I paid my dues with publishers and discovered they were either the proverbial ‘road to nowhere’ – or they were power hungry, abusive controllers, just like the vast majority of music labels. When someone with such an extreme, rebellious spirit as I got involved, it was always destined to end in disaster.
Amazon presented KDP (Kindle Direct Publishing) ten years ago, enabling authors to self-publish their works, free of publishers. It also came with the bonus advantage of us being able to reap the majority share.
But it came at a price. The Kindle format made it possible for readers to buy books at negligible cost, no postage fees, and instant access to the product. As a result, the high street book store industry virtually collapsed overnight. Amazon monopolized the book distribution industry, and hold a 90% share of it today. All other online ebook retailers COMBINED make up only 10% of the overall market share. International monopoly laws seemed to have no effect in regulating this. As an honors graduate of law, there is only one way in which I can imagine this was accomplished: Amazon BOUGHT the law!
At the time, authors felt more freedom than they ever had. But the honeymoon wasn’t to last long. After a few years, Amazon began implementing policies to trample authors into the ground, all in the name of ‘second-to-none customer service’. It will be necessary to explain certain particulars in order to fully illustrate how Amazon operates, and how they invade YOUR privacy.
The first bout of attacks against authors began in 2015, when they announced the Kindle Unlimited lending library’s new policy. They started paying authors for ‘pages read’ rather than a ‘blanket fee per book, regardless of length’. Scammers latched onto this rapidly and began posting fake books on Amazon with various methods of tricking readers into clicking through immediately to the last page. One-thousand pages of gibberish can be profitable when the system believes they’ve all been read in one hit. Just as quickly, Amazon got wise to this and clamped down on the scammers. (Fair enough.) In retaliation, the scammers then used cyber ‘bots’ to inflate the ‘pages read’ of innocent authors in order to detract attention away from themselves.
Here’s where it became ugly. Amazon don’t ask questions, and they have no concept of ‘right to a fair trial’ or any appeal process. They simply terminated the accounts of the authors that had been targeted by the scammers – often when they were in the middle of a costly promotion. Being in the top 100 was potentially lethal at this time because it brought us to the attention of the scammers. If they attacked our accounts, we could’ve lost them. In one moment, we would no longer be writers. As a result, all authors were frozen, and nobody dared to make a move.
Amazon then placed a blanket ban on genre tags in book titles on product pages. This was largely in response to abusers who would fill up their title boxes with keywords to the extent that you couldn’t even make out what the title was. (Fair enough again.) But Amazon didn’t stop at the perpetrators. They blitzed everyone. I was one of the first to be targeted because I simply added “An Action Thriller” to my titles. I found a way around it ultimately, but it wasn’t easy to figure out. A brief descriptive tag in the title flags up in the ‘customers also bought’ section at the bottom of the product page and informs potential readers what kind of book it is. For a whole year, I lost two-thirds of my downloads as a result of having to remove that simple tag.
However, while they were happy to remove relevant information, they were equally happy to implement the addition of IRRELEVANT information. Have any of you ever wondered what that strange box on product pages is, which says “Rated by customers interested in . . .”? It means that if you’ve bought numerous products on Amazon that are completely unrelated, they will try to find relevance in your buying habits. So, if a young mother buys books for her children, then buys the Fifty Shades Trilogy for herself and reviews them all, the children’s book could flag up as being “rated 5.0 by people interested in erotica.” Likewise, Fifty Shades could flag up as being “rated 5.0 by people interested in children’s books.”
Hold On! got the brass ring on account of this. It’s an anti-authoritarian action thriller that flags up as “rated 4.5 by people interested in religion and spirituality”. How can this possibly serve to accurately inform you about the nature of a product? It deters the product’s true audience, and will seriously disappoint the expectations of the religious. It’s ‘lose-lose’ every step of the way. Does this seem like ‘second-to-none customer service’ to you?
Last year, I ran a huge promotion for my Trilogy box set, at a cost of over $700. This usually pays off, but on this occasion, on the first day of the promotion, a glitch in the system deleted my campaign on KDP. The book was still at full price. It was restored much later after three calls to California, but not after the technical department tried to blame me for ‘not doing it right’. The reason was revealed the following day when Amazon.com went down completely. They were upgrading the system. No matter what, they will not move from a position of zero-accountability, and they will point the finger of blame at anyone but themselves.
But by far the worst strike against authors is the one that directly affects all of you, and it concerns reviews. Reviews are extremely rare. We get, on average, one review per one-hundred readers.
Readers will be unaware of this, so I will reveal all here. If a book slips below an average of four stars on Amazon, no promotion company will even take an author’s money to promote it. It has to be rated among the elite before you can even put it in front of anyone. This places all writers on a knife’s edge at all times – and Amazon are constantly trying to push us off the precipice . . . by invading YOUR privacy.
They first started to devalue all reviews that were over a year old. We could go to sleep one night at – say – a 4.5 average, and wake up at 4.4 with no new reviews on offer. The older reviews had simply lost their value under the new system.
The only older reviews they held in high esteem were the negative reviews. I’m sure you’ve all seen that ‘most helpful’ button at the bottom of the reviews. The more ‘most helpful’ clicks a review gets, the higher up the list it goes. Human nature dictates people are drawn to negatives ten times more than they are to positives. (That’s why the news is always bad.) If a product has one-hundred positive reviews and just one negative, the audience will hone in on the one negative and send it soaring to the top of the list, regardless of how old or badly-written the review is. Consequently, that negative review is the first thing anyone reads about the product, and deters customers who would’ve most likely enjoyed it. It is yet another, disproportionate, grossly-misleading and destructive policy Amazon has employed to trample us into the ground.
It’s also worth noting that when a book comes from one of the top publishers, such as Penguin-Random House or Harper Collins, Amazon only delete the negative reviews. Don’t ya just love nepotism?
Now, the fun part. When you leave a review on Amazon for anything at all – they search all aspects of both the author/seller’s AND the customer’s social media life in order to establish a possible connection. If they determine there might be a connection, they will delete your review. As authors, we start shaking in our boots if we get a five star review from someone called ‘John Smith’. All it would take is for us to have a Facebook friend with the same name, and we would lose the review. I lost three five star reviews in one night this week on account of this, and these were reviews from total strangers. I had no connection to them whatsoever. In the blink of an eye, Hold On! went from a 4.5 average with 127 reviews, to 4.4 with 124. With such a high average rating requirement on the table, this is extremely disturbing for any writer. I receive friend requests on Facebook from readers all the time, but I dare not accept them anymore. We are all under constant surveillance from this insidious, totalitarian monster.
Just know, whenever you buy anything on Amazon – they are examining your social media history with this ‘Big Brother’ act. They track your purchase habits, and they know more about you than you’re likely to be comfortable with.
Amazon aside, I recently fell into serious danger when I hosted a Kindle Paperwhite giveaway as part of a book promotion. I am not a tech expert, and I’d made one honest mistake with the way I’d mailed out to all of the entrants. Due to new data protection laws, I was threatened with either heavy fines, or extradition to the USA and incarceration in a Federal penitentiary!
I was two chapters into a new series, and had to stop immediately. Writing is dangerous, and the system is set up in such a way that our rights are compromised at every turn. Now, our very liberty is being threatened.
I fought tooth and nail for this for six years, but now, all routes are blocked, and I do not see any way to move forward. With Amazon holding the monopoly, there is simply nowhere to run.
To be continued . . .