The business of generating and selling low-quality ebooks

Originally published at:


I wonder how bad the problem needs to get before Amazon starts worrying about the flood of garbage turning off customers from buying books from them altogether.


Years ago I worked in a second-hand bookshop. My boss was scathing about what he called “cut-and-paste books”. His observation was that anything (anything bad) with a claim to be esoteric or “new age” would have (1) something about flying saucers and (2) something about the Loch Ness Monster. E-books of this type are just a continuation of the same old crap. The genuine stuff focuses on the topic. It might still be bad - I have a book on Ogham which i’ve shelved after being disgusted with the innaccuracies in the first chapter - but it’s not “cut-and-paste”.


There’s a physical book that I literally threw across the room after it suggested that kissing was an evolution of bacterial conjugation.


They periodically ditch one of the grifting models. For example they banned books made from “quality wiki content” ages ago. Then they put limits to how many self published books you could publish a week a while back (as people have been publishing Markov chain books based on failed searches for ages).

One important thing to remember about Amazon is that, at corporate level, books are a bit of a dirty word for them. They may be based on book selling monopolies and monopsonies but they don’t like being reminded of it and the best way to get shown the door there is to demo something and focus on books and how it impacts that.

They’d like books to go away as long as they get the money.


Amazon has become the online equivalent of the Sears & Roebuck catalog. With books, and little quality control.


I’ve been working for a little startup web store. It’s been an exercise in frustration, both for me and the owner. He had me use Chat GPT a few weeks back to make a small book about our niche - outdoors shirts and gear. “25 Fun Outdoor Activities for Couples”. The idea was that he wanted to give them away with purchases - a little bonus.

Then, last week it was “Oh! I bet we could sell these!” No. No, we can’t. I like the guy personally, but he’s so frustrating to work for. It was really neat to get something physical in the mail that I had some sort of role in creating, though. Oh, and if anyone is worried about the ecological implications of creating and distributing books that no one will read, let’s just say, at the current rate of sales, you don’t need to worry overmuch. /blinks


The Folding Ideas video about the Mikkelsen twins who have been profiting mightily from this junk content is worth 75 minutes of your time.

He even tries a similar approach to creating his own book as well as trying to match the throughput expected of the people who produce this garbage for less than 1 cent per word:


If there is a silver lining to this mighty cloud of crap, it could be that professional reviewers in mainstream media will be validated.


I was thinking the same about human librarians and archivists in an age where machine algorithms can’t distinguish good content from bad. I don’t know if it’s quite the right time for the Butlerian Jihad yet, but it never hurts to plan ahead.


Not just books; in recent years the quality of all product categories on Amazon have taken a significant turn for the worse. Fake ratings and product reviews make it difficult or impossible to tell the few high-quality products from the garbage. I could go on a long rant about this with a lot of specific examples but it wouldn’t be good for my emotional state right now.


I don’t understand. To make any money, don’t people have to actually buy the product? Who’s actually paying for this shit? Surely there aren’t enough transactions arising from reflexive “buy it now” purchases of ridiculous-sounding titles to make it worth anyone’s while?


If you can crank out a high volume of product with very little effort, you don’t need a high volume of sales for each title.


One thing that seems to have been going on with these fake books for a while is that they’re being used for money laundering. So they’re selling, for some value of “selling,” and Amazon is getting their cut - giving Amazon an incentive to keep the fake books. Given how hard Amazon’s been hit with enshittification, that may be enough.

Oh no, Amazon has become so much worse. Amazon has ceded a fair amount of its product listings to third parties, some of whom are running actual scams instead of selling products.


This makes a lot more sense to me than actual readers buying these “books.”


Yes and!

If you can crank out shitty products like books at high volume, you can normalize utterly shitty books while also destroying critical thinking by moving the Overton Window [of book quality] waaaaaaaaaaaaaaay off the scale!

Bonus points if it is either malicious communications adjacent or pauperizes the original author of the original written work!

It’s getting harder and harder for me to convince the young 'uns to read a book. Now I don’t even know if my encouraging them to read is going to be too fraught to tackle. Unless I buy them the books myself.


As the grandfather of a 4 year-old I was just facing this same bleak hellscape.


Well, ya can’t go wrong with the Newberry and Caldecott winners. I’d start there. And of course, the usual lovable suspects like Dr. Seuss books, Frog and Toad books (yes Caldecott award), and a used copy (it’s out of print) of Bill Nye’s Great Big World of Science… which is I admit a bit “old” for a 4 year old, but any young nerd invariably latches on to it.

More age appropriate stuff can of course be recommended at your local public library if you are lucky enough to be in a town that has a public library (oh how I love librarians–they are all amazing humans).

Some age-appropriate / preschooler grist here:

Good luck!
I mean it.


A month or so ago, Instagram made me aware of a genre of literature – I use the term rather loosely – called LitRPG Harem novels. They seem largely to be a cliched mix of soft porn and videogame tropes including stat scores and the like. I assume so, anyway, as I never wanted to read one. To me, Lit RPG is online text role-playing where you write several, hopefully well-crafted, paragraphs per post, rather than one line of dialogue.

At any rate, I looked at them on Amazon and quickly discovered a swarming ecosystem of multi-book series written at remarkable speed by dodgily named authors. All supported by hundreds of 5 star reviews.

I presume these titles are manifestations of the AI boosted enshittification of modern publishing.


i think maybe born from the “light novel” format. at least one of those even got it’s own show. ( in its case, i think the name alone is priceless )

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