Several months ago many indie authors who have their books enrolled in the KU program began noticing a disturbing trend – sometime around the 2nd week of the month Amazon began sending out the dreaded “we’ve noticed some fraudulent page read activity on your books” notices. What it boils down to is this – Amazon constantly monitors the number of page reads an author has on any book currently enrolled in the KU program. Anytime they see something which even remotely looks like it might be getting page reads from the “click farms”, they take notice. And with their scrutiny comes the dreaded letter which basically tells the author not only are they having their page reads stripped for that month i.e. the author will be stripped of any royalties regardless of whether or not the page reads actually are fraudulent, but Amazon goes on to threaten to terminate the author’s KDP account. And in some instances, the mighty Zon has actually gone through with suspending and/or terminating some author accounts.
At first glance, they appear to be hitting honest authors who have done nothing wrong – authors who have paid for advertising either direct through Amazon itself, or through one of the standard promo companies such as BookBub, Robin Reads, ENT, etc.
Here’s the sucky part of this. Amazon is doing this despite the fact there are dozens of legitimate “scam” books dominating the Zon rankings and receiving potentially hundreds of thousands of dollars in KU payouts each year. Zon knows about these books and these scammers, but their idea of rectifying the situation isn’t to go after the scammers, but to hit real authors who are trying to make an actual career out of writing.
Authors, of course, have many theories on why the Zon does not seem to want to alleviate the problem or do anything which would actually help the situation. The top theory on that list? Money. Amazon is getting paid by anyone who purchases a monthly subscription to the KU program. Whether it is purchased by a legitimate reader getting their lit on or by a click farm, the Zon still gets that monthly payment.
Now, let’s hit the halls of the conspiracy theory, shall we? What if Zon is the one hiring these click farms? What if they are the ones putting out the scam books? This would enable them to not only keep a huge chunk of the KU payout each month by raking up tens of thousands of page reads on scam books, but they then get to strip honest authors of their page views and thus their KU payout by sending the click farms after their KU enrolled books. What better way to hide your own fraudulent activity than in plain sight? You deflect your own illegal activities by spreading that activity around to other authors who have real, legitimate books enrolled in the KU program.
Now, here’s some observations that I’m sure is going to piss off a lot of people, but I think it needs to be said. First, I’ve noticed the romance/erotica genre tends to be hit the hardest not only by the Zon when it comes to sending out these accusatory emails, but also the one which seems to be hit the hardest by the click farms. This specific genre has the most books, many of which are badly written porn novels created by ‘authors’ whose answer to ‘making it’ in the publishing industry is to churn out as many badly written pieces of word porn as they can as quickly as they can and then put them into the KU program where they hope to eventually find the serial reader who will buy and click-through every title in their catalog. These types of readers tend to not really care about quality of writing and specifically look for authors with dozens of titles to their names. (There’s an entire FB group dedicated to walking “authors” through this process.)
Second, this type of environment makes it a prime target for click farms. I’ll reiterate – what better way to hide your own illegal activity than to go after authors who have dozens of titles to their names, all of which are enrolled in KU. And since the romance and erotica genre seem to be the one genre where you have serial writers churning out the most books hitting the market each month, it makes it the perfect target to hit. Because whether these authors want to admit it or not, a lot of the page reads they get every month probably are from fake click bots and not actual readers. It’s one of the reasons why they notice such a huge spike and dip in sales from month to month. And these click farms are not biased – they are not looking to see if the author in question has published one book a year for the past twenty years or if they shoved all twenty of those books into the market in under six months. They are basically targeting authors who have a relatively large catalog of books with a huge chunk of them in the KU program. And while it certainly is a good idea to strip out fake page reads from any author, it sucks that while the Zon can supposedly tell when page read are fraudulent, they can’t seem to tell which page reads are fake and which ones are real, thus stripping authors of their legitimate page reads for the month right along with the fake ones.
So where does this leave authors? The only real answer right now is to pull their books from the KU program, or at least a good portion of them. Some of these authors will argue if they do that then they won’t be making any money, which begs the question – if you were making money before you pulled out of KU program but not after, then you really have to ask yourself – why are you no longer making money? The obvious answer is that those page reads you were racking up each month weren’t coming from real, legit readers who are following your work. Because real readers who are genuine fans will continue to purchase your books even if they are not in the KU program.
Recent polls conducted by not only by several PR and prom companies, but also by independent authors, are showing a trend of readers who are no longer opting to keep their KU subscription because the program has become a gluten of badly written books. With an influx of self-published authors growing each year, it’s making it increasingly harder for readers to find the types of books they want to read. What they are reporting is the vast majority of the better quality books aren’t actually in the KU program, or the author has one or two titles in the program and the rest are wide. It’s even been theorized the KU program will either eventually disappear completely, or the indie authors who choose to enter the program will no longer receive any royalties from the Zon. As with anything related to Amazon, only time will tell.
For now, the only recourse an author seems to have to keep their account in good standing and not risk the wrath of the mighty Zon is to pull the majority of their catalog from the KU program with hopes they have a large enough dedicated fan base to continue to purchase their work. For those authors who still intend to keep their work inside the KU program – be careful. Even if you are not doing any type of marketing which could potentially be using click farms, chances are you will be hit by them at some point, increasing your chances that you, too, will receive the dreaded “we’ve noticed some fraudulent page reads on your account” email from the almighty Zon.
Take care out there, peeps. It’s still the Wild West, even if the gold veins are drying up even as we speak.