It is amazing to me how much we talk about books on this site even though we’re supposed to be a society that doesn’t read anymore. E-readers and tablets have changed the way we read, and shockingly, they’ve increased it.
Another thing we’ve talked about around here a lot is piracy, knockoffs, and retail goods. Now, the success of e-books has brought these two markets together in a way that should scare CIOs, even those who don’t sell books.
In the last year or two, a new market for self-published “spam books” has emerged on the Amazon Kindle store and other competitors. Books that use similar titles to more famous books but sell for less are being put in e-book stores and are highly attractive to less than careful bargain hunters.
One of the more entertaining examples of this is Fortune Magazine unearthing a stay-at-home mom who has published 10,000 books in the last four years while homeschooling her daughter. She is either the most impressive and prolific author of her age or something is fishy. If I told you that one of her most popular titles is I am the Girl With the Dragon Tattoo would it clue you in?
Fortune also pointed to titles in the Amazon store like 35 Shades of Grey (mimicking the current best seller 50 Shades of Grey) and Twilight New Moon.
At first glance, it is easy to dismiss this as a trend taking advantage of the gullible and nothing we should be concerned about, but this is really a matter of Internet “shelf-space.” As Reuters reported, in 2010, 2.8 million e-books were published, compared to 316,000 paper books. In 2009, 1.33 million e-books were published, compared to 302,000 paper books.
Undoubtedly, the skyrocketing number of e-books is continuing, and it is not all legitimate, self-published material. Reuters points out that there is software available that will help you “publish 10 to 20 new Kindle books a day without writing a word.” With so many spam books crowding into the space, legitimate books are having a harder time fighting for the eyes of the consumer.
Amazon claimed in 2011 to be addressing the issue, but they clearly haven’t achieved it yet. It is a rather time-consuming process to check a book to see if it is legitimate. One can easily throw a few legitimate pages at the beginning of a bogus book or plagiarize a real book that is too obscure for inspectors to realize. Computers like IBM’s Watson that can read real text and compare it quickly are still expensive. There’s no simple answer.
And the problem is that it isn’t just books. Self-created content is becoming more popular in the entire online retail space. Whether it's customized clothing at sites like Threadless and Zazzle, crowd-sourced movie ideas, or any piece of content that can be delivered digitally, it can be the victim of spam. Imagine your Netflix video queue if they opened it to self-made movies.
And yet, it is only a matter of time before Netflix or someone else does. And there will be a Kindle store equivalent in nearly every digital space. How CIOs handle the spam problem will go a long way into determining the success or failure of that online space. Crack down too hard and you won’t have enough content. Come down too soft, and your best product won’t sell and customers will get frustrated.
The problem isn’t easy to solve, but for retail to evolve, it is important that we do.