Tsunami of Swill Makes News

The Los Angeles Times reports today about something I've been talking about for months…the tsunami of self-published swill washing over Amazon. The article refers to bad self-published books, but mostly discusses rip-offs of other people's work and books cobbled together from public domain sources.

Spam has hit the Kindle, clogging Amazon.com Inc.'s top-selling e-reader with material that is far from being book-worthy and threatening to undermine the company's entry into publishing.

Thousands of digital books, called e-books, are being published through Amazon's self-publishing system each month. Many are not written in the traditional sense.

[…]These e-books are listed for sale — often at 99 cents — alongside more traditional books on Amazon's website, forcing readers to plow through many more titles to find what they want. Aspiring spammers can even buy a DVD box set called Autopilot Kindle Cash that claims to teach people how to publish 10 to 20 new Kindle books a day without writing a word.

This new phenomenon represents the dark side of an online revolution that's turning the traditional publishing industry on its head by giving authors new ways to access readers directly.

[…]In 2010, almost 2.8 million nontraditional books, including e-books, were published in the United States, while just more than 316,000 traditional books came out. That compares with 1.33 million nontraditional books and 302,000 conventional books in 2009, said Albert Greco, a publishing industry expert at Fordham University's business school. In 2002, fewer than 33,000 nontraditional books were published, whereas more than 215,000 traditional books came out in the United States, Greco noted.

"This is a staggering increase. It's mind-boggling," Greco said. "On the positive side, this is helping an awful lot of people who wrote books and could not get them published in the traditional way through agents."

But Greco listed downsides. One problem is that authors must compete for readers with a lot more books — many of which "probably never should have seen the light of day," he said.

7 thoughts on “Tsunami of Swill Makes News”

  1. Which is why I don’t buy anything unless I can read a sample or I know the author’s work.
    The Kindle site may be smart in not having a Look Inside feature for all those books. They’d lose sales!

  2. Perhaps a filter is in order on Amazon, and maybe even stricter rules about violations of copyright infringement where punishment is banning them from selling on Amazon. It would be impossible for Amazon to proof-read all of those self-publications for such, but a system like ebay’s VERO program to review complaints and act on legitimate claims would work best. Plagiarists should be handed to the authorities…
    However, how would someone “Sift” through the garbage? I always use the search feature when looking for something online, so at best these trashy novels would take up server space more than anything. Personally I only purchase books from authors I’ve read or have had recommended to my by a friend I trust. It is despicable that someone out there is capitalizing on unpublished authors by teaching them how to publish without writing, by plagiarizing using automation.
    Another filter could easily be sales figures over time, where low performers are dropped after 6 months. I also agree that sample chapters should be previewed for free by customers prior to purchasing.

  3. I agree with Elrod…you should sample a work before taking the plunge. I do this at Borders, and can tell pretty quickly whether I want to spend the money. The Kindle has made this process much easier for me. Without exception (so far), every book available on the Kindle can be sampled. Tell me if I’m wrong. The Kindle sample length crushes the amount made available by the Look Inside/Search Inside feature. Like any product, if you end up with a POS, you have nobody to blame but yourself.

  4. As P.N. and Steve say, the solution to the problem is simple and might even help indie or unknown authors. If the customers get burned buying $.99 books without even looking at them, they should have read the sample. My calculation is that the sample is somewhere around 11% of the work on Kindle. If someone chooses not to allow a sample, avoid that “author.”
    Reviews can be faked or flat out wrong. From what I can tell the bulk of Kindle readers are searching solely by price unless they recognize the author. A change in that behavior would be good for indie authors in my opinion.

  5. I found the article interesting, but “tsunami of swill” is just hilarious, especially when said out loud. Although my wife didn’t like it applied to her cooking.


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