Richard Bury spam markets in everything “of making books there is no end”

by on June 17, 2011 at 3:24 pm in Books, Uncategorized, Web/Tech | Permalink

From Slashdot:

“Make it easy to self-publish books and the spammers will be right along too. Amazon’s Kindle marketplace has been deluged by low-quality ‘books’ selling for 99 cents each. ‘[Thousands of ebooks published each month] are built using something known as Private Label Rights, or PLR content, which is information that can be bought very cheaply online then reformatted into a digital book. These ebooks are listed for sale – often at 99 cents – alongside more traditional books on Amazon’s website, forcing readers to plow through many more titles to find what they want. Aspiring spammers can even buy a DVD box set called Autopilot Kindle Cash that claims to teach people how to publish 10 to 20 new Kindle books a day without writing a word.'”

The link is here, hat tip to Michael Rosenwald, his piece on internet advertising is here.

1 mdb June 17, 2011 at 3:28 pm

order by price. problem solved

2 bluto June 17, 2011 at 3:59 pm

I agree, never understood why that option is disabled in the kindle store.

Also, improving their search (potentially with the info from other people bought which has been almost always usefull) would be a huge improvement to the kindle store. I know I’m not a major revenue generator (though I have told a bunch of people how much I love it) but it’s enough of a pain to find something that for free books (free from both Amazon and Gutenberg, I usually go to the latter even though it’s an extra step to get them).

3 bbartlog June 17, 2011 at 4:45 pm

Because spammers would never think of listing their books at different prices to thwart such a heuristic. I think this will prove to be a very temporary solution.

4 Rahul June 17, 2011 at 5:34 pm

Or order by popularity? How many idiots actually buy the spam books?!

5 Joshua the PostLibertarian June 17, 2011 at 6:50 pm

Exactly. Unlike spam email, which are individual entities not competing for attention in a list, and unlike spam web pages, which are competing but don’t have a cost to view the page, eBook browsing programmers should be able to take care of this fairly easily. Set options that ignore books that have never been purchased or purchased < X times, or at least filter them lower in pages. What's the downside? If no one purchases my legitimate book I'm not going to sell anything either? Well if you need more purchases from random browsers than people actually looking for your book to make yourself money – unless these folks are actually spamming popular keywords within the book database, that is – you're not going to be making very much anyway.

6 Dan June 18, 2011 at 4:14 am

I’m not sure this is so easy. I think it would simply turn into an arms race a la search engine optimization. There is probably no way to tell a legitimate book from a spam one without human analysis.

As others have suggested, perhaps they should charge a fee to post non-free E-books. A small fee would make the spamming technique unworkable.

7 Rahul June 18, 2011 at 9:09 am

Not necessarily. Popularity is a credible surrogate for legitimacy. You have to spend real money to buy an e-book. Not likely for a spam book to get many buyers.

In this context book-spam is easier to weed out than email spam or website spam.

8 Peter St Onge June 22, 2011 at 12:35 am

To be devil’s advocate, how do “spam” books differ from reprinting an old book?

I search for David Copperfield and I’ve got to weed through identical copies with identical text.

The question isn’t whether the books are identical, it’s whether customers like them or not.

9 Silas Barta June 17, 2011 at 4:12 pm

We should be more concerned about the problem of low-quality e-books selling for $4.

10 Jamie June 17, 2011 at 4:18 pm

As someone who delt with the technical issue of email spam professionally for quite a while, this amuses me. Imagine if my incentives were beard on making money every time an email, wanted or not, was delivered.

I think Amazon might have some sympathy for the U.S. postal service, in terms of economic models. Only a little, though.

11 Alex Godofsky June 17, 2011 at 4:43 pm

Charge some minimal fee ($1? $10?) per listing. Problem solved.

12 bbartlog June 17, 2011 at 4:44 pm

This kind of spam may be somewhat easier to filter than regular spam, though. Once an author is identified as a spammer Amazon can blacklist them. Since the revenue is derived from payments directly to the author, there isn’t the issue you have with something like Viagra spam where an endless succession of spoofed sender emails can be used. Of course, this assumes that Amazon has an incentive to get rid of them.

13 Tim June 17, 2011 at 5:11 pm

Actually you missed the real market here. I’m almost positive the next bubble will be in various forms of information gatekeepers that can help you winnow your choices down to just a few. Whether this be the next generation tv channel, next generation book store, or next generation record label. Not that I think they will likely resemble the old generation much at all.

14 Hasdrubal June 20, 2011 at 11:22 am

We already have those for ebooks, they’re called “publishers.”

This is why I’ve never thought publishers would be driven out of business, they might not all be publishing the next Dostoevsky, but they do have people reading through all the crap and choosing which mach their own standards. Choose a publisher that meshes well with your tastes, and you’ll do well. It only took one attempt at reading fan fiction to come to this conclusion.

15 Chris June 17, 2011 at 5:13 pm

The immediately obvious solution would be to charge a nominal fee to be able to self publish a book to the store. Maybe this fee could even be more of a deposit, refundable upon X number of people buying your book.

16 Rahul June 17, 2011 at 5:36 pm

What exactly is PLR content? Wikipedia is very vague about this.

17 bluto June 17, 2011 at 5:55 pm

It sounds like a system where say a blog’s contents are made into an ebook, which the rights to publish under your own brand (XYZ’s verision of marginalrevolution’s 2006 archives) which would be sold for $0.99 (along with ABC, DEF etc), the underlying content remains the same (and is presumably sold multiple times).

18 EF June 17, 2011 at 6:37 pm

How is this different than email spam and blog post spam? If this becomes a problem I bet Amazon can solve it algorithmically (sort by awesomeness) and with interface settings (sort alphabetically assuming a product is at least this awesome).

19 Shane M June 18, 2011 at 1:30 am

My wife is published both traditionally and recently has gone the self-published route on a couple of novels that couldn’t find a home w/ a publisher. While the costs are low – there can be some basic barriers. From what we’ve seen:

1) getting decent cover art – starts around $50. My wife feels like she really needs to spend about $100 to $125 to hire the cover artists that do professional looking covers.
2) register copyright. I’m not sure – but I think about $40 or so for a book
3) purchasing bar codes – Kindle may not need them, but other vendors do.
4) It’s time consuming to convert file formats to fit all the different e-readers. smashwords will often error out requiring her to go through an entire manuscript to find the offending bit of formatting.

In all my wife figures she needs to clear $200 on any self-pub book just to break even. Not a huge hurdle, but not cheap enough that she’d just disregard the cost. However, if you’re not spending anything for coverart, not copyrighting, and already have a bunch of barcodes purchased in bulk, maybe the equation changes substantially.

20 Shane M June 18, 2011 at 1:44 am

… sorry for the reply to my own post here, but as a proud husband of my wife’s efforts I meant to leave a link to her most recent self-pub for reference. I hope it’s not out of place – mods please remove if so.

The art seems a key part self-publishing fiction, so my wife decided spend more than she had to there because she like the cover artist.

We’re still trying to figure out the genre’s that work, and how best to market, but several of her author friends are sharing data as they put things out there. Some are having very good success – 100s of copies per week on sustained basis, and the tail seems sustainable in many cases for at least several months time. Other titles struggle more attracting attention regardless of promotional activities.

It’s tough to figure out why some sell and some don’t at present, however having examples of success stories is inspiring to authors who’ve shopped a book to many publishers and just can’t find a home for it.

21 Rahul June 18, 2011 at 9:08 am

Could you enable the “Read Inside” preview feature? Also, historically (long before e-books) some books sell and some don’t. I doubt this is likely to change anytime soon.

22 Shane M June 18, 2011 at 8:17 pm

Rahul, I asked my wife and she says Kindle uses the “send sample for free” button on the side and it will send a percentage of the book to your Kindle for preview. Quite a few people use this option. I think it’s something like10-15% of the book.

23 russell1200 June 18, 2011 at 8:47 pm

With physical hard copy books mystery novels used to be the easiest to break into. Publishers apparently used to shotgun small print runs out there and see what stuck. Seems like romance novels may have taken there place.

For e-books I would think finding a specialty niche and associating a blog with it might work. So long as all your books were within the same niche, you only need one blog. The fact that she actually has sold a hard copy would lend some credibility. If your blog becomes popular, or if you become familiar in blog-land who is popular, they can also help give you a boost in sales on a specific date to boost your Amazon rating. It worked very well for Patrice Lewis ( when one of the big survivalist type sites helped push her “The Simplicity Primer” book to their audience.

24 Hoover June 18, 2011 at 2:27 am


Agreed. Apple has around 350,000 apps in its app store but they’re chosen by hand and placed in a taxonomy. So they suffer none of Amazon’s spam problems.

By the way, did you mean “bubble” or “market”?

25 anaon June 18, 2011 at 10:16 am

Thank goodness we are not forced – yet – to buy “low quality” (whatever the heck that means to you) ebooks, whether they cost 99 cents or 99 dollars….

If you buy anything on impulse, you deserve whatever you get.

BTW – it should be obvious, but the biggest “cost” of most books, e or otherwise, is the time spent reading it, not its cost. Unless you are buying expensive collector or reference “books”. Personally, I like Cowen’s approach of “liberating” books when you decide you are finished with them. Like walking out of a bad movie, the biggest cost is your time not the price of the ticket.

26 Rahul June 18, 2011 at 5:05 pm

For those that buy impulsively: kindle e-books have a 7-day no-questions-asked, returns policy,

27 Yancey Ward June 18, 2011 at 10:52 am

I want to buy the movie rights to Marginal Revolution- The Novel.

28 Jacqueline June 19, 2011 at 7:08 pm

Can we cast Jeff Bridges as Tyler Cowen?

29 Erich June 18, 2011 at 1:59 pm

A lot of these 99-cent “spam” books are actually very useful in fulfilling a niche market. For a scholar that reads a lot of out-of-copyright books, they’re a godsend. Say I want to have all the works of the Roman historian Livy on hand; well, not many people do, so there is actually no publisher that has a complete edition of them. But I can get it on Kindle for $0.99. What does it matter to me that some guy got the content (which is out-of-copyright anyway) online?

Comments on this entry are closed.

Previous post:

Next post: