After conducting thorough searches on both Amazon and Goodreads, Jane Friedman, a prominent author, made a disconcerting revelation. She stumbled upon several fake book listings under her name, suspected to be laden with either subpar content or AI-generated material. Strikingly, both Amazon and Goodreads exhibited reluctance in removing these spurious titles until the issue gained traction on social media platforms.
In a recent blog post titled “A Reflection on Counterfeit Titles: Amazon and Goodreads at Crossroads,” published on Monday, Friedman chronicles her ordeal in tackling the issue of counterfeit books.
“This unscrupulous endeavor appears to be preying upon aspiring writers who place trust in my name and believe I am the true author of these works,” she remarked. “However, I must clarify that I am not the creator of these books. It is highly probable that they are the result of AI-generated content.”
This predicament highlights an escalating concern in an era where scammers exploit Amazon’s algorithm to generate illicit profits through fraudulent sales. Back in February, Reuters featured a piece on authors leveraging ChatGPT to craft e-books, subsequently retailing them on Amazon. In a subsequent development in June, Vice reported an inundation of numerous AI-generated books brimming with nonsensical content, effectively commandeering the Kindle bestseller rankings.
Given her substantial contributions to the book publishing sector and her authorship of ten books, Friedman is understandably anxious that AI-generated impostor books associated with her name could detrimentally affect her reputation. She expressed, “A reasonable individual might assume that I wield control over the books featured on my Goodreads profile, perhaps even granting approval or possessing the means to promptly eradicate them. Unfortunately, this is not the case.”
However, rectifying this situation is no simple feat. The process on Goodreads mandates authors to liaise with volunteer “librarians,” participate in specific groups and engage in comment threads to formally request the removal of spurious titles. Even then, there are no guarantees that these misleading titles will be expeditiously taken down. In her account, Friedman stated that the offending titles were ultimately removed from her official author profile on Goodreads only hours following the publication of her blog post.
Upon reaching out to Amazon in a bid to resolve the issue of fraudulent titles featured on her author profile, Friedman encountered a request for “trademark registration numbers” related to her claim. However, as she lacked a trademark for her name, Amazon closed the case without eliminating the fake books from the platform. Although the counterfeit titles were eventually eradicated from Amazon subsequent to the escalation of the matter, Friedman’s experience offers a glimpse into the intricate procedure that authors must navigate to protect their online identity and body of work.
A Widespread Predicament
Friedman’s ordeal is not isolated. On the social media platform X (formerly Twitter), another author named Jane Ward disclosed her discovery of 29 titles on Goodreads erroneously attributed to her. Similarly, Sarah Rose, another author, shared, “I’ve been informed by numerous individuals that they purchased my latest book—bearing my name but not my composition—owing to a scammer exploiting the ‘find more by this author’ algorithm. Despite my publisher’s efforts, the issue persisted, and my resolve eventually waned.”
Numerous replies to Friedman’s posts on this subject underscore the prevalence of author impersonation by deceitful sellers, posing a recurrent frustration for authors on both Goodreads and Amazon.
In an era where generative AI has the potential to inundate communication channels with an excess of low-quality, mechanically generated creative content, e-commerce giants like Amazon are yet to effectively address this issue. Furthermore, the creation of counterfeit books doesn’t even necessitate the use of generative AI. Historian Dean Grodzins shared an incident on platform X, where he unwittingly purchased a supposed paperback edition of George Saunders’s “Swim in the Pond in the Rain” on Amazon. However, the contents of the book were entirely unrelated and sourced from an unrelated website, despite bearing Saunders’s book cover.
Beyond the content of these counterfeit titles, a more significant concern emerges: how Amazon and Goodreads, both influential platforms catering to millions of consumers, intend to safeguard the interests of authors and consumers against fraud and misattribution.
Addressing this prevailing issue, Friedman implores, “We are in dire need of protective measures against this avalanche of misattribution and misinformation. Amazon and Goodreads, I earnestly implore you to devise a mechanism to validate authorship, or alternatively, offer authors a streamlined means to thwart fraudulent books falsely attributed to their names. The time for action is now, and urgency is of the essence.”