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Mike Essex

Are eBooks the new Content Farms?

8th Mar 2011 SEO | 19 Comments


Whilst the Google farmer update has not meant the end of content farms, it has certainly hit them hard and put a lot of content writers out of work [see Mahalo fires 10% of staff].

Most people use content farms to make extra revenue, or to gain a new platform for their work. So just where will these writers flock next? My bet is it will be eBooks that become the next format to be manipulated, especially as they hide away from the prying eyes of Google.

Here’s the logic:

They have little to no copyright detectors
It’s true most eBook platforms review the content they receive, however it will be little more than a cursory check by automated software with thousands of eBooks published every day across multiple platforms. I tested this by publishing an eBook with content taken from my own blog on Amazon, this didn’t set off a single detector or warning. You have to tick a box to confirm you have permission to use the content, but tick boxes have never stopped scammers from lying before.

Therefore there’s nothing to stop people gathering content from the web, and creating an eBook. Someone could go to a blog, grab any content they want, label it as their own and make money from another person’s content.

This is the same concept some of the more deceitful writers/publishers on content farms use, and without good plagiarism detectors, it’s a flaw that is ripe for manipulation. The only way to stop this is for content creators to find the eBooks and file a case against the creators. But the only way to realistically do this is to buy every book that could possibly cover your subject area.

If eBook stores change only one thing, this is it.

You can turn around a book 24 hours
Once a ‘writer’ has scraped their content for the web they can then have their eBook live in less than 24 hours on the Kindle platform, and even less time on 3rd party sites like Smashwords who aggregate eBooks to multiple formats in one go. This puts a minimal time pressure on the creator, who can be earning money on their content relatively quickly. Worse still if they survive a financial quarter without being caught, it’s an easy pay day.

Kindle Spammer
This is how creators like Manuel Ortiz Braschi can have created 2,879 eBooks in just a couple of years. Many of his books have reviews listing formatting errors and he covers such as wide range of topics it’s impossible to believe he is really an expert in all these topics. Most reviewers also cite that they won’t buy an eBook again, therefore Manuel has destroyed the platform for honest creators.

Books can cover the same topic in multiple angles
The main reason content farms were able to succeed is because they had multiple writers covering the same topic in different ways. So if you searched for “how to clean a car” or “the best car cleaning methods” a writer would have covered the different search variants. With eBooks this is harder, as you have to create an eBook for each concept, but scammers could simply write one eBook, then rewrite the content to target to target another keyword variant.

To create the illusion of separate writers, all that is required is another login account and voila, scammers can cover the same topic in multiple ways. Here’s an example for Health Insurance with the same book by three separate authors and manipulated article titles.

They sit on strong domains so have an added boost
Another reason why independent writers used content farms is that they attracted strong Google PageRanks and therefore ranked well in the search engines for generic topics. Likewise in this scenario having an eBook on Amazon’s domain (PageRank 8), or Apple’s (PageRank 9) is a sure fire way to ensure your content gets found, and if you have a keyword rich book title it certainly will do so.

They have high royalty payouts
Even pricing an eBook at a dollar or 99p a scammer can make a 30% royalty on Amazon. This is more than the average AdWords click – the financial factor in content farm growth – and is the payout for scammers using the eBook platform to hold their content. It’s a cheap price point that lowers customer expectations and allows these spammy books to survive. Most of the bad reviews for Manuel Ortiz Braschi seem to let him off because the books are cheap. This is bad for anyone else that wants to sell their book at a good price, as they’re labelled with the same poor expectations.

Reviews don’t help
The typical argument against these being problems is that the public will review the book and if they spot anything wrong they will give it a bad review. However, it’s unrealistic to assume everyone that reads the book will know where the content came from originally. Therefore it’s possible I could give an eBook a good review, in the belief that the writer was the originator of the content.

If an eBook does get a bad review, or is exposed, the writer can simply remove the eBook for publication, and resubmit it under a new name. Reviews are also unique to the particular site. So a bad review on Barnes and Noble won’t stop people buying the book from another platform.

Solutions are needed
It’s these problems that mean eBooks as a platform could soon become flooded with bad writers, stolen content and scammers out to make easy money. There’s a lot that can be done to stem the problem such as:

  • Integrating a plagiarism detector that compares book content to scans of the web
  • If content is syndicated from a blog, ask blog holders to upload a verification file to prove they have the rights to the content
  • Compare eBook content to that written in other hosted eBooks to look for similarities
  • Add a link on every eBook listing page where people can report the book for stolen content
  • Ask writers to verify their address before a book is added, this stops duplicate accounts and ‘publishers’ selling the same content
  • Investigate any content creators with more than fifty eBooks to check the quality of their content
  • Create an independent website where people can store reviews in one place will be a better way of spotting bad apples
  • If you spot someone who is trying to game the system then spread then search for their book online and post a bad review on every site they’re listed
  • Allow search engines to crawl eBook content so they can rank stolen content lower, using their existing checks

The potential
eBooks are one of the greatest digital movements in recent years, and for writers there has never been a better format for exposing your work to a wide audience. I’m passionate that a new writer can become a success if they create quality content and price it well {see Who Wants to be a Kindle Millionaire] but the issues above are real concerns that threaten the future of the platform. If we want to ensure new writers can be found online, then it’s up to the platform holders to put these measures in place, and it’s up to use to bug them until they get things right

This article is by Mike Essex who you can follow on Twitter @Koozai_Mike.

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About the author

Mike Essex

Mike Essex specialises in digital marketing and everything search. A recent project of Mike’s was featured on BBC News, Radio 5Live and the Times here in the UK, whilst also featuring on USA Today and ABC News in the US. He will be writing throughout the month about digital marketing and much more...

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