Thursday, March 14, 2013

Something for nothing? (Part 2 of 2)

Continued from last week ...

I hear a lot of nonsense about giving books away in order to get reviews and I'd just like to clarify that one while I'm at it. It's estimated that less than 1% of buyers bother to leave reviews and, of course, there's no guarantee that they'll be good. It's nice to see that Amazon have finally added some commentary in the reviewer's box advising against commenting upon Amazon's own services. I've already blogged about seeing 1-star reviews for products which have been delivered late or in damaged packaging (i.e. nothing to do with the author or manufacturer).
Have a cigar
I'm equally sure about Amazon knowing this percentage and, if the algorithm's got any sense, it'll be looking for anomalies in the percentage of sales resulting in reviews for a specific book. If that rises above a certain level (4 standard deviations above the mean I'd suggest), the reviews are likely to get scrutinised for ‘sock-puppet’ tendencies.

In any case, there are plenty of books which have made it to the top with lousy reviews and even more ones with cracking reviews that never see the light of day.

Continuing on the subject of nonsense, I'd like to dispel another little myth and that's the one about DRM which, for those who don't know, stands for Digital Rights Management and is intended to protect electronically-delivered goods (such as e-books) from being ripped off. I can tell you now that it's a very easy matter to get through the DRM blocking and so gain full access to the book's make-up file. Thus a book can be downloaded in mobi (Amazon's Kindle) or ePub format and, even with DRM, be turned into a Word document or HTML within a few seconds.

Having done that, the content can be used in any way the hacker sees fit.

As I've also blogged about, I belong to a commercial writing site from where I've taken on the odd job. In the last two years, there's been a phenomenal growth in spinning - the act of taking a document and, through the replacement of proper nouns, verbs and adjectives, turning it into an (almost) unrecognizable document which effectively says the same thing as the original. Spinning software is readily available and spinners (the workers) are cheap to hire. Thus a book can be downloaded, ripped off, spun and resold for no outlay (or virtually no outlay) whatsoever.
That could be your book. Think about it for a moment.
The long arm of the law won't reach them
It's no good consoling yourself with the notion that you'll just get hold of your friendly ambulance-chasing, pro-bono, bloodsucking legal-beagle either. Firstly you've got to spot the rip off (it may not be on the original book site - it might be a downloadable file from another website) and, having done that, you've then got to track down the author. My guess is that you'll be thrashing around in a thick fog. Even if you do catch up with the 'thief', you've got to find a way of punishing them. Well, good luck. I've had my stuff ripped off far too many times and never once been able to get anything done about it.
Opting out of the freebie days and ensuring that your book always has to be paid for in hard currency is, of course, no protection against this happening but it does discourage. A few dollars may not be much to you but it's more than a day's wages to the typical spinner. When there are easier pickings to be had, they're going to target those books instead.

I've no doubt whatsoever that some people have benefited from following the giveaway route but I've also spoken to many who haven't. This, of course, begs the question "How many of those who succeeded by using free giveaways would have done so regardless?". Every author must make their own decision and I'm not wanting to tell anyone what to do (or not to do) but I am urging caution and for you to go into the arrangement with your eyes open in just the same way as you might regard our anonymous benefactor whom I described at the outset of this article.
If it’s too good to be true, it probably is.

Clive West is an author himself and understands what it's like to be a writer. He also runs a book publishing company alongside his wife and fellow author. Any Subject Books is always pleased to hear from new authors.

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