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Amazon is filled with garbage e-books, this is how they get made (vox.com)
247 points by crescit_eundo 38 days ago | hide | past | favorite | 146 comments



The focus of the article is on charlatans selling courses, but I think Amazon deserves more scrutiny. They enable this entire ecosystem of fake books and fake products.

I have to imagine that with the amount of data Amazon collects, they could do a lot more to counter the epidemic of fakes.


Amazon's 'solution' has been to limit self published authors to 3 new books a day. What a joke.

https://www.theguardian.com/books/2023/sep/20/amazon-restric...


Yes, that number is absurd. A normal person can maybe write a book a year, max. Stephen King can write two, but there's only one of him.

Maybe simple self-help books can be written a little faster, because they are shorter. A maximum set in words -- instead of books -- might work better; say 100-150k words per year?

But would that be enough? Wouldn't grifters create a multitude of accounts to publish their books?

Maybe the solution would be some kind of automated system to evaluate the quality of a book? It needn't be fine-grained, it would simply output "trash/non trash" and could try to test whether the book contains any new information not available elsewhere, or whether there are entire paragraphs taken verbatim from wikihow.

But AI-generated books may be hard to spot. Maybe there's no solution.


3 per day is absurd, but so is a maximum of one book a year. Here are some people who beat that by miles: https://thebookslist.com/most-prolific-authors/


> The second most prolific fiction writer is Charles Hamilton, 1876-1961. It is basically impossible to count his books but he is known to have written more than 100 million words, which is the equivalent of 1,200 full length novels He also wrote about 5000 short stories.

Of course there will be outliers in any category, but even then... 100 million words divided by 60 years of activity (?) is 1.6 million words a year, every single year of that period. I don't think that's possible for just one man.

But ghostwriting is as old as writing.


At 40 hours per week that's only ≈770 words per hour on average, which seems achievable.


> they could do a lot more to counter the epidemic of fakes

they are not incentivized to do so, since they profit from the fakes; only if/when this results in customers disengaging from Amazon altogether and total sales decreasing, will it be seen as a problem


MBAs will never understand intrinsically that $1 in extra profit from a ripped-off customer is dangerous profit if that churn it increases your future CAC by more than >$1


Even if they understand that, MBA executives will be judged by profit targets hit __this year__, not when the crows come to roost 3 years from now.


This. executives are very smart and know exactly how to their incentives work. The shareholders are the ones not paying attention.


Ugh Whisper. On Audible I used to browse the free sci fi. Found James S. A. Corey, etc. there and ended up spending a lot...and I mean a lot of money buying authors series that I had never heard of. Now all the Whisper read...stuff crowds everything out. I don't even bother anymore and look elsewhere for books, use podcasts, listen to long youtube lectures while on the tractor, doing fence, clearing land on the weekends and during my commute.


How about this account for a "polymath" who manages to churn out a "book" almost every week on topics from AI to installing cabinets and a whole bunch of pseudo science woo woo: https://www.amazon.ca/stores/D.R.-T-Stephens/author/B0CC62LX...

They buy a lot of ads so I guess Amazon likes them.


I wouldn’t wish a forced-read of that guy’s bio on my worst enemy. (But I did just send it to all my close friends.)


Lol, even the author's image is AI generated.

The text screams ChatGPT.

Amazon has given up on AI.


I love how the person's name is D.R. T Stephens. Not D.R.T. Stephens and definitely not Dr. T. Stephens, no matter what you may be expected to read.


Amazon is not incentivized to do so for as long as they maintain a monopoly in the book market, just like they are not putting enough effort in removing knock off products.


> The focus of the article is on charlatans selling courses

... with no evidence of charlatanism, note.


> Amazon is filled with garbage

Full stop, no need to specify e-books.

I've moved my purchasing dollars elsewhere at this point with the exception of some very specific categories. Amazon is just too unreliable.


Every once in a while I try to become an Amazon seller through FBA. I sell quality goods without a huge markup.

My latest attempt resulted in 1/3 of the goods being returned because they could be sourced cheaper elsewhere (eg AliExpress) after they were tested, or they were swapped by the buyer with defective goods purchase elsewhere returned (they had heavy wear). In the case where the goods were still functional, the packaging was damaged and I had to pay for the returns.

My conclusion is that amazons liberal return policies only allow something to be sold profitably at a 2-3x markup. Hence everything being garbage.

I won’t attempt it again.


Where do you sell your goods then?


As a consumer I love liberal return policies, as I can buy something I’m not sure about to try it out. When I was in Colombia, but avoided buying some AirPods because I couldn’t try them on, and once purchased I could not return them. When I buy shoes online , I’ll buy maybe 7 pairs, find the best fit, and return rest.

As a vendor, I can’t imagine dealing with a high percentage of returns. I don’t know what the solution is.


how do you feel about the resource waste of such return policies? Shipping all these items to then return most of them is an insane amount of waste. And sometimes returned items cannot be resold so they are thrown away. Imo there should be clear limits on returns


Amazon prefers that people return goods. Last month, I bought something and immediately on next day price fell a bit. Contacting amazon support to see if they would offer me a partial refund of the difference(as my order didn't still ship), they told me that they don't do that anymore and I should deny the delivery and order at new price. After 2 days of my second order, first order was actually shipped(irrelevant to me at this stage), but the price now fell significantly(~35% of original), so I simply ordered at a new price and waited. Took me around 1.5 month to get my thing, but ultimately, this could be avoided if amazon was nice enough to give me a partial refund.

Also, here in EU, amazon recently reduced their return window, from 30 days to 14 days after receiving, so some limits are being put in place, because some of my friends order a lot of things to make unboxing videos/tiktok and other crap and then return it, which is real waste.


I'd prefer not to. In my case, it's nearly impossible to find shoes that fit. My size is not available in stores.


The solution is pricing it in.

Like stores that sold physical goods had to price in things like staff or shoplifting or business rates.


Agreed. I let my Prime subscription expire a few days ago.

Amazon's thrown in the towel on streaming and decided it'd rather be an ad-supported model with Freevee (which also eventually inherits Prime-exclusive shows).

For the rare instances I do want to order something physical from Amazon, waiting isn't a problem. For the rest of the time, I'd rather my dollars go anywhere else.

When someone like me looks at Walmart and says "There's a more ethical alternative", Amazon might have a problem.

But I assume Amazon retail leadership is self aware they're milking the long tail of historical brand cachet while under-investing in their future, at this point.

AWS and maybe some other businesses spin off, adios to the remainder as Sears 2.0.


The thing I always underestimate, in regards to bad / anti-consumer behaviour, is the size of the customer base (and sometimes in combination with the bell curve / normal distribution of intelligence, but maybe not in this case).

The scope of humanity that use Amazon is gigantic, and the percentage of us pedantic, technically knowledgeable folks who'd give up some convenience, time, or even the purchase of an item, as part of a "righteous crusade" is vanishingly small.

Amazon may even increase their sales as consumer X purchases a replacement "thing 2" because "thing 1" was dead on arrival, and money these days ain't worth the hassle of returning or getting a refund on "thing 1".


It works until people look at things like Temu, and figure out “why should I get from Amazon, when I can buy something for the same quality”. It’s just a battle of giants.


Or, if like me, you end up realizing "why should I have something shipped to my home when I can grab it from a local store for roughly the same price minus shipping".

Specialty items are still hard, but I'm not buying a hammer from Amazon when my local supermarkets all carry it and I can physically inspect and heft the product.

It does seem ridiculous that chain stores still haven't figured out how to have a good online shopping experience.


Yes. When I need something, my first stop is the physical stores in my area. I only go online if nobody carries what I'm looking for.

> Specialty items are still hard

I stopped using Amazon years ago, and what I've done for specialized items is to find the actual manufacturer and order directly from them. This works 80-90% of the time. When it doesn't work, then I hit up the likes of craigslist, eBay, etc.


The question is what will happen once Temu burn through their marketing budget. Will there be another investor with Temu 2.0?


It's owned by Pinduoduo. Publicly traded on Nasdaq, and looking at their numbers roughly, they probably have a lot of marketing budget from where it came from.


Who? There's your problem. I have never heard of Temu, and neither have many who know (and use) Amazon.


That’s only a matter of time and advertising though.


Temu has been advertising hard in the US. But it doesn't have to be temu specifically, any Chinese retailer will have all the crap you can imagine for next to nothing with the caveat of long shipping times.

They also all seem to have an orange colored website.


If you believe their stats, they have 70M+ active users in US, so I’m assuming you’re just not their target customer.


Not everybody lives in the US. Stats indicate that 53% of Temu users are from the US, and 7.5% are from the UK where I live.

Thanks for advertising it to me, but it might be futile. After having had my experience with the Amazon shopping giant, and how it fell from grace, I do not care to "invest" in another giant that will eventually end the same way.


It only launched in the UK a year ago, but is now the "UK's most-downloaded shopping app" according to The Times: https://www.thetimes.co.uk/money-mentor/consumer-rights/what...

Sure, not all of those downloads will have resulted in a purchase - but the same is true of Amazon.

The point is that Temu is takes the "masses of cheap crap" aspect of Amazon, and makes a virtue of it. It's effectively the Ryanair model - most people want cheap crap, so why bother with the last vestiges of Amazon-style customer service when you can ditch all that and be even cheaper and crappier?


Yeah, fair. I’ve never used it to be honest, but from what I’ve heard from my friends it’s good at “cheap crap that I need” category. My point wasn’t advertising it to someone, but saying even the giants like Amazon could see its lunch being chipped away slowly if they don’t fix their issues. That being said, I won’t be surprising once the competition starts heating up, they’ll start banning other Chinese tech companies in US.


I'm glad I did that years ago.

Amazon Music playing ads even during purchased songs.

Kindle tokens expiring as soon as you stop your monthly subscription.

Enough is enough.


Right. After I got a recall notice on some Amazon vitamins because they were counterfeit, I stopped ordering much of anything from Amazon.

A competing "direct from the manufacturer" sales site would be useful. Only the business that actually makes the thing could sell it. No intermediaries.


I canceled prime earlier this year when they announced ads in prime video, which I rarely used but seemed like a red flag. I'd lost trust in them for consumable products long ago.

I've saved a good deal of money, and waiting a couple extra days for delivery has only been a minor inconvenience .

I had the same thought a couple weeks ago regarding direct-from-manufactuerer product search / purchase. I'd use it regularly.


I did the same thing. But for different reasons.

I cancelled both Netflix and Amazon Prime last year and decided to do account hopping on a month by month basis. Their greed is what triggered this. Both have gone down a path of less and less interesting content, price increases, and now indeed this ad driven bullshit. I realized I'm paying 20 euros per month for both and struggling to find something worth watching for months.

So, I cancelled both and went over to Apple TV. They don't have a lot but what they have is quite nice. Once I'm done with that, I'll consider what to subscribe to next. Criteria here: whatever I pick has to have stuff I want to watch (ad free, obviously) and I'll unsubscribe the second I get bored. I'm done paying for multiple streaming services at the same time. I only want the good stuff. I'm not interested in the generic filler content, B movies, etc. that are cheap to license but horrible to watch.

I might come back to Netflix or Prime periodically to check certain shows. But not on a permanent basis. If more people do this, that gives them a nice price signal that they need to invest in quality.


I find good deals on manufacture online stores, so that would be helpful.

It started from using Amazon to research and then looking for alternative larger online stores to buy from when product+shipping more or less matched Amazon.

A couple of times I have found good deals direct from the manufacture that were not available elsewhere, so I make a point of checking there as well now.

It feels like companies are able to setup a competent online store more easily now (billing and logistics).


On the other hand, I've found manufacturer sites have a "Where to buy" section that just contains an Amazon link.


Nevertheless, spam ebooks do deserve a separate category. There is an actual industry around spam ebooks that offers aspiring fraudsters the tools to quickly cobble together junk with enough stolen content that readers are getting their $0.99 worth. (That latter part helps raise the bar against refund requests.) Moreover, this industry has developed tools and mechanisms to SEO and spam your fraudulent book. Why launch it as ine book, instead of 20 by 20 different authors, with slight variations on the title?

Some of these tricks may be used for physical products as well, but at least they need to deliver a physical product. In the case of spam ebooks, this pipeline takes care of everything. You click around for a few hours, launch the software: bam, 20 junk books with just enough content to not warrant refunds and SEO'd titles to get at least a few dozen sales.

I looked into this well over a decade ago; back then, you could buy a set of DVDs that would teach (and, perhaps, assist) you in perpetrating this. I get the appeal: back then a popular category was tax tip books. Scrape some tips from here and there, slap on a dozen titles and author names, and sell for low enough that people don't mind taking a chance on your crap. Pity Amazon still hasn't made any successful steps against this.


Dont you think problem with spam books is that someone actually buys them?

Without enough demand no one would do it.


I don't get it, who buys them? My time is so precious (raising 2 small kids now) that I do quite a bit of research before committing so much of my time to it. There are literally millions of books out there.

Even without kids, life is just so wonderful and intense to actually experience, stuff I pick up for just sitting and reading better have amazing reviews by many thousands. Yes, I won't support much some new starting author this way (but then if he wins say Hugo it gets on my list) but my time and well being is simply higher priority for me.


Most likely same people who buy random trash because it's cheap and "FREE DELIVERY WITH PRIME". People really need to be educated not to spend money on trash.


If you can get a copy of "100 money-saving tax tips" for $1.99, and the preview already sounds promising, wouldn't you? Even one good tip would easily save you the price of the book.

(Also: to me, blaming demand is a bit victim blaming - these scams are deliberately set up to entice as many readers as possible.)


I mean if a person buys one such book for $1.99, not refunds it and afterwards he continue to buy same low-quality books then might be it wasn't such a bad deal for them? Might be they actually think they extracted enough value from it?

How it's different than any other low-quality literature which was always in abundance on the market? Except before copywriting cost $500 and now generated one cost $20 to produce.

Who should be ultimate censor of what books must be released an what books shouldn't?

PS: Same way some people love to buy cheap trash from AliExpress for $1.99 and at least generated books dont create actual e-waste, CO2 footprint and other pollution. And Amazon is now full with trash from AliExpress just 2x more expensive.


> How it's different...

"They" use software to create many slightly tweaked copies under seemingly different author names. So the low effort of one cobbled together book takes the space of 20 or 30 books. I.e. anyone not playing this game is quickly drowned out by the ones who do.

> Who should be ultimate censor of what books must be released an what books shouldn't?

The issue isn't censorship - or actually, it kind of is, but then by the fraudsters "censoring" non-fraudster books by swamping the market.


> Amazon is filled with garbage. Full stop, no need to specify e-books.

But the problem is where else can you buy things online where this isn't a problem these days? Everywhere has become a marketplace akin to Alibaba (where people traditionally accepted the tradeoff of poor reliability in exchange for good prices when decent products were actually delivered).


Here's the secret: Aliexpress is actually very good. If you can find an offering where the materials and processes are detailed AND the price reflects these details THEN you can get excellent value and items that last.

Buying without meeting these conditions will only yield garbage and scams.


The problem is that unless you buy Brand stuff, you're just paying double the price for being dropshitted Aliexpress garbage.

Yes, that was a typo but I'm leaving it.


What are the alternatives to Amazon?


https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=biYciU1uiUw

Linked doco by Dan Olson. Strong recommend.


His other long form videos are also a great combination of research and comedy. Worth your time in my opinion.


Highlights include:

- "In Search of a Flat Earth" (2020): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JTfhYyTuT44

- "Line Goes Up" (2022): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YQ_xWvX1n9g

- "The Future is a Dead Mall" (2023): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EiZhdpLXZ8Q


This is Financial Advice (2023) is also excellent - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5pYeoZaoWrA

Its about the fallout of the memestock craze and where the community ends up.


So I thought I had known most of that material, but I had somehow missed the entire thing about the mother-of-all-short-squeezes being a global financial apocalypse that brings down the entire system...

Which actually raises the interesting question: just how can you even entertain a belief that you'd somehow leverage billion-dollar profits in such a situation? I mean, I know it's completely divorced from reality. I can understand the appeal of the conspiracy theory, I can understand how they think they've found the one loophole that makes infinite money, I can understand the proof-by-contortionist-decoding-of-secret-messages. But not how you can even seriously think, in a world where you found the thread that will let you pull one over the big guys in a serious way, that the government--the people whom you believe to be colluding with the Big Them™ to screw you over--will willingly be held hostage by you in the grand climax and let you extort great gains rather than changing the rules of the game (which is literally their job). I mean, in standard apocalyptic literature, it's the role of God--a higher power not subject to the observable rules of the game--who plays the role of wreaking the final vengeance and rewarding the pious faithful; but here, in this theory, it's the bad guys who are supposed to wreak vengeance against themselves and reward their enemies for being faithful to the higher script.

The other thing is I think the video is still a bit premature; it was written soon after the bankruptcy of Bed, Bath & Beyond, so it doesn't have much to go on for how the movement evolved afterwards, and I would have liked to learn more about that.


I know what you mean, but we both know the how. The "I will be rich by the end of it" square is fixed, the route taken to that square will go by any path just barely plausible. If you point out one is impossible - that the Big Them will screw them over - well, the Bigger They In The Shadows will force them to follow The Secret Rules. Yeah, you and I wouldn't entertain this, but if one fixes the desired ending, then the contortions in the middle don't matter as much. "if not like this, then it will be that".


> "how can you even entertain a belief"

groupthink and in-group morality. The HODLers have a feeling of righteousness when they think about brining down the system


`Line Goes Up` was jaw-droppingly awesome, about the Venn diagram of crypto and scammers being (maybe) a circle :)


Another great resource for crypto news is Molly White's website:

https://www.web3isgoinggreat.com/

What's amazing to me is reading about what the crypto thieves and smart contract exploiters do with the funds they've taken. It seems common for a person who's managed to acquire $100K USD worth of ETH or Solana to then turn around and buy some NFTs with it.

I'm like: "Dude, you just had a great payday, now you get to ride off into the sunset with your ill-gotten gains." But either they are crazy, the world is crazy, or I'm going crazy. I don't understand it all.


Yes! Came here to recommend this video as well. Dan Olson (Folding Ideas) has some of the best long-form content on YouTube, period.


Damn this is so good


I watched the whole thing. I was bummed that he didn't do the whole course; have the audio book made, sell it, profit.


"Dollar General Winklevi"

Amazing


Stick to checking out books from your library / Libby. You'll save money and might end up making discoveries you otherwise wouldn't.


Libraries are excellent gatekeepers for content quality. Generally, library books are scrutinized and determined as "worth paying for".

Previously, publishers would do similar due diligence - someone at the house would actually read the book, if not work with authors.

Due diligence of this nature is not now particularly common. There is no cost risk with a digital book. It could be, and often is, written by those without the talent to match their ambition. If one is looking for new authors to read, it's very difficult to sort through the dreck.

Let the libraries sort through the dreck for you. Pro-tip: gift your local library a mere $100. They'll love you for it and invite you to all sorts of interesting gatherings. You might meet a good book, or even better, a good person.


It’s true that nooks could be written by novice writers but even worse they could be entirely generated with LLMs, never even read end to end by the presumed authors. Sometimes there’s no human in the loop, just some scripts running.


You are right. The materials they acquire often go through rigorous selection processes


If you look for a reputable publisher like McSweeney or Scholastic, does that help?


In principle yes, but it is often far less than ideal. Popular books often have only 2 copies, physical or digital, so you need to wait in the queue for a while before you can get to read it. And that's only if your library carries the book, physical or digital -- there is often a long delay before you can find book in a bookstore and you can find it on the shelve. For various reasons the library might not want to purchase a book so you are on your own.


If you want to purchase a book on Amazon, then your best bet is to just only look for books sold and published by a reputable or at least known publisher. This is especially true for a lot of older books, which often have great editions in the midst of awful "print on demand" versions or new typesettings of old public domain version with awful quality and editing.

(Then, even further, you might as well just cut out Amazon as the middleman if you're so inclined, or look for a local book store that has online purchases.)


"Reputable publishers" put out garbage books all the time.

Remember "Snooki"? Four books for sale on Amazon, all published by a "reputable publisher" (in fact, a division of Simon and Schuster).

Of the current top 20 best sellers list:

https://www.amazon.com/best-sellers-books-Amazon/zgbs/books/...

I'd rate at least 15 as "garbage books" on sight.

"Reputable publishers" are in business to make money. Some of them may put on airs of intellectual quality, but in fact if trash books make a buck, they will publish them. If high-quality books are unlikely to make a profit, they will not.


> Popular books often have only 2 copies, physical or digital, so you need to wait in the queue for a while before you can get to read it.

Wait in the queue? What's fundamentally wrong with that? If something's worth reading, it's worth waiting for. Do we really have to have everything right now?


>What's fundamentally wrong with that?

Nothing of course, patience is a lost virtue and relevant to the topic of the thread, it's no accident that the only thing Amazon has gotten better at is shipping garbage faster.

In fact when it comes to the current popular thing, just go for the unpopular thing that nobody else is interested in because chances are there's something more interesting in it anyway. There's also this community on reddit of people who on principle wait a few years before they play games. Time is literally the best filter. Anything that's popular and good will still be interesting in three years.


If a book is popular, then you don't really have a problem with it being a fake or garbage right?

The problem with amazon books is all the garbage books, but if you know you want "the wheel of time" then it's pretty easy to track that down on amazon or elsewhere.

The only problem popularity presents is if it's somewhat underground. Then you might not stumble on it. Otherwise, just perusing the library should give you a lot of books which are reputable.


In the former case, congratulations, you now know which book to buy that’s likely not an AI scam.


At my library you can check out sewing machines and power tools as well.

And CA libraries have access to courses on Coursera.


My local library gives access to O'Reilly Safari. You have to click around a bit more than if you had a full price account but I think it's a great resource.


Mine gives access to the Wall Street Journal. As well as some other papers. It only lasts 3 days, but clicking the link again gets another 3 days.


In doing my research on current books, I checked out a few from the library that were really good and definitely HN-worthy:

Bill and Dave (Michael Malone). The history of Hewlett-Packard.

Legends & Lattes: A Novel of High Fantasy and Low Stakes (Travis Baldree)

Hitch-22 (Christopher Hitchens). his memoir


Oh I loved Infinite Loop by Malone. Bill and Dave sounds like an insta-checkout for me.


I love Libby. But buying from Amazon isn’t that hard. Check the sample first, look at the publisher. Worst comes to worst, Amazon refunds you if you return an eBook. I don’t know if there is any time limit, but I have returned several books within the first day or two for full credit.


I saw a couple of scammy AI looking "summary of <book you actually want to read>" title in the search results of Libby recently.

Hopefully just a temporary glitch, but there's a hard problem of being a gatekeeper and saying "No, that's not a real book".


A little OT -- about using AI for writing.

I wrote a book in 2021 -- a historical novel (in French) -- that I published on Amazon and that did reasonably well and was even selected as one of the five "Amazon Storyteller" for France that year (it didn't win though).

I wrote that book with zero AI, and it was very hard work. It was also not particularly enjoyable, and at times excruciating.

Now I'm writing a second one, also a novel, but using AI tools. AIs don't write the book: I discuss scene beats and plot twists with different models. It's mostly moral support -- something an old-fashioned, experienced editor that had infinite time on their hands might have done.

(Of course I did try to have models do the writing, but the output is usually very poor. I'm surprised that automated ways to detect AI writing don't work, because humans can tell the difference; why can't machines?)

Using AI as a partner/editor transforms the process of writing completely, and makes it actually pleasurable. Now I long for going back to work instead of dreading it.


>because humans can tell the difference; why can't machines

Because human intelligence is non-computable


The problem here isn't the garbage ebooks (there will always be garbage).

It's the terrible Amazon shopping experience which puts no value on the customer getting a good product. EBay (!) is much better.


AliExpress has by far better customer support und money back solutions and even better shipping times in many cases if you don't live in a official Amazon country.

Even wish refunds faster and less complicated in case of no delivery.


This. Subpar products will always be on market. Problem is that Amazon making a lot of money selling trash and everyone okay with this.


I want to be a bit contrarian here. I buy books on my Kindle all the time. I always download a sample before buying. I do recall a couple of occasions where I got a sample that was one of the garbage books that this article is talking about. So yes, I've experienced it. But I don't experience it often. Nearly all the time, a search for an author or a topic brings up real, relevant books. Nearly all the time, Amazon's recommendations are for real, relevant books. So based on my own experience, I'd question how big the problem really is for the end consumer of books.


This Vox article feels almost as clickbate and turn key as its subject material. It's filled with links upon links, not to sources but to other vox articles and vox search results. It's like reading in a library only to realize, as you go for another book, that you are in a carnival mirror maze!


Agreed. I was surprised to see a link in that article to a long, ranty Reddit post when they refer to what “the rumors on Reddit say.”


https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=39512600

In this post I opined that software engineering is akin to chemical engineering: the goal is a process to churn out software at massive scale much like chemical engineers find ways to produce chemicals by the kilolitre. In the software case this comes at the expense of grace, finesse, and craftsmanship, and I suggested another analogy to being a writer vs. a "literature engineer".

This... is exactly what I meant by "literature engineering".


The biggest issue is how Amazon fails to police its genre categorisations.

The advice from the guys making garbage books, which they quite obviously put into practice, is to apply for genres with low book counts to more easily get a best seller badge for that category. Which makes Amazon a war to get miscategorised.


I'd argue an even bigger issue is the way Amazon clogs up its search and product listings with sponsored results. Amazon isn't interested in selling you what you are looking for. They want you to buy some sponsored junk instead. This mindset permeates the site and IMO is the source of many current problems.


This is my biggest complaint. I look for CS and history books and get ads for romances. At least I figured that out. It turns out romance books make more money than any other category. Apparently, Amazon's ad inventory is mostly romance.


I remember a time when Amazon was a first class reference example for facetted search. These days I find it hard to set any meaningful filters on most of my searches. Even common ones like color and size are often absent. I guess there is no ROI in helping you find the specific thing you're searching for when you can instead spray and pray with "sponsored results" and keyword stuffing.


Sponsored results are marked as such and therefore are filtered out by most adblockers. This is not a perfect solution, as grifters also game reviews, but it helps.


from 6 years ago... it's simple... the booksstore has always been used as a money laundering operation.

https://www.theguardian.com/books/2018/apr/27/fake-books-sol...


Not just e-books, garbage print too! Link below.

The kid likes brain teasers, so I'll grab a book here and there. The last one I ordered was seemingly AI generated. The wording was off, the answers were either completely incorrect, or theoretically correct but not matching the question or parameters asked. I can't quite remember the last time I became as infuriated at a...book.

https://www.amazon.com/gp/aw/d/B0CQQPPQS4


One of the reviews says to look at the sample, but it looks like the sample isn't available any more. Might just be a regional thing that the sample isn't available but maybe they removed it intentionally lol


The first puzzle from the sample:

> A seller has some quantity of floor with him. The seller offered his customer that if he/she buys half of the floor he has, he will give half kg of floor as a discount. The first customer accepted his offer and he purchased half of the floor and got half kg as extra. After selling the floor to the first customer he again makes the same offer for the second customer, and so on. The seller left with no quantity of floor after he made the fifth transaction. The initial quantity of floor the seller had?

It's a solvable math puzzle, but has some obvious issues.

One of the later puzzles is pretty funny:

> There are three people (Deepak, Avinash, Prateek ), one is a robot, one is a missile, one of them is a Gun, the robot can either lie or tell the trust, and the Gun always tells the truth, the missile always lies, and the robot can do both he can either lie or he can tell the truth.

> Statements :

> Deepak: Prateek is a missile."

> Avinash: "Deepak is a Gun."

> prateek : "I am the robot."

> Find out the Gun, the missile, and the robot?

The typos and weird formatting from the original.

The final puzzle in the sample is just sort of an incoherent mess:

> You have twenty white and thirteen black balls in a bag. You pull out two balls one after another. If the balls are of identical color, you then definitely replace them with a white ball - however, if they're of various colors, you update them with a black ball. Once you are taking out the balls, you do now no longer place them returned back in the bag - so the balls keep reducing. What will be the color of the final ball remaining in the bag?


The mangled puzzle: replace identical pairs with single white balls. Replace non-identical pairs with black balls. Number of balls reduces by one after each action resulting in a single ball at the end.

I'm not certain of the analogy, but it appears to be something like the white balls are even and the black are odd. Both odd+odd and even+even equal an even (white) number. But odd + even equal an odd number. Since it starts with an odd number of odd numbers, the answer is black.


This seems like the more lucrative route. As an avid reader I do a bit of research before deciding on a book. I suppose someone had to read it first but a lot of good books seem to bubble up to the top. I would never dig 5 pages deep into Amazon and buy a book with zero reviews based on...what? After raising small kids however, the classics are fun but buying some easy time-filling books or activity books doesn't require as much thought. I do hope that AI can also be used to combat books like the one you linked. Straight garbage looking for a sucker.


The cover looks pretty AI-generated to me too. No object on the cover makes any sense.


The image cover is visibly AI-generated. I find AI images are easier to spot than AI text.


The cover already screams AI crap...


What other good alternatives to amazon for publishing books? Preferably not filled with garbage ones.


My wife got a vegetarian recipe book from her family for her birthday from Amazon. It had multiple recipes with meat in... it had hundreds of reviews with an an average of 4+. Amazon is just full of garbage and fake reviews.

I now only buy books that seem reputable. To a lesser extent, pakt books are also not great. This time they aren't exactly AI generated, but they are very low quality content. So you can't even trust publishers.


Even when Bezos was at the helm, Amazon had tons of trash and nonsense in its marketplace...

But it'd be epic if Bezos got all pissed off about things like these books -- and various other declines of his baby -- so he forced his way back, to smack it into better shape.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cleansing_of_the_Temple

(Why I'd guess there's a nonzero chance of this happening is that, externally, it sounded like Bezos cared strongly about certain ideas, and implemented them forcefully, yet it seems like lately those ideas are being disregarded. If there's any truth to that external impression, then there could be a reckoning. Billions of dollars buys some latitude.)


The web has been filled with garbage books since its inception. Now it's Amazon, before that it was SEO-optimized e-book landing pages that showed up on Google searches for barely related topics. As long as there are people who buy them they'll keep popping up.


If there any kind of liability for Amazon, they’d be able to stop this practice in a heartbeat


Is there not a liability of people getting sick or trawling through nonsense and bad quality products?


Fanfiction sites filled with "garbage" are arguably worth more than Amazon's online free-for-all (now with AI!).

You know fanfiction sites are great when they train models on the millions of human-written, well-tagged fics


"The saddest part about it, though, is that the garbage books don’t actually make that much money either. It’s even possible to lose money generating your low-quality ebook to sell on Kindle for $0.99. The way people make money these days is by teaching students the process of making a garbage ebook. It’s grift and garbage all the way down — and the people who ultimately lose out are the readers and writers who love books."


Nobody at all guessed that this would happen.


I think you meant Amazon is filled with garbage, period.

There are more scams than legit products. It used to be the cheapest option, now it's the most expensive. Everyone is just reselling from Ali Express. The quality of the Amazon store went way downhill.


Usually pretty scam savvy but dropped my guard and bought an absolute garbage AI translation of The Little Prince on Amazon. Now I research anything before buying


What are the fastest ways to find telltale signs you missed?


I mean Amazon and Hulu are chock full of terrible B VOD movies that never went to theaters.


Sadly the technology for these scams is also very useful for legitimate new self-published authors. How much gatekeeping do we really want? I would think the review system would weed out the junk.

So here is a recent example of modern publishing:

I've been reading things on r/hfy.. which I don't think anyone would argue is high quality literature, but the stories are fun and the premiss of the entire genre works as background structure. One of the better stories is "Nature of Predators" by SpacePaladin15.

https://www.reddit.com/r/HFY/comments/u19xpa/the_nature_of_p...

Ok, so the author wants to publish on Amazon, no big deal these days, here it is:

https://www.amazon.com/Nature-Predators-Book-One/dp/B0CQ5QNW...

(I would argue that the reddit experience is actually better, because there are reader comments after each chapter. Where did the cover art come from? I don't know..)

What about the passive income? Well he's making $6K a month on Patreon. Maybe not passive since he's working on the sequel..

Well, how about an audiobook? Well patreon.com/Adastra650 has made it into an excellent audiobook on youtube:

https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLm8OjwhOz-FZG_M_A1u9d...

Some of the voices are AI generated, but they are not bad.. it has me curious what software is used. The thumbnails are also AI.

All significant books require a page on TV Tropes: https://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Literature/TheNatureO...

Naturally the story has grown out of HFY, has its own subreddit for fans and fanfiction:

https://www.reddit.com/r/NatureofPredators/

Naturally there is a NSFW version:

https://www.reddit.com/r/NatureOfPredatorsNSFW/

The Silo series (or Wool Omnibus) had similar beginnings:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Silo_(series)


I took a glance at that “Nature of Predators” book, but couldn’t get past the first sentence. Did the author really mean “sapience,” or “sentience?”


Hah, you should make this comment on reddit, because I'm curious about the response you'll get.

https://www.reddit.com/r/litrpg/comments/tw44yu/sentient_vs_...


They use sapient a few paragraphs later. Hardly the only problem with the writing though.


It's all business.


Example #732453111 of how the 2000's-era dreams of technology-enabled infinite scaling were misguided and potentially damning for the Internet.

Turns out scammers and spammers can technologically scale their side too, and can even do so in a way that the host profits from so that the host is disincentivized from doing anything about it until it's already gone too far.

Now everything is flooded with noise and supported by ads and meaningful human participation in content approval or customer service is infeasible because we're already on the far side of the transition and they can't match the established scale.

Whoops!


This is why gatekeepers are still a good thing, and now the gatekeepers are themselves somewhat democratized. Lots of people now have their favorite YouTuber / Podcaster / etc. and get book recommendations from them. And there is now a much bigger selection of gatekeepers to choose from given the variety of content on those platforms. It’s not perfect, but overall it is an improvement in many ways.

Now yes I would agree that a fully flat, bottom up, “everyone is a publisher” world where everyone is on equal footing (including the spammers) is impractical, but then again who ever said that would happen or work if it did?

It remains to be seen what effect genAI has on all this, though. Long term, it seems likely that the need for gatekeeping will only increase due to the inevitable flood of more and more generated junk.


I’ve been trying to divest from Amazon as a source for products, and am looking to use more traditional stores to curate my options. They have buyers that vet stuff to some degree, and if the product is bad, they’ll take it back. If enough people think it’s bad, they’ll stop selling it.


I don't think that "gatekeeper" is the correct term for what you're describing. Isn't it closer to "influencer", or "taste-maker"?


Curator. But otherwise, they're right. Curation and informal trust networks are the only way out.


Exactly, I would never go to Amazon to look for books. I go to Amazon to buy a specific book. I already know what I want, Amazon is just the place I order it. Some stuff is also Amazon exclusive.


Clearly we didn't think this through back then.

It should have been obvious to us that it is easier to create noise than it is to create signal.

The idyllic dream of a free internet with long tails would be replaced with a steadily worsening signal to noise ratio.

We cheered on when Google supplanted Yahoo! because the computers were better at curating than humans.

Man, we clearly sucked at choosing the right path. Dreams of utopia always hit hard when they fall.


*looks nervously at the AI revolution*


It seems a lot of people see the issues of AI coming, maybe not all of them, but certainly some. Too bad so many people and blinded by potential profits to care.


Unfortunately all the people with money can see nothing but upsides.


It's the same people that gave us pop-up ads, and now on-page pop-up ads.


the issues of AI are pretty much the same issues of "software eating the world" and the internet, only more of it, so it's not that hard to be prescient on this matter.


AI content generation is only different in scale to content farms. Not in principle.

All this means is that relying on an algo to filter things for you will become less useful (easy to game). You'll need to rely more on real humans you actually trust.


That’s sort of like saying a ripple and a tsunami are the same thing and they differ only in terms of energy, or New York City only differs from Utica in scale. Maybe it is true in some technical sense, but that is missing a lot of important information. Being able to churn out content fast, cheaper and with algorithmic optimizations starts to look like a different beast. The level at which human overrides can keep this process in check has a limit and it can be inundated. New solutions will be needed.


Take it to its root, the only reason we have spammers is because people who control technology instead of reducing work hours created marketing and advertising agencies to create artificial desire to buy useless garbage.

If you think spammers are the problem, you're missing the bigger picture, by a lot.

Technology should've brought about fewer work hours, instead it brought about mass insanity.


I prefer it like that than how it was before.

Sure, lots of noise, but lots of signal too.

Meaningful human participation in content approval is still possible of course, with social networks. It can go from getting recommendation from an influencer you align with (for once "influencer" is an appropriate term), or join a community, for example on a Discord server, or for something more public, Reddit. For customer service, Amazon is surprisingly human, at least for the few times I had to deal with them, but generally, it is something you have to pay for, and most people don't want to, but if you do, you can get a human on line.

But the most important part is that you can explore now the wild on your own. Of course, you will be bombarded with noise, but the stuff is there for you to find. Before, it was made much more complicated. For example, now, getting a book in a foreign language may be one click away, before that, you had to hunt for some specialized bookstores, regular bookstores only have best sellers, and ordering, if successful, was slow and sometimes expensive. So, sure, few garbage books, but also a much more limited choice of good books.


Stopped reading at:

"if you know the norms of publishing, you know it’s unethical"

Good grief.

Should have stopped earlier.




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