There have been no shortage of scams throughout the years, and long-time Amazon authors will be familiar with many.
Seemingly, these scams cause trouble for everyone and are very difficult to deal with. Amazon has tried, and failed, multiple times.
And to make matters worse, when Amazon cracks down on the scam, it often affects legitimate authors as well.
Today we're going to bring your attention to a newer type of scam, one that authors should be aware of, and give you tips on how to deal with them if you should fall victim.
- About printing scams
- About ebook pricing scams
- Why Amazon is letting it happen
- What we authors can do
Table of contents
Amazon FBA Scam
First, we have a problem that seems to have affected multiple authors, both independent and traditional.
What's the Problem?
What appears to be happening is that cheap printing presses are printing inferior quality versions of someone else's book, then selling them online through Amazon's FBA system, as if they were the author.
Essentially, they are stealing our books, creating cheap products that they can sell for less, and then putting those on the marketplace.
Amazon often does not get wind of this, because it is being sold as a new or used copy, or with a name that is similar but slightly different than the author's.
See this Twitter thread for an example of this scam in action:
I've been asked about this a lot, so let me provide a quick FAQ.— François Chollet (@fchollet) July 23, 2022
Q: What's the nature of the issue?
A: Anyone who has bought my book from Amazon in the past few month hasn't bought a genuine copy, but a lower-quality counterfeit copy printed by various fraudulent sellers. https://t.co/VQ06AF0igs
Why Is This a Problem?
The obvious problem is that somebody else is selling your work and taking all of the profit, leaving you with nothing.
However, there are other implications as well. First and foremost, if a reader buys these cheaply-made books, they will likely notice the quality issues.
A poor quality book, even if you didn't actually produce it, can lead to bad reviews of that book. At the very worst, it can turn a reader off from buying any of your books in the future.
You can try to fix this by explaining the situation, but the damage is likely already done.
KU or Wide for Nonexistent Book Scams
Everyone knows that if you are enrolled in KDP Select to put your books in Kindle Unlimited, Amazon requires exclusivity. Well, turns out scammers are targeting this as well.
What's the Problem?
The problem is that some scammers will take a book that is wide, create a copy, then put that copy in KU. On the flip side, they might take a book that is in KU, make a copy, then distribute it wide.
It's entirely possible to have 2 ebook versions of the same book with the same title, author name, and cover, but with two different interiors. Therefore this situation may lead to a reader picking up the wrong version.
Why Is This a Problem?
In addition to the obvious loss of sales and potential bad reviews, there's another glaring problem with this scam. If you are enrolled in Kindle Unlimited, and Amazon thinks that you're distributing the book wide, you risk losing a lot of privileges, including potentially having Amazon shut down your account (see our article on what to do if this happens).
In other words, you need to stay vigilant to identify these scams the moment they happen, so you can be proactive and tell Amazon about them before Amazon comes after you.
Cheaper Kindle Scams
Similar to both the above scams, Amazon is seeing counterfeit Kindle editions pop up here and there.
What's the Problem?
Similar to the printing press problem, some authors are discovering that scammers are producing lower-quality copies of an ebook, then managing to link that ebook with a legitimate print edition of the book.
Since Amazon usually shows the cheaper edition of the book, this lower quality copy is often what Amazon will link to when someone is viewing the print edition. Then if someone clicks on the Kindle edition from the print screen, they end up on the wrong book.
But how can Amazon have two copies of the same Kindle edition?
The scammers are clever enough to create a book that is almost the same, usually with a different author name that is one letter off from the original, then tricking Amazon into linking that Kindle edition with one of your legitimate print editions.
It won't always work, but the scam is so widespread that it can happen here and there.
See this Twitter thread for an example:
Yesterday, I discovered that @amazon has been selling pirated version of my book — and encouraging people to purchase them. They've stopped now. (Thank you!)— Scott Hershovitz (@shershovitz) September 7, 2022
But the scam on their site is sophisticated. Here's a bit of a detective story — and cautionary tale for authors.
Why Is This a Problem?
Similar to the print scam, there are two problems with this Kindle scam.
First, you are not receiving any royalties from a Kindle ebook sold in this fashion.
Second, these copies are often poorly made, leading to potential bad reviews.
Why Is Amazon Letting This Happen?
Amazon is known for having frequent scams, and it has spent a lot of time and effort coming down on those scams, often to the detriment of real authors.
But does Amazon want this? After all, they earn a percentage of the royalties for all books sold on their platform, including the scam books. So do they really have an incentive to crack down on the scams?
First let's ask this question: what are Amazon's goals for their platform/product?
The answer is that Amazon wants to create the best shopping experience for the end user/consumer. Their mission statement says they focus on the customer rather than the competitor, and that they strive to be “Earth's most customer-centric company.”
They want to be the best online shopping experience.
With that in mind, a lot of Amazon's past decisions make sense. Authors are not always happy with the changes the Amazon incorporates into their platform, but usually it is a benefit to the consumer.
In that context, we know that Amazon definitely wants to remove the scammers from their platform. Why? Because every scam reduces the level of trust between Amazon and the consumer. It makes Amazon look bad.
And even though some of these scams do actually make Amazon a little money, it hurts them in the long run. When a scam is successful, everyone loses: the author loses, the reader loses, and even Amazon loses.
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So why do these scams keep happening?
The true answer is likely that Amazon KDP simply lacks the funding (books are a tiny sliver of Amazon's overall business) or whatever resources that are required to properly fix the problem. Doing so would likely require large changes to their infrastructure, and changes like that require time and money.
Plus, there is the problem that every time Amazon brings down the hammer on scammers, it often smashes a few legitimate authors as well. So not only do they need to fix the problem, but they have to do so in a way that minimizes collateral damage.
In short, this is not an easy problem to fix.
I have no doubt that Amazon wants to fix it, and are taking steps to do so, but scammers create more fires faster than Amazon can put them out.
So a lot of the responsibility falls to us. Which brings me to my next point.
How Can You Tell if You Are Being Scammed?
Even though a sudden price change on your book is often indicative of a scam, there are legitimate times when Amazon will change the price of your book without asking the authors. So how do you know if the price change is because of Amazon or a scam?
Well, there are a couple steps you can take:
Step 1: Determine if it's Amazon
Amazon typically has two reasons for changing the price of a book:
First, it's to lower the price, usually because of a sale or to price match a competitor.
Second, it's a glitch. We've seen this happen where a glitch in Amazon's system accidently raises the price of an ebook or paperback, without raising the royalties of the author.
If you look at your book and see that the price on your ebook or paperback (and not one sold by a third party) has raised or lowered its price, it is probably Amazon. If you're unsure, it's still worth contacting Amazon to verify, and to correct the problem if it was a glitch.
Step 2: If it's not Amazon, is it a third-party seller?
Next, determine if the price change is due to a third-party seller or not. There are a few things to look for:
First, if the seller is listing the book as used, it'll show in the used section.
If they are selling the book as new, it'll replace the main section at the top of the Amazon page. And this is where it may have impacted your price, because it's now registering a new book as being lower than the price you set.
Step 3: See if the seller is part of a scam
If you've determined that a third-party seller is responsible for the price change of your book, and is selling your book third hand, you now need to determine if they are running a scam or not.
Because there are legitimate reasons why they would be selling your book. For example, they may have purchased it, then decided to resell it.
So take a look at the seller's past history. If they are new and don't have a lot/any feedback, there's a good chance it's a scam. Additionally, if reviews are suggesting that your book is poor quality, that might be an indicator that the books they are buying are from a scammer.
As a final resort, you can purchase the book yourself and check to make sure it's legitimately yours or not.
What Can Authors Do?
There are two steps that authors should take to fight against these scammers:
- Keep Amazon informed
- Immediately discover when you are being scammed
Let's take those two actions and expand on them…
1. Keep Amazon Informed
The first and obvious action is that if we discover we are being scammed, we need to inform Amazon immediately.
You can do this by consulting them in their KDP contact page, going to Content and rights notifications, then clicking on Report copyright infringement.
Amazon isn't always fast at responding to these things, but with a little patience it can be done.
2. Discover When You Are Being Scammed
The best way to know if you're being scammed is to watch out for unexpected price changes that you had nothing to do with.
While Amazon can sometimes reduce the price of your book as part of a sale, even without you knowing, a price change can still be a good indicator that you might have a scam.
Additionally, any bad reviews might indicate that a reader got a scammed version of a book, so you should watch out for your negative reviews for reports of horrible formatting and the like.
Thankfully, there is a free tool that makes this process a lot easier: ReaderScout. (Beta)
ReaderScout is a new chrome and Brave plug-in that will continuously monitor your books looking for price changes and new reviews.
All you have to do is add your books to ReaderScout Chrome plugin, and it will check your books every 24 hours.
That way, you can act immediately when a scam occurs.
Read our full ReaderScout review for more on its features and the benefits you get from using it.
The best part is, ReaderScout is completely free, so you don't have to worry about another costly tool for authors.
Plus, in addition to staying vigilant against scams, it also saves you a lot of time.