Friday, January 27, 2017

Scammer Author

In my brief ventures into the book publishing world, it was quite interesting to learn about the tricks of the trade. With tricks, I mean tricks, schemes, scams, whatever you want to call it. There are people angling for a quick buck all over the place, every step of the way, and every single role in the publishing business can be assumed by a scammer: author, translator, publisher. Here's the first of their stories.

The Scam Author

Self-publishing is easy nowadays, and it comes with virtually zero risk. All you need is a Word document with some text that remotely looks like a book, a book description, an author bio, and it'll take you half an hour to be on your way to your very own Kindle publication - minutes once you know what you're doing. In the olden days, you had to convince some pesky editor at some brick-and-mortar publishing house to enter the book market, but that filter is gone for good.

Nowadays, anybody can publish their junk with minimal effort, and they do. People slap 20 pages together, with recipes or whatever other "advice" they can cook up, and off they go, selling it on Kindle for as low as a buck. If Amazon is given exclusive publication rights, the author gets 70% of the sale price. Who cares if almost nobody buys the book? If only 15 people buy your 1-dollar book, you easily break US minimum wage for your effort (which is a good chunk of money in poorer economies). And Amazon's reach is vast. Authors like this do not have one book, or five books - they go for hundreds and thousands - revamping their shoddy material into ever new books with new titles and published under different pseudonyms.

These junk books tend to have one piece of content in common: a weblink. It is prominently placed among the first sentences, which makes it likely that Amazon's "Look inside" feature will present it. I think this link is in fact the true content, the main raison d'ĂȘtre of these books. They serve as vehicles for backlinks to some website that invariably greets you with subscription form.

If you supply your email address, you thereby give the page owner legal permission to spam you - regardless of whether the sign-up page promises otherwise. If you carelessly allow them to also share your address with "their business partners", it will become very difficult to unsubscribe from all the offers you receive from here on out.

The blog or website might contain ads, or it might contain links to YouTube videos which are again vehicles for ads. While ads may only generate fractions of cents per view, the author gains even if nobody buys their books. All they need is people to be curious enough to follow their links. It's a numbers game.

Shoddy Kindle books are thus just a piece of a much larger scam ecosphere. They work in conjunction with spam emails, blogs, websites that only exist to generate advertising dollars. Whether or not you buy a Kindle download is irrelevant. The authors' hope is that you follow their link, creating traffic for their blog, thereby increasing their Google ranking, and finally increasing their AdSense income.

At first glance, nobody is getting hurt, but this is a real problem. Advertisers do have to pay, and I venture to guess that their target audience is not those random people who are lured into the spam network. Of course, in the end we all finance advertising via product prices, so these scammers are siphoning off money from all of us, fraction of a cent by fraction of a cent. And some customers might actually pay for a download they regret within minutes - that is pure gravy. Finally, the deluge of bad books is diluting quality - it simply makes real books harder to find and wastes all of our time.

Most likely, self-publishing houses will eventually install some sort of quality control, at least to filter out the most egregious cases. Simply relying on reader reviews is not sufficient, just as Facebook's "Like" mechanism is no match for fake news. So, the pesky editors might actually return, albeit in the form of seriously underpaid work-from-home people who have to click through book submissions and are required to give thumbs up or down within a minute or two. Maybe such unenviable jobs exist already, although they are likely being replaced by AI as we speak.