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Kindle Spam: Two Possible Solutions

Spammers go where they find the most eyeballs.  As several recent articles have noted, spammers are flocking to the Kindle platform as it gains popularity.  On the one hand, Amazon should consider this spam problem a sign of their success.  In reality though they need to address the issue immediately.

I think it's terrific that Amazon has embraced self-publishing.  We absolutely need to allow (and encourage!) self-publishing on all the popular e-content platforms.  Product discovery was a significant problem even before self-publishing arrived.  Now that anyone with an internet connection can upload a title the discovery issue is spiraling out of control, particularly since Amazon isn't managing the spam situation.

One solution is for Amazon to add a review stage for all content before it's offered for sale.  Yes, that slows things down and requires additional time from Amazon personnel to manage.  The model seems to work well for Apple though.  Every app goes through an internal review process before it ever appears in Apple's App Store.  Say what you want about Apple's review process but at least their App Store isn't flooded with spam.

A second option is for Amazon to leverage the power of the community and enable customers to police the situation.  That's more or less what's happening now though as customers make a purchase, realize they were duped and then post a poor review.  The problem here is that some number of people get ripped off before the spam is flagged.

I think Amazon should use both methods.  They need an internal first line of defense like Apple's but they also need to realize mistakes will happen and spam will slip through.  That's where the community comes in.  Amazon should set up a rewards program where customers receive points every time they find and report a spam product.  Those points could add up to a free ebook, Prime service, etc.  If they make the points meaningful enough they'll quickly solve the problem.

Speaking of self-publishing, we have a terrific FREE webcast scheduled this week called, "What Traditional Publishers Can Learn from Self-Publishers."  The webcast features Mark Coker (Smashwords), Chad Jennings (Blurb), Pete Nikolai (WestBow Press, the self-publishing arm of Thomas Nelson) and Bob Young (Lulu).

The webcast takes place at 1ET/10PT on Thursday, June 23rd.  There's still time to register if you'd like to take part in this event.  I'll be serving as moderator and I plan to ask each of the participants their thoughts on self-publishing spam and what their organizations are doing to address it.

Comments

Daniel Prokop

Hey Joe, nice article - the other problems with spam explosion on kindle is it makes it harder for readers to find the genuine well written self published books, like 'Leaving Neverland' (Why Little Boys Shouldn't Run Big Corporations) for example and it adds to overwhelm by buyers faced with a plethora squared of options (I'm not entirely sure a plethora can be squared but it sounded good.)

Namenick

Ideas of what Amazon should do is one way, on the other hand we can always advise readers how to identify spam books. In Kindle Store there are several elements which can indicate that the book is a spam.

I've made a checklist here: http://ebookfriendly.com/2011/06/20/how-to-identify-spam-books-in-kindle-store-checklist/

Ryan Smith

I think it would be a great benefit for amazon to try to reduce the amount of spam... I think people would be much more willing to buy and use their products.

angusm

The problem is that while some of the Kindle spammers are selling the usual crappy 'private label rights' ebooks - which presumably are fairly easy to recognize - others are ripping off other people's work and reselling it as their own. If a spammer puts their name on a good, original work, neither Amazon nor their customers will necessarily recognize it as abusive.

Checksumming submitted texts to identify possible plagiarism would work only as long as the spammers don't start randomly varying words in the text (have a script go through the text and replace selected words with near-synonyms from a thesaurus), or simply mashing up different texts together (two chapters from book A, another two chapters from book B, and so forth).

As with all spam, it's an arms race, and the spammers will always be a step ahead as long as there's even a small amount of money to be made.

Avi

Another possibility is for Amazon to do implement something like "greylisting" for ebooks. Hold back any money owed to self publishers with no track record for a set amount of time during which people that were duped into purchasing these ebooks will be entitled to get their money back if it is proven to be either spam or theft of IP.

Mrs. Rosie Taylor

I like your idea of getting the community involved in identifying these spammers. Giving a little reward is a nice way to help people act. Most people hate seeing spam stuffing in comments, review and forums, but I think everyone just turns a blind eye as if it's expected. Having a mechanism for reporting, flagging or voting it down would be a great way to try and prune some of it back. There's nothing better than a human brain to figure out a deception like spam.

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