New Amazon Book Quality Checks: A Reality Check for Amazon Kindle Self-Publishers

Today I learned from a self-publishing insider that a reality check for Amazon Kindle self-publishers is on the horizon. Amazon will soon introduce new smart technology that will subject all Kindle books to quality testing. Read on to learn what that will mean. For what should be obvious reasons, I'm not going to name the source beyond telling you the source is a well-known electronic book aggregator that distributes to Amazon as well as other booksellers. Recently Amazon notified its aggregator vendors that big changes are coming soon.

This should not be a surprise to any indie author who has self-published on the KDP platform recently. You may recall that in the not too distant past, Amazon added a misspelled words identification facility to KDP. Frankly, the spell check on KDP is far from ideal. The reason is that, especially when it comes to fairly new words in the English language, there are often multiple acceptable spellings. For example, a term might be properly spelled using two words, it might be acceptable to spell the term as a hyphenated word, and it might be equally correct to spell a term as one word, without hyphenation. I'm sure you know of many words like that, so I'm not going to bore you with a spelling list here.

Here is the problem with the Amazon spell check facility. It uses only a single dictionary that Amazon has chosen to use.

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For terms like I mentioned above, if the Amazon dictionary says the correct spelling requires the use of two separate words and you used the equally correct and accepted hyphenated form or the accepted one-word version, KDP will flag it as misspelled. Also, if like me you sometimes use words from another language like French or Spanish in your otherwise English language book, especially slang words, KDP will flag the words as misspelled.

At the moment, you can simply tick a box that tells KDP to ignore misspelled words if you don't agree with the KDP spell check. That's what I've been doing because I have yet to actually see a word KDP has flagged as misspelled, that actually was. I've only seen words that KDP considers misspelled because it isn't the spelling from the dictionary KDP uses or a word from another language that I had reason to use in an otherwise English language book. I'm not about to go back and edit an entire manuscript just for KDP when word spellings I've used are not actually misspelled at all. All good then, right? Just tick the ignore misspelled words box and carry on. No harm, no foul.  Well, not so fast. Here is what is coming to a publishing platform near you.

Amazon I have learned will soon be implementing smart technology to evaluate the quality of Kindle books published on Amazon. No, not just new books, all Kindle books. All books on Amazon will soon be subjected to "quality testing." This smart technology testing will check for typos, cover art "issues," broken web links within the books, missing content, and the existence of negative customer feedback submitted to Amazon customer support. Books that fail this new Amazon smart technology quality testing will be removed from Amazon.

What isn't clear at the moment is exactly how the process will work. Will Amazon just suppress titles that fail the quality tests and then give authors/publishers a fair opportunity to correct the issues or dispute the findings? Or, will Amazon simply summarily delete those books and leave it up to authors/publishers to attempt to publish a new version that complies with the Amazon publishing gatekeeper standards?

The truth is, this smart technology quality checking may be something that Amazon should have been doing a long time ago, but I expect there is going to be a lot of bad to go along with any good that comes from this.

First, consider the KDP spell check situation I've already covered. It may soon not be an option to just tick an ignore misspellings box on KDP. Those terms that aren't spelled the way the Amazon dictionary says they should be, in spite of the fact the terms may have been spelled in a perfectly correct and widely accepted way, is going to be a ding against a book when it comes to these new quality checks.

One must also be concerned that this new smart technology quality check software may not function any better than the KDP spell checking facility. It could very easily flag things that shouldn't be flagged for any number of reasons. And what about "cover issues?" Does that mean if Amazon doesn't think a cover looks professional enough, the book will get suppressed until a new cover is submitted, or maybe even summarily deleted? Let's face it, every time Amazon has come up with some new whiz-bang technological "improvement" it has always been a bit buggy and less than optimal for a good long while before it ever starts functioning the way it was intended to.

Until now, Amazon has pretty much relied on negative customer feedback when making decisions about book quality issues. I've personally known a few indie authors who have been required to make corrections and republish books on KDP when, in the opinion of Amazon, there were too many customer complaints.

Here is, in my opinion, the worst thing about this new smart technology to evaluate the quality of the books on Amazon. For years Amazon has been hailed and given credit for single-handedly destroying the gatekeepers of publishing and authorship, ushering in the indie author movement. All well and good. It's no secret the big traditional publishing houses have from almost the beginning of time operated book publishing as a sort of absurd lottery system. Amazon rightly gets a great deal of credit for leveling the playing field. Yet now, Amazon is about to lay claim to a gatekeeper's crown of its own. Now  Amazon is going to begin making decisions about who can write and publish a book, at least on their platform. That's just another nail in the coffin of self-publishing.

Like it or not, having a book on Amazon has become the gold standard of credibility for indie authors. If your book is on Amazon then you are a authentic author. When a friend or acquaintance learns I've written and published novels, the very first question they always ask is whether the book is on Amazon. If you can't get your book published on Amazon, good luck in finding any book marketer who will be willing to help you sell your books. All of the marketers that actually can help you sell books all require a minimum number of positive Amazon reviews. Without having your book on Amazon, you won't get those reviews, and no credible book marketing site will even consider listing your book.

Wasn't the self-publishing movement always supposed to be about making it possible for anyone who wanted to do so, regardless of talent or the financial ability to pay for professionally designed book covers and editing, being given a fair chance to write and publish a book? Does anyone actually believe it is going to serve the interests of self-publishers for Amazon to now set itself up as just another gatekeeper, just another obstacle to ordinary people writing and publishing books?

It seems I've written a lot of negative stuff about self-publishing lately. In my opinion that has been the case simply because there has been a lot of negative stuff about self-publishing lately. No question this post sounds quite negative too. So, let me try to end it on a positive note.

As said earlier, some good things can come from this new smart technology and the quality checks. Anyone who has been around self-publishing for any length of time knows that there is a boatload of garbage eBooks on Amazon.

I'm not referring to books that just aren't very well written, or that have a handful of typos, misspelled words, or missing or misplaced commas. I'm talking here about the heaps of 100 or fewer pages "pamphlets" that have been published on KDP over the past several years by people with no intention of publishing a quality book.

These are "books" published by people who paid some charlatan for a course get-rich-quick scam that promised to teach them how to write and publish "books" on Amazon in a week or less so that they could get rich by cashing in on the self-publishing gold rush. Few copies of these books ever sold probably, but the books are still there on the Amazon virtual shelves gumming up the works.

Also, there are large scammer operations all over the world spawned by the dubious Kindle Select program that have thrown up tons of eBooks on KDP that are for the most part filled with pure gibberish. These books have been published for one reason only. They were published for enrollment in Kindle Select so the scammers could exploit the program and get paid, in some cases hundreds of thousands of dollars per month for bogus page reads. In fact, I'd be willing to bet that this new quality check program is aimed squarely at those Kindle Select scammers. But, if you know anything about the other tactics Amazon has employed to combat the scammers, then you also know that far more innocent authors who have never done anything wrong have been caught in the Amazon nets than any scammers have.

Kindle Select was an ill-conceived program that from the start was vulnerable to being gamed. Amazon has tried every conceivable tactic to stop the scammers. But each time a new tactic is employed to try to stop the scamming, the scammers simply fine-tune their fraudulent systems and keep on cashing those Amazon checks. One hopes that Amazon will eventually accept that Kindle Select needs to go because the company is never going to be successful in eliminating the fraud. For another thing Kindle Select and the companion Kindle Unlimited program is largely responsible for artificially depressing eBook prices for years, and for the slow but steady erosion of a healthy self-publishing environment.

Finally, there are just too many eBooks on Amazon now, and those numbers are growing exponentially year over year. It's estimated that there are now over 7 million Kindle titles. Have you tried to do a search on Amazon lately? If so, I hope you knew exactly what book by what author you wanted, because otherwise, Amazon searches are practically useless.

Amazon searches for keywords or categories are apt to yield hundreds if not thousands of pages of returns. Does anyone find that useful? Has anyone ever bothered to go through maybe even the first three pages of results? In the searches I have personally done of late, I have received far more suggestions for books that had absolutely nothing to do with what I searched for than books suggestions that did. That in part is because of the mind-boggling number of eBooks on Amazon.

Amazon almost continually tries to come up with new book categories because all of the existing popular categories are bursting at the seams with books. Also, a new scheme being pushed by the self-publishing "experts" is for authors to get their books moved to "less competitive" categories to increase rankings and sales. With a wink and a nod, the "experts" say authors should not purposefully put a book in a category it doesn't belong in just to gain a competitive advantage. But, of course, desperate for visibility, authors are doing just that.

I've seen books that are clearly identified as fiction in the top twenty books in the "True Crime" category. There is one book in particular that I know of that has been ranked the number one bestseller in the "Private Investigators" mystery & thriller category that is a cozy mystery that has absolutely nothing in it about private investigators. I've seen titles in African-American culture categories that have neither been written by an African-American nor contain anything remotely connected with African-American culture. Finally, there is a number one bestseller in "Higher Education/Continuing Education" that is a garden variety financial self-help book.

Mind you, these are just three examples, not even the tip of the iceberg. The literal tsunami of intentionally miscategorized books is one primary reason Amazon searches don't work properly anymore. But the real issue is this. There are just too many books. The Amazon platform is simply overwhelmed.

I think it already well-established that Amazon bookshelves, while virtual, certainly do not have room for an infinite number of books. So, a mechanism to start removing the garbage I mentioned is I think long overdue, and a step in the right direction. But, so much more needs to be done, like stopping authors from putting books in the wrong categories simply to gain a competitive advantage for one. Amazon should put books in the proper category when published, and stop accepting requests from authors or publishers to capriciously move books to categories they don't properly belong in to gain competitive advantage.

Only time will tell how much good and how much bad will come of this new Amazon smart technology quality checking initiative, but it's coming and it can't be stopped. One thing is for certain. Better buckle up, buttercups. When it comes to publishing gatekeepers, a new sheriff is coming to town. For any indie authors who have managed to live under the illusion until now that Amazon is some benevolent multi-billion dollar corporation which exists primarily to champion the downtrodden indie authors of the world and is eager to share its largesse with them, a reality check is on the way.

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