You read about these odd things happening to other authors, where Amazon closes their account or punishes them for breaches, which they say they've never committed. But you never think it could happen to you. You, who is a honest as the day is long and plays by all the rules because it's the right thing to do.
Well, I've now had the full independent author experience, as it's my turn to be unfairly accused and punished by an Amazon company. Oh, I've had my battles with Amazon and ACX (the Amazon company most authors use to produce and distribute their books to Audible and Apple iTunes.)
About a year ago, ACX added my audible book The Troubles Keeper into the Kindle Unlimited 'free to listen' selection. They did this without notice and without permission and, even worse, without any payment when people listened. It happened to a bunch of authors, but nobody got anywhere emailing. Eventually, I got someone to listen to me and, after about a month, they finally took my book out of the offering and told me they would pay me '$x' for using it. There was no negotiation and no explanation of how it had occurred. I argued that the amount was too small for the benefit they had gained, but you can't argue with them. They simply stop replying.
I won't even get into how many times Amazon has pulled authors' accounts or taken back royalties for Kindle Unlimited reads without explanation, saying the author had manipulated the platform, and therefore wasn't entitled to their payments. Many times over it was revealed the author was not at fault and their account was reinstated or they were paid what was taken from them. Sometimes with an apology, sometimes not.
When this happens it's so distressing for the author. You're dealing with a monolithic company and most of the time with people who are given copy and paste replies who are in centers in a country like India. So you live and do business with an Amazon company with fear in the recesses of your mind that you're not safe, that one day they'll come after you and take your hard earned business away.
I'm in an exclusive contract with ACX for seven years for all my books. Last Thursday, I received the strangest email from them, which accused me of misusing my reviewer codes that I give out to readers who agree to leave an honest review on my audible books. These codes give the audible to the reader for free. I thought it must be some kind of glitch because it turned out the email had been received by many authors and also narrators, who did a royalty split production with an author and because of this also received codes.
Their email, which they hadn't even bothered to address personally to me, said that because I had breeched their terms and 'manipulated' their platform they were now removing my access to the promotional codes. I discovered later that any codes I'd given out which hadn't been redeemed were coming back as expired to those trying to use them. There was no warning this would happen. I felt terrible for my readers who couldn't understand why the code I'd just given them wasn't working. Then I had to apologize for the glitch occurring at ACX. I didn't want to reveal what had happened because I thought it would all be resolved quickly. I'd done nothing wrong of course.
Here's the email.
Your ACX account has been flagged due to unusual activity concerning the use of your ACX promotional codes. While we support the legitimate efforts of our users to promote their audiobooks, attempting to manipulate the ACX platform and/or ACX programs is not permitted.As a result, we will no longer provide you with promotional codes to use to promote your ACX projects.
Please note that our evaluation process takes multiple criteria into consideration when deciding to place restrictions, and we take action based on those criteria. Going forward, please also make sure that you observe ACX’s guidelines (http://audible-acx.custhelp.com/app/answers/detail/a_id/8887).
Failure to meet ACX’s guidelines or agreements may result in restrictions against your account, up to and including termination.If you would like to review our Legal Contracts and Guidelines, please visit: (https://www.acx.com/help/legal-contracts/200485430 )Please be advised that this is our final decision and we won’t be offering further insight or action on this matter.
I then discovered, in checking on several author forums and Facebook groups, that this same email had gone out to many authors and narrators who were just as confused as me. Some hadn't sent out any codes at all and others had sent out less than ten, and one poor author had only had one redeemed. Here's his story. https://garymvasey.com/2019/11/18/acx-gets-tyrannical-warning/ Another said that they didn't have an Audible or ACX account, or any audibles, and yet they received the email.
We also discovered that this had happened as far back as July to an author, who eventually received an apology months later and her code dashboard reinstated. And another poor person, who sounded so distressed on a Reddit board had also endured this whole mess back in October and said they were giving up writing because they felt so upset to be accused of fraud.
Of course, I wrote back to ACX and said there's some mistake. I have a list of every single person to whom I've given a code, so if you tell me which codes have been used for fraud, I can help you sort this out.
All of us expected that it was some kind of glitch and would be resolved quickly. After all, ACX has always been very customer focused toward us and constantly calling us their business partners. Keep in mind that they've plastered a big ugly sticker across the cover of my audible Best Seller boasting that it's 'Only from Audible.' This, because it's sold so many copies. Gee, wouldn't you think an author that has done that for them would be valuable to a company that earns money from selling their book? I mean, maybe just discuss it with me first. How about that for professional behavior and communication?
From my query email, I received this reply, which is the same copy and paste communication received by all the other authors who queried the email.
We understand you’re seeking additional information regarding revoked access to your promotional ACX codes. Pursuant to our previous communication, your account was under review for unusual activity. After a full investigation, we can confirm fraudulent use of the promotional codes for your ACX audiobooks.
As a result, we are upholding our previous decision to revoke your promo code access.Please know that all ACX users are responsible for abiding by ACX’s Legal Agreements. Failure to meet these guidelines can result in restrictions against your account, up to and including termination.If you would like to review our Legal Contracts and Guidelines, please visit (https://www.acx.com/help/legal-contracts/200485430)The ACX team has no further information to disclose.
This will be our final communication on the matter.
I wrote again asking them to be more explicit. How were my codes used and what can I do to prevent it happening in the future, since I didn't know what I'd done in the first instance? I also pointed out that in their own legal agreement to which they kept referring me, it said: in the event of a dispute (which I was pretty sure this was what we were now involved in), it stated in Point 14:Discussions:
The parties will first attempt to resolve concerns through informal discussions. If either party has a concern and requests discussions, the parties agree to discuss the concern in good faith and work toward finding a mutually agreeable solution.
I didn't receive back any discussion in good faith at all. I received this email below, and they'd even added some other reasons for which I might have lost my codes, so not just fraudulent use of codes but more mysterious issues for me to fathom. More confusing gobbledegook for me, and the rest of the authors who'd received the same email, to hypothesize over which egregious misstep we had all made. The only thing we all had in common was that we had an ACX account. Some had not sent out codes, some lived in other countries, some not, and I doubt very much that if we had published infringing content we would only lose our code dashboard. Keep in mind this was also happening to narrators, and they were none the wiser either.
We understand you’re seeking additional information regarding access to Promotional Codes for your ACX account. Promotional Codes are a benefit to eligible ACX users per our Legal Agreements (https://www.acx.com/help/legal-contracts/200485430), as well as our User Conduct and Content Acceptance Guidelines (https://audible-acx.custhelp.com/app/answers/detail/a_id/8887).
Factors that result in accounts not being eligible for this feature include misuse of Promo Codes, not observing ACX’s residency restrictions, publishing content that infringes upon our content guidelines, and more.
We are upholding our previous decision to revoke your access to the Promo Code tool.
If you would like to review our Legal Contracts and Guidelines, please visit www.acx.com/legal.
The ACX team has no further information to disclose. This will be our final communication on the matter.
Sincerely, The ACX Team
So, I wrote again because a few authors months prior had been handed back their code dashboard, without any email or apology, I might add. And that's where I'm at and now they are no longer replying to me. I have supposedly committed fraud against ACX/Audible and I have no recourse to clear my name. I have a sword hanging over my head that my entire Audible account can be closed without recourse and my audibles unpublished for doing something, of which I haven't the foggiest idea.
Now you might be wondering how fraud is even committed with these codes. Well, there's a myriad of ways I've since discovered, and I can think of a few more. Supposed business-minded, charming folk have long been sticking their fingers in the Kindle Unlimited pot, which is how we are paid for anyone who reads our books in Kindle Unlimited. We are paid out of a collective pot per page read; the pot amount changing every month depending on memberships. So anyone scamming the very poor systems put in place by Amazon takes money from legitimate authors.
They do this by using reading and click farms, usually in Asia, as one method, where a computer program on a phone or a computer flicks through a book for payment, and the author (and I use this moniker loosely) gets paid. Our share of the pot is lessened. They also win huge sums of bonuses from Amazon for being in the top read authors of the program. These bonuses go as high as $25,000.
In order to cover their tracks, these click and reading farms read legitimate authors' books, well, flick through them, they don't 'read'. So when Amazon works out that there's farming happening, they send a nuclear warhead into all the authors whose books have been 'read,' even the good, innocent bystanders. These poor authors, know nothing about this use of their books, because how can they? Then they have to fight to get their accounts back and live with the stress of it all, of being accused of something unfairly by a big corporation, whom they need to continue doing business with somehow!
This has been going on for years, and still does, despite Amazon occasionally sending in missiles. It's the nature of what they've set up and how easy they've made it to manipulate. There's other ways too but it would just take too long for me to share. Now we come to Audible and ACX. How would scammers do it here? Same way. So Amazon has learned nothing after all these years.
Supposed 'authors' pay a ghost writer a pittance to write a book. Then they pay a narrator (who might be desperate to get a foot in the door or just get work) another pittance. They offer ongoing work as long as they're quick to narrate. They don't care about quality because it isn't about selling the book to real readers. It's about getting the codes. We get 200 now. 100 USA and 100 UK. Then off go the click farms again downloading the books. Each download, even though it's free to the listener, pays the author as if it was purchased using an Audible credit from a membership. Again, the Audible membership pot is like the Kindle Unlimited pot. ACX sets it each month based on memberships. So not only are these scammy businesses stealing from ACX/Audible, they are stealing from legitimate authors by lowering the payout for each download we receive from a real customer.
I believe very strongly that this is what has happened here. All the accused authors have been used as a cloak for these fraudsters. Some in the forums have claimed this is a legitimate business setup, just a different way to do business in Audible. Not illegal at all. Ghost written books recorded quickly with no quality control simply to have another audible book up there and making money from codes. I disagree. What about the consumer who might accidentally purchase one of these trash books. I bet they wouldn't want to be contributing to the bad actor's income.
There's a bunch of videos on line claiming you can go from zero to $10k a month doing this and you don't even need to be an author. For a fee, they'll show you. Wow! I bet most readers who download one of these books would take exception to this type of 'author.'
Legitimate business practice, that differs from mine as a real heart-and-soul author, but is none-the-less-legal, I don't think so, people. Sorry, I think they should tell people these are ghost written books and they are not authors, but supposed 'business' people with a variant business model. If it's legit, why hide behind fake bios and pictures?
Many authors don't care about giving out codes to redeem a free audible. But I do. I use it as a way to spread the word about my books, to gain reviews, so new-to-me readers will take a chance on an author they've never read, to build relationships with my readers and to reward my loyal fans (although I think of them as friends and supporters).
Now I can't do that. And I'm angry, frustrated and sad that I've spent so much time trying to deal with this when I should be writing. Really Amazon and Audible, you need to get your act together and stop treating your business partners as tiny ant nobodies. I just hope one day someone will come along and do better than these two companies and, I can assure you, that 95% of authors will be rejoicing. They're the biggest at the moment, so we are stuck with them.
Funny thing, though, Xerox, Atari, IBM were all big guys once, and I think a little arrogance tripped them up somewhere along the way. One day Amazon, one day...
I'll keep you updated on what ultimately plays out, but I'm not feeling overly confident at this stage.
If you do want to listen to any of my books, they are all performed by award-winning narrators and I write every word myself and, for the record, I have never committed fraud in any endeavor in my life. Although, I think those accusing me quite possibly have many times over. Funny that.
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