How to fix the scamming of #Kindle Unlimited

Since I first read about the scammers undermining the Amazon Kindle Unlimited subscription service, [here] I’ve read a lot of comments about what’s wrong with the system and how it should be fixed.

Some people think Kindle Unlimited was broken from the start and should be killed off entirely. Others believe Amazon will make incremental changes to the system until it finally gets things right.

I believe the ‘system’ cannot be fixed until the Kindle itself is changed. So yes, I see this as mostly a hardware problem. At the moment, Amazon cannot gauge page reads by page ‘turns’ – i.e. that moment when a real reader flips the page over. Because of that hardware limitation, Amazon has to fudge page reads and that allows scammers to game the system as well.

Imagine, however, if Amazon could detect actual page turns, and only counted them when it came to payments…

-imagines a scammer sitting there, manually turning page after page after page after page after page after page after page after page….-

cat eye spinning kindle

cross-eyed cat courtesy of http://www.leelofland.com

My Kinde Fire sometimes ‘loses’ my place in a novel, forcing me to manually page through until I find my spot again. It’s cruel and unusual punishment, so anyone desperate enough to do that for a living deserves every cent they get.

So my solution? Innovate the hardware. Make it possible for Amazon’s gremlins to count actual page turns, and pay on the basis of those ‘pages read’.

No system is perfect, and there will always be what we gamers call gold farmers – players paid to farm terribly boring things over and over again so their employers can sell said things to real players too lazy to farm for themselves. But in the case of the Kindle Unlimited subscription service, scammers want to make big money in the fastest, easiest way possible. They don’t want to become readers, they just want to simulate reading, so let’s not make things too easy for them.

Unfortunately, the rankings scam cannot be fixed by hardware. You can read about how the Amazon rankings and bestseller lists have been scammed here. Even if Amazon managed to create a software algorithm that scanned each and every sentence of a book for grammatical errors, for example, I doubt that any algorithm could scan for ‘sense’ so the scammers could still fill these books with perfectly grammatical nonsense.

The problem with Amazon rankings is that they are determined by software, and anything one software program can do, another software program, or a clever human, can scam. It’s as simple as that.

But if you take away the automation you’re left with just humans, and how would that work?

Amazon’s review system is already notorious for being gamed by account holders with an axe to grin, or who just enjoy being trolls. They may not be gaming the system for profit, but they are ruining it for normal customers, so basing rankings, bestseller lists, and most importantly recommendations on reviews won’t work, unless…those reviewers are vetted somehow.

Unfortunately, if you vet reviewers then you are simply returning to the old system of so-called professionals gatekeeping the system.

The worst consequence of having professional reviewers, however, would be in the backlash from normal customers. I enjoy having my say when a book or some other product is either very good or very bad, and I’m pretty sure I’m not alone in that. I would not be happy if I could not read genuine reviews of the books I want to read.

-throws hands up in the air-

So…I haven’t got a clue how to fix the bigger problem of rankings, but I do believe the page turn idea will happen, one day. Until then, we’ll just have to sit back and watch this grand experiment in democracy unfold.

cheers

Meeks

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About acflory

I am the kind of person who always has to know why things are the way they are so my interests range from genetics and biology to politics and what makes people tick. For fun I play online mmorpgs, read, listen to a music, dance when I get the chance and landscape my rather large block. Work is writing. When a story I am working on is going well I'm on cloud nine. On bad days I go out and dig big holes... View all posts by acflory

24 responses to “How to fix the scamming of #Kindle Unlimited

  • josh

    P.S. What games do you play?

    Like

    • acflory

      I used to play console games with the Offspring but these days I just play MMOs. Currently FFXIV online but I’ve got Black Desert there for maintenance nights. 🙂
      Are you a gamer too?

      Liked by 1 person

      • josh

        Right now I just play Star Wars: The Old Republic. I did WoW for years too. I was never big on console games, but liked PC strategy and sim games. I gravitate toward MMOs for the social aspect.

        Like

        • acflory

          Oh! I played SWOTR for a while and quite liked it. 🙂 WoW too, although I always hated the graphics.
          I don’t enjoy dungeons so that aspect of playing MMOs is pfffft…but I do love chatting to people in my guilds. Finding people in my timezone is always the issue.
          Have you tried Guild Wars II at all? I keep threatening to go back one day. 🙂

          Like

  • josh

    Amazon probably can’t algorithmically determine “sense” yet, but I’d wager it’s not as far off as you might think, probably within a few years. In the meantime, they could fall back on their Mechanical Turk system to real people to “review” random snippets of a book and determine if it appears to be legit.

    I’ve spent my whole career in technology, and these are the kinds of problems I love thinking about and discussing!

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    • acflory

      Yes! A brain to pick..-cough- I mean an expert. 🙂
      I’ve always loved that story of the little man hidden inside the mechanism.
      Would that random sampling really be effective in a pool of millions of titles though? I mean, if I were a scammer I’d probably think ‘1 in 20? chance of getting caught? – go for it!’
      As for the algorithms, I’d actually like the tech to be smart enough, but wouldn’t it just end up being a very quick, tireless, ‘idiot savant’?

      Like

      • josh

        I don’t know a lot about how their publishing platform works, but there are always ways.
        To use Amazon Payments you have to provide a social security number (in the US, I imagine their are equivalent tax IDs for other countries). They can require those who submit works to provide some sort of unique identifier. That would allow them to suspend or ban those who don’t conform to the terms of service more effectively.
        They could also rate-limit submissions so there won’t be millions of titles, and increase the Mechanical Turk verification sample to check more of them.
        There are many things they could do. Of course, as with most things in life it comes down to motivation. What is the benefit to Amazon? It would require an investment on their part, so what is the ROI?

        Like

        • acflory

          Hmm..Amazon has been known to ban an account, but as it’s easy to create a new one, I suspect sanctions don’t have much bite. On the other hand if Amazon made publishing too hard it would probably lose a lot of ordinary, law abiding authors while the scammers would just evolve into the new patterns. And, of course, you’re absolutely right about the ROI. Amazon is not a charitable institution so it won’t do anything until it has to. ‘Twill be interesting to see what they actually come up with though. 🙂

          Like

          • josh

            Yes this perfectly illustrates a constant battle of how do you keep the bag guys out without making it so onerous for the good guys that they don’t bother? Never ending balancing act.

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          • acflory

            It certainly is. I guess it’s a measure of Amazon’s success with Indie publishing that authors complain but don’t leave.

            Like

      • bart

        This is in reply to acflory’s comment of
        April 21st, 2016 at 6:55 am above.
        Don’t even try to scan all books. Just go after those which have a high page count, say more than 700 pages, or those with less than 50 pages.
        Do a spot check on those. The person who would do the spot check doesn’t even need to read the pages, but just scan them to see if they make sense. A beginner would need to read a few sentences here and there just to make sure, but after a very short time he or she would just see nonsense jump out at them and they could then flag the book for special attention.
        However, since it’s been 14+ months since this scam was posted on various boards and still nothing has been done by Amazon, I don’t think they really want to fix the problem.
        That being the case, I see in the next few months a general exodus of authors. This will start by one here and another there, but they will leave Amazon altogether, pulling their boks from KU as soon as they can, and then leaving Amazon altogether, especially when they start finding out about other book selling services which pay out about 95% of the selling price to the author.
        On the other side of the medal, however, is the pain a badly corrected and edited book is to read. I just wish writers would take better care in creating their product and use the services of a professional editor to correct typos and other errors which creep in.
        Anyway, I will not be surprised when this problem finally blows up in Amazon’s face.

        Like

        • acflory

          I put the 5 episodes of Innerscape on KDP select, and by extension Unlimited, when they first launched but I took them out as soon as the 90 days were up. I don’t subscribe to Unlimited either. To me it’s just a library service that you have to pay for. -shrug- But you are definitely right about Amazon not doing much. Or worse, whatever they are doing they’re doing to the wrong people. That said though, I can’t see Amazon books disappearing. It’s just too big. I guess we’ll just have to wait and see. :/

          Like

  • Carrie Rubin

    Oh dear, I knew none of this. Can’t authors just worry about their own books and write instead of trying to get ahead of the game by nefarious means? How frustrating for everyone who plays by the rules.

    Like

  • Candy Korman

    This is making my head spin!
    I’ve opted NOT to go with Kindle Unlimited, while my Mom uses it. I’d guess that we spend the same amount a month on books. She is a much faster reader and so giving up an old book to keep to her limit is not a problem for her. Me? I’m a slow reader and want to hang on to books for a very long time and sometimes go back to them. Plus, I used Kindle First (one, sometimes two free books on offer every month) and I sometimes buy books not offering in the Unlimited Package—as does my mom.

    Now, on to your page-turning suggestion. This is interesting. How would that work? If I, for instance, bought a book for $2.99 and then gave up reading it at the 33% mark because it was boring, poorly written or otherwise not enchanting, would the author get one third of the standard—and already slender—payment? What if another reader buys the book and then lets it sit there unread? Or if a friend gives you a book and you read a page and give up on it, does the author get anything?

    My head is spinning. There’s a logic here, but I’m not sure if it would work.

    The reviewer thing is another can of worms… I feel like its’ the wild, wild west out there. People can, and do, say anything they want to say in online reviews. Consequences are rare. Just the fact that you are contemplating fixes warms my heart as a writer AND as a reader.

    Like

    • acflory

      I’m not in Kindle Unlimited either as I love to own my books [in so far as ebooks can be owned]. Plus there’s something about the smorgasbord approach that just doesn’t appeal to me.
      As far as payment for Kindle Unlimited authors is concerned, they are supposed to be paid ONLY for the number of pages a given reader actually reads, but because the technology isn’t quite right, the process for working out how many pages that might be is flawed, and easily scammed.
      KU, however, is quite separate to normal book buying. If you are not in the KU subscription service and you buy an ebook, the author earns whatever she would earn from the /sale/ – i.e. 70% of a 2.99 book.
      A high profile author like Joe Konrath, for example, would earn a rental from his books in KU, plus he would earn the standard sale price from the same books sold normally.
      The gripe amongst many Indies is that KU earns far less than a ‘real’ sale, yet effectively reduces the total number of books sold – i.e why pay for a book when you can try as many as you like via KU?
      I honestly don’t know what the answer is other than ‘wait and see’.

      Like

      • Candy Korman

        The ebook business model is evolving. What’s next? Your guess may be better than mine. I’m flummoxed. I think I’d better stick to writing.

        Like

        • acflory

          I hate to say it but I think the future belongs to mobile devices, not ereaders. Saw a Kickstarter prototype way back last year that essentially sandwiched an slightly smaller ereader onto the /back/ of a mobile phone. So you talk on one side and read on the other.
          Don’t know if the idea will ever get off the ground but I’d buy one if it did. One less device to worry about charging!

          Like

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