Dear Mr. Bezos:
Mine is not the first letter you’ve received, nor will it be the last. Several authors, more knowledgeable and prolific than I am, have already sent you emails. I’m sure you’re tired of us.
I would certainly be tired of the constant caterwauling going on. But perhaps you’re so removed from the daily operations of the behemoth you’ve built that it doesn’t reach the hallowed halls of your office. And in this letter, I am addressing you, personally. This is your company, and ultimately your responsibility.
Authors, legitimate artists – are not the ones who messed up. We are not the ones who have created – and allowed to flourish – a system so utterly flawed that Amazon gives away millions of dollars per year to thieves.
Book stuffers – I’m sure you’ve heard the term. I’m not sure you could bloody well miss it if you’ve spent any time on Twitter recently. And I’m at a loss as to how this has gone on for so long under your very nose.
Think about it, Mr. Bezos. Have you ever read a 2,000-page book? Ever? Neither have I. The longest single title novel I have ever personally read without being forced to for a school assignment is Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged at a bit over one thousand pages. I highly recommend it. Maybe if you get an idea what a 1,000 page novel looks like, you’ll understand how ridiculous it is for a romance title to be that long.
But on Kindle Unlimited, there are books like Business & Pleasure (A Romance Compilation) at 2,132 pages, according to the book information. But this is okay, according to Amazon’s TOS, because the author has called it a compilation. The author is STILL making a fortune in pages read, still taking money away from honest authors who don’t recycle books between different compilations, and still gaming your system.
These scammers use honest authors as ‘beards’, for lack of a better word, to hide their activities. And contrary to every rule of logic in the known universe, your bots pick up on those pages read, instead of where they ought to be looking. Honest authors lose their payments, even in some cases losing accounts, without due process or appeal.
You have literally given the power to take away someone’s livelihood to a bot and an underpaid customer service rep who may not even read the report. And that, Mr. Bezos, IS theft. It is unconscionable, and quite frankly, you’re lucky you haven’t been sued. You demand exclusivity, which is fine – we all know what we sign up for when we put titles in Kindle Unlimited. Yet you offer nothing but a summary judgment if your asinine bot picks up something that might be totally honest. There is no recourse for an author in KU if one of his or her titles is pirated or used as a shield for someone else’s crime.
And trust me, most authors bend over backwards to keep their titles from being pirated. I’m not exactly sure how that fact hasn’t trickled down into Amazon’s corporate consciousness yet, but there it is.
Don’t even get me started on the unfathomable mess the review system has become. You penalize honest reviews, yet leave garbage to molder and call them fair.
Let’s move on. Cockygate, which I’m sure you’re quite aware of. It’s another symptom of your bloated, unwieldy, and frankly baffling corporate model. While I’m on the subject, did you ever read the book Going Postal by Terry Pratchett? Perhaps you should. Amazon is beginning to remind me of a Discworld post office. Clever man, Mr. Pratchett. You might find his work amusing. Or maybe not.
Back to Cockygate. What possessed you to pull titles with the word ‘cocky’ in the title for essentially handwritten C&D letters NOT from an attorney, based on an obviously bogus trademark that you HAD to have known would be challenged? Did it not occur to you that perhaps you should wait and see if someone legitimate protested those titles? Or maybe bide your time until the trademark was deemed to be valid in the courts?
Why not, Mr. Bezos? We’d love to hear those answers.
You’ve done a couple of things right, though. You got Chance Carter out and his books are gone. Kudos! There was a great deal of cheering for that. But there are dozens more where he came from. You put back the ‘cocky’ titles you erroneously removed. That’s wonderful! Did you also reimburse those author’s lost revenues? Well, it’s a good start, anyway. You also put the book stuffers on notice by requiring them to label their compilations.
I have a couple of suggestions, though I doubt it will ever be enough to fix the shambles that Kindle Unlimited has become.
Page limits – put page limits on anything in KU. The scamming will still go on, but give honest authors a fighting chance. We can’t compete in ads or in reaching the unattainable all-star bonuses when we’re up against book stuffers.
Disqualify compilations altogether, unless they’re boxed sets by multiple authors. This will probably cause a rise in the incidence of fake accounts, but it would be a start. Make it unprofitable to stuff books. Once the practice doesn’t pay out, it will stop. For that matter, disqualify the boxed sets, too. Nuking the site from orbit may indeed be the only way to be sure.
There should never be an instance where an account is closed or a book removed from Amazon without due process from humans. Amazon is not the morality police. You do not get to choose what people read. You should never forget that authors are why you exist. Without us, Amazon is nothing but a supermarket on steroids.
I’m sure other, more savvy authors, have more and probably better suggestions, but those are good for a start. As for me, I’m going to keep writing, but I will never put another indie title into Kindle Unlimited. I can’t afford the antacids.