Self-Publishing 2016: Amazon Cracks Down On Scammers

Self-Publishing 2016: Amazon Cracks Down On Scammers

One of the big events in 2016 was that Amazon started cracking down on scammers. Of course, this was long overdue. Writers’ message boards were full of writers horrified by the shenanigans of some of the scam-artists.


Self-publishing’s challenges: Amazon targeted by scams

Revealed: How one Amazon Kindle scam made millions of dollars reported:


There are a lot of four-letter words to describe Shershnyov. One springs to mind: “rich”.

On a small scale, each ebook can generate anything from a few cents to hundreds of dollars over the course of its life span — until Amazon figures out that the book is a fraud. Fraudulent books get pulled offline quickly but often reappear under a different title, cover, and author’s name.

How Amazon Kindle Unlimited Scammers Wring Big Money From Phony Books reported on the infamous Kindle Unlimited scam:

In other words: if a scam author publishes a book filled with nonsense (maybe a mishmash of a few thousand randomly picked pages from public domain websites), but then includes a link at the front that takes a Kindle Unlimited reader to the last page, Amazon will register that as if the user has “read” the entire book and pay the author for thousands of pages of reading that never took place.

In October, I gave authors ideas on how to get sales if their numbers were down, because some innocent authors seemed to be getting caught in algorithms targeting scammers:

Over the past couple of months, reports from some indie authors indicate slashed earnings at Amazon. Their Kindle Unlimited (KU) “pages read” counts are down, and ebook sales seem to be affected too.

What’s happening? The problem could be as simple as a software glitch in sales reporting. For more on this, there’s a very long thread on KBoards.

Challenges for authors: Amazon cracked down on reviews, too

Reviews are of course essential for authors. Since reviews are an easy way to game Amazon, Amazon cracked down on them too, as Looking Back at 2016: Important Publishing Developments Authors Should Know reports:

Most notably and most discussed among authors: It is not okay to post a reader review if you are, according to Amazon, “a relative, close friend, business associate, or employee” of the author. Interpretation of this policy, as you can imagine, drives considerable debate.

Finally, to post a review, customers need to have spent at least $50 on Amazon. Yes, this is official Amazon policy. This helps prevent fake reviews from people who never shop at Amazon and may receive payment to leave reviews.

What if you’re affected by an algorithm which targets scammers?

Innocent authors do occasionally get caught when Amazon whirls the dials on its algorithms. According to several unfortunate authors on message boards, their Amazon accounts were cancelled. Although this was worrying for the authors, when contacted Amazon investigated, and reinstated their accounts.

So if you wake up one day and find that you’re in a mess because your Amazon account is closed, or you get nasty notes from Amazon about one of your books, don’t panic. Contact Amazon and explain your situation. Chances are you were caught by an algorithm, and Amazon will rectify the situation.

What if you’re gaming Amazon “harmlessly”?

In Ebook Self-publishing: Your Share of a $1 Billion Industry, I suggested:

What do I mean by “trickery”? Basically, anything which is against Amazon’s Terms of Service, even if it feels as if it’s harmless. There are a mile of ebook author groups set up solely to promote each other’s work. Chances are that you won’t get caught if you’re playing these kinds of games.

However, remember Amazon’s algorithm… you can get caught even if you’re completely innocent. If that happens, you have recourse. You can ask Amazon to reconsider, and they’ll get a human to examine your self-publishing account, which will be reinstated. On the other hand, if you’re guilty, your self-publishing business is dead.

Amazon cracking down is a GOOD thing

Scammers have targeted self-publishing since Amazon opened the Kindle Store. Most scams are low-level. Authors are aware of them, as is Amazon. Once these scams start getting out of hand (as with the erotica situation a few years ago), and the more recent, bigger scams, Amazon acts.

This is a good thing. Readers are happier, and authors receive the income they should, rather than seeing that income siphoned off by scammers.

Happy self-publishing in 2017. 🙂

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Angela Booth is a top copywriter, multi-published author, and writing teacher. She offers many guides, courses and classes to help writers to enhance their skills on her websites. She also provides inspiration and motivation for writers on her writing blogs. Angela has been writing successfully since the late 1970s, and was online in the 1980s, long before the birth of the Web. Her business books have been widely published.