Counterfeit Books on Amazon


Did you buy this book from a third-party seller on Amazon? It is very possible you purchased a counterfeit copy, and a rather poor knock-off at that. You also robbed the book’s publisher of revenues and the book’s author of her royalties.

The story about this broke today on Christianity Today. The book is Liturgy of the Ordinary, a book by Anglican priest Tish Harrison Warren on encountering God in the ordinary of everyday life–from making beds to peanut butter sandwiches to hunting for lost car keys. It was Christianity Today’s Book of the Year in 2018. The publisher was InterVarsity Press [in the interests of full disclosure, I work for IVP’s parent organization, InterVarsity Christian Fellowship/USA]. The publisher revealed today that they have discovered that at least 15,000 copies of the book were sold on the Amazon site by third-party sellers that were counterfeits. The retail value of these sales would have been $240,000. I do not know the details of the author’s contract, but suspect this represents a loss in the neighborhood of $20,000 in royalties. Only after Christianity Today contacted Amazon in connection with this story were the third-party sellers of Warren’s book removed from the Amazon site.

The New York Times reported on this practice on June 23, 2019. They reported a hands off attitude by Amazon. While Amazon warns against the sale of counterfeit products on their site, they do not screen third-party sellers apart from responding to complaints. A seller that sells enough copies, which appears to be what happened with Warren’s book, becomes the default seller, taking over the “buy” button. When I first read about this in the NYT article, it just confirmed my low estimate of Amazon’s business ethics. I’ve long observed the practices of paid reviews, read reports of treatment of workers in their warehouses, and the pressures they’ve placed on vendors. When it came to print publications and other physical products, I’ve long ago decided to buy only from brick and mortar vendors.

Today it became personal. Amazon allowed my friend to be stolen from, and not just for a few bucks or a few copies of her book. Tish Harrison Warren was a former colleague in campus ministry, and following publication of her book she offered a workshop for some of those I minister with. She is an gifted and thoughtful writer and speaker. Amazon claimed in the NYT article that counterfeiting wasn’t a big problem. I think my friend would beg to differ.

One of the problems with counterfeits is that while you probably saved some money, you not only unknowingly participated in theft from my friend and her publisher, you likely received an inferior product. Warren posted a list of defects found in counterfeits of her book, and separately posted images of these defective copies including differences in the colors on the cover. Here are some of the specific issues she noted:

-Annotation numbers throughout the book being in full size font, not superscript. This is not consistent—the copy I’m looking at has a large 1 on page 18, followed by superscript 2 and 3 later on the page.

-Condensing of words—the best example of this is Greg Jao’s name on the endorsements page. It looks like GregJao without the space. I can also see it on the subtitle at the start of chapter 2 on page 25.

-Incorrect running headers: The left page should always have the chapter title, the right page should always have the chapter subtitle. The copy I’m looking at has the previous chapter’s subtitle on the left page (p. 26)

-Missing character glyphs—the best example of this is on page 74 in the chapter title. The Y in “my” (Fighting with My Husband) is missing the lower part of the letter

-Darker section breaks (the little graphics throughout the chapters) are darker, like nearly black. In one of our copies, they should be a pale gray.

Warren recommends these steps if you are one of those who suspects they purchased a counterfeit:

1. If you believe you have received a counterfeit edition, please return the book to Amazon and ask for full credit.

2. Please note the seller from whom you purchased the counterfeit edition and send that information to We are attempting to stop the sales of these editions through Amazon’s marketplace re-sellers.

3. Please rate the seller experience low on Amazon. This will help decrease the visibility of the re-sellers who have made counterfeit editions available.

4. If you desire to ensure you are buying authentic editions, visit the following URL: This will allow you to buy from InterVarsity Press at 40% off plus free shipping for all addresses in the U.S.

5. If Amazon refuses to grant a full refund for the purchase of the counterfeit edition, please email and IVP will be in touch with you on a special price for us to replace the counterfeit editions at the best possible price.

You might look for similar defects and pursue similar remedies with other counterfeits. Good luck! Just another instance where the old axiom caveat emptor comes into play. If you are not buying from Amazon itself, read the ratings, report poor service and counterfeits. Amazon relies on you to “drain the swamp” (do you like the idea of doing Amazon’s work for them?).

I personally love the fact that the publisher is offering the book at such a discount, which is available for anyone who wants to purchase the book. Here is the Bob on Books review, if you want to learn more about the book before you buy, helping the author retrieve lost royalties (don’t use the publisher link in the review).

As I mentioned, I’ve long ago decided to buy books and other physical products from local vendors. Sure, I will shop for good prices like anyone, but I want to sustain the businesses committed to my community, booksellers and others. Can you tell I’m pretty fed up with Amazon? It seems to me that the only thing they respond to is customer behavior and perhaps well-publicized negative publicity, and perhaps not even that. As someone who not only reviews but loves books, appreciates the people who write them (including a number of friends) and the skilled professionals who publish, distribute and sell them through legitimate channels, I am against anyone who undermines the flourishing of the book trade. I’m against those who undermine local commerce. Allowing the unscrupulous to steal from my friends is just about the last straw.

How about you?

Why I Don’t Use Amazon Links in Reviews

Edit Post ‹ Bob on Books — WordPress com

Screenshot of editing page for my most recent review, showing weblink to publisher.

If you’ve clicked on a book title in one of my reviews, you will discover that in nearly all cases, it will take you to a publisher’s web page for the book. Some may wonder, why don’t I use an Amazon link?

I did at one time until a bookseller friend whose work I value greatly challenged me that I was helping to dig the grave of his business. Since I want to see him, and other brick and mortar booksellers stay in business, I paid attention. He pointed out that I was essentially endorsing Amazon as “my bookseller of choice” by directing traffic to their website.

I hadn’t thought about that. Amazon links to books almost always come up at the top of a search for a book, even when you enter a publisher name. I was using those links as a matter of convenience. It is more challenging to find publisher links to a book, particularly for backlist books. And there are books I review sometimes that are out of print. In this case, I use a link to ABE Books, which provides connections to a number of booksellers who have the book.

So here are the reasons I don’t link to Amazon:

  • Do you want one bookseller “to rule them all and in the darkness bind them?”
  • I want to leave the choice of where you buy your books, and the format in which you buy them, to you.
  • I want to support publishers, who often sell the books online, adding to their revenues at a time where they face great pressure.
  • Publishers often have helpful marketing information about their books–video trailers, readers guides, author information, and more.
  • I want to support local booksellers whose presence enriches our community. Most also have an online presence, allowing you to order books and have them shipped to you, or available to pick up at the store.
  • Some of you may want to get it at your local library. I don’t want Amazon to replace libraries, which provide so many services, particularly for those who are financially strapped.

Finally, because I write about books and bookselling, I do not want to have a financial relationship with Amazon as an Amazon Associate. Yes, I actually could make some pocket change if someone uses a link on my page to buy a book from Amazon. But I don’t want to for all the reasons above.

I’ve concluded that for all the convenience Amazon offers, we are sacrificing a rich, local culture, as well as the subtler delights of relationships with librarians, publishers, and booksellers, as well as the serendipitous delight of finding what you weren’t, as well as were, looking for on the shelves of a local book store. That is not something I want to lose.


Goodreads Recent Changes

Goodreads so you finishedMany of you who are book lovers use Goodreads to catalog your books, track what your friends are reading, and read reviews of books you might be interested in. There are currently 55 million Goodreads members and 1.5 billion books added to the site. I’ve been on Goodreads since 2011, and it was the “gateway drug” that got me into book reviewing and blogging.

This is kind of an update on some of the recent changes, at least the ones that have noticed. One that started turning up in my email inbox recently was that whenever I finished a book Goodreads sends an email that shows the book, my rating, and links to my review. Not shown on the screen capture above is that it also allows me to see any friends who are reading the book, their reviews, and the reviews of other Goodreads members. It allows me to go to the Goodreads author page, even dead ones (there is one for Gerard Manley Hopkins which I can follow). It also allows me to like and comment on friends activity, and even to post a question about the book. What I discovered is that about the time Goodreads introduced this feature, I saw an uptick in likes and comments on my reviewed books, even ones I reviewed in the past. This seems like a good change that makes Goodreads more interactive.

A second change that  Goodreads has begun is “Goodreads Deals” emails and “Sponsored Books” on the updates feed (on the phone app). The “deals” update is just for e-books but surprisingly does provide options (depending on the book) for Google books, Apple iBooks, Nook, and Kobo, as well as Kindle (Goodreads is owned by Amazon). It is interesting that these deals are on e-books but there seems to be no similar approach with print media even though e-books have been waning in popularity. Still, I give Goodreads credit for not promoting only Amazon.

Not so with “Sponsored Books.” Here you have options for purchasing the book in whatever format you are interested in, but only from Amazon. There are also inserts of books that are “new” or “popular” which also direct one to the Amazon site.  So far, this only appears on updates on the Goodreads App, not on the website. It appears that you can indicate you are not interested in a particular “sponsored” book, but not these others, which are interspersed with friends’ updates. Rarely are any of these of interest to me. For some reason, who is reading the book often catches my eye and makes it of interest. The “recommendations” function is better, even if it often recommends books I’ve read but haven’t logged on Goodreads.

One thing with both of these changes is that they drive online purchasing, which of course is the interest of the online book seller behind this site. At least the page for each book on Goodreads offers the option of looking for the books in stores like Barnes and Noble, or through the IndieBound site at independent booksellers. One wonders if Goodreads will continue to do this in the future or direct potential buyers to their parent company more and more. This may be the point where those of us who think brick and mortar stores and local businesses are a cultural good should close our accounts. I hope it doesn’t come to that because there is so much I like about Goodreads (and, yes, I also am on LibraryThing).

One of the features I really like on the phone app is the ability to scan a book and add it to one or more of your shelves. It uses your phone’s camera and I just discovered that it not only works by scanning bar codes, but even by scanning the cover of the book. It will pop up options for your book which you can then add to your shelves. The cover scan worked on every book (a limited sample) I tested it on. This is much better than typing in a title and searching a list for your book. I only log books as I read them, but I could imagine going through my whole library in a relatively short period of time if I wanted to do this.

These are not the only changes on Goodreads. I’d be interested in what changes others who use Goodreads have seen and what you like or don’t like about them.


Amazon Charts

Amazon Charts

Screenshot of Amazon Charts page for week of May 14, 2017

Did you get a new type of email from Amazon last week? I did, with a link to the new Amazon Charts website. For years we have been able to see real-time sales rank information on any book on Amazon’s site as well as hourly updates of print and e-book best sellers.

Now Amazon is taking on The New York Times and other venerable best seller lists with a weekly best seller list of fiction and non-fiction books. With a twist.

The twist is that Amazon breaks this into “most read” and “most sold.” “Most read” uses all the information it collects from users of its Kindle e-readers and those using Audible to listen to audio books. “Most sold” includes print, e-books, and audio purchases through its marketplace.

On the one hand, this utilizes the immense amount of data Amazon is constantly collecting to compile its own bestseller lists. At the same time, it is a list that only reflects those using Amazon to buy and read or listen to books. By contrast, The New York Times compiles its lists from a sampling (according to its own secret formula) of independent and chain booksellers and only tells us what people are buying. Truthfully each is selective.

One thing that Amazon does is provide these lists side by side on its “Best Sellers & More” page that includes its Charts lists side by side with The New York Times best sellers. Granted, the books on the Times list also are linked to Amazon’s site. This page also provides editors picks, hourly updates of print, Kindle, and Audible best sellers, and a list of 100 books to read in a lifetime, curated by Amazon’s editors.

Back to Amazon Charts. For each book on the top 20 “most read” and “most sold” lists, you can see reviews, purchase the book, and read a preview. On some books, such as Sarah J. Maas’ A Court of Wings and Ruin we have a comment like “unputdownable.” There are also indications of whether the books are eligible for “Prime Reading” (a program where Prime Members can read the book for free) or “Kindle Unlimited” programs.

Obviously, this is designed to drive sales on the Amazon site for those wanting to buy the latest best sellers. Why not? I am not usually that interested in best sellers, unless it is something I want to review, in which case I want to get the book and review it while it is trending. (So such lists do have uses beyond driving sales).

My wife does something online that suggests another use for Amazon Charts. She uses online sites to “pre-shop” so she can decide whether she wants to buy a particular item at a local store. I think Amazon Charts is a great way to pre-shop for books that you might want to browse at a local store and purchase. But then, I think brick and mortar stores are a cultural good that ought to be preserved. Whether or not you agree with my book buying preferences, “Charts” offers another site to learn about the latest and best in books.

The Death of Incentivized Reviews

AmazonAmazon announced a new policy on October 3 concerning incentivized reviews. These are reviews given in exchange for a free or discounted product. In the past, they permitted these reviews on their website if the reviewer disclosed their relationship with the product provider. These reviews can provide useful information, but also can be used to manipulate Amazon’s product rating system.

That caught my attention. A number of the books I review I receive as advance review copies (ARCs) from publishers. Often, the publishers request reviewers to post reviews on Amazon and other sites and I have done this, always with the disclosure that the book was provide by the publisher in exchange for an unbiased review, the same disclosure I use on the blog. I immediately wondered if I would be able to post reviews on Amazon any more (not that I want to–I only post these when requested). And with that, I wondered if publishers would scale back on review programs.

I had to read to the very end to find this statement:

“The above changes will apply to product categories other than books. We will continue to allow the age-old practice of providing advance review copies of books.”

That makes me curious, though. Why are books exempted from this policy? Is it just that we reviewers hew to a higher standard of ethics in our reviews? Are reviewers less likely to give favorable reviews just because the publisher provided them with free books? Personally, I would have to answer “yes” and “yes.” I fundamentally see reviews as honest attempts to fairly represent a book’s strengths and flaws as I see them. I feel like my primary constituency are those who follow my blog or reviews on Goodreads or LibraryThing. The reviews I post on Amazon are simply a cut and paste, occasionally shortened versions. My ratings are the same as on Goodreads and LibraryThing. A book has to be extraordinary to get a 5 star rating from me. Most ARCs aren’t that good. And I actually prefer that people buy books through brick and mortar booksellers if at all possible. I do not, as a rule, provide Amazon links in my reviews because I do not give preference to one vendor.

Even though I may prefer brick and mortar booksellers, and even though publishers have an uneasy, at best, relationship with this online bookseller, Amazon nevertheless represents a significant part of books sales. Because of this, I could see a case for why publishers and book reviewers have been exempted. Amazon reviews are a key factor in book-buying decisions. Even when people are in a physical bookstore, they can access Amazon reviews of a book that looks interesting.  Everyone seems to benefit.

The area where I could see the greatest possibility for manipulation of ratings is in the category of self-published books. Here is where I could see reviews being limited to verified purchasers and requiring disclosure of any relationship with the author. I would suspect it would be easy to solicit lots of favorable reviews from friends. Occasionally, there have been cases of authors being slammed with one star reviews from rivals.

Amazon’s policy change should serve as a warning for book reviewers who post on Amazon. You might kill the goose that is laying the golden eggs for you, and the rest of us. If there are enough complaints about abuses to the ratings, Amazon could limit ratings to verified purchasers. Amazon might even extend its Amazon Vine program to book reviewers. Amazon, not the vendor, selects reviewers whose reviews they consider helpful and trustworthy to review new and pre-release products. I don’t think that will happen with books, but much will depend on those of us who post the reviews–will we be honest in our disclosures and balanced in our reviews?

As I said, this doesn’t matter that much to me, except that a change in policy could change the availability of ARC’s. If it weren’t for publisher requests, I wouldn’t post on Amazon. I’d actually hate having to be certified as an Amazon trusted reviewer. That seems a form of manipulation as well. As in other matters, it seems here as well that freedom and responsibility go hand in hand.

Tim Spalding, Founder of LibraryThing

tim_1_grandeSomehow, it just seems like the kind of thing a Greek and Latin graduate student with free lance experience in web development would do. It began as a pet project of Tim’s to catalog his own books, and those of his book-loving friends. And so began the first social book cataloging site. launched on August 29, 2005.

What made this thing go, it appears, is that Spalding is a computer geek who leveraged experience in Houghton-Mifflin’s instructional technology division to acquire the tech savvy for an enterprise like LibraryThing. As he put the site together, he realized it was better than anything out there at the time. To help finance the effort, he sold a portion of the company to Abebooks, now owned by Amazon. So Amazon, which also owns GoodReads and Shelfari, does have an interest in LibraryThing. Spalding still holds the largest share of his company. He is fairly adamant about providing alternatives to the Amazon/GoodReads world. He wrote on the “talk” page of LibraryThing:

“We need to embrace being the “un-Amazon” and “un-Goodreads.” If they zag, we should zig. This is the way I like it—I find Goodreads too pushy on the social side, too cavalier about user data and–on average–not as intellectual as LibraryThing can be(1). So I want to be unlike them. But it’s also good business practices. If you want a ham sandwich, Goodreads will give you one. We need to be the site for people who hate ham sandwiches…. Trust me or don’t, but my motives are pretty pure. I like my job and I’m not looking to flip the company to Amazon or anyone else.”

One of the big things Spalding has done is integrate capabilities to search and incorporate library information from over 1000 libraries using Z39.50 connections (a data sharing protocol) that allows users to access cataloging information available through Dublin Core and MARC records. At the same time, Spalding is zealous in protecting user privacy. No email is required to set up an account and collections can be set to private, so that no one need see the books you have.

In a 2006 interview with Abebooks, he describes the features of the site he developed in this way:

“The idea is simple: You enter an ISBN, a title or a keyword, and it picks up the rest from Amazon, the Library of Congress or over 30 libraries around the world. Deweys, LC Call Numbers and MARC Records are all available. Once you’ve entered some books, the system points you to other users with eerily similar tastes. You can start a conversation with them or just browse their libraries to get ideas. The system also generates great automatic recommendations; it turns out “people who OWN X also own Y” can be more interesting than “people who BOUGHT X also bought Y.” I had cataloged my books one way or another since childhood, and making LibraryThing was a dream for a few years before I went ahead with it. I barely hoped that it would eventually repay the month of programming it took to launch the basic service, but it took off beyond my wildest dreams.”

A significant part of LibraryThing’s business is with libraries. LibraryThing for Libraries provides information that enhances online library catalogs. This helped me understand how they stay afloat. I wondered how they did it on annual memberships of $10.

Tim Spalding lives in Portland, Maine with his wife, author Lisa Carey, and their son Liam. Among the books he is currently reading according to his LibraryThing page are John P. Meier’s A Marginal Jew: Rethinking the Historical Jesus, Enrico Ascalone’s Mesopotamia: Assyrians, Sumerians, Babylonians, and J.R. Ward’s Lover Avenged.


The State of Book Selling 2016

Amazon Books

Amazon’s first brick and mortar store

Yesterday I wrote about the trends of print and e-book sales and the future of both media and suggested that both will continue to be with us. I touched as well on textbooks and preferred media for these, indicating that students continue to favor print, and for good reason.

What does all this mean for book selling? It is interesting that indie bookstores reported a 4.7 percent gain in revenue this past year.It seems that “buy local” programs in many cities have contributed to this sales growth. Publishers Weekly reports that 60 new indie stores opened in 2015, continuing a trend from 2014 when 59 new stores opened. I’ve observed a trend of local booksellers becoming increasingly savvy at cultivating clientele, and making their stores attractive “third places” through author readings, book and writing groups, coffee and wine bars, and attention to service. Still, they struggle with obtaining credit for business expansion and also pricing practices that favor the large buyers.

This may be a crazy idea, but given that e-books will continue to be with us, I wonder if there might be a way people could purchase e-books through indie bookstores. If stores serve as a showroom for books, might there be a way they can benefit from e-book sales when people prefer this format? This means either a competitive alternative to Apple and Amazon, or some arrangement with these online sellers. One advantage of the latter would be a chance to support rather than compete with “buy local” movements. Probably won’t happen.

Barnes and Noble also showed a slight increase in profit with print and college sales offsetting losses in their Nook market. But this chain continues to retrench and it is facing a new challenge with Amazon opening its first brick and mortar store in Seattle and rumored to be planning additional openings. It will be interesting to see how “brick and mortar” Amazon competes with online Amazon!

What has been less covered but may be equally significant for Barnes and Noble is that Amazon has begun opening Campus Pick-up Points at various universities including UC Berkeley, UC Santa Barbara, University of Cincinnati, Purdue University, and University of Massachusetts at Amherst. For now these simply serve as a pick up point for students ordering textbooks who may have difficulties receiving them at campus addresses. They also offer faster delivery of orders for Amazon Prime or Amazon Student members. This could be a serious challenge to Barnes and Noble as well. Nearly 30% of their revenues are in college sales.

As with the books we buy, where we buy them and in what form will continue to shape this industry going forward. The question of how important the physical community in which we do commerce is to the kinds of lives we want to lead will have a big part in determining the mix of local independent merchants, large retail concerns, and online sellers in our future.

What?…Amazon Has Opened a Bookstore?

Amazon Books

It seems like the ultimate reversal. The online giant whose presence has driven brick and mortar bookstores out of business…has opened a brick and mortar bookstore, and may open more.

Publisher’s Weekly posted an article today taking readers into the Amazon Books brick and mortar store located in Seattle opposite the University of Washington campus. And at first glance, it looks like…a bookstore. Apart from a center section where one can purchase the various Amazon devices, most of the store is filled with books. Pictures I’ve seen portray a clean, visually appealing layout. But there are some differences:

  • Inventory. Amazon Books has about 5,000 to 6,000 books in stock, far less than the giant Barnes & Nobles stores.
  • Presentation. All books are face out rather than spine out, one reason for fewer titles.
  • Recommendations. Every book comes with a placard below it with its Amazon rating, a customer review and the number who have rated it.
  • Pricing. No prices appear on or below the book. Pricing varies just as it does online at Amazon. To find the price of a book, you either need to scan its barcode with the Amazon app on your phone, check it at a kiosk in the store, or get an associate to assist you.
  • Stocking. Amazon bases its stocking on book ratings and sales figures. Only books rated 4.0 or higher are stocked.

In this store at least, the strongest categories are children’s, young adult, best sellers, and genre fiction but there are also graphic novels, and a shelf of local authors.

Obviously I have not visited this store and so am judging it on the accounts of others (it just opened to the public on Wednesday). My first impression is that it strikes me as a more sophisticated version of the bookstores one finds in major airports. This sounds like a place to find the books most people are reading as quickly as possible, and perhaps learn of some books you hadn’t heard of through the tags with customer reviews. My hunch is that this will appeal to many people. Not so much to me, perhaps, but then I’m a bit eccentric in reading tastes!

Some things I’m not sure I like about this:

  • Hanging so much on Amazon reviews. This is a flawed system (see my post on “Of Sockpuppets and Fake Reviews“). Until Amazon cleans this up (including tough penalties for sellers as well as fake reviewers) I suspect that some worthy titles will never find a space on their physical shelves and others will that might actually be trash. Hopefully, some latitude will be given to people who know books and not just to heuristics.
  • It occurs to me that having to use a phone app to check pricing gives Amazon a whole new source of data about their customers. Might be worth checking what that app has access to!
  • I know this doesn’t matter to many people, but will it have a personality? Or will it have the personality of a fast-food operation–efficient but soulless? It is encouraging that they do seem to be featuring local writers.
  • Most of all, what many of us like about the indie stores and used bookstores is the chance to discover an unusual title, maybe in a less popular genre, or a book that is backlist or out of print of real merit. It doesn’t sound like I will find such books at Amazon Books (though possibly online).

My hunch is that Amazon will quickly figure out how to make this a pleasant and efficient experience for those who frequent the store. And I understand that you will be able to use online credits on your Amazon account in the store. I do wonder how their associates will handle it when they discover customers who treat the store as a showroom, but decide to buy their books online, or reserve them at their library! Amazon may finally find out what it is like to be in the shoes of the other guys. At the same time, if I were the other guys, I’d be watching what they do well and upping my game.

Of Sockpuppets and Fake Reviews

AmazonI had one of those “it’s about time” moments recently when I learned that Amazon is suing 1,114 people who have posted false reviews on its site. In most cases the review is provided by the purveyor of the product. The “reviewers” created a false online identity (a “sockpuppet”) and fake IP address. They worked through a site called Fiverr, where every service is offered for the price of $5 and agreed to post the fake review on the Amazon site for the particular product.

Despite Amazon’s stated terms, it has been know that Amazon is a kind of wild west (as are other sites like Yelp) where people get friends to write glowing reviews of whatever they are selling. Authors have even been known to create sockpuppet accounts to promote their own books. Likewise, there is the phenomenon of the malicious review, often from other authors trying to self-publish. This is a good article from Forbes published back in 2012 describing this phenomenon.

I suspect most of us have read Amazon product reviews and even weighed them in considering purchase of a product. I certainly have. Most of us probably intuit when a review seems fake or too good to be true. For those who struggle with this, I found this article on “How to Spot a Fake Review on Amazon.”

I would also confess that I have written a few Amazon reviews but I do not routinely re-post reviews from my blog on Amazon. I do this under two circumstances. One is when I have received a review copy of a book and the publisher explicitly requests an Amazon review. In this case, I disclose the relationship. The other instance has been a couple of instances when I’ve written a review on my blog and they’ve subsequently asked me if I would post it on Amazon. In the couple instances where I did this, I bought the book, my friends did not know in advance that I was reviewing it, and they did not have other reviews of the work on Amazon. In all cases the review is posted first to my blog, sometimes in more extended form.

My hunch is that many reviews posted on Amazon are honest reviews. Often the ones that are neither 5 star nor 1 star seem to have a balance to them, both what is good and what is not. So it is gratifying to see Amazon trying to clean up its act. However, what will really persuade me is when Amazon goes after the product sellers who are paying for these fake reviews. Banning them permanently from Amazon, and if they can get away with it legally, publishing the names of all those who pay for reviews would prove to be a significant disincentive. If Amazon doesn’t ban a product seller who they know engages in this fraudulent practice, then they are complicit in this.

What puzzles me is that people are posting fake reviews for $5. Now I suspect that if they do it numerous times, it can pay off. But to make $2500 a month, they have to do this 500 times, every month! One wonders how smart these people are. It reminds me of the person who must have purchased a skimmed credit card number of ours and made a $1.92 purchase that got flagged by our credit card issuer who froze the card immediately. Dumb. And, with Amazon’s suit, this just got dumber.

Using Amazon product reviews is probably the lazy person’s approach, one I’d admit to taking. On consumer goods, a consumer review publication is probably both more rigorous and reliable and you can access this at your library. For books and other media there are also reputable review publications, plus a whole cloud of us independent-minded bloggers. Find those whose judgments about things you’ve already purchased agree with yours or whose recommendations you’ve tried to your benefit.

Ethical reviewers neither conceal their identities nor any connection with the product they are reviewing. Better yet, they keep an arm’s length relationship if possible. For more thoughts on this, I wrote last year on Ethics for Reviewers.

Several posts I read including this one dealt with the contention that “everyone is doing it.” Truth is, a number of us write reviews for our own sheer interest in discussing the things we read or watch or use. And a number of writers, publishers and other product manufacturers do want their work to stand on its own merit. Everyone is not doing it.

We really have to ask ourselves whether we want to live in a culture of lies. If we tolerate a culture of deceit, what will we do when we really want someone to believe us? Peter can cry “wolf” too many times.

Kindle Scout and the Hopes of One Aspiring Author

surrealitycoverscoutKindle Scout. No this is not a new kind of Kindle, nor is it an app to help you find your lost Kindle. Rather it is a publishing program that Amazon has created in which readers help decide if a new book will get published through Kindle Press. If a book is selected (which is not based on nominations alone) the author gets a $1500 advance, a five year contract with their book published by Kindle Press, 50% royalties on net revenue, and rights of reversion. And all who nominate a book get a free e-copy if it is selected. You need to have an Amazon account to nominate a book.

Ben TrubeIn the interests of full disclosure, my son, an aspiring author, has a book (Surreality) in this program right now (cover above). Each book is listed on the Kindle Scout site for 30 days. My son’s can be viewed here, which includes a synopsis, cover photo, excerpt of the first three chapters, and an author profile. I’m totally biased here, but having read an early draft (since professionally edited), I think it’s a pretty good read. I hope you will take a look, and if you like what you see, nominate the book which the Kindle Scout site says is “hot” right now.

Since I write on books, reading, publishing and other things, I decided to look into this program, which seems to provide an alternative for aspiring authors who want to break into the publishing world. At the same time, this is, well, Amazon.

Probably the most significant thing any aspiring author should do is carefully read the submission and publishing agreement. It is probably advisable to have your attorney review this. Once you submit your work to Kindle Scout, it is a binding contract. And because it is a contract written by Amazon and not negotiated between you and Amazon, you can bet that it favors their interests. Be absolutely sure you know what your rights are (particularly rights of reversion), what Amazon’s rights are to your work if selected, and how royalty payments are calculated and made.

Victoria Strauss has posted a good summary of pros and cons on the Writer Beware website. The big pros include:

  • The $1500 advance if your work is selected.
  • If your book is selected and you earn less that $25,000 over 5 years, or less than $500 in any 12 month period after the first two years, you can request reversion of your rights to the book.
  • There is also the prospect of having Amazon promote your book. What promotion they do is up to Amazon, but if they promote the book, that can have a huge impact on sales, and on your visibility as an author.
  • You retain the right to publish print versions of your work.

There are some caveats as well:

  • When you enter the program, you cannot shop your manuscript elsewhere for 45 days.
  • You should consider professionally editing your book, although Kindle Publishing may also do so at their discretion. Authors have reported this but the only guarantee of your work being top quality is to have this done yourself.
  • Amazon may register copyright for you but they are not obligated to do so.
  • This is not strictly a crowd-sourcing way to get a book published. Interest is considered but the final decision is up to the Kindle Scout people.
  • Only certain genres are included: Romance, Mystery and Thriller, and SF/Fantasy.
  • Amazon sets the prices at which your work is sold.
  • If you are selected, you cannot sell your work on other e-book platforms like Nook or Google.

What this seems to represent is a third way alternative between traditional publishing and self-publishing. If selected, the author does make some immediate cash and has the potential of benefiting from Amazon’s promotional heft. Some would argue that you might do better just self-publishing which may provide a better royalty arrangement, but lacks any promotion aside from the promotion you do yourself (or can persuade your social network to do).

This just sounds like life, where there are always trade-offs. If my son is selected (or not) I may have more to pass along from first hand experience.