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Spammers, Content Farming, and Kindle: One Reason Why Your Book Can’t Be Found in the Abyss

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One of the biggest challenges facing the e-published or self-published author is getting your book into the consciousness of the international reading public. Unfortunately, aside from the huge boom in self-publishing over the past few years as well as trade publishers turning to electronic versions of their new releases and backlists, there’s another threat to the average author: spammers and content farmers are creating e-books and releasing them in the thousands.

For example, some spammers (I refuse to call them writers) are using PLR (Private Label Rights) to buy information inexpensively, format them into ebooks and then releasing them in Kindle versions. Laura Hazard Owen in her March, 2011 article The Kindle Swindle at Publishing Trends.com stated:

“Many ebook vendors don’t check copyright on works that are submitted, and Essex noticed that people are stealing content from the web, quickly creating ebooks about the same topics from multiple angles in order to target different keyword variants, and publishing them—some Kindle authors have “written” thousands of books in a single year.”

In that article, Ms. Owen showed a screen shot of “books” by Manuel Ortiz Brachi. At that time, he had “published” 3,000 books on Kindle — including (to my horror) Through the Looking Glass and What Alice Found There. Following Owen’s lead, I searched Kindle’s store today. I discovered 72 titles (apparently recycled e-content selling for 99 cents each) and the following comment on a sales page:

“We are dedicated to providing our customers with cutting edge information with the latest and most popular ebooks and hot topics at very affordable prices. Our mission is to create positive change in your life. We carry hundreds of unique titles including ‘Literary Classics’ under many categories for your convenience. Please click on the name ‘Manuel Ortiz Braschi’ at the top of the page, next to the title, or write ‘Manuel Ortiz Braschi’ at the search box and you will be taken to our main page in Amazon, where you will be able to check all the interesting, unique and informative titles that we carry at Amazon Kindle.”

I am thrilled to announce that I found no “literary classics” listed under “Manuel Ortiz Braschi.” However, that made me interested. Had anyone else “published” Alice in Wonderland?

So, I did a search for Alice in Wonderland, and discovered not only a free version for Kindle, along with various other Kindle versions selling for anywhere from 1.99 to 4.99, but one (Alice in Wonderland & Through The Looking Glass; A Lewis Carroll Collection) that listed Lewis Carroll as the author and The WrightAngles.com as author and editor on a .99 cent version.

A website can be an author? Or an editor? Really? I was intrigued.

The e-book’s listed editorial review establishes what the book is supposed to be:

“Taking to heart his charming, insatiably curious heroine’s words, Lewis Carroll worked many long hours (days, months…) with illustrator Sir John Tenniel to create the most perfect pictures imaginable for what were to become instant classics: Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass. When thinking about Alice and her dreamy surrealistic adventures down the rabbit hole and behind the looking-glass, who can help picturing the golden-haired girl in her lilac dress and striped stockings, gazing up at the Cheshire Cat or arguing with Tweedledum and Tweedledee? Tenniel’s drawings remained black and white for over 40 years until 1911, when eight prints in each book were hand colored. Now, for the first time, every remaining illustration has been colored, making these the first editions to feature all of the original art in full color. Traditionalists need not worry: colorist Diz Wallis colored proofs taken from Tenniel’s carefully preserved woodblocks, remaining faithful to his original drawings. The beautiful tones of these new hardcover editions look as natural as can be; they could just as easily be from the 19th century.”

Yes, it’s a long review. It’s also a review from a hardcover edition. Multiple other book retail sites specifically state that “This text refers to the Hardcover edition.” But the customers of this particular Kindle version weren’t informed of that, and naturally (since this is listed as an editorial review under this product) assumed — as they were meant to — that it referred to the product they were viewing.

So taking a little trip through the 1 star comments that refer specifically to this version of the book, we come to find out that not only does this book not have the illustrations, but it also doesn’t have Through the Looking Glass either:

“Unfortunately, this Kindle version is missing almost all of the illustrations, which are an integral part of the book. And the poetry is not formatted correctly and is in red on my iPad Kindle.Through the Looking Glass [Kindle Edition] by BLTC is the one you want.”

“The Kindle combined edition of Alice[‘s Adventures] in Wonderland & Through the Looking Glass described here has neither the Tenniel illustrations nor the annotations mentioned in the description. As you can get the books for your Kindle for free, it’s not worth getting the combo — even for 99 cents — without these features. That seems rather the point of purchasing it. (It was for me, anyway.)”

So how, you may ask yourself, is someone actually getting away with this? Because there are no restrictions placed upon content farmers and spammers. They can upload anything onto Kindle and no one catches them. Anyone who is well read knows that Lewis Carroll doesn’t have a co-author named TheWrightAngles.com, right?

But there’s no plagiarism software in place to check for content farmers, and the innocent Amazon customer is the one who’s suffering — not Amazon. They’re still making their money off each 99 cent e-book sold and whoever the “co-author” is is making their fair share of royalties too.

And it’s not just dead authors who are being victimized. According to an article by Alistair Barr, released by Reuters and highlighted on Yahoo.com, “…Earlier this year, Shayne Parkinson, a New Zealander who writes historical novels, discovered her debut Sentence of Marriage was on sale on Amazon under another author’s name.

The issue was initially spotted and then resolved by customers through Amazon’s British online forum. “How did I feel? Parkinson said. “Shocked and somewhat incredulous, but at the same time, because of the way I found out, very grateful that someone had taken the trouble to let me know.”

So yeah, I just had to buy it. I had to know. Inquiring minds, right?

In my nice shiny Kindle version of Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass; A Collection of Lewis Carroll, I found three things that the “co-author” wrote: “Welcome. I hope you enjoy this fine collection of Lewis Carroll works. At the end of each selection, I have included a collection of artwork inspired by the books.”  This is followed by two pages. The first says “This is Lewis Carroll” with a photograph; the second reads “This is the real Alice.” As best I can tell, this is the only original content in this Kindle version, which does indeed end after Alice in Wonderland and doesn’t have Through the Looking Glass at all.

I can’t believe I spent a whole dollar to prove a point. I think I’m going to return this to Amazon with vituperative complaints.

But the fact remains — people are purchasing this product from Kindle, which ends with the somewhat strange sentence “The entire text of Through the Looking-Glass by Lewis Carroll (Charles Dodgson) as well as the illustrations (sic) in the public domain,” while containing some photocopied and scanned illustrations from a hardback book. And Amazon is doing nothing about it.

Does that mean I can publish a copy of the King James Bible, co-authored and edited by Celina Summers? How about the collected works of Dickens? That sounds good, right? — Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens and Celina Summers.

“Please, sir, can I have more (content farmers and spammers “publishing” books on Kindle)?”

That was my original content. Don’t steal it — now it’s mine. (I thought the parentheses were a nice touch.)

Content farmers and spammers, who are uploading tens of Kindle books per day, are making money through self-publishing platforms without supervision, content screening or plagiarism protocols. And then Amazon wonders why people get upset when they get suckered in. What makes this important for the author is fairly obvious. The Alice in Wonderland version I just paid 99 cents for? It’s currently ranked 43 in Kindle Store > Kindle eBooks > Fiction > Children’s Fiction > Literature > Classics and #83 in Kindle Store > Kindle eBooks > Children’s eBooks > Fairy Tales, Folk Tales & Myths.

Yep. Ranked that high, and it’s not a real book. If that doesn’t emphasize the inroads spammers have made into Amazon, I don’t know what does. Writers, books like this are why your book can’t be found. And until Amazon and other third party sites start to regulate themselves, this trend will continue.

So instead of sending your hard-earned money off to Amazon for a content farmer to turn into the udders of his cash cow, do yourself a favor. Shayne Parkinson, the author whose book Sentence of Marriage was plagiarized and sold under a different author’s name, is offering that book for free on Amazon. Get that for your Kindle, and leave the spammer — and Amazon — out of the loop.

And that’s the only sales link I’m going to post in this article. I don’t even know Shayne, but she deserves better than being victimized by plagiarists.

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About Celina Summers

  • indie

    I read this article thinking how awful and then realized why my site, which is only a few months old is so popular. I do what Amazon doesn’t, I vet the books that I promote.

  • http://www.kaantira.blogspot.com Celina Summers

    Without plagiarism recognition software, it would be impossible for Amazon to confirm every book released unless they went through each book individually–and even then, that’s only as secure as the reading knowledge of the person who’s checking. Some of the recycled e-content is one thing, but Alice in Woncerland? With a co-author? That means no one is even checking the new titles.

    Thanks for your comment.

  • Ellen Stevenson

    Personal attacks are not allowed in this forum but you are attacking the publisher “Manuel Ortiz Braschi” and other publishers & calling them spammers and scammers. I am familiar with this author because I have bought several ebooks from him and I have no complaints. The ebooks I bought from him were very informative and full of great content in the topics I read. They contained as much good information as other mainstream books in their field and at a very attractive price. You should look into this matter further before writing negative things about these publishers.

  • http://www.kaantira.blogspot.com Celina Summers

    I cited material from external sources and did my own follow up on Manuel Ortiz Braschi and the material available from him on Amazon. Question: who co-wrote Alice in Wonderland? How about Through The Looking Glass? Answer: no one. I’ll be more than happy to retract my commentary just as soon as the original source material does as well.

    This Kindle self-publisher has been under scrutiny for months. I recommend that you read this article from The Bookseller.com (http://www.thebookseller.com/feature/digital-focus-content-farms.html) released on February 11, 2011 which states, in part: “…Oh, you don’t know Braschi? He is the prolific author of Vegetable Gardening 101; Fairies and Angel Tattoos; The 30 Day Low-Carb Diet: How to Lose 20 Pounds or More in the First 30 Days; Anyone! Anywhere! Paintball ROCKS!: The Secrets to Winning at Paintball!; Hen Night: Get Geared Up for a Wild Girl’s [sic] Night Out! and Anger Management: How to Control Your Anger to Get the Most Out of Your Life! (he loves an exclamation mark, does Braschi) among many, many, many others. Unlike Christie, Blyton and Cartland, Braschi’s high number of Amazon search results are not because of multiple editions of titles (there are, for example, 144 hits for Christie’s And Then There Were None, which includes various in and out-of-print physical editions, plays, audio books, e-books and foreign-language versions).

    No, almost all of Braschi’s books are single editions of Kindle e-books, encompassing 24 different book genres, ranging from Business, Finance & Law to Music, Stage and Screen to Children’s Books. In the past month, Braschi has published 48 Kindle books—in the past three months the figure is 338. How does he do it? Is he some kind of superhuman writer, a polymath able to churn out more than a book a day? No. It is because Braschi is actually a content farm…”

    Manuel Ortiz Braschi isn’t an “author” in the general sense. This is an advertising ploy designed to garner the greatest number of search engine hits and produce the maximum amount of revenue. And content farmers are extremely unabashed about what they do. And calling him a content farmer isn’t a personal attack. It’s a fact–one that generates a great deal of money and very little notice.

  • Heloise

    I thought this was for short articles only. No?

  • http://chapokeefe.webs.com/bhelib Chap O’Keefe

    I’ve self-published three of my backlist novels via the Kindle: Misfit Lil Cheats the Hangrope, Liberty and a Law Badge, and The Sheriff and the Widow. In each case, Amazon delayed release for several days while they sought from me evidence that I was in fact the author and that I held the ebook rights. Fortunately, in all three cases I was well-prepared and able to send them documentary evidence in the form of scans of the original publishing contracts and, where applicable, the reversion of rights to myself.

    It’s very annoying to hear that others are not being obliged to jump through the same hoops. Even worse is the certain knowledge that books worth publishing in the new format are being drowned by what one author has described as a “tsunami of swill.” I do what I can via websites etc., but I don’t think any new reader is likely to come across my ebooks just by visiting Amazon and browsing. Even excellent reviews don’t seem to help since they end up on title-specific product pages that don’t get visited.

  • http://www.kaantira.blogspot.com Celina Summers

    That’s what makes PLR rights so annoying. Granted–it’s great to have classic literature available in the public domain. However, for someone to claim to have ‘co-written’ a classic and then to make profit off that work is shameless exploitation–not only of the original writer’s work, but also the reading public and the writers like you or I, Chap, whose works are hidden beneath a pigsty of content farmed or poorly formatted revamps of other authors’ work.

  • http://clairewriteswords.wordpress.com Claire

    These sort of books are usually little more than a composite of Wikipedia articles, cheaply bought info and public domain works. The ‘authors’ seem to be of the impression that if they only sell one copy of each title then that’s fine because they have loads of titles.

    I would be interested to know if the ‘author’ has listed those books as ‘public domain’ or not when setting them up on KDP – I suspect they will be listed as ‘not in the public domain’ in order to take advantage of the 70% royalty which is NOT available on public domain works.

  • http://yourswithbutter.com Tammi L Coles

    I read this article at http://www.seattlepi.com/lifestyle/blogcritics/article/Spammers-Content-Farming-and-Kindle-One-Reason-1428484.php

    Does BlogCritics have a column there or was I reading a live example of the very same issue (i.e., some other company profiting from someone else’s content)?

    Inquiring minds want to know!

  • http://www.kaantira.blogspot.com Celina Summers
  • http://cinemasentries.com/ El Bicho

    Tammi, it’s called syndication

  • W. Dean

    I’m afraid you’ve barely scratched the surface on content farming at Amazon and B & N. Virtually every public domain book available at Project Gutenberg (in Kindle’s mobi format, for free) is snapped up and “published” on Amazon by some unscrupulous “e-publisher” for anywhere between $0.99 and $5.99.

    It gets worse. When I pointed out that a particular book was public domain in a customer review, I was verbally accosted by a shill for the publisher. So not only do they publish public domain books to fleece unsuspecting buyers, they also hire reviewers to publish glowing reviews and attack critics of the practice. Delightful.

    I plan to continue my little crusade, time permitting, because I find this practice revolting. I encourage others to do the same, since it’s about the only thing people can do to fight it.

  • http://www.kaantira.blogspot.com Celina Summers

    Most of the reviews attributed to these publishers are actually reviews of the literature, and not the book itself. So sure–someone claiming to be Lewis Carroll’s co-author is going to get great reviews–from newspapers at the turn of the century.

  • W. Dean

    Celina,

    I was talking about the customer reviews, which influence a book’s sales, not the editorial reviews. It is these reviewers who zealously guard their products. I’ve not been attacked by, say, H. L. Mencken, come back from the dead to slog me for criticizing content farming.

  • Nora Blake

    Anyone who doesn’t know Lewis Carroll didn’t have a co-author can’t be protected.

    I read the article hoping I’d learn more about the abuse of –copyrighted– works. For me, the piece got derailed.