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Thursday, 20 October 2011

The great Amazon rip off

Amazon have in recent months taken some criticism over the low quality of many of the titles published under its Kindle Direct Publishing platform - Online ebook behemoth Amazon has been fraught the last three months with a surge in book spam and eBook piracy. Many people are buying spam toolkits such as Autopilot Kindle Cash which can write and submit books at the click of a few buttons.

This issue was brought to my attention my Archive friend and editor of Black Horse Extra, Keith Chapman who received an article intended for The Black Horse Extra from fellow western writer, Greg Mitchell who tells of his own experience with eBooks. It was decided to run this piece here to highlight the problem Amazon are facing and need to address before they alienate customers.

And so over to Greg (article in italics followed by comment from the Archive.)

Recently I was given a Kindle and found the ebook a very convenient way to acquire a wide selection of books without leaving home. But lately I have twice fallen into traps by being a bit too trusting.  The comments voiced in the  September-November Black Horse Extra, "The Rights and Wrongs of Ebooks" were right on the mark when discussing quality and the lack of control.

I bought two ebooks recently. One covered the subject matter for about twenty pages and then went into a totally unrelated subject that comprised  roughly 90% of the book. The book was in total less than 15 minutes' reading time and only about 10% dealt with the subject in which I was interested. I could have learned more with a quick read of Wikipedia.  As the book was not expensive, I shrugged the matter off as the work of a self-indulgent nutter.

A couple of days ago I bought another book and was caught again. The authors were different, and so was the subject matter, but the presentation was the same. There were a few modern pages on the subject, which was the thoroughbred horse, but the bulk of the book was a 19th century book on general horse care that was outdated and irrelevant. The name of the author was not listed.

No doubt the copyright on the real book had long expired and the authors used it to pad out their ebook. In what appears to be a cynical effort to make money quickly, the same people have brought out similar books on various breeds of horses. If their information is so limited on what is probably the best-known breed of horse, the other books are not going to tell us much about some of the more obscure breeds. They are going to be as superficial and padded out as in the one I bought.

To return to the first book: my first thought was that some untalented amateur was trying their hand at writing. But when digging deeper I found that the author literally had dozens of books on Kindle. I have not read any more books by that person but the sheer number of them suggests the writer is churning out the maximum number of books with minimal effort.

So we have a pattern emerging, different subjects and different authors using what seems to be the same trick. And these ebooks are being churned out in series. In both cases, the writers appear to be working to some sort of formula at a great rate on material that would disappoint many purchasers. Quantity seems to be the name of the game. Forget quality.

If a synopsis was obligatory, readers might have some idea of what they are buying, but under the current system you take pot-luck.

I came away with the distinct feeling that I had been ripped off, because although the books touched lightly on the subject advertised, they promptly strayed elsewhere. I have refrained from naming authors, for fear of lawsuits. These writers are staying within the letter of the law, even if they allow intending purchasers to draw the wrong conclusions about the contents of their ebooks.

It is said that we have to be pretty dumb to be caught twice by the same trick so I cannot be too proud of my gullibility, but I hit back the only way that I could.  To their credit, Amazon will publish unfavourable reviews, so I wrote a couple of very nasty reviews which Amazon printed. I would urge others who have been disappointed by such books to write reviews that will cause future buyers to stop and think.

Greg, gentleman that he is, refused to name the eBooks in question but a little Amazon search of our own yielded fruit and we have pictured one of the offending titles above. Of course it would speak volumes if author, James Sinclair could comment to defend his title or even take part in an Archive interview. It is  of paramount importance that Amazon start a system of quality control regarding their Kindle Publishing Scheme - after all respectable authors will, through no fault of their own, find themselves tarnished with the same brush as the charlatans.

The Archive is fully behind Greg's idea and urges readers to leave bad reviews on Amazon if they feel they have been ripped off or sold a substandard product through the Kindle store.


Chap O'Keefe said...

The ebook retailers' lists should identify titles that are largely public-domain material, especially if an "editor/author" is not offering them free but collecting a royalty. This goes for non-fiction as well as fiction.

Perhaps some disappointments can be avoided by using Amazon's offer of a "free sample" before buying. And many ebook authors run free excerpts independently of Amazon at their own websites.

Excerpts from the O'Keefe western novels, for example, can be found at Whatever excerpt currently comes up, you can scroll to the end and find links to other titles, including the five ebooks.

Howard said...

A despicable practice, to be sure. And something that really threatens to ruin it for people like Keith, myself and others here who put a lot of work into our books. The one confusing thing, though, is when I brought my 11 titles to Kindle, Amazon informed me they were going over them first in an effort at quality control. And each time I have changed some data or price on one, they have gone over my books again, so I thought there actually was some standard for that. Not sure if there is a difference for non-fiction, as in the horse ebook, but the search inside is enabled for mine and sample download, so people can see what they are getting (And buyers should certainly utilize that option if they don't know the author). I don't yet own a Kindle but I would certainly be pretty annoyed to buy a paperback that was only 10 percent what was advertised.

Charles Gramlich said...

The sheer number of useless charlatans that inhabit human body forms is amazing and disconcerting. I hope folks have posted really negative reviews of these frauds.

Shauna Roberts said...

When I was searching Amazon recent for some nonfiction, I came across an author whose book had a recent copyright date but an old-fashioned sounding title. I was suspicious, so I checked out the other books he had published. There were dozens of them on topics all over the map. No one person could know that much about such varied subjects. I think he was running a similar scam, taking out-of-print books and republishing them with a recent copyright date and his name substituted for the original author's.

Shauna Roberts said...