The dark side of digital

After reading Clare’s post yesterday about e-publishing’s Radiohead moment, I read an LA times article that noted a disturbing new trend in the world of Kindle books: spam.

It seems that everyone and his brother is now uploading e-books to Amazon. Many of those books are e-wrapped versions of books that are no longer under copyright–others are pirated versions of original works, with new covers.  The article cited one author who discovered that one of her books had been copied and sold on Kindle

I suppose it was only a matter of time before the spammers who flood our email in-boxes with Viagra ads and solicitations to collect inheritances in Nigeria would figure out a way to inundate the Kindle world with literary dreck. Amazon will have to find a way to filter out the spammers. There are a number of ways to do it: They could create a “verified publisher or author” seal, a la Twitter. They could develop better filters. They might have to–gasp!–act like a publisher and wade through the e-slush pile before unleashing it on the world. Any way you look at it, Amazon will have to spend some time and money figuring it out–which will probably raise the price of Kindle books fdown the line. (I hear the dead-tree book contingent laughing in triumph).

As a reader, so far I haven’t yet encountered much spam on Kindle, probably because I use filters when I browse. The only time I’ve been had was when I thought I was downloading a novel, only to discover that my “book” was only a few chapters, which had been bundled and sold as a bait.

Have you encountered spam on Amazon?  Have you ever paid for a Kindle book and then discovered that it wasn’t what you thought it was?

11 thoughts on “The dark side of digital

  1. You have to be careful what you buy in the kindle store, especially from established authors. Look at the word count too. James Patterson brazenly informs readers they are only buying the first 30-something chapters. And Barry Eisler self-pubbed 6000 words, a one chapter intro to his character.

    But the spamming issue is really disturbing. Basically any pirate can scan a book or steal a digital version off any already established pirate site, change the name & cover & book summary, and they are in business. The way Amazon is allowing their self-pub business to operate, without anyone scrutinizing what is uploaded, they are facilitating theft. (Barnes & Noble have better control apparently.)

    Once readers find out some classic (and free) books are being repackaged on Amazon Kindle as new with a price, or books are illegally obtained, the legal fallout will be ugly. And these pirates will be hard to locate in this new digital world.

    I wish they wouldn’t call them spammers. That description minimizes what they are doing.

  2. Unfortunately, people always seem to find a way around the system. Now an author trying to make a living must worry about someone stealing (because that’s what it is) a book and selling it with a new title and cover. How do you protect yourself against that?

    Also, I found the quoted number difference between nontraditional books and traditional to be disturbing. Although self-publishing is becoming more accepted, if the market is flooded with low quality books and this so-called spam, what will that do for consumer confidence in the books they buy over sites like Amazon? Will it eventually give the whole industry a bad name?

  3. I’m not sure it’s Chicken Little time yet. As with email spam, the majority of consumers will figure out ways to verify. There will be some who get “taken,” but most will be checking the ratings first, or will have been referred by word of mouth, etc.

    It will be harder for first time authors to get a foothold, no doubt, but with quality writing and the building of a readership, they can gain momentum….exactly the way it happens in the print world.

  4. I haven’t had any problems, but I almost always get to the book I want to buy by clicking on a link in someone’s blog or review. That’s got to be as safe as any way, since they (I assume) have checked the link themselves.

  5. I have not encountered this but I’m very cautious in buying books and sometimes I’ve clicked on a book, read the review and the reviewer warns of formatting problems or slipshod packaging, whatever on that particular version.

    BK Jackson

  6. The problem is that Amazon doesn’t have much stake in correcting the problem. They make money when any book is sold, no matter the content. Until it materially impacts the sales of the legitimate books, Amazon doesn’t have an incentive to curb these kinds of uploads.

  7. hi: I actually think Amazon has a large stake in correcting the issue. one of the reasons that the iTunes store for apps has been so successful is that there is a basic review process. sure, it’s sometimes arbitrary, and allows through junk of various kinds, but there’s a basic bias towards quality, which ups the game for everybody involved. compare that to the Android store, which has far less success in terms of actually selling apps, not least because there is no review process, so stuff is buggy, doesn’t work, is real junk.

    quality matters, in the end, even if the bar is somewhat low…

  8. Jordan, I agree that you have to be very careful about checking to make sure that you’re downloading a complete work. Now that I’ve mistakenly downloaded (and paid for) partial works, I make sure to double check before clicking ‘Buy.’

  9. Is it just me, or do other also believe that spammers, hackers, internet thieves and those who purposely infect computers with malware, viruses, etc. are just not sufficiently punished under the current penal system? (not to go on about how few are ever caught) There ought to be a contest for the most creative punishment possible…

  10. Well that’s a deeply disturbing thought. Are we talking about someone who takes a big seller like a Harry Potter book, repackages and publishes it to make off with the profit? Seems like there are some real copyright issues there. Either way it sucks. People have no shame. I haven’t had any problems. I’ve had my Kindle since Xmas of 2009. I always comb over the reviews before I buy a book though. I’ve not bought books I was interested in because of bad reviews due to poor formatting, etc. But I will be even more careful now!

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