Thursday, January 14, 2010

The Scam of Private Label Articles

Did you know for only $24.95 a month, you can subscribe to a service that gives you access to a database of thousands of articles you can turn into ebooks?

If you're too lazy or too clueless to write a real book, now you slap your name on another person's work and get rich in the process. Or, so parasitic "Private Label Article" services are leading an ever-growing number of fools to believe.

Tonight while reviewing Smashwords titles to add to the Premium Catalog, I ran across an ebook about a common childhood mental disorder. My first thought was that this was an important topic our customers would care about. But on second glance, something about the book didn't seem right. The cover image was a cheezy stock photograph of a parent and a child. No title or author name on the cover image. The book wasn't formatted properly. The author obviously hadn't bothered to read the Smashwords Style Guide.

I knew I had seen this breed of vermin before. A quick cut and paste of a random string of text into Google gave me another clue. The exact text string appeared word-for-word in multiple other places on the Internet in articles and blog posts under the names of different authors and publications. Did this author plagiarize the content? I suspected not. Another quick check and I confirmed the author learned about Smashwords from a Private Label Article company. Ugh.

I clicked the hyperlink and sure enough it led to a company that has created an ingenious application it licenses for $24.95/month that allows any dunce with a mouse to point and click and build a custom ebook. Users assemble random chunks from of a database of content to generate an ebook they can then sell on the Internet. And it's legal.

I've seen these ebooks and so-called authors at Smashwords before. They usually arrive with 3-D covers and sloppy cut and paste formatting. Many months ago, we updated our Terms of Service to deal with them by clearly prohibiting private label content on Smashwords.

I zapped the offender's account like I would unwelcome spam. Ordinarily, that would be the end of it and I'd move on to the next task.

What bugs me about this incident tonight is a video the company produced and posted to its website. The video demonstrates how the software generates the ebooks and then it explains how users can make money by publishing the books at Amazon's Digital Text Platform and... no it can't be... Smashwords (!!). So not only are they deceiving gullible suckers with inaccurate information, they're also sending these suckers our way, only to have their visions of sugarplums turned to vinegar when we zap them.

I contacted the proprietor and informed him of his video's factual inaccuracies, and asked him to immediately remove the video and stop telling his customers they can publish with us. We'll see what happens.

In the meantime, if you ever see this type of content sneak on to Smashwords and we don't see it first, let us know. The cut and paste trick with Google is an easy way to confirm your suspicion.

Image source: Wikipedia

11 comments:

Randolph said...

I'll keep my eyes open.

Now that I'm making Shortcovers the primary home for all my work, I'd hate to see the house become infested with cockroaches.

BeWrite Books said...

Anyone who signs up for this scam deserves to lose. And I hope they do. Big time. Like any crass con trick, private label articles involves the victim's greed and eye for an unearned and undeserved buck, as well as the con artist's dishonesty itself.

Sadly, the real victim is the poor sucker who buys these nonsense books in good faith.

It's good to hear, Mark, that Smashwords is doing all it can to protect its readers from rubbish, its authors and publishers from disreputable company and itself from any shadow of complicity with this putrid, dishonest scheme.

Cheers. Neil Marr

Maria said...

Amazon doesn't allow it either--one of the reasons there is now a delay when publishing directly with Amazon is that each book is vetted -- Amazon is also forbidding the type of content you describe, as well as public domain books that they do not want "republished" and any other problem content (such as copyright problems.)

Mark Coker said...

Hi Randy, I think you meant Smashwords. :) ShortCovers (now sporting the new name, "Kobo") is one of our distribution partners.

Hi Maria. I suspected as much. I can't imagine anyone would want to publish this regurgitated mush.

Randolph said...

Right! I meant SMASHWORDS is the primary home for all my work now.

And so I've illustrated why I shouldn't rattle off comments after midnight...

Mark Coker said...

Randy, I think you should just focus all your brain juice on writing more books! When readers purchase your books, they don't just purchase one. More than any other author at Smashwords, your readers seem to purchase your complete series all at once. (If any Sci/Fi fans haven't ready Randy's books, they should. Check out his popular Spinward Fringe series - https://www.smashwords.com/profile/view/randolphlalonde)

Randolph said...

Thank you for the nod Mark!

There are a growing number of readers who agree with you (about focusing brain juice on book creation!).

Thankfully, I'm finishing two books in the next two months, so there should be much more to come!

Kat Meyer said...

Hey Mark:
This is so depressing. So, not only are people like this trying to rip off readers, but they're diminishing the reputation of the retailer along the way. Hmmm...and exactly what is the reward for this? Maybe one or two sales before word gets out via reviews and comments that the title is a hacked ripoff?
Talk about short term thinking.
On a happier note, I'm glad to see that you are looking at the submissions and checking for scam titles like this. My admiration for you and SmashWords continues to grow.
All the best,
Kat

Ceci Miller said...

Thank you, Mark, for guarding the quality of ebooks. By leading the way to alert your readers and authors about this detritus disguised as original content, you uphold the standard not only for Smashwords, but for all producers and distributors of ebooks.

sumitgupta008 said...

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Unknown said...

Your alternative is to read Nora Roberts, who cranks out slop every six months for millions of bucks! Look, it's a new company opening doors that are dominated by 'celebrities'. Doo-doo happens! So, just keep your eye on the road. I met Mark, and he's an honest, decent person.