Authors claim Amazon ignores fraud, pirated books with poor quality thriving
on Aug 01, 2022
Amazon is being infested with fake versions of books, angering both customers and authors who say the site is doing little to combat literary scammers. Counterfeits sold by third parties through Amazon range from e-books to hardcover and fiction to non-fiction, but the problem is particularly prevalent with textbooks, whose sky-high prices attract scammers, according to publishing industry sources.
"The harm to authors is very real," Matthew Hefti, a novelist, and attorney who found fake versions of his own book on Amazon, told The Post. "It's such a common problem."
The end result is that readers are left with unreadable books that bleed or fall apart, while authors and publishers lose revenue to publishing pirates. However, Amazon keeps a portion of third-party sales regardless of whether the books they ship are real or fake, giving the company no incentive to crack down on counterfeits, publishing industry folks complain. They say the site, which is widely known for its speedy service, is excessively slow in responding to their concerns about fakes.
Martin Kleppmann, a computer science researcher and academic, has seen one-star Amazon reviews of his data modeling textbook for years, with angry customers complaining of unreadable text, missing pages, and other quality issues. He blames counterfeiters who he says sold pirated copies.
"This book is poorly printed, one angry review of Kleppmann's book wrote. “Ink bleeds everywhere after 10 minutes of reading."
"Print pages overlapped," said another review. "About 20 unreadable pages."
A third reviewer gripes that they needed to order Kleppmann’s book from Amazon three different instances before receiving a usable one. The counterfeits had seen-through paper and different defects with it.
“I see plenty of negative reviews complaining about print quality,” Kleppmann told The Post, adding his writer has requested Amazon to fix the problem, but the company hasn’t done anything.
Amazon spokesperson Julia Lee stated in a statement to The Post, “We prioritize consumer and author trust and constantly monitored and have measures in place to prevent prohibited products from being listed.”
Amazon spent more than $900 million globally and hired more than 12,000 people to shield clients from counterfeit, fraud, and different styles of abuse, Lee stated.
But Kleppmann isn’t the only one struggling with counterfeits on Amazon. Google deep learning researcher Francois Chollet complained about counterfeiters in a famous Twitter thread in July, accusing Amazon of doing “not anything” to crack down on sizable counterfeit variations of his textbook.
“Anyone who bought my book from Amazon in the past few months haven’t bought the original copy, but a lower quality counterfeit copy printed by various fraudulent sellers,” Chollet wrote. “We’ve notified [Amazon] multiple times, but nothing happened. The fraudulent dealers are in activity for years.”
Even The Post’s personal columnist Miranda Devine noticed faux variations of her book on Hunter Biden, “Laptop from Hell,” unfold on Amazon the previous year.
After Devine’s publishers notified Amazon about the problem, the counterfeits remained on the website for days, she stated.
Amazon did not respond to a request to comment on these examples of counterfeits in this story.
‘Endless sport of whack-a-mole’
Generally, Amazon requires authors and publishers to comb the website for counterfeit variations in their own books, then battle via layers of bureaucracy to get the fakes taken down, according to intellectual property lawyer Katie Sunstrom.
“The burden is on the vendor to get Amazon to prevent the infringers and counterfeiters from selling on their system,” Sunstrom instructed The Post. “There’s no impetus on Amazon to attend to this problem.”
Kleppmann’s writer, O’Reilly Media, instructed The Post that it often files complaints with Amazon on fraudulent dealers, but the company is pretty slow to address their concerns.
“It is an endless sport of whack-a-mole in which accounts truly resurface days or even weeks later,” Vice President, the content strategy of O’Reilly’ Rachel Roumeliotis told The Post, adding that Amazon does respond to “individual symptoms as discovered by publishers” but does nothing to stop the “systemic flow” of counterfeits.
“Amazon spends a lot of time trying to combat the perception its marketplace perpetuates fraud because it’s known that there is a problem — yet its platform and policies are built in ways that facilitate it,” Roumeliotis said.
The unchecked spreading of counterfeits can put authors’ careers at risk, according to Hefti.
Beyond cutting into the profits authors make with published books, counterfeit sales don’t count toward official sales figures. Lower sales figures will, in turn, make it more difficult for authors to seal future book deals, Hefti said.
“The model is so exploitative for writers,” he said. “I don’t even know if there is any fixing it, at least not without Amazon having to spend a ton of money and lose a bunch of existing profit.”