Author Claims To Manipulate Amazon Rankings By Buying Own Book Every Day

Authors, publishers and agents live and die inside — mostly die — by monitoring their product’s position on the Amazon charts, which are adjusted hourly. Thomas, an author who penned the Kindle book Wealth Hazards, says literary types should take a step back because the system is easily corrupted. He says he’s manipulated the system by buying his book 200 times and posting fake reviews hailing his self-described masterpiece.

Now he’s peddling a new e-book, The Day the Kindle Died, in which he describes how he pulled off his ruse. He writes:

I’ve purchased my own book, Wealth Hazards, close to 200 times now. I wrote 42 customer reviews and voted on them 108 times. Not once was a review or vote rejected by Amazon. It took about 45 days to move the book up to #1, but after it got there I didn’t feel it was appropriate to promote it – so I have not profited from it. I continue to buy 2 or 3 copies a day, write reviews and vote on the reviews and wait for Amazon to notice.

They haven’t. They pay me royalties every month and recommend the book to people who buy similar personal finance titles. My new book The Day the Kindle Died is even more obvious – but Amazon hasn’t noticed. They even recommend it to customers who purchase Amazon’s own Kindle publishing manual. Amazon clearly has a problem with ranking books, creating the bestseller lists and making suitable recommendations to customers, but they don’t appear to be in a hurry to correct this.

What purpose do Amazon’s reviews and rankings serve for you when you’re shopping for books?

Comments

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  1. GuyGuidoEyesSteveDaveâ„¢ says:

    So you can be honest with us Phil: Did you try it yourself before you wrote this post?

  2. BuyerOfGoods3 says:

    I’m willing to bet that tactic is against Amazons Terms, and that a lawsuit is coming his way…That’s what people do these days.

    And..Amazons reviews and rankings mean nothing to me, because I do not use Amazon. Ever.

    • lincolnparadox says:

      It’s fraud.

      • Chaosium says:

        If that was fraud, all the “thinktanks” that buy up the latest Palin, Bush, and Coulter books would be guilty of something, I’d imagine. The fake reviews might be actionable, though.

        • jake.valentine says:

          “…buy up the latest Palin, Bush, and Coulter books would be guilty of something..”

          Yeah, because left wingers would NEVER do something like that…..

          • tooluser says:

            His analogy is bad — the think tanks didn’t write the books.

            • RandomHookup says:

              But sometimes it is done from a specific source that has more impact–such as from a book chain that feeds into NY Times Bestseller List — rather than directly from the publisher. I’ve heard of this being done when the writer is an employee of a firm that is going to give away copies of the book to customers.

          • psm321 says:

            They don’t have the corporate megabucks to order books by the truckload

            • jake.valentine says:

              Most of America is Center-Right politically and some on the Left just can’t comprehend that most people identify more with conservative authors than leftist authors. They create excuses for strong book sales such as corporations or think tanks manipulating the ratings. More to the point, the vast majority of big media are controlled by Leftists so it is hard to get all fired up even if some think tank may have purchased a bunch of books.

              • coren says:

                I guess that’s why this country is so politically divided, and more or less evenly divided. It’s mostly not liberal.

              • Chaosium says:

                “Most of America is Center-Right politically and some on the Left just can’t comprehend that most people identify more with conservative authors than leftist authors. “

                Even if that’s true, it has nothing to do with my statement.

              • psm321 says:

                “the vast majority of big media are controlled by Leftists” — that’s a joke right? That’s a bunch of BS fabricated by right-wingers to give them something (fake) to whine about. The media is mostly right-wing (and I’m not just talking fox)

              • psm321 says:
              • PsiCop says:

                If it’s true that “the vast majority of big media are controlled by Leftists,” I must ask … whence such figures as Limbaugh, Beck, Hannity, O’Reilly, Palin, etc.? Why do/did they all have TV shows, multiple book deals, radio shows, etc.? Why are they talked about across many outlets? Why are they all millionaires many times over, with all of that money earned by their mass media activities?

                If the Left controlled the mass media, they’ve done a poor job of handling it, since they allowed those people to do and say pretty much whatever they wanted, unhindered by anything, and have made all of them fabulously wealthy in the process.

                No, their existence, and prominence, actually proves the opposite … i.e. that the Left does NOT have any kind of real control over the mass media. The reality is that the mass media are not controlled by any ideology; rather, they’re engaged in a race to keep up with the lowest common denominator of the American population.

          • QuantumRiff says:

            Yes, nothing says Left wing company like General Electric (NBC).. Crazy Leftits making light bulbs, microwave’s, trains, and Nuclear Reactors..

            And nothing says “non mainstream media” like one of the largest media conglomerates in the world (fox)

        • selmorestuff says:

          only a dweeb would figure out how to put Palin, Bush, etc into this convo.

        • wildgift says:

          *That* explains why there are so many of those popular right-wing-nut books on the shelves of the K-Mart in South Central L.A! I always saw those and wondered who the hell was buying them. Now it makes sense – K-Mart is part of the conspiracy to goose the rankings of these books (because the bestseller lists are based on books sold to stores, not to readers). You see similar books, after they’re a couple years old, at the 99 Cents Only store. Again, you have to wonder why these pro-rich-people books are sold at the low-income favorite.

        • YokoOhNo says:

          No, thay are incorporated so it’s ok. this is an individual so he should be punished with public shaming, confiscation of all his funds and assets (and future assets) and the indentured servitude of his children/nephews/nieces.

    • Coles_Law says:

      Looks like Amazon just pulled all of his reviews.

  3. kcarlson says:

    I believe that most reviews are genuine, and rely on them a lot for technical programming books.

    Curiously, this guy loses money on every sale when he buys his own books. Wonder what the break-even point is? If his book isn’t all that great, then the returns and genuine negative comments will cost him…

    • CountryJustice says:

      Perhaps it’s not a matter of breaking even, but a matter of how you spend your marketing budget.

      • unpolloloco says:

        What? Marketing budgets are for the purpose of making money…Why would a self-publishing author want to lose money on a book to meet an arbitrary budget number that he set himself???

        • CountryJustice says:

          Value is in the eye of whoever is writing the check. If the author feels his marketing dollars are best spent by losing a couple dollars every time he buys his own e-book for the purposes of bumping his ranking and making “suggestion” impressions when other people are shopping, then so be it. It’s no different–and no more-or-less guaranteed–than taking out a newspaper ad, for example.

        • coren says:

          Lots of positive reviews and a #1 ranking in your section could generate a lot of sales. And if he did this 200 times, and we go with the “he’s out 1 buck of every sale” he’s down 200 bucks. That’s 29 sales he has to make to break even…

    • Southern says:

      Considering that it’s an E-Book, and is “self-published” on Amazon, I have to wonder how much of the $7.99 purchase price gets back to the author, and how much Amazon keeps as their commission. If Amazon only keeps 10% or something, then the guy is basically only paying 79¢ every time he “buys” his book, and maybe that’s ok with him in order to get his book to #1…

      *Shrug*

      Any e-book authors know how much of a commission Amazon keeps?

      • arachne says:

        I don’t see where anyone answered this. A book uploaded on the Amazon Kindle site and priced between $.99 and $9.99 results in 70% to the author in the form of royalties as long as it is not discounted below the price used on Amazon elsewhere. If it is discounted on another web site then the author receives 35% royalty.

        • arachne says:

          Made a mistake. The 70% royalty is on books sold for $2.99 to $9.99. The $.99 books are at minimum price although Amazon can choose to off them at a discount.

      • arachne says:

        I don’t see where anyone answered this. A book uploaded on the Amazon Kindle site and priced between $.99 and $9.99 results in 70% to the author in the form of royalties as long as it is not discounted below the price used on Amazon elsewhere. If it is discounted on another web site then the author receives 35% royalty.

    • BytheSea says:

      You have to spend your own money to promote yourself as an author. Most authors spend back their $5000 advance on their own advertising, since publishers don’t advertise for you anymore. So, this money is part of his “business plan.” Most authors just spend that money legitimately on their website and going to book signing events and conventions.

  4. williamroy says:

    So the “author’s” 45-day “experiment” led him to this “startling” conclusion? That you can manipulate Amazon rankings? Shocked! I bet it was just as “surprising” for an innocent author to discover as well!

    • Megalomania says:

      His point is that ONE person can in the course of a month put a book at #1, using a system that in theory every purchaser of the best selling product in Amazon’s history should be using. So even with allegedly millions of people buying books, one dude put his own book at the top of the list. That’s a little more than a system that’s capable of being gamed, that’s a system that’s just plain broken.

  5. rpm773 says:

    Is it wiser to spend the money and time manipulating the system in the hopes of getting more sales of one’s current book, or to spend the money and time writing a new book?

    Hmmm…

    • RvLeshrac says:

      Looks like he did both.

    • psm321 says:

      He’s not profiting from the manipulation… he’s profiting from using his description of the manipulation and the news coverage to promote his new book

      • Chaosium says:

        “He’s not profiting from the manipulation… he’s profiting from using his description of the manipulation and the news coverage to promote his new book”

        He’s not profiting from the manipulation, he’s just profiting from the manipulation. Good job with that “thinking” thing.

        • psm321 says:

          Ok sorry… I could have been clearer. Make that

          “He’s not profiting as much from directly using the manipulation to sell more of his older book… he’s more profiting from using his description of the manipulation and the news coverage to promote his new book”

          Better?

  6. Loias supports harsher punishments against corporations says:

    I suppose this article is complete crap, too, right? Because it was posted by Phil?

    No wait, it’s not.

    • coren says:

      Heh, I was making a response when you were making yours it seems. There’s some serious details missing from this story (see my comment a couple down for what I mean)

    • ryder02191 says:

      It’s actually a pretty interesting story and concept. My only gripe would be that all references to the actual books themselves should be removed. It’s painfully obvious that the author will do anything and everything to self-promote his book, and by submitting his own story to Consumerist himself, he’s continuing in that vein. Links to all of his books, and how/where to buy them very much conflicts with the claim that the site doesn’t take ads (what they mean to say, apparently, is that they don’t take paid ads). Best to keep it a general story about just the author and “the books he wrote.”

  7. Etoiles says:

    What purpose do Amazon’s reviews and rankings serve for you when you’re shopping for books?

    None. I’m a voracious reader, surrounded by other voracious readers and with many, many friends who are themselves authors or editors or both. I have so many recommendations just coming firsthand in any given year that I can’t read more than half of them — and then, on top of that, I have my own favorite authors and genres to watch.

    I adore my new Kindle and I like the e-book shop, both on Amazon.com and through the device itself, but the rankings and ratings of books and e-books (unlike the rankings and ratings of other products sold through Amazon) are almost completely worthless to me.

    • Bagumpity says:

      I only put my faith in bad rankings and reviews. Why? Because there’s (usually) no financial motive for an anti-shill to place a bad review. If the book or product sucks, then people will say so online. If the product is awesome, what you described is more likely: great word of mouth, with no need to go online to spread the word. And although there’s definitely a financial motive to shill for a product, the cost to get a shill to where I could hear one via word of moutn would be prohibitive.

      Granted, you do get cranks who D-list things just because they’re cranky. Also, when the field is small (say only two products of a particular type) you might have competitors scamming the ranking system in order to make the other guy’s product look worse. So you do have to read the bad reviews skeptically.

      I’ll scan through a couple good reviews on occasion because they often contain useful information about the book/product, but like you I tend to want to hear it from a human being before I really believe it.

  8. coren says:

    #1 in what? Kindle overall sales, a specific category? I imagine with only requiring 200 sales from him, it’s a category, and since that translates to about 4.45 sales a day, whatever category isn’t exactly…large.

    Is he using one account to do this, or multiple accounts? What about how he’s purchasing the books – same credit card? Different virtual cards? Visa gift cards? Depending on how much/little effort he’s making to hide his work, this becomes either a problem, or just a small oversight on Amazon’s part. I can’t seem to find a link to an original posting on this, so I guess it was a tip sent in – but there’s some crucial info missing.

    • Loias supports harsher punishments against corporations says:

      Probably information that is not available. After all, I don’t think the writer wants tor eveal all his secrets.

      • coren says:

        I agree, but the reason I ask isn’t to out his secrets, so much as to support a hypothesis – that being that he is obscuring his identity in these multiple purchases (or else how could he buy the item so many times? doesn’t it warn you about multi ebook purchases?). In which case it’s not a flaw in Amazon’s system so much as it is someone who’s scamming Amazon to artificially increase the popularity of their work. Even in small categories being #1 is better than being #20 in terms of visibility, and I imagine that translates to sales.

        • arachne says:

          Long time Amazon reviewer here– you can only post one review per account. But, it’s possible to game the system with multiple accounts, both by writing reviews and using the accounts to vote up the reivews. I also support that unique page views affect book ranking. Reviewers have done this in order to rise through the ranking system.

          When Amazon implemented their new ranking system a few years ago H. Klausner wasn’t the only one who fell through the ranks. One reviewer who was near the top in the old system lost a stunning number of positive votes.

      • Chaosium says:

        “I don’t think the writer wants tor eveal all his secrets.”

        Hahahaahah, what “secrets”?

  9. InsertPithyNicknameHere says:

    In answer to the question asked, Amazon’s ranking means absolutely nothing to me. As for reviews, Amazon is one of the sites I check for review information, but far from the only site. I don’t generally purchase from Amazon, so whether their ranking system is easy to manipulate or not doesn’t impact my purchasing habits.

    • jesusofcool says:

      I agree, the reviews mean nothing but I do find their “similar titles” feature to occasionally be helpful. Our public library has a huge loan system but very small online selection so I’m often looking to special order titles. Sometimes I’ll go on Amazon and look at similar titles to something I really liked to spur ideas.
      Then again…that’s not helping Amazon at all : )

  10. Alter_ego says:

    Here’s what I don’t get. When I try to buy a book I already own, it says “you already own this book, you can’t buy it”. So does this guy have 200 email addresses and 200 amazon accounts? How is he buying a book again that he already owns?

    • Loias supports harsher punishments against corporations says:

      Could he have a commercial account that allows him to make unlimited purchases? I would think that if you are a reseller, this would be a requirement. Assuming Amazon allows such a thing.

    • Chaosium says:

      He’s creating new Amazon accounts and using his existing credit card # to purchase. It’s very easy to create temporary, disposable email addresses every day.

    • kimmie says:

      It doesn’t prevent you from purchasing it again, it just warns you. I bought a book from Amazon, loved it, and bought a second copy for a friend. It didn’t stop me, it just let me know I already owned it in case this was a mistake.

  11. erratapage says:

    Amazon’s recommendations are quite possibly my biggest gripe in life. And it really wouldn’t be so hard to fix the system. They just need to tweak their algorithm to weight authors I have already purchased higher than books about donut shops.

  12. Chaosium says:

    “Now he’s peddling a new e-book”

    Hahahahah, ok. I’ll bet it’s as valuable as any e-books you see on eBay.

  13. Norvy says:

    Did his sales increase enough to make this a viable tactic?

  14. Chaosium says:

    Everyone make Amazon known to this guy-

    http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B003UHVZHW/ref=cm_cr_thx_view#suggestion-box

    Violates Terms of Service.

  15. Chaosium says:

    These “wealth secrets” books always sound like MLM scams to me. If the guy was successful, he wouldn’t need a series of crappy books, he’d already be too rich to bother with this pissant income stream.

  16. Fubish says: I don't know anything about it, but it seems to me... says:

    So he writes a crap book and tries to games the system. His morals are as rotten as his book.

  17. Fubish says: I don't know anything about it, but it seems to me... says:

    Just thought of something… if he can game the system, we can game the system too. Let’s all run over to Amazon by clicking on the link on the post up above and give the knucklehead a one-star review with a few pithy comments. Haw haw!

  18. shufflemoomin says:

    All such systems are susceptible to these tactics. Have you looked at Apple’s top app charts? There’s no way in Hell the tops apps are as popular as they represent.

  19. Agnes says:

    Right now, the guy has exactly ONE review for “Wealth Hazard” and three for “The Day the Kindle Died”, so somebody at AZ has caught on. (And his ranking is 29th in budgeting, 42nd in retirement planning and 58,896th among all Kindle books.)

    Here’s the thing: Every Kindle book comes with a free first chapter you can sample. I don’t care how highly recommended or rated your book is, I’m not reading it without checking out a sample first, and I’m guessing people who are concerned about saving money will be even MORE cautious.

    So this guy just blew a large sum of cash on “marketing” his book by purchasing 200 copies of it. Tax deductible, sure, but to what end? If he had bought physical copies of his book and mailed them out as review copies, at least he might be spreading the word of his book or drawing more readers. And if he doesn’t make ANYTHING off the sale of the book, much good that deduction will do him, because he’ll be Broke McBrokerston.

    • Chaosium says:

      Wow, I’d almost feel bad if the guy wasn’t trying to “game” Amazon’s system so arrogantly. I thought at least a few of those reviews wouldn’t be from shills, that some of them would be his friends.

  20. Xay says:

    I read book reviews and recommendations on other sites and then go to Amazon. The only time I look at the rankings is for free Kindle books and most of those are public domain.

  21. Yorick says:

    The rankings don’t matter to me, except when they manage to put the thing I’m actually looking for lower in their “by popularity” sequence than a thing with the same words in it.

    I only read the reviews for something I’m unsure about.

  22. ldub says:

    “What purpose do Amazon’s reviews and rankings serve for you when you’re shopping for books?”

    Umm…. none, now. Seriously – it’s been pretty clear for a while that these kinds of feedback/ratings systems are being gamed by people with all sorts of agendas.A teaparty member I was chatting with at a family party last week was telling me he spends an hour or so a day giving “one stars” on Amazon to liberal books he’s never even read.

    • Yorick says:

      That reminds me. I did a book inventory with cover images a few years ago and had to scan several of them because I couldn’t find the pictures anyway; I uploaded them to Amazon because I thought I was being helpful. One of them got marked “not helpful”, even tho there isn’t another image of that book’s cover anywhere. I found it really irritating, in a “helpless to do anything about it” kind of way.

  23. Renaldow says:

    They’ve noticed now. There’s only 1 review on it, and it complains about the author. LOL

  24. selmorestuff says:

    This type guy will bet on every horse and declare himself a winner.

  25. BytheSea says:

    That “Child called It” guy does this by buying his own books he sells at book signing through retail outlets, thereby keeping the sales statistics artificially high.

  26. SassySoy says:

    This is stupid. Amazon is fine. I can tell a fake review from a real one. Stop being an asshole.

  27. quail says:

    Even before the eBooks hit the market, publishers and groups of all types manipulated the “top sellers” list. Anyone who buys into the top sellers list as their end-all-be-all site for recommendations is allowing themselves to wallow in a quagmire of “meh”. That said, the Wal-Marts of the world use the lists to dictate what to buy or not buy. Sadly, this put a world of awful books into the hands of people who could use books other than THE SECRET and their ilk at the check out line.

  28. blanddragon says:

    So he commits fraud and he pissed? Wow

  29. Red Cat Linux says:

    Amazon reviews can be gamed.

    I purchased a ring in October of 2010. The ring setting became unglued after casual use in less than 20 days. I requested a refund, and posted a product review. The seller issued a refund and a replacement.

    Well, nice – they didn’t need to do that. The second ring however lost a stone on day 2 of ownership. Meanwhile, the seller sends me an e-mail saying ‘hey why don’t you remove your bad review of the product since we’re going into the holidays. That would make our sales suck’.

    I thought, ‘well, buying a ring as a holiday gift that fails in 2 – 20 days would suck too’ and I left the review as is. At no point did I leave any feedback for the seller. I considered it a non issue since the seller refunded and replaced.

    After the second ring failed however, I did amend my review to make note that the replacement ring failed in two days, it was not a good buy.

    The seller then offers me (via e-mail) a $50 credit to their online store if I remove the bad review. I wonder how many people caved and took the credit by altering the hive mind of Amazon reviews.

    Considering the reviews on that ring, I am guessing quite a few.

  30. UnicornMaster says:

    So he exposes a loophole in Amazon’s automated-user contribution system? How about exposing the dangers of privatized healthcare or a secret society that truly controls the government. Do something meaningful and get a life man.

  31. Batmanuel says:

    I actually wind up using the Amazon rankings as a quick way to tell if something good has gone on sale. I usually do a quick scan of the MP3 store top ten every day to see what has been bumped up in ranking because it’s gone on sale for $4 (like Dylan’s Highway 61 Revisited did yesterday). In that respect, the sales rankings are quite useful, especially since it is sometimes hard to find the deals in the Kindle store otherwise.

  32. Brunette Bookworm says:

    I usually pay more attention to the lowest reviews on a product to see what people said about something and why they marked it so low. I don’t really pay that much attention to sales ranking either, especially not books. I don’t buy books by authors I don’t really like. I buy books I read multiple times, otherwise I get them from the library. I wouldn’t have any room in my place if I bought EVERY book I read and if I had an e-reader, there wouldn’t be enough storage space on it for all of them.

    I like that all his reviews are gone now and the tag on the product is scammer. Ha! Guess they noticed after you told them, Thomas.