Friday, September 12, 2014

Kindle Unlimited = Criminals Unlimited

Having partaken of a buffet or two in my lifetime, I'm well-aware of the fact - as are most people - that businesses tend to serve up fare in this manner because they think it makes economic sense.  The restaurant thinks that patrons will pay more to eat than the vittles actually cost. On the flip side, customers think they will eat more than enough to get their money's worth.  Both sides walk away happy, making the situation a win-win.

Amazon's new Kindle Unlimited program is the same kind of all-you-can-eat offering, but for books. For $9.99 per month, readers can have unlimited access to over 600,000 books. Moreover, authors with their books in the program get paid whenever a subscriber reads more than 10% of their book. ("Payment" in this instance means receiving a share of the KDP Select Global Fund, which is a pool of money originally set aside by Amazon to pay owners whose books were borrowed as part of the Kindle Owners' Lending Library.)

In a perfect world, this would be a nigh-ideal scenario: avid readers could satisfy their voracious appetite for books (as well as take a chance on new and unknown writers), while authors would have another outlet for sales and visibility.  However, leaving aside the issue of whether KU is a good deal for readers, authors, or both (or neither), one of the first things  that occurred to me was that there were going to be people trying to game the system.

Let's face it, KU presents a massive opportunity for scammers of every ilk.  There are probably as many ways to scam on KU as there are insects on this planet, and it just seems to me that crooks are - and will be - taking advanatge.

For instance, one of the first things that occurred to me when I heard about the program was, "What's to prevent an author from opening a sham KU account and then reading (or rather, just quickly flipping through) 10% of their own books? Or doing it every month?" It appears to be a quick and easy way to get some cash if you're unscrupulous.

Also, since an author gets paid as soon as a reader has read past the 10% mark, I've heard that some "writers" have essentially thrown together 10 pages of gibberish and published it as a book that is part of KU. As soon as the reader opens it up to page one, that's 10% of the book read and the author can get paid.  The reader could complain, but it's not like they're out of any money; they'll probably just move on to the next (and hopefully legitimate) book.

Perhaps even more egregious, one person went so far as to publish scores of books - each only a few pages long - but with the titles (as well as the blurbs) of more popular works. Clearly, this was done to intentionally mislead readers and the tactic was initially successful: because Amazon's algorithms incorporate KU selections, this person's books were actually ranking very well! (Not to mention they were going to get paid.) Thankfully, enough people complained for Amazon to take notice, and I believe the offender's faux books were taken down (and presumably any earnings are forfeit.)

In what appears to be yet another scheme, a person offered a book promotion service whereby they guaranteed that your books would get at least 75 borrows in KU. I have no idea how anybody could legitimately make that kind of guarantee, because it sounds too good to be true.  (Note to self: if something sounds too good to be true...) More than likely, this is a person who set up a KU account (or several) and will simply use their status as a KU subscriber to borrow the books of those who pay them. (It's not a whole lot different that buying reviews on Fiverr or the like, I guess.)

Basically, there are a ton of ways to scheme and scam with respect to KU. The good news is that Amazon is quite likely to find out about it and take swift, decisive action. But in the meantime, until a permanent solution is found, KU will remain the land of milk and honey for brazen criminals.

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  1. That hadn't even occurred to me. I mostly thought of theft from the user end. Thanks to this system, while it provides a lot of exposure for the self-published authors that seem to make up the bulk of the KU library, it also provides a great opportunity for file shares to pick up thousands of new books. And with no guarantee that these thieves will even hit the minimum 10% to get an author a paycheck, they then pass it on to another thousand people who won't even bother using KU to get them their money. I enjoyed my free trial of KU and hope it will be around for a long time. I liked the opportunity to find new books and authors and read a great many things that chances are, I would never have read if I had to pay for it up front. Having read some of them, Luke Sky Watcher's Spineward Sector novels are a good example. Having read the first one, I would gladly pay for the series, and KU brought it to me. Here's hoping thieves from either side of the track won't ruin this opportunity for those of us who are avid readers and die hard bibliophiles. And hoping that Amazon and the Big 5 publishers will get over their differences, and at least digitize and add their out of print books to the KU library.

    1. It's pretty clear that KU offers lots of opportunities for the criminally-minded. Moreover, with the authors all sharing one pot of money, a bunch of illegitimate borrows like those I mentioned reduces the amount of each payout. (For instance, if the pot is $3M and there are 1M borrows, an author gets $3 per borrow. However, if there are 2 million borrows but half of those are from scams, each author only gets $1.50 per borrow.) I've heard some authors say they will pull their books from KU if the payout falls below a certain threshold; if authors start yanking their books, KU might be in trouble. I don't think things will reach that point (ie, Amazon will maintain the payout at a high-enough level to keep authors happy), but you never know.


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