Investigating Misconduct at Amazon

It’s no secret Amazon staffers play favorites when it comes to books and authors, or that the number of those affiliated with Amazon staffers who have become Kindle stars is excessively high. What’s not so well known are the tactics used to ensure certain books and authors succeed while others fail. While working at Amazon, our former Amazon insider saw these tactics employed firsthand.

Amazon is a company built around a search engine. The same search engine used to find products is used to feature products and control product display. Amazon staffers manipulate many aspects of the search engine every day from selecting which products appear in which features and which products don’t to determining which products are given higher precedence when a customer tries to find a product and which products aren’t.

Our former insider saw it all. Authors who were disliked or complained about issues at Amazon sites were punished. Their books were flagged, removed from features and listings or worse.

Tactics were used to push books of these authors so far down the listings no one would see them. One way to do this was to reset the sales data for the day, the week, the month or entirely. Another way to do this was to flag or remove reviews from an author’s books.

One of the ways B V Larson, Hugh Howey, H M Ward, John Locke, Amanda Hocking and other early Kindle stars got ahead was to associate their books with top professionally published authors. For example, Hugh Howey entered Suzanne Collins, Neil Gaiman, Rick Riordan and other top author names as keywords for his Wool books, ensuring the books would be displayed in the search results whenever anyone searched for these top authors and their books. Thus, instead of his Wool books only being displayed in search results a few times a day, the Wool books were being displayed in search results thousands and thousands of times – and in some cases over 100,000 times a day.

The tactic is extremely unethical because customers were unwittingly being redirected from a book or author they were searching for to a book fraudulently inserted into search results. The tactic was so successful that scammers like B V Larson, Hugh Howey, H M Ward, John Locke, Amanda Hocking and other early Kindle stars went from making a few dollars a day on sales to making thousands to tens of thousands of dollars a day. Meanwhile, the sales of the authors these cheats were scamming from went down dramatically.

In a series of secretive meetings between Kindle executives and various Kindle self-publishing stars from Hugh Howey to Amanda Hocking this tactic and others to get ahead of the system were often discussed and shared. Amazon staffers even rewrote the Kindle publishing rules to ban many of the practices discussed, while continuing to allow B V Larson, Hugh Howey, H M Ward, John Locke, Amanda Hocking and other early Kindle stars to use them.

A key reason for this was the anti-trust litigation involving major publishers and Apple. The fact Amazon staffers were actively looking for ways to punish major publishers and their authors. The fact Amazon wanted its Kindle self-publishing program to dominate the market. Thus, Amazon staffers looked the other way and allowed a select group of authors cheat the system, while simultaneously punishing other authors who tried to use the same tactics.