Another open letter to Jeff Bezos
I’m sure that many of you in Romancelandia have been hearing about the michigas surrounding bookstuffers and how they’re leaching money out of Kindle Unlimited at an astounding rate. This is something that will affect readers as well as writers, because if enough authors can’t make a living with their books and have to take other jobs to pay the bills, it means less books to read apart from yet another variant on The Dirty Billionaires Next Door And Their Secret Baby (A Compilation).
Christ, I hope that’s not a real book.
Anyway, it turns out that anyone can write an email to Jeff Bezos, the head honcho at Amazon, and so I have just sent off the following letter. If you’re an author tired of seeing your KU income dwindle in favor of some faceless businessman using underhanded tactics to pimp their “compilation” on KU, or you’re a reader tired of wading through acres of prettily covered crap in hopes of finding a decent book, you might want to write him, as well. There’s strength in numbers, and if Amazon realizes that this could hit their bottom line they will take action.
Dear Mr. Bezos:
My name is Melanie Fletcher. I write SF under my own name and romance under the name Nicola Cameron, and since November 2015 I’ve also been able to self-publish my work using the Kindle Direct Publishing system. At first, I was absolutely delighted with KDP; it gave me an opportunity to publish novels that weren’t easily marketable by the Big Five publishers in NYC, and I was able to build on my readership with my first self-pubbed novel, Empress of Storms. Empress wound up earning a little over $16,000, mainly via Amazon, and that gave me hope for a viable career as an independent author.
Except that Empress’s sequel, Palace of Scoundrels, didn’t do nearly as well as the first book. Sequels rarely match the success of the first book in a series, but Palace’s sales were unusually lackluster considering that there had been numerous requests for a sequel and I performed all the same promotion activities that I used for Empress. The reviews for Palace were uniformly good, from Amazon reviewers as well as from professional review sites, so its drop in sales puzzled me.
But I shrugged it off as a learning experience and wrote a SF romance, thinking that putting out a separate title might help. It didn’t sell well. I went back and wrote another sequel for Empress. It didn’t sell well. I then wrote a contemporary romantic comedy, one of the most popular subgenres of romance there is. You can guess how the sales went for that. I’ve done due diligence on all my books with regards to promotion — purchasing advertising for them, sending out review copies, haunting social media to talk them up, appearing at romance conventions to advertise them, everything that a legitimate indie author needs to do in order to get the word out about their book.
But despite uniformly good reviews, both on and off Amazon, my sales were getting increasingly worse despite a growing backlist. I spoke with other indie authors and they all complained about the same thing—their sales at Amazon were plummeting. When an indie author such as Sam Crescent, who has a huge, loyal fanbase and can produce titles monthly, was seeing her sales dwindling, I didn’t have a shot in hell of saving my career.
And then I learned about bookstuffers who were gaming the KU system. I’m sure you’ve well aware of the situation by now and how they use scam tactics such as adding extra books to a title and instructing their readers to flip to the end in order to have all the pages register as having been read. Not only are they driving out legitimate authors from KU, but their tactics then gamed Amazon’s ranking algorithms and pushed them into bestseller slots that, frankly, they didn’t deserve. This hijacking of Amazon’s ranking system has had a number of unfortunate knock-on effects — it’s rendered Amazon’s ranking system is no longer a reliable tool for readers searching for new titles and authors, and it’s pushed legitimate indie authors like me completely out of the spotlight. As for KU, I can’t afford to put my books in it anymore. I would have to have tens of thousands of page reads of my titles just to match a bookstuffer’s “compilation.”
Mr. Bezos, I don’t want the KU system to shut down. Not only does it makes you money, but it allows a LOT of readers who don’t have extra cash for books to read as much as they like, and maybe even find a new favorite author. I’ve included my titles in KU for that very purpose before I realized it was losing me income and had to stop. I would love to be able to put my books in KU again, but for that to happen it needs to be made equitable. Changing your terms of service to forbid more than 10% of “extra” material in a book will not stop bookstuffers—they’ll just find another way to game the system, as they already have by labeling their stuffed books “compilations.” I am begging you to have your programming team take a good, hard look at KU and come up with a robust method of monitoring it and preventing such abuses. Pattern analysis that recognizes extra material already in KU as a standalone title, or repetitive use of extra material in multiple titles (where a bookstuffer publishes Book A with BCDEF extra material, Book B with CDEFA extra material, Book C with DEFAB extra material, etc.) and flags a title for removal is one way of doing this. I know this would be a serious undertaking, but sir, I’ve heard from numerous readers who are now saying that they’ve been burned too many times by KU scammers and are cancelling KU or will only read Big Five books or titles from trusted authors. This is what the bookstuffers have done with their rampant abuse of KU; while they’re only hurting my bottom line at the moment, if they keep driving people away from KU they’ll eventually start hurting yours as well.
Thank you for your attention to this matter.
Melanie Fletcher/Nicola Cameron