Pirated content thrives on Amazon, authors say the web giant ignores scams

Amazon is being inundated with fake versions of books, angering customers and authors alike, who say the site is doing little to combat the literary scammers.

Counterfeits sold by third parties through Amazon range from e-books to hardcovers and fiction to non-fiction — but the problem is particularly prevalent with textbooks, whose sky-high sticker prices attract scammers, publishing industry sources say.

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

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

However, Amazon takes a chunk of third-party sales regardless of whether the books they ship are real or fake, giving the company no incentive to crack down on counterfeits, people in the publishing industry complain. They say the site, which is usually known for its speedy service, is excessively slow in responding to their concerns about fakes.

‘Pages unreadable’

Martin Kleppmann, a computer science researcher and academic, has for years seen one-star reviews from Amazon of his data modeling textbook, with disgruntled customers complaining of unreadable text, missing pages, and other quality issues. He accuses counterfeiters who he says sold pirated copies.

“This book is very poorly printed,” says one angry review of Kleppmann’s book. “The ink is everywhere after 10 minutes of reading.”

“Pages print overlapped,” says another review. “About 20 pages unreadable.”

“Pages are printed overlapping,” said one reviewer.
fake book
One of the overlapping and poorly printed pages in a suspected pirated text.

A third reviewer complains that he had to order Kleppmann’s book three times from Amazon before receiving a usable copy. The two fakes had clear paper and other flaws.

“I see a lot of negative reviews complaining about the print quality,” Kleppmann told The Post, adding that his publisher asked Amazon to fix the problem but the company did nothing.

Amazon spokeswoman Julia Lee said in a statement to The Post, “We value the trust of customers and authors and continually monitor and have taken steps to prevent banned products from being listed.”

Amazon has spent more than $900 million worldwide and employs more than 12,000 people to protect customers from counterfeiting, fraud and other forms of abuse, Lee said.

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 struggling with counterfeits on Amazon. Google deep learning researcher Francois Chollet complained about counterfeiters in a popular Twitter thread in early July, accusing Amazon of doing “nothing” to crack down on widespread fake versions of his textbook.

“Anyone who has bought my book from Amazon over the past few months has not bought a real copy, but rather a lower-quality counterfeit copy printed by various fraudulent sellers,” Chollet wrote. “We have notified [Amazon] several times nothing happened. The fraudulent sellers have been active for years.”

Even Post columnist Miranda Devine saw fake versions of her book on Hunter Biden, Laptop from Hell, circulating on Amazon last year.

After Devine’s publishers notified Amazon of the problem, the fakes stayed on the site for days, she said.

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

“Endless Whack-a-Mole Game”

According to intellectual property attorney Katie Sunstrom, Amazon generally requires authors and publishers to scour the site for counterfeit versions of their own books and then fight through layers of bureaucracy to remove the counterfeits.

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

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

“It’s an endless game of whack-a-mole where accounts just pop up days or weeks later,” Rachel Roumeliotis, vice president of content strategy at O’Reilly, told The Post, adding that Amazon relies on “individual symptoms , which were discovered by the publishers”. but does nothing to stop the “systemic flow” of fakes.

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

“Amazon spends a lot of time fighting the perception that fraud is perpetuated in their marketplace because they know there is a problem — but their platform and policies are built to allow this to happen,” Roumeliotis said.

According to Hefti, forgeries that spread unchecked can endanger the careers of authors.

Aside from authors clipping profits on books they’ve already published, fake sales don’t count as official sales figures. Lower sales, in turn, would make it more difficult for authors to secure future book deals, Hefti said.

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

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