her beautifully written book, Amazon sends out the placeholder file.

They never ever take responsibility for this. So, when a reader calls to complain, Amazon will always tell them the author is at fault. Even though she isn’t at fault, she is according to Amazon. And why would the reader believe anything else? Customer support is telling them the fault is with the author. 

They never ever take responsibility

Meanwhile, Author Jane is sitting at home pissed, hurt, angry, and stunned because people are leaving 1 star reviews that read: “I didn’t get the book! What a scam! I called Amazon and they said Author Jane is at fault. I will never read another book by this author again.”

But author Jane did everything she was supposed to. She uploaded the book weeks before it was set to go live. She played by the rules. Did her part. Yet… she’s at fault. Now she has to spend days scrambling to get Amazon to send out the right file while she’s doing damage control with her readers.

The problems aren’to just with plagiarism and preorders. The list of problems at Amazon are endless. But its biggest problem is the KU (Kindle Unlimited) Program.

While I do love the idea of a subscription service, Amazon can’t seem to get its head out of its proverbial ass long enough to fix the problems. KU is rife with scammers, stuffers, ne’er-do-wells, thieves, cheaters, and yes, even plagiarizers. Legitimate authors — those authors who plant their butts in a chair and write every word of every book — can’t compete with these thieves. We just can’t.

Kobo has a wonderful subscription service called Kobo Plus. I participate in it. Lots of authors do. But we don’t have to have exclusivity and we definitely don’t have to fight page stuffers, scammers, and thieves at Kobo.

Let us take a trip down memory lane. Picture it; the midwest, 2013. I have three books out. THREE. I am a KDP select princess. I’m making an average of $30,000+ a month off of three books. THREE. LEGITIMATELY. And I wrote every single word.

Then Amazon launches KU 1.0 (that was where the reader had to read at least 10% of a book before the author got paid. Enter the ten-page Dino porn books.) In one month, I went from making $30k+ to $3450. In. One. Month. I suck at math, but even I can tell that is a 90% decrease in income.

I could have stayed in KU to see if the numbers picked up. But I took that huge plunge in income as a sign: it was going to get worse. Way worse before it got better.

It has been an uphill struggle ever since. I’ve got more than 20 books out now and I can’t get anywhere near the numbers I was making before KU 1.0 hit. Just a fraction. I do not participate in KU. My books are wide. I’m still making a great living. I’m still able to write full time. However, the playing field is not even.

First world problems, right? I’m not asking for sympathy. I’m simply stating cold, hard facts.

Enter KU 2.0 (where the author is paid for each page that is read) and with it, the real scammers; the infamous book stuffers. These thieves were creating books that were thousands of pages long. Thousands. Then they were teaching their readers how to ‘flip to the end of the book’. The reader didn’t have to read it, they could just flip to the end and voila! The author has just earned $10-$13. For one book. One. Book. Multiply that by say 500 loyal readers who use want to help an author out, because hey, the poor guy has to eat. That is $6500 off one book. Now multiply that by 10 books and you begin to see why we’re pissed.

Then they teach the reader to return that book that is in KU and purchase it. “I’ll send you a give card so you can buy the book.”

And these weren’t books they’d actually written. No, they’d hired a bunch of ghostwriters (I have nothing against ghostwriters when used legitimately). The books were not edited and the story line didn’t matter. The writing was horrendous. But it didn’t matter to these ‘authors’. It was all about the almighty dollar. It is always about the almighty dollar with these people.

To set the record straight: I have lots of wonderful author friends, legitimate authors who write their own books, and they are killing it in Amazon. I’m not talking about the legitimate authors. I’m talking about the scammers. Had I chosen to stay and were I making $75-100k a month in KU, I would STILL be bitching, just like my fellow authors are. It’s a daily struggle fighting this beast.

So we started standing up and fighting

So they put 10 – 30 stories inside one book. The problem was, neither the book description nor the blurb would indicate there was ‘bonus content’, which was a huge violation of Amazon’s terms of service. And apparently, Amazon wasn’t smart enough to detect that a 25,000 page book was a bit ‘large’. Amazon simply didn’t care.

So we started standing up and fighting and explaining to the readers all that was wrong with the Chance Carters and RR Banks and Cassandra Dees that were out there.

Some of these so-called-authors actually had Amazon reps. For the non-authors, a rep is a coveted thing to have. A KDP rep has to be earned. Not everyone has them. (Yes, I have a rep.) These reps who were assigned to the thieves actually worked to help the thieves game the system. They’d give them little tips and pointers on what to do or what not to do. Then the reps would turn a blind eye to what was happening.

It wasn’t until we raised a stink and Amazon’s reputation with readers began to slide that they finally did something. Well, sort of.

Amazon did take down several of the well known book stuffers in the contemporary romance genre. But to date, they have done absolutely nothing about the other genres.

Another problem Amazon has is banning legitimate authors for no reason. They give them no recourse to fight. “We saw an unexplained increase in your pages read last month.” Seriously? Did Amazon even stop to ask if that author had run an ad or a BookBub deal? No, they didn’t.

Amazon tends to throw the baby out with the bathwater. It needs to stop.

Historical Romance is plagued with these so-called-authors. But what people don’t know is it is the same scam. A publishing company — let’s pretend one is located in Greece and the other is in Taiwan. They hire ghostwriters for next to nothing, slap a cover on a book, make up a fake author, complete with fake picture and profile. (Note, these are almost always the same profile for each of their fake authors.)

They screw around with the formatting of the book. Their damned table of contents are sometimes 12 pages long because of the triple spacing. They screw around and have each paragraph of each page triple spaced. These little nuances now make what should be a 50 page book a 400+ page book.

Amazon swears they have programs in place that catch the screwy formatting. Yet, they continue to allow it. They do nothing. Not one damned thing.

Because, you guessed it, they do not care.

Because these foreign publishing houses are able to put out books rapidly, and use click farms (that is a group of people who are paid to do nothing but sit around on 10 different smartphones, iPads, tablets, and flip to the end of each book without reading it), they take upwards of 80% of hot new releases. Their rankings are high, very high. And that means the rest of us, the legitimate authors who are playing by the rules, can’t get seen.

But go to FB or Twitter and ask any reader of Historical romance if they’ve heard of any of these authors? You’ll get a resounding No, who are they?

Some of these so-called-authors are in the top 10 bestselling authors on Amazon.

But go to FB or Twitter and ask any reader of Historical romance if they’ve heard of any of these people? You’ll get a resounding No, who are they?

How can anyone who is #8 at Amazon, who has hundreds of reviews for each book, who launches a book a month (or sometimes more), who is always in the top 50 in their genre — usually in the top 5 — NOT BE KNOWN? How can they rank so high and yet not anyone who reads legitimate authors have ever heard of them?

They have zero relationship with their readers. Zero relationship with fellow authors in their genre. Boggles the mind.

We’ve reported, we bitched, we’ve complained. We’ve sent Amazon screen shots. We’ve reported one violation after another. But Amazon does nothing.

Life isn’t fair, but it should be equitable. And there is nothing equitable about any of this.

I’m done playing by the rules of decorum.

I’m not going to remain quiet any longer.

I’m going to start naming names.

To the scammers and thieves: You know who you are. WE know who you are.

AND WE’RE COMING FOR YOU.

I for one am quite thankful that author Nora Roberts is standing up, not only against the plagiarist Cristiane Serruya, but against the stuffers, scammers, and thieves.
She has a new blog post up this morning explaining her position on 99 cent books. I could not agree with her more.

Nora Roberts is my hero.


26 thoughts on “The Problem With Amazon Is…

  1. As someone who has started writing her first book, I’m almost wondering how I can hold on to my dream… People like me could get bulldozed under all the scammers! It’s so discouraging!

  2. Amazon needs to do more. There’s no better proof than seeing ghostwriting mill RR Banks in the Kindle Top Ten right now. His book is ahead of every single real romance author. Amazon will end up paying him another huge KU bonus.

    RR Banks is living proof Amazon didn’t go far enough last summer. He escaped their bans and now he constantly forces new ghostwritten books under his Banks and RS Lively pen names to the top of the charts. This after Banks was outed as an internet marketer who sold courses to other marketers about how to work Kindle Unlimited. He not only worked the system, he got paid teaching others to do it too.

    Meanwhile, at least a dozen new names keep surging to Top 300 ranks with the same covers and badly written content in slightly different configurations. None of them existed before the bans Amazon did last summer. It’s the same black hat marketers Amazon banned back again under new accounts. Everyone knows this except Amazon. Like David says they DON’T CARE until mainstream journalists start writing about how bad KU really is.

    It’s enough to make the honest romance author tear their hair out and feel hopeless. The only solution is to keep reporting it to Amazon and media.

  3. Yes Cheeky Wench keep on fighting! I personally don’t care for KU because I like to own my books and reread them when I want. I also want to read the authors I choose not from some computer list they send to me. I have waited on the preorder options and have a book wish list on Amazon that I keep updated for new releases. This I do myself because the preorders are sometimes a problem as you mentioned. And yes I do buy some sale books from Bookbub, and follow authors for new releases from them as Amazon is not always reliable on that front. However, I will stay loyal to Amazon because for all their faults I am a loyal Kindle fan. Well hang in there Suzan! ❤️

  4. Well said Suzan. When I first started reading Arcs for authors ( I thought I had died and gone to heaven. I mean I was having interaction with a real author!). What I did not know was that some where not real at all. They offered a free book or would send .99 so you could buy the book. It did not take long to realize something was terribly wrong. They were writing one to Two books a month and the writing was not far beyond a 10 year old or sounded like other legitimate stories almost to a T. What drives me crazy Is they are still out there publishing books, have over 100 reviews near release date and go to best sellers. As you said above no contact with readers except an email stating with Hello my lovely! I wish these could be banned and we as readers would be glad for you to name names!! Being a legitimate author is a gift and as a reader, I benefit from that and am very thankful. Anyway rambling here and just thank you for your perseverance in getting the word out!!

  5. Yes, it is crap like this that just makes my head hurt. RR Banks was one of the biggest scammers and stuffers out there. Yet he is allowed to come back and continue gaming the system. Yes, we all need to #GetLoud and #StayLoud on this subject.

  6. This business is not for the faint of heart. You have to gird your loins every day. Sometimes every hour. All I can tell you is to just continue writing. Improve your craft, hone your creativity, and do your best. In the end, we will find a way to compete with these idiots.

  7. Karen Ranney just wrote a blog post about this same stuff. After reading your post, I went to the referred post by Nora Roberts and see the same thing.

    If I were a genius, I would figure out a way that all of you could put an end to the unfair practices from Amazon. But, alas, as you say “They Don’t Care.”

    I think if they were only books, it would be easier. Y’all would have power. But, they have so many things that they sell. So many ways to draw customers.

    I reckon that y’all are proving that artists are not naive about business. I recognize that all of you are powerful people. I have said a prayer that in some way, everyone can convince Amazon to start doing business fairly.

    To be honest, I believe that they feel they are above being fair. God Bless you and all the authors who are being assaulted in this way.

  8. ALL OF THIS. We won’t stop fighting, though, because we literally can’t afford to. Three years ago, I was making $2,000 a month from Amazon, which was a living wage, off two books. Today I’ve got 15 and am lucky to make $1,000, which means yes. I’ve had to get part-time work to support my dreams.

  9. Hi Suzan. Thanks for this.

    Did you know that a lot of the author groups and dodgy dealing is done via the dirtydiscourse.com site? Readers wouldn’t know that this site exists. It was set up by Scarlet Cox (Amelia Faulkner) in around 2015 as a romance writers forum, and it is the go-to place for unscrupulous authors. It’s where the Sierra Reilly brand was concocted, and Lovelight Press- where only a handful of the authors are real people and the rest are ghostwritten pen names.

    I’ve seen plenty of screenshots of what goes on in the forums hidden behind paywalls. Ghostwritten content can be purchased, as can reviews, a group of so-called-authors can arrange to promote each other’s scammy books and make each other look popular, you can find links to click farms, and all other kinds of unethical things.

    And the one BIG rule… no one is allowed to talk about Dirty Discourse. I’ve seen what happens when authors mention Dirty Discourse on FB or Twitter. Others associated with the site will insist it is above board and they will pile on to whoever dared to mention it. I’ve seen authors get ‘one-star review bombed’ because they challenged authors associated with the site. I saw a very popular MM author try and bring down a newer author because she spoke about it. I’ve chatted to many authors who joined when it first started and were removed from the site because they questioned unethical practices.

    I also watched with dismay as the woman who runs the site- and goodness knows how many pen names- insinuated herself into the MM community as a ‘savior’ after the Santino Hassell catfishing scandal and was in turn brought onto the board for the Euro Pride Con conference to ‘bring the community together’ when she- and her friends- are the ones responsible for pulling it apart with their ghostwritten tat. They think others cannot see their power plays, but we see everything!

    I applaud you Suzan for being vocal about these issues. Authors have had enough, and readers are unaware of what has been going on. Let’s hope this is the start of some positive change.

  10. About the same conversation I had with a representative this morning. When I got done the woman said she couldn’t agree more. I asked her to shove the complaint up the pipeline and to let them know a bunch of Indie authors were about fed up to the gills. It probably won’t help a lick. But what the hell.

  11. Suzan, you are a Godsend. I’m so glad I discovered your platform because you keep everyone informed about all this crap and give us the courage to say “We won’t stand for it!” I’m hoping to indie publish in 2020. (I was planning on it this year but then I discovered I’m pregnant and new baby + book launch would be really hard) When I hear stories like this, it’s so discouraging but I know we can’t give up or we let the scammers, stuffers, and thieves win.

  12. Hi Suzan,
    I’ve been reading, mulling over, and absorbing all of the disheartening information you and other authors and readers have shared via social media and on your sites. I’m a debut indie romance author. I grudgingly went with KU after going wide resulted in few sales. As much time as I put into marketing, I had *hoped* for more, seeking to establish a foothold in readership. It’s tough, and it sucks. I’d prefer to spend far more time writing. Thank you for your voice (and to the other authors and readers), because it encourages me to prevail, to keep writing my own damn books. I’ll be sharing on my site.
    Sutton Bishop

  13. I am only just learning about Dirty Discourse. I’ve seen those screenshots as well. But you do have some who believe there is nothing wrong with buying someone else’s previously published work, repackaging it, and selling it as their own.
    Suzan

  14. So, let’s all buy our books from Kobo – I don’t mind switching my reading app. We can skip Amazon altogether for book shopping. If we hit their bottom line – they will start to care.

  15. I am unable to connect to your website so hopefully you receive this note.

    In the reading of your latest ‘Cheeky Wench’ one thought kept circling around in my mind. That thought was what Would David Pecker and American Media make of this story? You must know about the intimate email contretemps going on between Bezos and the The National Enquirer. I would love to see this appalling treatment exposed whatever public platform is used. Please let your readers know what we can do to help right this wrong

    Warmest regards, Deigh Johnson

    Sent from my iPad

    >

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