Books

Pirated books thrive on Amazon, authors say web giant ignores fraud

Amazon is getting flooded with counterfeit versions of books, angering customers and authors alike who say the site is doing little to fight the literary fraudsters.

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Forgeries sold by third parties through Amazon range from e-books to hardcovers and fiction to non-fiction — but the issue is especially widespread for textbooks, whose sky-high sticker prices draw in scammers, publishing industry sources say.

“The damage to authors is very real,” Matthew Hefti, a novelist and attorney who has found counterfeit versions of his own book on Amazon, told The Post. “It’s such a pervasive problem.”

The end result is that readers are getting stuck with illegible books that bleed ink or fall apart, while authors and publishers lose revenue to the publishing pirates.

Amazon, however, takes a cut of third-party sales regardless of whether the books they ship are real or fake, giving the company no incentive to crack down on coutenterfeits, people in the publishing industry gripe. They say the site that’s typically known for speedy service is excessively slow to respond to their concerns about fakes.

‘Pages unreadable’

Martin Kleppmann, a computer science researcher and academic, has seen one-star Amazon reviews of his data modeling textbook roll in for years, with angry customers complaining about unreadable text, missing pages and other quality issues. He blames counterfeiters, who he says have sold pirated versions.

“This book is very badly printed,” reads one angry review of Kleppmann’s book. “Ink goes everywhere after 10 minutes reading.”

“Pages are printed overlapped,” another review reads. “About 20 pages unreadable.”

Counterfeit book
“Pages are printed overlapped,” a reviewer said.
Counterfeit book
One the of overlapped and poorly printed pages in an alleged pirated text.

A third reviewer gripes that they had to order Kleppmann’s book from Amazon three different times before they received a usable copy. The two counterfeits had see-through paper and other defects.

“I see lots of negative reviews complaining about print quality,” Kleppmann told The Post, adding that his publisher has asked Amazon to fix the issue but the company hasn’t done anything.

Amazon spokesperson Julia Lee said in a statement to The Post, “We prioritize customer and author trust and constantly monitor and have measures in place to prevent prohibited products from being listed.”

Amazon spent more than $900 million globally and employed more than 12,000 people to protect customers from counterfeit, fraud and other forms of abuse, Lee said.

Amazon
One Amazon reviewer said they had to buy Kleppmann’s book three times to find a non-counterfeit copy.

But Kleppmann isn’t the only author who’s struggled with counterfeits on Amazon. Google deep learning researcher Francois Chollet complained about counterfeiters in a popular Twitter thread earlier in July, accusing Amazon of doing “nothing” to crack down on widespread counterfeit versions of his textbook.

“Anyone who has bought my book from Amazon in the past few months hasn’t bought a genuine copy, but a lower-quality counterfeit copy printed by various fraudulent sellers,” Chollet wrote. “We’ve notified [Amazon] multiple times, nothing happened. The fraudulent sellers have been in activity for years.”

Even The Post’s own columnist Miranda Devine saw fake versions of her book about Hunter Biden, “Laptop from Hell,” spread on Amazon last year.

After Devine’s publishers notified Amazon about the issue, the counterfeits remained on the site for days, she said.

Amazon did not respond to a request for comment on the specific examples of counterfeits in this story.

‘Endless game of whack-a-mole’

Amazon generally requires authors and publishers to comb the site for counterfeit versions of their own books, then fight through layers of bureaucracy to get the fakes taken down, according to intellectual property attorney Katie Sunstrom.

“The burden is on the seller to get Amazon to stop the infringers and counterfeiters from selling on their system,” Sunstrom told The Post. “There’s no impetus on Amazon to take care of it.”

Kleppmann’s publisher, O’Reilly Media, told The Post that it routinely files complaints with Amazon about fraudulent sellers, but that the company is often slow to address their concerns.

“It is an endless game of whack-a-mole where accounts simply resurface days or weeks later,” O’Reilly vice president of content strategy Rachel Roumeliotis told The Post, adding that Amazon will respond to “individual symptoms as discovered by publishers” but does nothing to stop the “systemic flow” of counterfeits.

An example of an alleged pirated book from Amazon.
An example of an alleged pirated book from Amazon.

“Amazon spends a lot of time trying to combat the perception of its marketplace perpetuates fraud because it’s known that there is a problem — yet its platform and policies are built in ways that facilitate it,” Roumeliotis said.

Counterfeits spreading unchecked can put authors’ careers at risk, according to Hefti.

Beyond cutting into the profits authors make off books they’ve already published, counterfeit sales don’t count toward official sales figures. Lower sales figures will, in turn, make it more difficult for authors to ink future book deals, Hefti said.

“The model is so exploitative for writers,” he said. “I don’t even know if there is any fixing it, at least not without Amazon having to spend a ton of money and lose a bunch of existing profit.”

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