Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Digital Publishing’s PLR Plight

by J. Lea Lopez

In a previous post, I discussed my views on Amazon’s place in the world of publishing, and it would be accurate to say I was skeptical, at the least. Let me make it clear up front that while Amazon will again be the main focus of my post today, it’s not because I necessarily have it out for them, or because I’m angry about something, or because I’m just a big meanie. I (currently) have no dog in this fight, so to speak, and if an author I want to support is only available through Amazon, I’ll certainly support them. That doesn’t mean I agree with all of their policies or practices.

In my last post, I mentioned the ease of plagiarism on Amazon. Plagiarism and piracy are a writer’s nightmare, but there’s another P to beware of: PLR.

Never heard of it? Do me a favor: when you’re done reading this post, type PLR into Google and try not to cry at the results. In short, PLR = spam. Chances are, you’ve noticed PLR ebooks on Amazon, especially when looking for non-fiction. They’re the ones with generic-looking covers, that surprisingly have the same or similar names and covers as dozens of other ebooks on the same subject.

PLR stands for Private Label Rights. For a fee, anyone can purchase a subscription or a chunk of PLR content that they can then compile into an ebook and sell to anyone willing to buy. Oh, and did I mention it’s completely legit? By legit, I mean shady and despicable, but legal. Because anyone can purchase these PLR articles, you can—and if you look at Amazon, we have—run into the serious problem of ebook spam. What’s worse, is that the so-called authors of these books never have to write a word.

The same type of screening that could detect plagiarized content before it hits the shelves could also help detect and eliminate ebook spam. Not even something as blatant as uploading an ebook consisting of 700 pages of repeated song lyrics throws up any red flags at Amazon. Smashwords has strict vetting standards that have kept them seemingly free of the kind of junk currently flooding Amazon’s virtual shelves, and Mark Coker has been outspoken on the issues of PLR and plagiarism. To Amazon’s credit, they have recently begun to crack down on “undifferentiated or barely differentiated versions of e-books.”

But is it too little, too late? How long will it take for them to clear out the thousands of spam ebooks already uploaded, and how many more will be uploaded in the meantime? More importantly, why should you care?

Amazon is a huge retailer, and their name alone lends a sense of legitimacy to the ebooks uploaded there. If PLR ebooks and/or plagiarized content is allowed to clutter the shelves and compete with hard-working authors like you and me, everyone loses. Consumers will get frustrated with the buying experience. Authors—you know, the ones who actually write bona fide content—will lose sales not only to those content-farmed books, but also from those customers who simply give up and stop searching through the spam to find the real deal.

I can only speculate about Amazon’s motivations and tactics (they’ve been rather silent on this—and most—issues affecting us writers) but so far they seem to have taken the approach of damage control rather than taking preventive measures in the first place. Hopefully the developments of the past week or two mark a turning point in their policies and procedures regarding ebook content.

Have you ever had a bad ebook-buying experience as a result of spam PLR ebooks?


Richard said...

I wasn't aware of PLR. Thanks for letting me know. Amazon has a responsibility to detect PLR and eliminate it before it goes on their bookshelves. This should be a matter of utmost urgency.

Darke Conteur said...

I wasn't aware either. Tweeting this post so others will know.

LD Masterson said...

This is news for me, too. Thanks for the heads up.

JO said...

Me too - I'd never heard of this before. Though I suppose it was only to be expected that scammers would target ebooks. At least I know what to look out for now.

J. Lea Lopez said...

Glad I could shed some light on this - spread the word! I was surprised to learn about PLR as well. Though I'd certainly seen some of these books that looked like duplicates, but I never knew how they could all exist until I learned about Private Label Rights.

Richard - I agree that Amazon bears a responsibility to detect and eliminate these books before they hit the shelves. Hopefully they'll make it more of a priority than it has been.

Jemi Fraser said...

Wow - news to me too. Some people are always looking for a way to cheat the systems and the creators. So sad and frustrating.

RSMellette said...

Yeah, this is very informative. I hope it's something we can all get ahead of and stomp out early.

Winfield H. Strock III said...

PLR is news to me; horrible news. It reminds me of a story on software patents and the dirty buggars mucking that business up with similar legal yet despicable work.

My first novel, Adventures Above the Aether, is published through Amazon. Might I add that the price for my book floored me when I saw it. Amazon's gonna make their money up front while my hopes at reaching a larger audience remain in jeopardy.

I am glad I made over to this site.

petemorin said...

Yes, this is one of the byproducts of the digital revolution, but honestly, I don't think it's a huge deal, and I don't think it's much of a threat to US or the buying public.

I also don't think that the mere presence of some piece of garbage on Amazon lends it any legitimacy - any more than it lends legitimacy to the thousands of barely intelligible fiction being uploaded every day.

THAT'S what really threatens us.

catwoods said...

Jen, thanks so much for the info. Currently, I never browse on my Kindle when purchasing books. I simply type in the name of the specific book and the author.

Until now, I never realized I only buy books on Kindle that I know I want. Put me in a brick and mortar and I can sift through books all day before carting my unexpected purchases to the counter.

Guess this quirk should keep me away from the dreaded PLRs.

J said...

We are amazon publishers and have tried to publish book out of PLR ( articles rewritten and added to) but each one has been denied, Last summer amazon made a big push to weed out these types of books, and even tho we have written books from scratch , some of them are hard to get thru. I have also seen much ebook spam and that is unfruitful for all of us.
Just to say, not all PLR is spam, I have hired many legitimate authors to write article packages for sale. The bottom line is the web has a voracious appetite for content - and it is hard to keep up with.