Fortune reports that the tide of fake books littering Amazon's Kindle store is rising to the point where it's easy to be fooled into shelling out money for the wrong title. The magazine goes so far as to call the online retailer "Spamazon," as the flood of fake books resembles a flood of spam filling an inbox. Most of the copycat books uncovered by Fortune were actually created using CreateSpace, Amazon's tool for self-publishing ebooks.
"It's the book equivalent of spam," says lawyer Eric Rayman, a former attorney for Simon & Schuster. "Amazon should be taking steps to stop this. It's bad for consumers and it's bad for the book business."
Here are a few examples of the "spam" ebooks parading around actual titles. One of the more popular knock-offs was a Steve Jobs biography written by Isaac Worthington which was based on exclusive interviews with Jeve Stobs. Now removed from the store, it featured huge print that was similar to the language used on the Wikipedia page about the former Apple CEO. The back cover of the book also provided the exact same text.
The copycats don't stop there. Other fake books found on the Kindle store included Thirty-Five Shades of Grey by J. D. Lyte, I Am The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, Twilight New Moon, Fast and Slow Thinking by Karl Daniels and more. "There is no such expert, it's a rip-off. The comments on it are quite amusing – rather shocking that Amazon allows this sort of thing," said Nobel Prize-winning economist Daniel Kahneman, author of bestseller Thinking, Fast and Slow.
Karen Peebles, author of the Girl With The Dragon Tattoo copycat book, told Fortune that she has self-published around 10,000 books through Amazon's CreateSpace tool, some of which are under an alias. "I am a single mother who home schools her children," Peebles said, who added that she sells "thousands and thousands" of books a month. "Self-publishing is a great way for me to make income. I receive a pretty nice royalty every month."
Peebles went on to admit that the CreateSpace guidelines are minimal at best. Even more, Amazon has never rejected or even questioned her about the books she writes, including the one with a nearly identical title to the international bestseller by the late Swedish author Stieg Larsson. However she lied to Forbes about the publish date of her Dragon Tattoo copycat, saying her book came out first. In fact the original was published first in 2004 and then released in the States in 2008. Peebles' version has a 2008 copyright but wasn't published by Amazon until mid-2010.
Mark Coker, founder of Smashwords which is a distributor of self-published books, told Fortune that spam books are a growing problem for consumers and the book industry. He regularly receives books that are exact copies of other books, or a compilation of material that's already readily available on the Internet. Odd formatting is usually a sign that the book isn't legitimate, and he typically refuses to distribute the suspicious titles. Yet most of the time they wind up on Amazon and other ebook retailer shelves anyway.
"I'm surprised Amazon lets books like these go through," Coker said. "Whoever created these books are obviously trying to confuse consumers."
Forbes said that after it contacted Amazon late last week about the apparent fakes, the company removed the pages for the Worthington and Daniels books from its site. "A spokeswoman says Amazon is no longer selling the books," the paper said. "Both books, though, are still for sale on other sites with Amazon's CreateSpace listed as the publisher."
Amazon reportedly has a process in place to detect and remove books that don't "improve the customer experience," and so far has rejected or removed "thousands" of books. "We expect to keep improving our approach," an Amazon spokeswoman told the paper.