Amazon, book promotion, Uncategorized

Amazon bots, clickfarms, and trolls – oh, my!

Over the past couple of weeks, my feeds have been flooded with the same sorry tale: a book or box set has been stripped of its rank on Amazon. As Anne R. Allen notes, authors “who have NOT been doing anything wrong are getting hammered” with the following notice:

We are reaching out to you because we detected purchases or borrows of your book(s) originating from accounts attempting to manipulate sales rank. As a result, the sales rank on the following book(s) will not be visible until we determine this activity has ceased.

Please be aware that you are responsible for ensuring that the strategies used to promote your book(s) comply with our Terms and Conditions. We encourage you to thoroughly review any marketing services employed for promotional purposes.

Any additional activity attempting to manipulate the Kindle services may result in account level [sic] action.

guilty-until-proven-innocentWhen a book’s sales rank spikes, it “apparently triggers punishment” and so far “Amazon is stonewalling anyone who tries to appeal.” Derek Murphy cites the only correct response: “Yes, I promise never to do it again.” There is no way to appeal it. Additionally, this is happening to new and seasoned authors alike, including some NYT bestselling authors.

David Gaughran suspects this issue stems from the following:

  1. Amazon has instituted a new fraud detection system, one which isn’t working very well, and is generating lots of false positives.
  2. Scammers are deliberately targeting innocent authors, pointing clickfarms/bots at their books or using some form of incentivized gifting, which is triggering Amazon’s fraud detection system.

Both theories have their merits – it could even be a combination of the two. Unfortunately, Amazon doesn’t seem to be taking him seriously on this matter.

Collateral Damage

scam-alert-1024x788More importantly, and as Derek Murphy rightly points out, “there are definitely scammers out there who continue to successfully hack Amazon’s system to their advantage using black hat tactics, and Amazon needs to fix its system without penalizing legitimate authors.” For authors who have run legimate, ethical promotions to lose both their sales rank and earnings negates the entire purpose of running a promotion. And even after the situation is resolved, the damage has already been done. There is no way to undo the damage unless someone has a time machine.

Amazon is, of course, in a precarious position – they are attempting to eliminate scammers to foster a better customer experience – and accounts that use bots and/or clickfarms to artificially inflate page reads and so on thereby steal earnings from hard-working authors and deter readers from Amazon in one fell swoop.  It’s a difficult situation for everyone involved. Authors, Amazon, and readers are losing time and money because of these scams. For the time being, slow, organic growth is probably a safer bet than large promotions (e.g., BookBubs and other email list promotions). However, I wonder if there are ways that authors and Amazon could work together to improve this situation.

Collaboration

collaboration-definitionThe realtionship between Amazon and authors is problematic – we are neither customers nor employees. However, perhaps we could work together, regardless of the source of the problem. And, no. I’m not a programmer, so I don’t understand the logistics that would go into the system I’m about to propose, but I figured I’d put it into the bloggosphere anyway.

What if Amazon implemented an author ranking system that’s similar to its reviewer ranking system? More specifically, what if Amazon ranked author accounts then extended an optional author reviewer membership to established authors who have a history of ethical conduct – that is, Amazon ranks author accounts over time. I propose this because long-term accounts are unlikely to be scam accounts, and most authors that I know are helpful, generous people – see present company.

Authors who opt to review other accounts could take a spin through newer accounts that were flagged for suspicious activity or possible rank manipulation to ensure that new authors or books aren’t being unfairly stripped of their sales rank and that scammers aren’t screwing people out of their earnings and readers out of their time. I’m sure many of us wouldn’t mind chipping in a couple of hours a month to foster a better environment for ourselves, Amazon, and our readers (Amazon’s customers).

Marketing-for-Increasing-Exposure-Tip-5-Amazon-Author-CentralAdditionally, perhaps Amazon could add a widget inside Author Central so that authors can tell Amazon when they’re going to run a promotion — e.g., a form where the author can tell Amazon what promotion they’re running and for how long. Perhaps as Amazon gathers data about promotions through this widget, they’ll be able to fine-tune their detection methods.

No Solution is Without Its Problems

Sure, this solution is inherently problematic. As David Gaughran notes in “Amazon’s Hall of Spinning Knives”, even when authors manage to get their rank restored, they continue to be “accused of rank manipulation and … [are] on warning … [for] future conduct.” As such, some authors may end up excluded from the program because of false flags on their accounts.

DontFeedTheTrolls2Likewise, and as Anne R. Allen discusses in her article, trolls could be a potential problem – while trolls are discussed in the context of Amazon book reviews in Anne’s article, I think the same priniciple would apply to this system. There may be people who deliberately sabotage other authors because they’re jealous of their performance, bored, or whatever – I’d really like to believe that most of us are not like that, but it is conceivable that a couple trolls might squeak through. Those of us who have been here at the Writers Co-op likely remember our repeated encounter with a troll. As with most things, we tend to police ourselves, so perhaps there ought to be several reviews of an account to ensure that trolls don’t run wild.

What do you think?

Sources and Further Reading

Allen, Anne R. “Amazon’s Latest Crackdowns: Do They Include Amazon Review Trolls?” Anne R. Allen’s Blog… with Ruth Harris. AnneRAllen.com, 22 Oct. 2017. http://annerallen.com/2017/10/amazon-crackdowns-amazon-review-trolls/ 28 Oct. 2017.

Baum, Cate. “What Book Promotions Are OK and Not OK on Amazon Now.” Self-Publishing Review. 6 Oct. 2017. http://www.selfpublishingreview.com/2017/10/what-book-promotions-are-ok-and-not-ok-on-amazon-now/ Accessed: 28 Oct. 2017.

Gaughran, David. “Amazon’s Hall of Spinning Knives.” Let’s Get Digital. WordPress.com, 20 Oct. 2017. https://davidgaughran.wordpress.com/2017/10/20/amazons-hall-of-spinning-knives/ Accessed: 28 Oct. 2017.

Murphy, Derek. “The Death of Book Promotion.” Creative Indie. Creativindie.com, 27 Oct. 2017. http://www.creativindie.com/the-death-of-book-promotion/ Accessed: 28 Oct. 2017.

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