Amazon Unintentionally Paying Scammers To Hand You 1000 Pages Of Crap You Don’t Read

Image courtesy of Robrrt

For a certain kind of reader — the kind who can go through three books a week easy on her commute, let’s say — an unlimited subscription, wireless, e-book service sounds like a dream come true. That’s what Amazon promises with their Kindle Unlimited service, but the plan may be backfiring — not so much on readers, but on authors and on Amazon itself.

At the core of the problem is the way participating self-published authors get paid: by the page. Amazon launched this particular program last summer, at which time it seemed that authors who chose to enroll in Kindle Unlimited this way would get just over half a cent per page read.

So mathematically, for an author to make $1000, Kindle Unlimited subscribers have to read about 16,700 pages of their work. If you’ve written a 350-page novel, that’s about 48 cover-to-cover readers, give or take. So far so good, right?

But what the scammers quickly glommed onto, as the New York Observer reports, is that Amazon is not, in fact, being completely intrusive on its readers’ privacy. Instead, it’s counting page views based on the reader’s farthest synced position. In other words, if you read 75 pages on your Kindle today, then turn the WiFi on and sync it, Amazon will mark you at page 75. If you never pick up the book again, that’s your furthest synced point. If it’s a 300 page book and you finish it, page 300 is your furthest synced point.

But e-books don’t have to be linear. You might, for example, open up a new Kindle book and find it has a link on the first page, to take you to a later chapter or a table of contents or another language. Tapping that link could put you hundreds of pages into the book — which means that the author of that file is now making money off you, even if you haven’t read a word… or even if there’s not a single real word there to be read.

And that is exactly what’s happening. Scammers are basically uploading “books” that are nothing but files full of nonsense with some link on page 1 that puts readers on page 300 or 3000 (the maximum page length for which Amazon will pay out) almost instantly. In between there’s nothing but nonsense, but the scammer can use click farms to drive up the ranking of their book and so people download it anyway.

The user hasn’t paid for this book directly, because they have an unlimited subscription, so they just close the file, forget about it, and move on to the next. But if dozens, hundreds, or even thousands of readers get tricked into the same maneuver, that “author” has just made a decent amount of money for something like 15 minutes’ worth of total work.

What it does do, though, is squeeze out actual self-published authors who spent time penning their prose and are hoping for Amazon customers actually to read it. There’s a limited pool of cash Amazon will pay out to Unlimited authors each month. It’s a fairly large pool, granted — last month it was just shy of $15 million according to the Observer — but every dollar scammers take is a dollar that then can’t go to a new, as-yet-widely-undiscovered author.

Right now, the scammers are mostly an inconvenience to readers and authors alike. But the bigger they get, the fewer people are going to trust their work to Kindle Unlimited, and the less decent stuff there will be for subscribers to read. That, in turn, will mean fewer subscribers for Amazon. So it’s in their best interest to do what they can to clamp down on anyone gaming the system now, which it seems they are trying to do.

How Amazon Kindle Unlimited Scammers Wring Big Money From Phony Books [Observer]

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