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Old 04-15-2011, 08:40 AM   #1
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Schneier on Ebook Fraud

Those interested in security may have already seen this:
http://www.schneier.com/crypto-gram-1104.html#2

It's only brief, the conclusion:
Broadly speaking, there's nothing new here. All complex ecosystems have parasites, and every open communications system we've ever built gets overrun by scammers and spammers. Far from making editors superfluous, systems that democratize publishing have an even greater need for editors. The solutions are not new, either: reputation-based systems, trusted recommenders, white lists, takedown notices. Google has implemented a bunch of security countermeasures against content farming; ebook sellers should implement them as well. It'll be interesting to see what particular sort of mix works in this case.
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Old 04-15-2011, 05:50 PM   #2
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Taken out of context, your quote can be misunderstood. In this case the function of what Schneier calls the editor is to weed out fakes, not tidy up the text. I think it's unfair to put that job on the shoulders of an editor.
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Old 04-15-2011, 08:29 PM   #3
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Quote:
Originally Posted by James_Wilde View Post
Taken out of context, your quote can be misunderstood. In this case the function of what Schneier calls the editor is to weed out fakes, not tidy up the text. I think it's unfair to put that job on the shoulders of an editor.
I was wary of quoting more here, it's such a short article that a larger quote would constitute the majority of it. I too thought it was an odd use of the term editor, although I guess it is a valid description for someone that maintains the content of any written material, even websites that sell ebooks ... and in some respects a book editor may well be better qualified for a task such as this than many other people.
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Old 04-15-2011, 08:45 PM   #4
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This has really disappointed me with e-books. While this stuff always exists, it seems like Amazon doesn't care about cleaning it up.
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Old 04-15-2011, 09:51 PM   #5
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The ebook hooligans

Amazon sent out a memo a few months back about how they were taking steps to clear up the public domain on their servers. The things the article refers to are a bit more sinister but related. There is only one thing for it, letting the user police their own content. It would be the light vs the dark in an epic battle for the future of our reading experience

I know in any site that I was involved with on a more than textual level would not allow these hooligans to get their foot in the door. By any means necessary.

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Old 04-16-2011, 12:22 AM   #6
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I publish mostly public domain books, mostly Bibles and Christian books. I spend months (for some books years) to OCR (when there are no good text sources available already), proofread (most sources available online require this step), format, make best navigation, work on a clean-transparent organization for books with complicated structure, crossreferences, collections, etc. As the result, I typically set my price at $5 but I don't chase a large number of sales believing that if people really want quality Christian books, sooner or later they will find out about OSNOVA.

Recently (I first saw his books in January), I noticed one "competitor" who flooded Kindle Store and B&N with Bibles, Korans, Mormon Books, etc. Apparently, he uses several alter egos and publishes the same books multiple times with different titles and different covers (covers are not bad). Within the first couple of days after his publications become available they have a dozen glowing five-star "reviews," that's even when the ranking does not show any sales. If you are a publisher you must know how long it takes to get a number of reviews unless you are in the top 100. Then, his sales start growing. If negative reviews appear, they are countered with many more five-star reviews. The price is low enough that a sufficient number of people wouldn't mind to not bother with refunds.

Although I can't prove it on Amazon, it seems that this person (or people) also attacks his competitors (including such as Zondervan, etc.) with one-star reviews. Some of one-star reviews that I've received seem to be "fake," they either don't make sense or have absolutely false claims. I do know that there are folks out there that "honestly" post one-stars for any Bible that they can find to make a statement but these "fake" reviews are not even that. On B&N, it is much worse, because the accounts there can be opened without providing a credit card, there is no public review history for reviewers, and "reviews" and stars are multiplied into hundreds. I am not the only one who noticed this because I saw some other Bible publishers "warn" him in the comments.

This fraud can become a big problem unless Amazon and B&N start policing such behavior. They can easily track if a certain IP address, or proxy, starts posting tons of either five or one-star reviews under different accounts.

So far, the only thing that I have come up to counter this as a small publisher, is to make calls to my customers to write a positive review when they write a "thank you" to me. I do not want to start a "war" with this guy because he appear to have "resources" to "kill" any publication with one-star reviews (I think I saw a spat between him and another publisher on B&N whom he drove into oblivion).

Last edited by osnova; 04-16-2011 at 12:31 AM.
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Old 04-16-2011, 11:15 AM   #7
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It's about the buyer beware. If something is public domain with the author long being dead, why on earth would you pay for it? There is absolutely no "special" insight put at the front of the book just so that they can charge a price claiming "New introduction" that anyone can now offer that most likely has already be pointed out.

If you can't take the time to do your research before you hit the buy button, that is on you.
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Old 04-16-2011, 11:17 AM   #8
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Quote:
Originally Posted by osnova View Post
This fraud can become a big problem unless Amazon and B&N start policing such behavior. They can easily track if a certain IP address, or proxy, starts posting tons of either five or one-star reviews under different accounts.

So far, the only thing that I have come up to counter this as a small publisher, is to make calls to my customers to write a positive review when they write a "thank you" to me. I do not want to start a "war" with this guy because he appear to have "resources" to "kill" any publication with one-star reviews (I think I saw a spat between him and another publisher on B&N whom he drove into oblivion).
But how can Amazon police the professional reviewers when obtaining a new IP address is so trivial? Maybe when we are all given an IP address at birth, to track our every online action

This is already a big problem, but as far as the public domain goes, all that work you put into your texts can simply be used by anyone else, and sold by anyone else as well. That's what the public domain is for.

There has been some discussion in congress about vetting every single site pre posting, placing the onus on google say, to determine if the content of said site is legal or right I suppose. This sounds like a very time consuming task.

To check every book that is uploaded to Amazon's servers.

I think that books are given a cursory glance before they are approved for sale, but seeing the number of fraudulent books up there makes me feel otherwise. When I upload a book to the Kindle Direct Publishing program the site takes a day or two to process the book informing me that Amazon is checking the book for quality. This quality check needs to be completely open and transparent if it is to have any meaning at all.

Amazon might have a team of 50 quality checkers but they probably need about 5000. At 20,000 dollars a year that would be 100 million dollars, probably not feasible. These quality checkers will need to be paid in something other than dollars.

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Old 04-16-2011, 12:21 PM   #9
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It's about the buyer beware. If something is public domain with the author long being dead, why on earth would you pay for it?
Because you don't have access to the book otherwise. "Public domain" doesn't mean "nobody is allowed to charge for this."

I have some digital collections of public domain works that aren't available anywhere on the web. I've considered cleaning them up & offering them for sale. (I've more seriously considered just offering them to Gutenberg or similar sites.) Gutenberg, Google & Archive.net's collections, while impressive, are hardly the entire set of public domain literature, and nothing requires a person who's got a book not in those sets to offer digital conversion for free.
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Old 04-16-2011, 12:31 PM   #10
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This has really disappointed me with e-books. While this stuff always exists, it seems like Amazon doesn't care about cleaning it up.
Actually, I think they are improving when it comes to taking down stolen books. Not long ago it took weeks to get a pirated ebook removed - in the most recent cases (see theystolemybook.com for examples) it only took a couple of days. Don't know about the content farming side of things.

To be boringly pragmatic... It's very comforting to be able to blame Amazon, but authors can make a real difference too: they are the ones who know for sure that their work has been pirated. If they stay sharp and act quickly (using Amazon's recommended procedures so that there's no excuse for delay) they may be able to bring about a culture change. Or not. Worth a try, surely?
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Old 04-16-2011, 04:21 PM   #11
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Because you don't have access to the book otherwise. "Public domain" doesn't mean "nobody is allowed to charge for this."

I have some digital collections of public domain works that aren't available anywhere on the web. I've considered cleaning them up & offering them for sale. (I've more seriously considered just offering them to Gutenberg or similar sites.) Gutenberg, Google & Archive.net's collections, while impressive, are hardly the entire set of public domain literature, and nothing requires a person who's got a book not in those sets to offer digital conversion for free.
The funny thing is if your PD books are such a rarity on the net as you say, about an hour after you upload them to Gutenberg a few other people will upload them to Amazon with a price tag attached. Of course if you do decide to upload them to Amazon, someone else will just download them and then reupload at a lower price point.

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Old 04-16-2011, 05:06 PM   #12
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Another thought that strikes me in connection with Schneier's comment is that it could very well apply to the traditional publishing trade. Someone, somewhere, should be filtering out a lot of the crap that gets published. We were discussing our selections in the readers' circle to which I belong, and which coincidentally has a meeting tomorrow, and the consensus was that we need some member of the circle to have read a book that we others should read, and recommend it, since it is so dangerous to rely on the reports one reads in the media, and even the reports one gets from friends and acquaintances. At least a member of the circle knows our individual likes and dislikes.

It seems to me that Sturgeon's law is now something of an underestimate of the amount of crud.
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Old 04-16-2011, 05:56 PM   #13
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It seems to me that Sturgeon's law is now something of an underestimate of the amount of crud.
Sturgeon's law was made in the context of professionally published science fiction. If 90% of the stuff that got past traditional publishing gatekeepers is crap, you can imagine what the slushpile looks like... and the collection of works that nobody was dedicated enough to format on paper and pay to mail to a publisher, but hey, now that all they need to do is enter words onto a screen and click "submit," they're PUBLISHED AUTHORS!

One of the fascinating parts for me is seeing what *could've* been submitted to publishers, and would need extensive editing to be worth buying, but would absolutely shine with that editing. And I get to compare that to the stuff that really never should've left the originators' (can't call them authors) hard drives.
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Old 04-16-2011, 08:23 PM   #14
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I've talked to a few slushpile readers, mostly from SF magazines, over the years.

You know how bad you imagine the slushpile to be?

It's worse.

And now, with the advent of ebooks, that slushpile is for sale on Amazon.
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Old 04-16-2011, 08:46 PM   #15
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I've talked to a few slushpile readers, mostly from SF magazines, over the years.

You know how bad you imagine the slushpile to be?

It's worse.
I like having a copy of The Eye of Argon to show people who lament the state of published books.

It's sometimes advertised as "the worst story ever written," which of course it's not; you can follow the (clichéd) plot, understand the (adverb-laden) dialogue, sympathize (somewhat) with the (badly-described) characters, and cope with the (erratic) punctuation. Even the hilariously wrong modifiers don't interfere with comprehension, just with anything resembling enjoyment for the story as a story, rather than a parody of high-fantasy tropes:
Quote:
The enthused barbarian swilveled about, his shock of fiery red hair tossing robustly in the humid air currents as he faced the attack of the defeated soldier's fellow in arms.
I do like pointing out that this is what we'll see more of as we eliminate the gatekeepers.

I like reader-led gatekeeper communities; I think mainstream publishers are too caught up with "we should try to sell what's already selling" rather than "we should publish well-written books and find a market for them." But anyone who thinks that what's published by the Big Six is "utter crap" has never looked at what doesn't make it through the slushpile--and is now being sold on Amazon and Smashwords.
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