In my previous post, I explained how Jane Friedman’s name was used in a bunch of AI-generated books. Today, I’ll explain how this may be part of a larger scam. As TechRadar reports, a shockingly high number of AI-generated books have appeared. As an indie author, Caitlyn Lynch, tweeted, only 19 of the best sellers in the Teen & Young Adult Contemporary Romance eBooks top-100 chart on Amazon were real, legit books. The rest were nonsensical and incoherent, and seemingly AI-generated.

Interestingly enough, a few days after Lynch’s tweets, the AI books had vanished from the best-seller lists, probably removed by Amazon. This shows that Amazon is aware of the problem and won’t hesitate to remove the offending items.

But why do people do this, anyway? And how do their books end up so high on the best-seller lists when their content is so poor?

The KENP Scam

Robot writing book | From the blog of Nicholas C. Rossis, author of science fiction, the Pearseus epic fantasy series and children's booksThe whole point of this scam is that the mass uploading of AI-generated books could be used to facilitate click-farming, where ‘bots’ click through a book automatically. This generates royalties from Amazon Kindle Unlimited, which pays authors by the number of pages that are read in an ebook.

For this scam to succeed, you need three components:

  • A book
  • An author account on Amazon
  • A click farm

Let’s examine these, starting with the book. It is important to know that it doesn’t matter if the book is good or bad. It’s not meant to be read by anyone, anyway. It can be filled with Lorem Ipsum as far as the scammers are concerned.

You need the second item, an author account, so that Amazon knows where to deposit any money made from sales of your book. Why this matters is clear when you consider that people adopting the persona of, say, Jane Friedman, would be able to collect any sales money whereas Friedman wouldn’t see a dime of that.

The third item is harder to find but is the linchpin of the whole operation. You need readers who will “read” the book on Kindle. Unfortunately, these may be fake Amazon Prime accounts. As a reminder, Prime subscribers may read a number of books each month for free through its associated Kindle Unlimited program. Once a cybercriminal has set up a large number of such accounts, they can rent them to others for a number of purposes, such as fake reviews, fake reads, etc.

With all components in place, the scam is now ready. You use an AI tool that is able to handle large text, such as Anthropic’s Claude (ChatGPT, despite its popularity, can’t do this). This lets you create a book in a few hours. You also use AI to create a book cover and upload your creation onto Amazon, making sure to make it available to Kindle Unlimited (KU) subscribers.

You then hire the click farm to download the book for free hundreds or even thousands of times using their fake readers’ KU accounts. As a reminder, your readers don’t even need to be human: there are tools that can mimic human behavior by “clicking” rapidly on each page in succession before moving on to the next book.

As far as Amazon is concerned, your book has now been read multiple times by several readers. Its algorithms promote it to its best-seller lists and its financial department pays you the appropriate amount. As a reminder, authors get between $4.00 and $5.00 for every 1,000 pages read. If your book is 1,000 pages long (and, let’s face it, why shouldn’t it be? It’s not like you have to actually write it or something), and the click farm has 1,000 fake accounts, then that’s $4,000-5,000 (minus, presumably, the click farm’s cut).

Not bad for a day’s work! Even better, it doesn’t matter if Amazon finds out what you’ve been doing and removes your book. You can just upload as many new ones as you like to replace the removed ones.

Amazon’s Response

Lynch, elaborating on her views in a Twitter thread, emphasized that this scam will be the death knell for Kindle Unlimited if Amazon can’t contain this.

When TechRadar asked Amazon about it, a spokesperson gave a standard boilerplate response:

We have clear content guidelines governing which books can be listed for sale and promptly investigate any book when a concern is raised. We invest heavily to provide a trustworthy shopping experience and to protect customers and authors from abuse.

Now, this could mean that Amazon is blind to the scale of the problem. As an optimist, however, I like to think that Amazon is simply keeping its cards close to its chest and doesn’t want to release any information on how it plans to tackle the issue, lest it tips off the scammers.

For example, Amazon may update its terms and conditions to make it easier to remove AI-generated books. It may also ask authors to tick a box indicating if they used any AI tools during the writing process. And it may use AI detectors to check each book uploaded.

In the past, however, Amazon has been pretty heavy-handed with its efforts to stop scammers. So, don’t be surprised if you are suddenly asked to prove that your books were actually written by you and not an AI tool or, worse, if some of your books are pulled from the bookstore without prior warning.

What Can You Do?

I know first-hand how frustrating it is that these scammers’ greed is undermining the efforts of legitimate authors. However, as authors, our unique voices and our authenticity are our most powerful assets. Embracing this knowledge will give you a significant edge.

If you are a genuine author struggling to sell your books amidst the noise of AI-generated scams, you can start by establishing a strong online presence. Engage with your audience across social media platforms, develop an email list, or even consider starting a blog. By consistently providing value and nurturing relationships, you will build a loyal readership eager to support your work.

When it comes to the writing process, focus on quality over quantity. Readers value well-crafted, carefully edited content. A polished, compelling book is more likely to garner positive reviews and recommendations, increasing your visibility in the crowded online marketplace.

Don’t underestimate the power of marketing and promotion. Create a robust marketing campaign for your book launch, including elements such as book trailers, press releases, or guest blog posts. These tactics will generate excitement and help get your book in front of the right audience.

Networking is another crucial aspect. Forge connections with fellow authors, join writing groups, and attend literary events. Building relationships within the industry can open up new opportunities and help you navigate the complexities of the literary world.

Make the most of Amazon’s tools for authors. Amazon Marketing Services can help you run targeted ads for your book, while optimizing your book’s metadata (title, subtitle, keywords, categories) can improve search visibility. Enrolling your book in Kindle Countdown Deals or Free Book Promotion can also enhance your book’s visibility.

Also, encourage your readers to leave honest reviews on your book’s Amazon page. Positive reviews enhance your book’s credibility and visibility within Amazon’s search algorithms.

Ultimately, while the challenges posed by AI-generated books are real, genuine authors still have a lot to offer. Your originality, creativity, and authenticity can’t be replicated by an AI, no matter how sophisticated. In fact, don’t be afraid of using AI yourself to enhance your work! For example, it took me a couple of minutes to create the image accompanying this post on Fotor. I also used ChatGPT for some of the ideas in its conclusion. AI is a tool, no different from my laptop or my mouse. The fact that some unscrupulous people use it in a stupid, greedy way shouldn’t discourage you from unlocking your full potential with AI.

So, keep writing, stay true to your voice, and don’t let the noise deter you from sharing your stories with the world. Happy writing!


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