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Amazon’s “Fake Book” Problem

Posted by susabelle at 12:50 PM on April 16, 2012

Print On Demand (POD) has been available for quite a few years.  I used POD to publish a book almost 10 years ago now, a terrible novel that had delusions of grandeur.  Okay, maybe I was the one with delusions of grandeur.  But anyway, I proved to myself that anyone could publish a book, and they didn’t have to be in any way creative, good, or readable.  Self-publishing houses, also known as Print on Demand, provide that last step to a creative author; instead of having to submit a manuscript to dozens of publishers and agents to find someone to publish your book, you format it yourself and start selling through one of these POD services.  I used www.lulu.com, but there are plenty of others out there.  Anyone, without spending a single penny of their own money (just their time), can lay out any type of book they want, and list it for sale.  Cafepress.com offers this service, and so does another, Createspace.com, an Amazon company.

The cool thing about being able to self-publish and sell on demand is that you can sell your books.  The uncool thing about it is that anyone can publish anything and offer it for sale.  And therein lies a problem, especially with Amazon, which owns CreateSpace, and lists titles published with CreateSpace in their books section.  The problem, in this case, is fake or “knock-off” books.  Now, there’s nothing illegal about publishing a book with the same title as another book.  There are only so many words to go around, and any book title has a pretty good likelihood of being repeated, especially in popular genre’s like mystery, romance, and westerns.  And that isn’t the problem here.  The problem here is that anyone can write any book, give it a similar name to a popular book currently being sold by booksellers all over the world, upload it to CreateSpace, and start selling it on Amazon alongside the popular one.  Non-savvy buyers, or those who may not know the exact title of the book they are looking for, may stumble upon the knock-off book in a general search, and buy it not realizing it isn’t the book they wanted after all.  Because there are no editing hurdles in place for these knock-off authors, it is easy for them to quickly put up something that looks relatively legitimate, even if it violates copyright or is no more than a few pages of regurgitated or completely ridiculous material.

Third step?  Profit!  Turns out there are a solid handful of individuals that are doing such things through CreateSpace, with their “books” being available for purchase on Amazon.  It’s hard to say how much money is being made on these knock-offs, but one woman claims she has “written” over 10,000 books and sold them on Amazon.  Her book titles all spoof or are knock-offs of currently popular fiction.  I’m not brave enough to buy one to see if it’s any good or not, but I think I can deduce the quality by the sheer quantity.

Why did I never think of this as a money-making technique?  Here I am slaving away writing blog articles, working on computers, and holding down a day job, and I could have been taking the easy way out.  Just write something, anything, give it a name that sort of sounds like a current best-seller, upload it, and wait for my royalty checks.  I am in the wrong business!

Amazon is taking down the copy-cats as they are made aware of them, but unless there is some sort of check put into place to keep these out of the listings to begin with, it will always be a case of fighting the fire, instead of working on prevention.  If I were selling fake Coach purses at the flea market, or bootlegged CD’s at the corner 7-11, I’d be sure to get caught and prosecuted.  But how do we legally fight such self-publishing practices?  Unless the work is plagiarized, or there is obvious copyright infringement, there’s not a lot to be done.

I have to say, it sounds like a pretty creative way to make a living, doesn’t it?

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