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Books Spam News

Spammers Discover Kindle Self-Publishing 122

Posted by Soulskill
from the if-you-build-it-they-will-come dept.
innocent_white_lamb writes "Make it easy to self-publish books and the spammers will be right along too. Amazon's Kindle marketplace has been deluged by low-quality 'books' selling for 99 cents each. '[Thousands of ebooks published each month] are built using something known as Private Label Rights, or PLR content, which is information that can be bought very cheaply online then reformatted into a digital book. These ebooks are listed for sale – often at 99 cents – alongside more traditional books on Amazon’s website, forcing readers to plow through many more titles to find what they want. Aspiring spammers can even buy a DVD box set called Autopilot Kindle Cash that claims to teach people how to publish 10 to 20 new Kindle books a day without writing a word.'"
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Spammers Discover Kindle Self-Publishing

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  • by WrongSizeGlass (838941) on Friday June 17, 2011 @11:24AM (#36475040)
    It looks like I'll spend more time reading Amazon's book listings than reading books I download!
    • Not So Bad... (Score:4, Informative)

      by ideonexus (1257332) on Friday June 17, 2011 @12:38PM (#36476212) Homepage Journal

      In Amazon's defense, in my experience the company has done a pretty good job of correcting matters when fraudulent ebooks are put online. I downloaded a $0.99 ebook about, ironically, publishing ebooks, which turned out to be total nonsense. I notified Amazon, the book was delisted, and my account credited. I do get upset when I see public domain books listed for $0.99, when they are just ripped from Project Gutenberg and posted, but again, Amazon seems to do a good job of providing many public domain titles for free as well.

      As a self-published author on Amazon, I can say that this seems like an extremely inefficient way to make money. I list my books at $0.99, meaning I have to sell 100 or so of them before I get a $10 royalty check. Self-published books like these don't get as much exposure in the Amazon search engine (I can literally only find my books on Amazon if I search my name). So this seems like spammers taking a whole lot of time and effort to achieve a very tiny payoff, if their efforts don't get them delisted from the site anyway.

      But, then again, the same is true of spam emails and spam websites... an obnoxious waste of effort for little payoff, but generates a whole lot of resentment from the online community.

      • Re:Not So Bad... (Score:5, Interesting)

        by dgatwood (11270) on Friday June 17, 2011 @01:15PM (#36476736) Journal

        And it would all be solved if Amazon charged a $20 listing fee per title. It's a token amount of money that's easy to get back if you're selling a legitimate book. It's a huge amount of money that's impossible to get back if you're trying to game the system by selling public domain content.

        • Re:Not So Bad... (Score:5, Insightful)

          by Herkum01 (592704) on Friday June 17, 2011 @01:35PM (#36477130)
          You would not even have to charge a fee, just a deposit that is returned when you have sold enough books. That would filter out spammers and real authors could get their money back after selling a few titles.
          • I'd be all for that. As you say, it doesn't have to be a fee, just a deposit. It would kill off at least a lot of the spam and it wouldn't cost me anything as an author selling a few stories on Amazon while at the same time thinning out the dreck that currently clogs up the results and hides my listings...

        • I've often thought about a similar technique for email addresses - namely, the mail service provider charges you a nominal fee of a few dollars/pounds/euros to set up an email account and then refunds you the money after, say, using the account for a year. Surely something like that would cut down on the amount of spam generated from temporary Hotmail, Yahoo and Gmail accounts.

          • by dgatwood (11270)

            Only if you moved email to a completely separate and incompatible service so that people can no longer use WinZombies to send it out in bulk. AFAIK, the vast majority of spam isn't sent out through any sort of legitimate mail server at all, but rather is sent by botnets.

            • Point taken about the botnets but for the paid mail server comments I made, I wasn't talking about changing any of the existing SMTP/POP3/IMAP/etc. protocols that are currently used, more front-ending the account creation with a refundable deposit system so if people create as many accounts as they want to willy-nilly then it's going to cost them heavily. Surely a spammer is going to not want to pay an upfront cost and is definitely not going to want to hand over a credit card number that can track back to

              • by dgatwood (11270)

                Surely a spammer is going to not want to pay an upfront cost and is definitely not going to want to hand over a credit card number that can track back to him/her.

                The problem is that without a change to the protocols, spammers won't bother to pay for an actual account. They'll just slip a little cash to somebody who runs a botnet. They'll send out the mail directly using SMTP (which, remember, is an entirely security-free protocol by nature), and it won't really matter whether free email account users hav

      • by DogDude (805747)
        I list my books at $0.99, meaning I have to sell 100 or so of them before I get a $10 royalty check.

        Hang on... you mean Amazon keeps 90%???
  • by Anonymous Coward

    Aspiring spammers can even buy a DVD box set called Autopilot Kindle Cash that claims to teach people how to publish 10 to 20 new Kindle books a day without writing a word

    I've got a book coming out telling people how to make money by publishing books about making money by publishing books about making money by publishing books on Kindle, without writing a word.

    • the only word in your book should be: "Whoosh!"

    • I actually did this back in the '60s (yeah, I'm old). Friends of mine did it too.

      The most infamous one I remember (neither mine nor my friend's) was called "this is the letter that will change your life". That's what was printed on the outside of the envelope. It told you how to send almost exactly the same letter. The product was simple one-page information sheets you got the rights to reprint. You got to sell them to others to send out to people who ordered from their mailings. The idea was that s

  • Amazon needs to run submitted eBooks through TurnItIn [turnitin.com] to check for plagiarism. Otherwise, they're involved in copyright infringement for profit, which is a felony in the US.

    • by tehcyder (746570)
      TFS said the spammer/scammers buy the stuff with copyright under the "PLR."
    • by Zeek40 (1017978)
      Copyright law only applies to people who are too poor to defend themselves in court. Amazon has more than enough money to cover that felony, and I doubt any publishers with a large enough war-chest to actually push the case would intentionally shit on the revenue stream they get selling through amazon.
    • by maxume (22995)

      Would some other plagiarism checks work, or is TurnItIn the only one with legal muster?

    • by Qzukk (229616)

      A lot of the ones I've seen come up appear to be straight copies of wikipedia articles (sometimes even crediting wikipedia).

    • Too bad there is no 'moron' mod point for you.
  • Kindles marketplace is plagued with low-quality books alright; but price is almost irrelevant. And the review/recommendation system so broken/spammed-out that it's an irrelevance.
    Nice idea; nice hardware; nice software; shame about the wetware really...

    • This is actually the reason I pirate all of my kindle books. That, and at the rate me and my girlfriend read books, it would be completely not viable economically.. we're talking 3-4 books a day being read, That's much, much more money than any other general hobby (think, WoW is $15/mo.. a new GOOD book ebook/hardcopy is 3-13$)

      My system is as follows; If the book is good enough that I'll want to read it again down the line, I'll pick up the paper or hardback copy for my bookshelf.. not only does this pro

      • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

        by Anonymous Coward

        As an author who likes to keep his kids fed and sheltered, I do NOT have a problem with someone reading my stuff for free (even if they 'stole' it), AS LONG AS if they like it, they'll tell someone else (preferably someone who might actually pay for a copy) about it, and maybe buy the occasional copy (paper or e) themselves.

        I don't mind giving free samples (legit or not) to gain an audience. I do object to other people making money* off my work without giving me a cut.

        *('money' in this context doesn't even

      • by ErikZ (55491) *

        Huh. I like to eat, and I spend hundreds of dollars on food every month.

        Looks like I should just go steal the food instead.

      • I don't have money either, so I make the library buy books I want to read.
  • By being a grade A asshole and 'monetizing' one more little bit of human trust!

    Make the lives of tens of thousands of strangers just that little bit worse!

    It's all money in your pocket! Call now and get our bonus DVD on cold calling your own grandparents!

    Humanity fucking disgusts me most of the time.

    • A lot of the people involved in this stuff are in developing countries with not an overwhelming amount of other alternatives to try and make a living. Sure you get your orgasised crime gangs as well, but people wouldn't be working with them either if there was any choice. And you have more than a few US based spammers as well, but at the end of the day if you give someone the means to directly contact people who earn hundreds or thousands of times what they do, you end up with lots of spammy rubbish like th

      • by Osgeld (1900440)

        or if you wanted to simplify that

        "Humanity fucking disgusts me most of the time."

    • Humanity fucking disgusts me most of the time.

      Well, we have to reproduce somehow.

  • I took a Business Law class back in high-school. The teacher told a funny get rich story.

    "There was a sign on a telephone poll that said 'If you want to learn how to get rich, mail me a dollar and I will tell you my secrets'. The poster had been there for weeks, and the house listed in the address field was a beautiful mansion. I sent in a dollar for grins, and about 3 weeks later got a note back that simply said 'Do what I do.'"
    • by tehcyder (746570)

      I took a Business Law class back in high-school. The teacher told a funny get rich story. "There was a sign on a telephone poll that said 'If you want to learn how to get rich, mail me a dollar and I will tell you my secrets'. The poster had been there for weeks, and the house listed in the address field was a beautiful mansion. I sent in a dollar for grins, and about 3 weeks later got a note back that simply said 'Do what I do.'"

      I think everyone knows this by now.

    • by Nursie (632944)

      It's exactly what I think when I see those ads on tv. You know, the ones that come on at 2am -

      Call NOW to get the full set of books and training vidoes on our get rich quick scheme! Learn how to become a power seller, start your own business selling online! Make huge profits!

      Right, because if there were huge profits to be had you totally wouldn't be doing that now instead of hawking the meta-wares on late night tv....

      • by 0123456 (636235)

        It's exactly what I think when I see those ads on tv. You know, the ones that come on at 2am -

        Reminds me of the 'property developers' buying unfinished apartments to sell when they were complete. 'But they told me it would be worth twice as much by the time the building was finished. And they gave me a $10,000 discount because I went to that property development seminar that I paid $20,000 for'.

        I'm constantly amazed by the number of people who seem to believe that companies are just lining up to give them free money when if the 'amazing profit' was such a sure bet the company could have made that mo

      • by Anonymous Coward

        Speaking of which, they busted one of those guys today. TV pitchman charged with defrauding 220,000 people out of $52M for worthless Internet business [washingtonpost.com]

        • by Nursie (632944)

          Some stories just warm the cockles of your heart that little bit!

          Good to hear.

      • by hubie (108345)

        It's exactly what I think when I see those ads on tv. You know, the ones that come on at 2am -

        It is times like that where I really wish I had built that Scorch-inator.

    • by nedlohs (1335013)

      You are doing it wrong.

      You are suppose to get the dollar first, then tell the secrets.

      Not just give the secrets away for free in a slashdot post.

  • It's a lot like old books that are public domain. It's clutter, to be sure, but there is actual information that some people might want to read or purchase, even in these things.

    I'd pay 99 cents for a manual that told me how to fix the roof on my house. Or how to handle some legal issue. Having it downloaded to my e-reader when I need it versus having to go to the local library and look through their stacks is well worth the convenience fee.

    This sounds more like a bunch of traditional authors are whining

    • by athmanb (100367) on Friday June 17, 2011 @12:05PM (#36475686)

      rtfa

      People don't write 20 books a day about how to fix your roof (and if someone did write a book on how to fix a roof, he wouldn't sell it for a dollar).
      What they do is run a web spider, aggregate random blog text found on Google by whatever search term is popular that week, apply some automated formatting then sell the results. Then spam their own ratings with bots.

      • by Plekto (1018050)

        Well, then that's Amazon's problem with making it so easy to manipulate ratings like that. And if it really is someone else's work, then it should have to pass through a filter before being accepted.

        An easy way to deal with this would be to filter out all 99 cent books and start it at 1.99, where the profit margins are actually workable for an author.

    • by hubie (108345)
      You still have to deal with the signal to noise level. Back in the day when email boxes would fill with spam, maybe there would have been a nugget or two in there that might have been useful, but I never would have seen it because of the rest of the crap. Amazon might have to deal with this in some manner so that potential customers don't get buried in crap as well or they'll stop using their service.
  • by Aladrin (926209) on Friday June 17, 2011 @11:58AM (#36475558)

    I saw something similar on the Android market... I was looking for a certain app, and I found it... But I also found like 20 other apps that were nearly identical. (Source is GPL.) The other apps had names like 'Bear App' and 'Tiger App' and had a picture of the animal, but the actual app and description were identical, except the name. And they did the same thing as the one I was looking for. I searched for another similar app and found the same thing there, too!

    So they flood the market with apps in an attempt to be the one that gets bought. When there's 20 choices and you published 19 of them, it sounds like a good bet. (In reality, I avoided it because it looked scammy.)

    • by asdf7890 (1518587)

      So they flood the market with apps in an attempt to be the one that gets bought. When there's 20 choices and you published 19 of them, it sounds like a good bet. (In reality, I avoided it because it looked scammy.)

      Definitely avoid them, and not just because you might be giving money to a copier rather than the content/app creator (as you are more likely to be doing by buying the original). There are many apps out there laden with malware, and your scummy app copying personage may well have put something like that in there while they were making their name change. Or on a less serious level: they could have just taken a completely free (and Free) open source app and added there own adverts to it. Either way, you get s

  • by beadfulthings (975812) on Friday June 17, 2011 @12:04PM (#36475678) Journal

    I'm trying to learn more about how soap (the kind you wash with) is made, and I ran a search for Kindle stuff. It returned a huge number of publications. The first twenty or so were standard books published by legitimate publishers and available in various print formats as well. Those were followed by hundreds of 99 cent pieces. I got curious and had a look at the very few reviews--they all said things like, "DON'T BUY THIS" or "SCAM" or "I WANT MY MONEY BACK." There was one plaintive message from some poor soul on the West Coast who writes a blog on the subject--the "book" in question had simply gone into her blog and lifted posts out of it. Oddly enough, all those hundreds of publications shared the same three or four front cover images. I haven't really seen this in the arena of novels. Most of the cheap ones there look like people trying to vanity-publish their own work--so if you buy a novel, you get a novel. It just may not be a very good novel.

    • by 0123456 (636235)

      There was one plaintive message from some poor soul on the West Coast who writes a blog on the subject--the "book" in question had simply gone into her blog and lifted posts out of it.

      Shouldn't they have sued Amazon for copyright infringement?

      I know Smashwords rejects PLR books and does a web search for copied text in submitted books. Amazon are probably going to have to start doing something similar.

      Another option is to require ISBNs for ebooks, which would dramatically increase the cost of submitting twenty books a day. Though they'd need some method of verifying that the ISBN is real.

      • by bcrowell (177657) on Friday June 17, 2011 @01:06PM (#36476600) Homepage

        Another option is to require ISBNs for ebooks, which would dramatically increase the cost of submitting twenty books a day. Though they'd need some method of verifying that the ISBN is real.

        ISBNs aren't really well suited to electronic publishing. For example, I write nonfiction books and distribute them for free digitally. People can also buy them in print. In the electronic versions, it's natural that if I find an error, I just want to go ahead and fix it right away. But when you have an ISBN for a book, you're supposed to throw it away and get a new ISBN when you make any change whatsoever to the book. ISBNs are also basically a scam. Bowker runs a database and charges people significant amounts of money to generate a new 500-byte database record.

        From the comments I'm seeing, it sounds like the real problem is that amazon's book-reviewing system doesn't work very well on kindle books. Seems like they should just fix that problem. The one for print books seems to work reasonably well these days. You do get dishonest behavior (professors getting their grad students to write reviews, individuals posting 10 reviews a day, every day), but by and large it seems to work pretty well.

        • by CarsonChittom (2025388) on Friday June 17, 2011 @01:20PM (#36476838) Homepage

          ISBNs aren't really well suited to electronic publishing. For example, I write nonfiction books and distribute them for free digitally. People can also buy them in print. In the electronic versions, it's natural that if I find an error, I just want to go ahead and fix it right away. But when you have an ISBN for a book, you're supposed to throw it away and get a new ISBN when you make any change whatsoever to the book.

          Well, Bowker says [myidentifiers.com] that "The purpose of the ISBN is to establish and identify one title or edition from one specific publisher." I wouldn't think that a correction would constitue a new edition—I mean, publishers do put out errata sometimes. Seems like you could just fix the error and keep the ISBN. Or is there some standard which says otherwise?

          ISBNs are also basically a scam. Bowker runs a database and charges people significant amounts of money to generate a new 500-byte database record.

          "Scam" is a bit harsh—after all, people are getting what they're paying for. Now, "overpriced," I could definitely see.

        • by 1u3hr (530656)

          ISBNs are also basically a scam. Bowker runs a database and charges people significant amounts of money

          The "I" in ISBN is "International". You don't have to use an American ISBN, even if you live in America. Other places issue them for free, as in Hong Kong, where the government administers them, or cheaper.

          I've made a few Kindle books for people to put Amazon, and I thought they required an ISBN to put them in their system.

          I wouldn't change the ISBN for correcting errata, only a complete new edition. There really isn't any oversight, it's up to the publisher to keep it logical.

          I wouldn't trust any Ama

      • Another option is to require ISBNs for ebooks, which would dramatically increase the cost of submitting twenty books a day. Though they'd need some method of verifying that the ISBN is real.

        It depends on how many of these $0.99 books are actually selling. You can get 1,000 ISBNs for $1,000 [myidentifiers.com].

        • by 0123456 (636235)

          It depends on how many of these $0.99 books are actually selling. You can get 1,000 ISBNs for $1,000 [myidentifiers.com].

          Even that is another three copies you have to sell for each spam book; and a $1,000 up-front cost.

          Plus Amazon do 'returns' for ebooks, don't they? So if everyone who buys your spam returns it then you won't even make those three sales.

          • Plus Amazon do 'returns' for ebooks, don't they?

            They do, but there's a time limit. Not sure what it is (at work, and the filter blocks amazon.com), but I want to say it's something like 48 hours.

            So if everyone who buys your spam returns it then you won't even make those three sales.

            I'm curious now. Let's look at Alfred. Alfred spends $1,000 on the ISBNs, and some amount on creating the books themselves and sending them to Amazon. If he creates them himself, he's only out his time (since ISBNs never expire, he can do them whenever he has time, so his opportunity cost is close to zero). But let's assume Alfred is a busy man, so instead he

            • Sorry, forgot the very important detail that authors (spammers in this case) only get 30%. This would mean that Alfred would actually have to sell 5,320 copies to make back his costs. I have to say that seems less doable.

            • by ooshna (1654125)

              Why we assume the spammer is going to hire someone else to do their spamming?

              • Because he's busy sending out email for Nigerian princes!

                More seriously, I just wanted to increase the costs as much as I reasonably could to get a more conservative estimate.

      • "Another option is to require ISBNs for ebooks, which would dramatically increase the cost of submitting twenty books a day. Though they'd need some method of verifying that the ISBN is real."

        Verifying it's real would probably be the easier part to set up -- but this wouldn't work. It costs me nothing (in Norway) to register an ISBN. I *think* it's free in Britain as well though I'm not entirely sure about that since I only started self-publishing after I left. It would certainly take a bit more time for a

    • by bigjarom (950328)
      If you want to know how soap is made, allow me to recommend "Fight Club" by Chuck Palahniuk.
      • by gknoy (899301)

        Or google "how to make soap" -- there appear to be some good blogs about making soap. The first site returned (teachsoap.com) appears to have several articles on how it can be made, with links to a shop that they'd love for you to use to buy your soapmaking supplies. Seems useful enough. Wikipedia also has an interesting article on saponification, which is more how soap WORKS than how it's MADE, but still interesting.

    • With novels you have people spaming the system with public domain works. Try browsing barnes and noble in the sci fiction section. You will give up after seeing "The Time Machine" by H. G. Wells ten plus times. They also seem to spam the same book at different prices with different covers. You will see the same book at 99 cents, $1.99, $2.99, and $8.99. This is to get around people filtering by price.
      • by mattack2 (1165421)

        You mention Barnes & Noble, but at least with the Amazon 'versions' of the public domain titles (I don't know if they're different other than the eBook wrapper), some have good reviews and some don't. I remember looking at some different versions of Sherlock Holmes books (the same one), and some had good reviews, some had reviews that said they had lots of typos and such.

        So there *can* be differences in multiple versions of public domain works.

        (Though I've wondered if you could now use these eBook vers

    • I haven't really seen this in the arena of novels. Most of the cheap ones there look like people trying to vanity-publish their own work--so if you buy a novel, you get a novel. It just may not be a very good novel.

      Someone should config a bot to pull down fanfic (erotic fanfic for maximum lulz) and auto publish the material as a legitimate sequel in the original franchise. Comedy + a few dollars for the effort.

      • by 0123456 (636235)

        Comedy + a few dollars for the effort.

        Until the Copyright Police smash down your door and drag you off to Pound-Me-In-The-Ass Prison. That might not happen if you're publishing posts from Joe Nobody's blog, but big media will not take kindly to people selling books claiming to be part of their franchise.

  • by spauldo (118058)

    Piss on 'em. I think I'm the last person left who still boycotts Amazon over the one-click patent.

    I still boycott DVDs too, but my reasons for doing that have grown far beyond the CSS debacle they started with.

  • I've switched almost exclusively to Audible. Audio books, especially when read by the author, convey so much more. Those are, and won't, be automated. Sure, text to speech can read you a McDonald's menu. But It'll never compete with the "feeling" put behind words, because you have to understand "what" your reading before you put such feeling in. Get the free "Go the F--k to Sleep" 6 min audio book narrated by Samuel L. Jackson. No simple text to speech will ever do that.

    I expect no automated spam ther

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