Previously, we highlighted the problems of those out there who appeared to be stuffing books and engaging in inappropriate sexual discourse with their customers. There are still a cadre of "writers" in the Amazon KU who, if you check their table of contents, are in violation of Amazon's own terms of service with books stuffed to the gills with "bonus matierial." That hasn't changed in the past month. What has changed since our last piece is that Amazon has been working hard to at least try and crack down on the abuse of ARC teams by certain unscrupulous people on KU. Unfortunately, Amazon has come down heavy-handedly and while it adjusts, it's been working to find a balance between authors and the potential scammers out there. However, it does seem that the more, ahem, creative publishers out there may be finding methods around Amazon's ARC team rules that may, instead, violate Federal Trade Commission rules.
Let's talk a little bit about one Chance Carter.
He's a writer of contemporary m/f romance and he's done very well for himself in the last few years. That's terrific. However, he seems to be part of two recent ventures that may violate some terms of service, both for Amazon and for Google Play. Let's talk about the ARC team potential issues first. For people who don't know much about book publishing, an ARC is also called an "advanced reader copy." In traditional publishing, copies of the books are sent out in advance to the press, reviewers, and book bloggers with good sized followings. It's a standard procedure. That's why you can go to some place like Netgalley, if you're a prolific reviewer on Goodreads or a book blogger and request advanced copies/ARCs from the site. Independent/Self-published authors have a similar practice and it's fine. In this case, you used to be able to send out early electronic copies of books to a mailing list of dedicated readers who would give an honest review in exchange for the advanced copy. It's legal, ethical, follows Federal Trade Commission laws and is allowed on Amazon as well. However, with KU, there seemed to be readers who were reviewing books they read for free as part of their monthlysubscription in bulk such that some books were getting hundreds of unverified reviews. As far as I understand it, in the last week or so, Amazon has limited the amount of ARC reviews/unverified reviews a reader in KU can leave to only twenty a month (a max of five per week).
That has affected a lot of authors who have spent years putting together ARC teams. They're trying to recover and adjust to the rules. The bulk of them are trying to do what they can to respond to this change in Amazon review policy by adapting per the Amazon TOS and the FTC laws. Chance Carter appears to be trying a different approach that may be more problematic.
He has been sending out a very specific letter to readers of his "Diamond" ARC reader group, that has promised them if they buy a verified purchase of his latest release and send them the link of their subsequent review, that they will then be entered in a drawing to win a special prize of their choice from Tiffany's, you know, the diamond merchants.
Per the email sent to his ARC team on May 26th, Chance Carter promised to create a new contest that he hoped to institute for future use if its initial run was successful. Again, per the caps, the way it worked was his ARC team would not receive an ARC copy to review. After all, there's now a limit on unverified ARC reviews. Instead, they are to buy the book (verified purchase), review it, send proof of their review and then they are to go Tiffany's site. They pick a store location near them and choose any type of gift they like. Now, he does stress the "gift" they choose has to be somewhat reasonable or he can't afford to purchase it and send it to them, i.e. he can't "afford" to choose them as the winner. When the readers pick their potential prize, it will then be mailed to Chance Carter at this pre-arranged e-mail address - email@example.com
Now, why is this a problem?
First, it's giving goods for a review. Per FTC law, that has the potential to be viewed as paying for or giving incentives for reviews that may not be accurate of a product's actual quality.
Moreover, this type of gifting policy is against Amazon's Terms of Service (TOS):
"Compensation" here includes a "sweepstakes" like a chance to win a gift such as an extravagant item from Tiffany and Co. As a result, what Mr. Carter is trying to do is a massive violation of Amazon's terms of service. The source who provided me with the email caps has reported Mr. Carter's attempts already to Amazon and is not the only person to do so. We at Legendary Women, Inc., will be following this closely to see what Amazon's reaction is. It seems unfair to us that Amazon would work so hard to change the ARC rules for reviews with little notice to writers but then ignore direct reporting of a situation in which reviewers were potentially being compensated with a chance to win a high-ticket item from the most famous jewelry store in the country.
However, I wish this was all that seemed a bit off to us in the book world.
Let's also talk about the "Book Boyfriends" app which seems to have some of the similar names that tend to be discussed when issues of breaking Amazon's terms of service are discussed. In this case, there are three things about this app, that seem a bit questionable.
First, the app is rated as "for teens," but the material there is sometimes extremely explicit.
In the threads that are just for authors to post their thoughts and promotions, the imagery and language can go far beyond teen-appropriate. I have a few images below. Some have their most inappropriate parts blurred out for the purposes of our own audience, but, they were not blurred out at Book Boyfriends.
Originally the bare butts were exposed, again for a "teen" friendly app.
Similarly, this was graphically low with pubic hair displayed.
Part of the app also includes a "naughty" section that's flat out filled with sexually explicit memes, those often revolving around BDSM. Again, this would be fine if this were an app billed for adults only, and given the appropriate rating, which it has not been.
This is actually one of the more tame images from the naughty section, but you get the idea.
The SECOND THING about the app that is worrisome is that it uses celebrity images and gifs. That would be fine, I think, if it were all kept to the messaging section or the fans talking to fans section. However, the authors also use images to help chat with readers and to help promote their books in an app that also contains in app purchases. It may skirt the line, but it seems that if some of these celebrities had their own input into how their images were being used, they might not all appreciate them being used in an app that often glorifies BDSM and rough sex but purports to be marketed for "teens."
Another example, this time instead of Chris Pine, there's model Brock O'Hurn
Finally, it should be noted that the terms for authors using the app seem very risky and that authors who want to use it for promotion should note that there are a few things about it to take into consideration, besides its association with essentially marketing graphic sex and BDSM as "for teen" audiences. First, it's extremely heteronormative, which is fair and the purview of any private business enterprise. However, it's seeking to serve m/f (male/female) contemporary only as anything else would be viewed as "too niche."
On Facebook, some users have really dug into the terms and services for Book Boyfriends:
Additionally, if authors choose to participate in Book Boyfriends and use their blurbs, cover images, marketing materials and even preview chapters in the app, then they app declares they can reuse the material as they see fit as part of the permission one grants to work with and post on the app:
Essentially, if one decides to put their promotional materials into Book Boyfriends, they seem to have the ability to use it anywhere they want to and across social media to help build their brand while, in return, the Book Boyfriends managers will curate if the authors' work will be promoted to their at large mailing list. Again, it's their app and their choice how to use it, but the authors who enter into this arrangement should be aware of how broad it has the potential to be and what they may be waiving license and rights to in the future.
So, what's the overal point here?
1) First, Amazon needs to keep a lookout for people who may be seeking to take advantage of the ARC crackdown with what could be perceived as more direct compensation routes like Chance Carter's Tiffany and Co. contest.
2) Google Play needs to be aware that it has an app for sale in its store that's listed as teen approrpriate but has graphic BDSM and sexual content that anyone can see.
3) Authors who choose to use Book Boyfriends should really look at who is behind it and the types of authors who pop up there as well as what they are willing to waive their rights to in order to use that service. By all means use it if you choose to, but be willing to do the research first and be comfortable with the terms you agree too.
4) Finally, after a hiatus due to finals and other issues, LW is back and we're continuing our series looking at indie writing and publishing issues. If you have a story to share with us? We're listening so feel free to contact us on email at firstname.lastname@example.org OR to tweet at us, and we'll be happy to hear your story and do what we can to help you.