Sunday, March 27, 2016

Will the scams never end?


     The books I have written, featured on the shelves above, are listed for sale  a number of places such as Indigo, Barnes and Noble and some European distributors as well as the ubiquitous Amazon. A forward thinking company, no doubt,  Amazon regularly seeks to improve not only their bottom line but also their customers' experience.   (I receive no benefit in stating this, basing it on my experience as a customer as well as a vendor).

     A year or so ago the  Kindle Unlimited program was introduced by Amazon.   Like Spotify for music, Kindle Unlimited, or KU, is a subscription based service.   The reader/customer pays $9.99 and has access to closing on a million  books whose authors/publishers have entered them in the KU program.   Authors/ Publishers share in a pool of money, which amount is set after the end of  each month. (This amount has been slowly declining)  The subscriber pays nothing more than the monthly fee regardless of how many books are read. (or started)  Similar programs, like Scribed or Oyster, have excluded Romance books from the subscriptions as it seems that readers of Romance are more voracious readers than other those who prefer other genres.   These leads to a potential problem.

     The subscription based model can only work for the company offering  it if, overall, subscribers read fewer books  in a month than the total amount  paid to the authors/publishers for the right to sell their product.  Last fall, in an earlier iteration of KU, the renumeration per book was  about $1.35.    Writers of long books felt short changed in that they received the same amount as very brief books.   This led to a flurry of authors breaking up their books into short segments so that the same book now incurred six (or more)  payments.   This made no difference to the KU subscriber but Amazon was paying six times for the same product.   An industry arose writing brief scamplets  (short for scam pamphlets), increasing font size, increasing spacing, and various other tactics.  Complaints ensued.

     Kindle Unlimited version 2 was the eventual result.  This time, authors/publishers were to be paid based on pages read.    Short stories would get their eight cents and epic tomes would receive as much as $4 per book.    The condition now was that the book had to be read.   If the reader gave up, for whatever reason, payment was calculated based up to the last page read.   There were grumbles about quality vs quantity and writers of  children's illustrated picture books felt hard done by.

     Never underestimate the ingenuity of those out to scam the system.   These aren't really writers;  they are people who traverse the economic landscape looking for opportunities.   Somehow it was discovered that, by putting the Table of Contents at the back of the book or by putting a link at the front to a contest entry at the back of the book, readers would immediately skip to the very back to look at the table of contents or enter the contest.   This led to the e-book immediately registering as 'read', all one thousand pages of it.   Whether the reader subsequently stopped reading at page 10 made no difference.   In fact, perpetrators of this scam did not actually  write a book.   The inside might contained foreign language material or recipes lifted off the internet or indecipherable babble generated by overseas 'content farms.'   It didn't matter.

     KU subscribers may have stopped reading in disgust but as they weren't out any money, there was no need to complain and ask for a refund.   Perhaps it was only when some opportunists, not satisfied with the thousands received from Amazon, decided to sell their method on You Tube and other venues so that others could profit. Soon many knew that Amazon's system did not actually keep track of customers' reading habits, it only registered the ultimate paged attained.

     The KU system is being tweaked again and Table of Contents must now be at the front of the book.      I guess that will help a little.   But then there's the problem of scammers setting up Reading Circles, buying KU memberships for say ten people, and employing them to buy and then 'read'  a couple of hundred books a day by opening the book and flipping to the last page and then on to the next.

      I am not in the Kindle Unlimited system and therefore not directly affected but the reputation of the writing profession  can't benefit from tricks like the foregoing.



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