Amazon Froze My Account and I Still Don’t Know Why

Where do I begin…

On May 2nd, I got an accusatory email from Amazon, claiming that one of my Society of Misfit Stories ebooks had “misleading metadata” and had been deactivated. Now before I get too far into this story, for those of you that are not tuned in to the soap opera that has become Amazon publishing as of late, metadata abuse is a major problem on Amazon. If you ever came across a book with a title like In Love With the Werewolf Billionaire (billionaire alpha shifter romance bestseller book three Sexy Werewolf Billionaire Series) then you know things like keyword stuffing and bad metadata is a thing.

But the thing is, my metadata is pristine. Because, you know, I’ve been involved in publishing for over a dozen years now and understand professional norms. So, the title and author name in the metadata for EVERY BOOK matches the title and author on the cover, and both match the title and author on the title page. Because, that is what you are supposed to do.

And while the ebook was in Select, there was no weirdness going on with it. Each ebook in the series is literally: title page, story, one-page author bio. THAT IS IT. No links to competitors. No stuffing of books within other books to increase page reads. No funny coding to trick the system into thinking more pages have been read than were actually read. Title page, story, author bio. That is ALL that is in each entry.

There was some vague reference to the name of a famous author or personality. No, the email did not NAME the famous personality, and when I used Amazon search to see if there was another author with the same name as my author, nothing came up. So I sent Amazon an email that I didn’t understand what they were talking about. The author name was correct. Please reactivate the story.

A short time later, I tried to log into my KDP account to upload the newest Misfit story and…I was frozen out of my account. I couldn’t even access KDP support. I had to go through regular Amazon support to reach a person, who forwarded my complaint to KDP support.

Thus begin the bizarre story of my argument with the Bots of Amazon.

Most people have suspected for a while now that Amazon was relying way too much on automation. The story you are about to read is evidence of just how ridiculous this has gotten.

The following day, I received this email:

During a quality assurance review of your catalog, we found that you have published books with intentionally misleading metadata.

Here are some examples of the books you have submitted:

The Society of Misfit Stories Presents…[I have removed the title to avoid embarrassing the affected author]

As stated in our metadata guidelines, we don’t accept content that is meant to advertise, promote, or mislead, because such content may lead to inaccurate or overwhelming search results or impair our readers’ ability to make good buying decisions.

As a result, we have temporarily suspended your account and we request that you respond to content-review@amazon.com with the following declaration: “I confirm that I have read and will comply with the Content Guidelines [https://kdp.amazon.com/self-publishing/help?topicId=A2TOZW0SV7IR1U] and [https://kdp.amazon.com/self-publishing/help?topicId=A294SHSUYLKTA6], and that I will remove any previously published books that do not meet these guidelines.”

Until we receive a response from you regarding this issue, your account will remain blocked.

If you would like to review the KDP Content Guidelines, please visit: https://kdp.amazon.com/self-publishing/help?topicId=A2TOZW0SV7IR1U.

So instead of explaining what they think I did, they send me a notice requiring me to promise not to do again what I have no idea what I have done. So I email them AGAIN asking them to please explain what, exactly, they think I did. Because I am very familiar with the TOS and for the life of me I have no idea what I am being accused of.

A few hours later, I get the following reply:

Hello,

For information regarding your account, please reference the message that we sent you on May 3, 2018:

we request that you respond to content-review@amazon.com with the following declaration: “I confirm that I have read and will comply with the Content Guidelines [https://kdp.amazon.com/self-publishing/help?topicId=A2TOZW0SV7IR1U] and [https://kdp.amazon.com/self-publishing/help?topicId=A294SHSUYLKTA6], and that I will remove any previously published books that do not meet these guidelines.”

To reinstate your account please follow the instructions provided in the above email.

Amazon.com

At this point, I send ANOTHER email asking them what they think I did. I can’t fix something that I don’t know what the problem is. I also forwarded the whole thing to Jeff Bezos’ email address, as sometimes he will get involved or, at least, whomever answers his emails gets involved. Because I NEED TO TALK TO A HUMAN BEING!

On May 4th, I get the following response:

Hello,

We have temporarily suspended your account and we request that you respond to content-review@amazon.com with the following declaration: “I confirm that I have read and will comply with the Content Guidelines and , and that I will remove any previously published books that do not meet these guidelines.”

Until we receive a response from you regarding this issue, your account will remain blocked.

If you would like to review the KDP Content Guidelines, please visit: https://kdp.amazon.com/self-publishing/help?topicId=A2TOZW0SV7IR1U.

Best Regards,

Camila H

Best Regards,

Ian S

Bangs head on table

A short time later, I DID get an email from someone at KDP Executive Customer Relations, that they were investigating my problem and would get back to me. FINALLY! A human being was involved!

Then, on the 5th, I got another generic email from Amazon, making the same, identical statement demanding that I promise not to do what I have no idea what they think I did ever again.

Now at this point, your Sithiness here is ready to Force Choke someone. Because it is so painfully….HILARIOUSLY….obvious that no human being is reading my email queries that I decide to set a trap for the bot. So at 6 PM Saturday night, I sent the following email to their content-review address:

As per the request below:

”I confirm that I have read and will comply with the Content Guidelines [https://kdp.amazon.com/self-publishing/help?topicId=A2TOZW0SV7IR1U] and [https://kdp.amazon.com/self-publishing/help?topicId=A294SHSUYLKTA6], and that I will remove any previously published books that do not meet these guidelines.”

As I have repeated the requested statement, please unfreeze my account.

I am repeating this statement at your request. This is not an admission of guilt, as you have not actually informed me of what I an allegedly guilty of. I am complying with an arbitrary request to repeat information in an automated email. Repeating this statement in no way acknowledges the validity of the accusations Implied, since the accusations have never actually be clarified in any way, shape, or form.

So, what do you think are the chances that the bot scanned the response for the required phrase and then unfroze my account without a human being ever reading it? If you answered “Highly likely…YOU WOULD BE CORRECT! Because by Sunday morning, my account was unfrozen, and I got a lovely, accusatory bot response informing me not to do it again or I could lose BOTH my KDP and Createspace accounts.

Still have no idea what I did, however. Since the offending story was reinstated with no changes to it.

I started publishing in 2004, before the Kindle was a thing. I started with mobipocket.com and was part of the initial transition into KDP when it launched. I was an early adopter of the Createspace platform. I have been publishing with Amazon for over a decade and have always strived to present professional material. To have a robot accuse me of unethical behavior and demand that I promise not to do it again is insulting and borderline libel. Anyone who has ever worked with me knows I am one of the most open and transparent publishing in the indie community. To have an automated algorithm make an arbitrary decision that I broke some unexplained rule is enough to make me breath fire.

So what does all this mean?

For starters, it means I will no longer be making any Bards and Sages Publishing titles available exclusively through Select. All current Society of Misfit Stories locked into the 90-day exclusivity will remain available in Select until the 90-day window expires. Future Society of Misfit Stories entries will be published at Smashwords.com. This means they will also be available in epub and PDF formats, as well as mobi format. They will still be removed from sale after the six-month window.

Secondly, I’ve already stopped using Createspace for new releases. I’m going to start transitioning all of our older titles off Createspace platform. The books will still be available in print on Amazon, but they will no longer be under Amazon’s bot-tastic thumb where they will be able to lock me out of my own books.

Finally, while I will continue to upload ebooks to Amazon for now, I’m going to pursue other affiliate programs and stop driving traffic to Amazon listings entirely. In truth, Amazon has never been my primary market anyway, and if they don’t care enough about their publishers to have actual people make decisions that impact author livelihoods, I don’t know how much more business I want to pursue with them.

I don’t expect Amazon will even notice or care about these changes. I’m not a seven-figure seller, and therefore I don’t matter to them. That is apparent from the treatment I received this weekend. Unfortunately, the treatment I received this weekend is indicative of how they treat everyone that is not a seven-figure seller. Amazon is not a friend of authors. They see us as interchangeable commodities to be used up, worn out, and replaced: like widgets.

4 thoughts on “Amazon Froze My Account and I Still Don’t Know Why

  1. Have you considered doing like filing a defamation suit in small claims court?

    It appears to me that they have said that you are breaking their rules with no proof at all.

    • Amazon has bigger lawyers than I do. And when you consider that the TOS you agree to (both as a vendor and a customer, BTW) forces you into arbitration regardless, I’d go bankrupt trying to prove a point and never recover a penny. Unfortunately, civil court in the U.S. favors those with the deepest pockets. So my only real recourse is to simply remember not to rely on Amazon anymore.

      I did eventually get to talk to a real, live human being. She apologized extensively and promised to address the larger issues. Whether anything will actually happen…I can’t say.

      • That is why I suggested small claims.
        If you juxtapose that with a few calls to the media, you lose a couple of hours of your time (and probably lose), but you get to demand an answer, and they drop a few grand on legal fees, which are not reimbursable in small claims court. (In most states)
        Another alternative is to see if you can get the EFF or some similar group to push your case.

  2. Pingback: New top story on Hacker News: Amazon Froze My Account and I Still Don’t Know Why – Technical Nair

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