Laura Miller from Salon recently penned a very enlightening article about the proliferation of ‘E-Book Spam,’ specifically on Amazon’s Kindle E-Reader. Although E-Books are still a relatively new form of content consumption, the medium is already facing the same spam problems that blogs and online publishers have battled with for more than a decade.
One of these problems is duplicate content – in many cases plagiarized content – which is already widespread across the many nooks and crannies of the web. Now, spammers and profiteers have taken their black-hat ‘skills’ of ripping off content and publishing it elsewhere to E-Book stores. These people can make good money by posting cheap, duplicate content in bulk across a variety of topics. Even if only a few buyers bite per title, this can mean large profits across thousands of published books.
One mechanism that allows spammers to get away with making money off of unsuspecting readers is called ‘Private Label Rights’ (PLR). This lets them buy E-Books in bulk, modify the content to their liking, and then resell them online. In some cases, spammers simply change the format and text of a title just enough for the content to not get flagged. In other cases, spammers will duplicate older titles that have outlasted their copyright and gone into the public domain.
Based on some testing and interviewing done by Salon, it seems that online E-Book stores like the Kindles’ have less submission security than many customers would think. In many cases, submissions of duplicate and nonsensical content passed through Amazon’s filters without a hitch.
“To test the system, Essex published a Kindle book that featured nothing but the phrase "This is the song that never ends" repeated over and over, without formatting, for 700 pages. It "went live" within 24 hours…”
Not only does spam and duplicate content devalue the works of individual authors who are getting unknowingly ripped off, but it also devalues E-Books altogether. When buyers go to the Kindle store to find a great new book, they expect an experience akin to going to a real bookstore. They certainly don’t expect to get bombarded with cheap replicas and plagiarized materials.
Perhaps Amazon needs to turn to the strategies of a company that has been dealing with spam content throughout its lifetime: Google. Combatting spam and duplicate content has always been one of Google’s priorities as the leader in search engine technology continues to organize the world’s information. For years, Google’s algorithm has attempted to ‘devalue’ duplicate content and give more weight via search results to the original content creator or source. Recently, Google’s ‘Panda’ release continued to crack down on low-quality articles, demoting the organic results of several prominent content farms.
Amazon and other companies foraying into the E-Reader market should pay close attention to Google’s ongoing battle with spammers, which essentially is a constant struggle between being ‘open vs. closed.’ Google’s algorithm indexes ALL information, whether it’s boring, spam or inflammatory; the key lies in the algorithm’s ability to organize that information based on importance. If Amazon decides to keep their store ‘open’ to publishers and authors (and hold to PLR standards), they should expect less-than-reputable individuals and entities to try to beat the system and profit off of their store. Consequently, Amazon must either figure out how to ‘demote’ this bad content, or keep spammers out altogether.
Miller, Laura. “Spamazon.” Salon Media Group Inc. June 21st, 2011. http://www.salon.com/books/laura_miller/2011/06/21/spamazon/