In my last blog, I talked about my foray into AMS advertising and my relative success, but I left a bit of a cliffhanger. I imagine you’re wondering what it was that had me so concerned. Shortly after my campaign ended, I got this lovely little email:
For those of you unfamiliar with what the notice means, allow me to explain. KENP is a royalty system that pays authors based upon the number of pages read by a Kindle Unlimited subscriber. As with all good things, it did not take long for the unscrupulous to figure out a way to exploit the system to not only drive up their author rankings but their KENP royalties as well.
I don’t know the exact methods and logistics of it, but from what I’ve read and surmised, a person hires a third party, usually out of India or China, to create numerous free KU accounts and download their books. Some people have been known to write complete gibberish or machine-created books with no real plot or purpose other than garnering income through fraudulent KU downloads. It’s possible they pay for KU accounts, but that’s some pretty serious overhead to my mind.
Amazon is not stupid, and they’re getting smarter every day at catching these frauds. Early on, I had heard horror stories of authors having their books pulled from Amazon and blacklisted. Since all of my income as an author is derived from Amazon, some 70% from KENP, and being told I had manipulative downloads of some of my books, I naturally panicked.
Since the only thing different I had done in the past eight years was hire a company to run an AMS campaign, my first instinct was to think it had something to do with them. Conspiracies began flooding into my brain, the foremost being that the company I hired subcontracted out with one of these companies to pad my anemic sales to make them look good and avoid a possibly bad review from me since my ACOS (advertising cost to sales ratio) looked really bad on the dashboard.
That theory deteriorated quickly as I thought more about it. This was a reputable company with numerous clients. It’s unlikely they would risk everything on something so dubious. Still, I had been with Amazon for years and never got this kind of notice until I ran my ad campaign, so there had to be a link. Obviously, the crooks can’t just download their client’s books. This would be a huge red flag, so maybe they spread it out—download other authors books as well so if they get caught, Amazon won’t know who hired them and who was an innocent bystander.
So why me? Why immediately after I ran an ad campaign? Nobody does any large data processing by hand. You write scripts, aka bots, to create fake accounts, download hundreds or thousands of books, and maybe even decide whom to target. I emailed my campaign manager and asked if anyone had reported a similar issue, getting bogus downloads after running a campaign. He said he hadn’t heard of any issues like this.
My thought was that maybe the perpetrators or their bots looked for frequent advertisements and used those as a targeting method. It made sense. If my sales and KENP reads suddenly quadrupled or more I, and probably Amazon, would take notice and wonder why. But if I was running and ad campaign, we would just assume it was because the campaign was working and not look any further.
This was the best theory I could come up with. My next issue was trying to find out how serious it was. How many books were being downloaded, what titles, and when did this begin? When did it stop? Did it stop or is it still happening? Those questions were the mystery icing atop the enigma cake because Amazon refused to tell me a damn thing.
I asked Amazon those very questions; which titles, how many, was it still happening. I’ve gotten more human responses from those obnoxious automated operators you have to deal with on the phone. “Please be aware that we cannot provide further details of our investigations or detection systems, because we want to preserve both the confidentiality of others’ accounts and the security of our detection systems.”
I’m not asking you to sell me your secret recipe for catching bad guys! All they would tell me was that my account was still in good standing. At least there was that. The only thing I could do was wait two agonizing months for my royalties to hit in order get an idea of what kind of numbers I was looking at. Turns out, it apparently wasn’t much. I didn’t notice the difference between what my dashboard reported and my actual royalties paid. Small favors I guess.
In the end, only my anxiety suffered greatly. I’ll never know what exactly occurred or why or how I might possibly avoid it in the future. I’m not even sure the downloads weren’t legit and just somehow triggered Amazon’s detecting algorithms.