Book Spam: Seven Steps to Identification for Teachers and Students

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There was a news story this summer that has been a long time in the making: SPAM hits the world of e-books. Anyone who has been following the Amazon Digital Text Platform since its beginnings has seen this coming a long way off. A search for a copy of Pride and Prejudice as recently as a few months ago brought up so many results that the average book buyer had no way of picking among them.

Amazon recognizes the problem, according to the article from Reuters: “Undifferentiated or barely differentiated versions of the same book don’t improve the customer experience,” Amazon spokeswoman Sarah Gelman wrote in a June 14 email to Reuters. “We have processes to detect and remove undifferentiated versions of books with the goal of eliminating such content from our store.”

Amazon is to be credited with policing the store to reduce this glut of public domain titles that were easy to list and sell in the past, creating really muddy results for users. Now, the problem is a glut of seemingly useful titles, not redo’s of public domain works, that seem to operate like, well, spam in their attempt to get you to read them, indeed buy them, before you discover that they are essentially advertisements or worse.

From the Reuters article:

Some of these books appear to be outright copies of other work. Earlier this year, Shayne Parkinson, a New Zealander who writes historical novels, discovered her debut “Sentence of Marriage” was on sale on Amazon under another author’s name.

The issue was initially spotted and then resolved by customers through Amazon’s British online forum.

“How did I feel? Shocked and somewhat incredulous, but at the same time, because of the way I found out, very grateful that someone had taken the trouble to let me know,” Parkinson said.

Kindle spam has been growing fast in the last six months because several online courses and, ironically, ebooks have been released that teach people how to create a Kindle book per day, according to Paul Wolfe, an Internet marketing specialist.

One tactic involves copying an ebook that has started selling well and republishing it with new titles and covers to appeal to a slightly different demographic, Wolfe explained.

This is a problem with many tentacles. The very virtues of digital text praised in these posts for over two years become vices when there is no natural way of regulating the proliferation of words. “This is why email spam has become such a problem — it costs nothing” says one expert cited in the article. “If people can put out 12 versions of a single book under different titles and authors, and at different prices, even if they sell just one or two books, they can make money.” For educators, the problems that have arisen regarding the digital distribution of term papers come from the same source. Someone once called the internet “a giant copy machine,” and here is where we see that principle at work.

So what can you do to avoid purchasing a spam book? What characteristics of spam books can you teach your students to look out for in their searches?

Piotr Kowalczyk, self-published author and blogger at, has complied a guide to spam book identification. Here is our summary of his findings and recommendations.

First, take a close look at the title. Is  the title wordy and extensive? If the title of the book seems to be cramming as many keywords in as possible, often displaying the key search terms in all caps, you may have some spam on your hands.

Next, take a look at the author. Does the author seem to write in a variety of topics- from Italian cookbooks to auto mechanics? Authors who seem to be very thinly spread over a variety of topics may also be an indication that the book you are looking at isn’t the one you desire. One should also steer clear of e-books that have no author listed, but instead an editor.

What about the cover? A poorly designed cover that features generic font choices and pixilated images also can serve as a red flag. If the image remains poor quality once enlarged, this often indicates that this image was taken from the web.

The price of the book may also confirm your suspicions. Spam books are often priced at $ 0.99 to entice a reader to purchase the book without downloading a free sample (beware of the free sample: malicious links are often placed in the opening pages of an e-book to ensure their viewing). The price may exceed $ 0.99, but this is a common characteristic of e-book spam that one should take notice of.

Although this next tip may seem obvious, one should still make note of it: the book will often have no Reviews and Ratings, or terrible reviews. Heed these reviews!

However, do not base your decision on the seeming popularity of the text as gauged by the Amazon Bestseller Rank, since people buy these spam book unintentionally and consequently improve the spam’s popularity. When looking on Amazon’s best seller list, however, you may want to notice what categories the book is listed under (unrelated, irrelevant?), and if the text is listed under both books and Kindle Store.

Notice the product description which in cases of spam is often short, poorly written, or a random book excerpt. Look to see if there are any other versions of the e-book available (print, audio). If the e-book is spam, the e-book edition will be your only option. Check the e-book’s file size; spam books have a small file size indicating a short book.

Thanks to Piotr for this helpful analysis. Sadly, even for books, if it’s digital it can be spammed. Knowing the signs of spam-books is just another one of those 21st-century skills you need to help your students acquire.


  1 comment for “Book Spam: Seven Steps to Identification for Teachers and Students

  1. August 3, 2014 at 11:42 am

    It’s surely one of lifes true pleasures, when it’s a “stay indoors” kind of day and you’ve got a great book open and you’re lost in world of excitement, thought and reflection.

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