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text 2017-10-25 19:14
Follow-up to Over Priced at $0.00 -- How the scam worked
Promised to an Earl: Arranged Marriage Historical Romance (Victorian Historical Romance) - Joyce Carroll

Disclosure:  I obtained the Kindle edition of this book when it was offered free on 6 January 2016.  I do not know the author nor have I ever had any communication with her about this book or any other matter.  I am an author of adult fiction and general interest non-fiction.

 

 

 

Thanks to comments by Darth Pony and Alexandra's Adventures in Books to my original "Over Priced at $0.00,"  I did some further research on how the scammers have operated to screw over readers -- and writers! -- via the Kindle Unlimited program.  Because I already had this item purchased and downloaded, it provides perfect material for analysis.

 

As you can see from the above screen shot (taken today), this item is now listed at $0.99 and is not available for Kindle Unlimited reading.  The lone Amazon review is a one-star warning not to buy the book.

 

According to the product information, this "book" is now 37 pages long.

 

 

Here's how the scam worked.

 

When Kindle Unlimited began, authors were paid the full royalty on any KU book the reader turned 10% of the pages.  This quickly proved too easy to scam, so the process was changed.  Authors were then paid a set amount per page turned (whether actually read or not).  It was still easy to pad books by double or triple spacing, leaving blank pages between chapters, and so on.  At that point Amazon came up with Kindle Edition Normalized Pages ("KENP"), which basically amounts to counting pages by equivalent words.  The current approximation is ~187 words per page, and the current royalty payment is ~$0.005 (one half cent) per KENP.

 

What the scammers did was to bundle dozens (literally dozens) of these short books/stories into a single volume, slap a cover and title on it, and publish it via Kindle Direct Publishing and enroll it in the KU program.  One book, of course, wouldn't be enough to rake in lots of royalties, so they took the same dozens of stories, shuffled the order, and republished them in other collections.  With new covers and new titles, they looked like another whole product, even though they weren't.

 

(I have some more of these in my Kindle collection and I'll try to locate and post more screen shots later.)

 

Once the reader was enticed to download the book via KU, she encountered various enticements, such as this:

 

 

Yes, "at the very end of this Book."  But, look at the number at the very bottom of this page:  116459. 

 

By comparison, Marsha Canham's full-length historical romance Bound by the Heart only yields 6801 "locations."  (These are not actual pages; I'm not sure exactly what measurement is used.)

 

 

A single click to the end of 116,459 brought the scammers 17 times the KU royalty that a full-length novel by a real author would have brought.  If the reader found out the material was crappy, she didn't much care, because it came "free" with her monthly KU subscription.  There really wasn't much incentive to leave a negative review, and it would only have taken more of her time, which she may have already considered wasted.  Why waste more on a negative review?

 

Whether "Joyce Carroll" really is a New York Times bestselling author remains to be discovered.  She may have been one of those who sold a big bunch of books in a collection for $0.99 and ended up on some list.  Again, it's a scam.

 

Now, are readers hurt by this?  Well, they are if they spend good money on this crap.  I confess I haven't actually looked at the "Promised to an Earl" story yet, but the others I looked at were pretty poor fare.  Still, most KU readers probably only look at the time they spent on books they otherwise wouldn't have read, because there's no actual money involved for them.

 

Authors, however, are directly impacted.

 

The KU pool is determined by Amazon each month, and it is then divided amongst the participating books by those KENPs actually turned.  To give you an idea of how that works out, my book The Looking-Glass Portrait is listed at 391 pages on Kindle; Marsha Canham's book is listed at 406, so pretty darn close to equal.  LGP is calculated to have 827 KENPs.  So this scam book "Promised to an Earl" generated roughly $68.00 in royalties each time someone clicked on that link to take them to the end of the book for a freebie.

 

Sixty-eight dollars.

 

That $68.00 was pulled out of the pool of funds available to the authors who actually wrote books and lent them via Kindle Unlimited.

 

And we don't know how many of these scam books were actually listed.

 

Here's the review I did of one, however, along with one page from the text to show spacing and the location amount on the bottom.

 

 

Apparently Amazon has tried to rein in some of these scam books.  I don't know if The Second Sister has been trimmed down so it doesn't add up the KENPs; I'll check later.

 

But, friends and fellow readers, this is just another reason why negative reviews are important.  This is why we can't just shrug our shoulders and say "There's nothing I can do about it."  These tactics are wrong.  They hurt real authors, and they hurt real readers by depriving them of the well-written books real authors are putting out there.

 

Deal with it, Anne Rice. Deal with it.

 

 

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review SPOILER ALERT! 2016-12-14 05:34
Suspicious minds
The Semper Sonnet - Seth J. Margolis

When Stephanie at Stephanie's Book Reviews reviewed this book, I was intrigued enough to check it out on Amazon.  The Kindle edition was only 99 cents. so I splurged and bought it.

 

Disclosure:  I paid the full retail price for the Kindle edition.  I do not know the author, nor have I ever had any contact with him about this book or any other matter.  I am an author of contemporary gothic and historical romances.

 

This is not really a review, since I've only read a couple chapters and may or may not read any more.  But I'm so disgusted by what I found that I feel compelled to post this information.  As an author, I cannot post it on Amazon; authors are not allowed to post negative comments/reviews.

 

I know virtually nothing about the publisher of this item, Diversion Books of New York City.  They have a website that makes them look professional, and they seem to have a number of authors and titles in their catalogue.  But I personally would never recommend them to anyone, based on my reading of the opening chapters of this book.

 

Editors are supposed to fix errors.  Although editors are human and make mistakes, they shouldn't make big fat obvious ones.

 

 

Screen shot from K4PC

 

 

 

 

Copied text from later in the same chapter:

 

Lee Nicholson would not be wounded. She would not bleed.

Margolis, Seth. The Semper Sonnet (Kindle Location 245). Diversion Books. Kindle Edition.

 

Copied text from the next chapter:

 

“You haven’t been charged with anything, Miss Nichols.”

Margolis, Seth. The Semper Sonnet (Kindle Location 292). Diversion Books. Kindle Edition.

Copied text from later in the next chapter:

 

Where would she go?

“Miss Nichols?”

Detective Lowry was staring at her with something verging on concern.

Margolis, Seth. The Semper Sonnet (Kindle Locations 317-318). Diversion Books. Kindle Edition.

 

 

And later:

 

“Leslie Nichols?”

She turned from her dresser to face one of the plainclothes men sifting through every item in her bedroom.

“I’m known as Lee. Lee Nichols.”

Margolis, Seth. The Semper Sonnet (Kindle Locations 365-367). Diversion Books. Kindle Edition.

 

An error like that is pretty much unforgivable.  I caught it on a first reading late at night when I was tired as hell.

 

Names are important . They are one of the first identifiers of a character.  They can also stop a reader in her tracks if they're wrong or jarring or . . . too familiar.

 

From early in Chapter 1:

 

Her mentor at Columbia, David Eddings, had assured her that it was her looks and not her scholarship that had landed her a spot on the news.

Margolis, Seth. The Semper Sonnet (Kindle Locations 224-225). Diversion Books. Kindle Edition.

 

David Eddings was a well-known author of several best-selling fantasy series.  Coming across an unusual name of a real person like this is a jolt that pulls a reader out of the make-believe world of the novel.  Had the name been Donald Eddings or David Geddings, I would never have noticed it.  But I did notice "David Eddings" and was immediately on alert.

 

When the main character's name changed from "Lee Nicholson" to "Lee Nichols," the importance of the other name doubled.  "Leigh Nichols" is one of the many pseudonyms of another best-selling author, Dean Koontz.

(spoiler show)

 

 

Had this been a self-published book, I probably would have stopped reading at that point and just posted a DNF review.  There were other elements of the plot that bothered me even at less than 4% into the book, but I could have overlooked those if I felt confident of the writing.  But because it was published by a third party, I decided to do a little more research.

 

The first stop was Amazon, to see what the reviews were like.  Oh man, oh man, oh man, here we go again.

 

The Semper Sonnet's dedication:

 

For Jean Naggar

Margolis, Seth. The Semper Sonnet (Kindle Location 64). Diversion Books. Kindle Edition.

 

 From the Amazon page for the book:

 

 

Full transparency my ass.

 

Oh, and that 1 comment?  It's Jean Naggar's link to her own book.  Follow that up and you'll find that Ms. Naggar is a literary agent.  I'd be willing to bet she's Seth Margolis's agent.

 

Full transparency my ass.

 

So now I have a really bad taste in my mouth about this author and this book.  I regret spending even 99 cents on it and putting 35 cents in Margolis's bank account, 7 cents of which probably went to Naggar.

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text 2016-10-27 23:49
Speculation regarding Amazon's "new" product review guidelines

http://greywarden.booklikes.com/post/1488937/presenting-amazon-s-early-reviewer-program

 

Not sure whether reblogging would mess things up worse, but I didn't want to hijack the original post with a huge long reply.  Then again, that may have been the best solution.  Oh, well, I usually screw things up anyway, so what the heck.  I'll cross reference this to it just in case.

 

Disclosure I:  I do not and will not review anything on Amazon.  As an author, I'm restricted to posting only positive reviews of books like might be close to my genre, which currently means anything in the romance category, plus paranormal/fantasy and mystery/suspense.  Rather than risk losing my KDP privileges, I just don't review anything.

 

Disclosure II:  Being banned from Goodreads for daring to call out shills and unethical authors, I don't review there either.  I never had any secret accounts there and have never attempted to set up any.  I have no interest in being on a site where I can't be honest, or where the dishonest are given more credibility, visibility, and leeway than I am.

 

After reading the Amazon info that Grey Warden posted in the linked blog and the subsequent discussions there and on Obsidian Black Death's reblog, I took about an hour away from the computer and did some thinking.  Which leads to - - - - -

 

Disclosure III:  As an author re-entering the publishing arena with new material, rather than just republishing old stuff, I have ulterior motives.  I do not have the means to pay for promotion, and I'm uncomfortable doing it myself, so I have relied on occasional mentions of my work here and on Facebook, then on word of mouth (or fingers, as the case may be).  I DO NOT READ ANY OF MY REVIEWS, but I do track my sales and sales ranking, and that requires a glance at the listing for my book on Amazon.  (I do not look at Goodreads or any other site, including BL)  As of this afternoon, the book has 7 reviews and an average of something around four stars.  I'm happy.  I have no idea who reviewed it or what they wrote, but my sales and Kindle Unlimited reads have been satisfying.  I sent out exactly one free ARC; all other copies have been purchased at full retail price or borrowed through Kindle lending programs.

 

With all of that out of the way, some observations and speculations.

 

Though it's been over three years since the Amazon merger with Goodreads and the subsequent GR September Purge, my belief is that Amazon has been under some pressure -- perhaps from the FTC but perhaps internal pressure -- to clean up the review mess.  I haven't even followed this "coupon club" issue, but from what I saw today, it looks like just another venue for scamming, and Amazon already has enough of that.

 

The fake reviews, whether they come from fiverr, from indie blogger shills, from review swap groups, or from reviewers who like the freebies that come with high reviewer ranking, could only hurt Amazon's brand.  I think we all know this.  And while Amazon may be the biggest online retailer and have a huge, huge, huge share of the SPA ebook market, thousands of five-star reviews for crap products could not be good for their brand.

 

If there were threats of enforcement from the FTC, that would make it even worse.

 

So down comes the hammer on the shills on 3 October, and now, less than a month later, a new program designed/hoped to further restrict the fake reviews.

 

The key part of the Early Rewards program, in my opinion, is that the product has to be purchased from Amazon.  This prevents sellers from shipping out freebies to solicit reviews.  It does not, however, weed out the organized shills, such as on fiverr, who simply charge the price of the product so they can buy it and review it and get the "verified purchase" tag.  And in the event of fulfillment by Seller, rather than by Amazon, more shenanigans are possible.

 

If the ER program is limited to fulfillment by Amazon, that problem may be taken care of.

 

But the real problem is still being masked, and that is the issue of Amazon selling crap products.  It's not the reviews that are hurting their brand; it's the crap they're allowing to flood their marketplace.

 

A year ago, when Amazon launched their Handmade @ Amazon platform, sellers had to apply and be accepted before they could list items in the marketplace.  Once a Seller was approved, they could pretty much list just about anything within the parameters; they weren't required to have new products juried in.  Though I haven't done any research at all, I suspect there are some sellers in the H@A marketplace who are selling items that would not have passed the original vetting process.  There's nothing *I* can do about it, though Amazon should take a hand in policing it.  They probably don't and probably won't.

 

Because they're so damn greedy and want every single selling fee they can get their hands on, consumers be damned AND sellers be damned.

 

There are crafters and artisans who will not list on H@A because they don't want to deal with the policies of the customer is always right and refunds are always given to quell complaints.  This has fostered an attitude amongst sellers -- it's rampant on eBay, too -- that the customer must be satisfied at all costs to avoid any kind of negative feedback.   Some Amazon sellers are successful enough that they can afford this kind of refund-on-demand, but others can't and are intimidated by it.  This, of course, encourages the purchasing of positive reviews, and it's what has gotten everything so messed up.

 

(The review policy on Etsy.com is much more restrictive -- only persons who have purchased the item can review it, and they can only review that specific product.  The system gets gamed, but not as badly as Amazon or Goodreads.)

 

At some point, Amazon may find itself forced to restrict what products it allows independent sellers to list on the site.  Attempts to regulate reviews and reviewers may simply not be enough, because if there are sellers who are trying to game the product system in the first place, they will continue to find ways to game the review system.

 

And at some point also, Amazon may very well have to take a position on how it justifies treating books as a separate product category.

 

Why is an ARC of a book any less of a free product than a bottle of organic vitamins or a non-stick waffle iron or a solar-powered phone charger?

 

Furthermore, why is a perma-free Kindle book, downloaded 20,000 times to get 100 five-star reviews, any less an incentive?

 

And what about the incentives and solicitations listed in the books themselves, encouraging readers to leave good reviews so the author can sell more?

 

How will all of the new regulations -- not just the October 3rd memo with its requirement that the reviewer have purchased $50 worth of merchandise but this new program and any others -- affect reviews on Goodreads?  They are no less sales devices than the reviews on Amazon, and I have a feeling it wouldn't take me long to find that some of our favorite fiverr shills are still at work there.  (The last time I looked was a few months ago, and it took me about ten minutes to locate the first one and then tie it to an Amazon review.)

 

Amazon wants the best of all worlds.  They want to sell all the products all the time, but they only want legit reviews, and preferably positive ones that sell product.  They don't want the hassle of vetting the products -- or the legal liability that would come with it -- but they want all products under the Amazon brand.  I think this newest program is an attempt -- and it has both strengths and weaknesses that I can see -- to clean up a horrific mess of their own making, but without actually cleaning it up.

 

As long as Goodreads is under the Amazon umbrella, there will be just as much dishonesty there as on Amazon, and perhaps much more.  Will GR start requiring purchases from Amazon in order to review?  What about reviews for out-of-print books not for sale on Amazon, or only on sale through affiliate/independent sellers?  What about reviews of library books, borrowed from friends?  Many of these books may not even be listed on Amazon.

 

If reviews are restricted on Amazon -- which they should have been from the beginning -- because Amazon is a retail site, will authors/publishers turn to Goodreads for shilling?  Will Goodreads be able to regulate it?  Or will Goodreads have to start instituting the same kind of restrictions as on Amazon?

 

I think that down the road, this new program by Amazon is going to have a big impact on book bloggers.  If ARCs and Kindle freebies are allowed to be reviewed, then why not free products in exchange for reviews?  And if free products are not permitted, then ARC and freebies should be banned, too.

 

I can't speak for non-book products, but I do believe, in all sincerity, that without a fully independent book reviewing site, this problem is going to continue and continue and get worse long before it gets better.

 

And now I'll shut up.  At least for a while.  Long enough to fix supper.

 

 

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text 2015-10-17 21:58
This didn't take long.

(Edited to provide additional screenshots and to crop others so they are not complete versions, though of course I have those. -- LAWH)

 

How do I feel about this?  Well, Booklikes doesn't have an emoticon for disgusted but not surprised.

 

On fiverr dot com, her name is saffronblossom. 

 

 

 

She claims to have a law degree.

 

 

 She's been selling reviews on fiverr for quite some time.

 

She used to review on Goodreads under the names E. Lovett, Dianne Lucas, and E. Lucas.  All of those accounts were closed in August and September of 2014 -- more than a year ago -- based upon evidence provided to Goodreads that the reviews violated Goodreads' Terms of Service.  E. Lucas is the name under which she reviewed then and continues to review at Amazon.

 

Here is her review of Zay Heron's "Hunt for the Defender" on Amazon.

 

 

Note the date of 7 October 2015.

 

Here is the testimonial posted on Saffronblossom's fiverr profile from zayheron.

 

 

Circumstantial evidence?  Oh, let's go one further.  How much are you willing to bet there's a review within the past two weeks by E. Lucas of a book by Michal Hartstein?

 

 

Here is E. Lucas' Amazon review of "Unrequited" from July 2014.

 

 

 

 

And E. Lovett's review of the same book dated the same day on Goodreads.

 

 

This was sufficient evidence for Goodreads to remove the E. Lovett account in early August 2014.  Saffronblossom came back with another account, Dianne Lucas, which was also removed, and again with another E. Lucas account, which was also removed.  There's a very good possibility that she has returned with another; I gave up in frustration.

 

The point of this is, of course, that she was routinely and repeatedly reported to Goodreads and they dealt with the situation appropriately.

 

 

She was never removed from Amazon.  The review for "Unrequited" is still there under her account.  She has 1146 reviews.  She is a Top 500 reviewer.  She is a fiverr shill.

 

http://www.amazon.com/gp/cdp/member-reviews/A3K1FJNOECNX8R?ie=UTF8&display=public&page=57&sort_by=MostRecentReview

 

Interestingly enough, saffronblossom is not among those named in the complaint filed last week.

 

 

 

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text 2015-10-17 16:07
Re: Amazon Lawsuit against 1,114 fiverr reviewers
 [Text of email I sent to the lawyer who filed the complaint on Amazon's behalf and to the reporter who wrote the article in the Seattle Times about it.  There are two links in the text that may or may not work from this post, but I think anyone here can figure them out.  More later.  -- LAWH]
 
 

Amazon lawsuit against 1,114 fiverr reviewers

To
  • david.bateman@klgates.com
  • jgreene@seattletimes.com
  • Linda A. Hilton

 

In the interest of full disclosure, I am a seller on Amazon. I have four novels and two non-fiction books published through the Kindle Direct Publishing program, and I am also one of the artisans selling on the new Handmade at Amazon platform.  My Handmade shop is Arizona Angel Feathers.
 
 
 
 
image
 
 
 
 
 
Amazon.com: Arizona Angel Feathers: Handmade
I've been a rock hound since early childhood. Moving to Arizona from the Midwest in 1985 allowed me to indulge that passion fully, for Arizona truly is a place of r...
 
Preview by Yahoo
 
 
 
 
I am also a former member of Goodreads, until I was banned for, apparently, telling the truth about the thousands of bogus reviews on that site.  Yes, thousands.  Goodreads, as you know, is owned by Amazon.
 
I tried to report the fake reviews to Amazon, but for some reason or other they never did much about them.  I began at least as long ago as June 2014, and possibly a month or so before that.  Though many of the fake reviews were in fact removed from Goodreads, the same reviews remain to this day at Amazon.
 
After almost a year of researching the fake reviews from fiverr.com that were posted on Amazon and Goodreads and blogging the results of my investigations at Booklikes.com, I posted this in April 2015.
 
 
 
image
 
 
 
 
 
Amazon has always had the ability to stop the fake revie...
Screenshot taken today, 8 April 2015, of the Terms of Service at fiverr.
 
Preview by Yahoo
 
 
 
I don't expect either of you to reply to me.  Mr. Bateman, you are in Amazon's direct pay and are therefore going to present their interests and do nothing that would hinder their efforts, regardless what the end objective of those efforts might be.  Mr. Greene, you write for a Seattle newspaper, and Amazon is one of the twin gods of the region (the other being Microsoft) so I don't expect you to write, or your publisher to publish, anything critical of Amazon.
 
But the information is out there.  It's been out there for a very long time.  I'm not an investigative reporter and I don't have access to anything secret or private or confidential.  What information I obtained was readily available to anyone with the time and curiosity to find it.
 
I have hundreds, perhaps even thousands, of screen shots:  of Amazon reviews, of Goodreads reviews, of fiverr profiles, of fiverr testimonials.  And I have evidence that Amazon has made almost no attempt to protect their own reputation.  Fake reviews have not been removed when Amazon is presented with the evidence. 
 
I'm going to state that again just to make sure you're understanding clearly.
 
Amazon has not removed fake reviews even when presented with the evidence that those reviews were written by fiverr members who were advertising that they would post guaranteed 5-star reviews to Amazon, including evidence that those reviews were paid for by the product sellers, evidence that those reviews were posted in violation of Amazon's Terms of Service and Federal Trade Commission regulations.
 
I've given you a link to just one of my posts on Booklikes.com in which I've documented this information.  You can check out the rest of my posts there, going back to approximately May 2014, for some of the evidence.  I have more.  A lot more.  And I'm not afraid to share it.
 
I also understand that giving you this information puts myself and my ability to sell on Amazon at risk.  I really and truly don't care.  I was sickened when I first discovered the fake reviews, and I'm still sickened.  Amazon has no integrity.  None.  Except to their own bottom line.
 
You have my personal email address.  My home physical address is (removed for Booklikes).  My phone number is (removed for Booklikes).  I only answer the phone if I know who's calling, so if your number comes up and I don't answer, you'll have to leave a message or I'll just delete the number from the log.  I'll get back to you.
 
Sincerely,
 
Linda Ann Wheeler Hilton
 
 
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