Earlier this week, Amazon announced its Kindle Publishing for Blogs service that lets bloggers put their sites on the Kindle and charge a small monthly subscription fee. Unfortunately though, it seems to come with a very serious weakness.
Late last night, TechCrunch reported that Josh Fraser, the co-founder of EventVue, had managed to set up a duplicate of TechCrunch’s blog in the Kindle store, allowing him to offer paid subscriptions to TechCrunch’s feed and profit from those subscriptions.
In short, anyone can offer paid subscriptions to just about any blog, even if that blog has already been registered for the Kindle earlier. This is, to put it modestly, a huge hole in the Kindle blog registration process and one that needs to be closed quickly.
How it Works
The process of registering your blog for the Kindle is fairly simple. You first create an account with Amazon specific to this service (Note: You can not use your current Amazon account) and provide it with your banking and other personal information (to enable payment). You then provide Amazon with an RSS feed to your blog, two images, one of the logo and one thumbnail of the site itself and then preivew/submit it.
Amazon will take a while to approve the blog, though it warns it takes 48-72 hours mine was approved in under 12, and it sets the price that is going to be charged. When it is all said and done, Amazon keeps 70% of the revenue from the blog subscriptions and bloggers get to keep 30%.
The problem with this, at least as far as content theft is concerned, is that Amazon does absolutely no checks to make sure the person registering the feed owns the site. No hidden files to upload, no meta tags to insert and no need to register from an @domain.com email. Anyone, anytime, anyplace can create a subscription for any site they please. All that is needed is a bank account, a tax ID and a few images of the site.
The only thing that would prevent this misuse is Amazon’s approval process. However, as TechCrunch pointed out, even when a blog was officially registered, the approval process sometimes let other versions slip through. The good news, however, is that Amazon has since gone through and removed the fake blogs, but it remains to be seen if and how they will handle the situation when lesser-known blogs become the victim.
What Can Be Done
The honest answer here is not a lot at the moment. I would definitely double check and make sure that your blog is not available for the Kindle and report it if your site appears without your permission.
Fortunately, it doesn’t seem like this problem is going to be very widespread. First off, the requirement to hand over so much personal information will likely scare off most scammers. Second, only the most popular blogs would generate anywhere near the traffic and subscribership to be worthwhile. Finally, Amazon seems to be shutting down these fake blogs fairly quickly, making them far less than profitable ventures.
That being said, the fact that it has happened and that the lacking security will allow it to happen again, that means it is only a matter of time before one slips through the cracks, doesn’t get removed and someone manages to make at least a small amount selling another’s work on the Kindle. It may not be the end of the world or even the largest content misuse problem, but it is very annoying and a worrisome possibility to those who might want to explore these avenues on their own.
Amazon, if it values this service and doesn’t want to spend all of its time and manpower filtering out bogus blog subscriptions (not to mention risking the wrath of angry customers who pay for subscriptions only to have them closed), they need to install some check to make sure the author or owner of the blog is the one submitting it. It is that simple.
Some Personal Thoughts
I actually see mistakes like this all of the time. Tech companies, including large ones like Amazon, for the most part, were founded on the idea of building products and services that help good people do great things. Whether they’re building an online office suite, the latest RSS reader or something else altogether, companies always think first and foremost about what good they can do and how great their product will be.
The problem is that some never stop to realize that not all of the people are good and not everyone approaches a product with benign intentions. This goes well beyond just copyright concerns but it leads companies to make absolutely stupid mistakes when it comes to security and to headaches like these. The worst part is that many products, in order to make them remotely safe, have to be completely crippled and made almost useless.
We can joke all we want about tech company CEOs being evil or vile, but the truth of the matter is they are usually just drunk off of their own product’s perceived potential and are oblivious to the pitfalls. Amazon is not the first company to make an obvious blunder like this and they will not be the last.
Let us hope that Amazon responds appropriately and takes some reasonable precautions to protect bloggers from having their content sold without their permission.
In the end, it is important to be aware of this issue but also rest assured it probably will not affect you or your site unless you run a top-tier blog. However, that doesn’t make it any less annoying or potentially dangerous, especially if Amazon begins to slack off on its enforcement.
In the meantime, I think the more annoying things about the Kindle for Blogs system is that it can feel like a rip off, even to the authors who want their work to be there. Not only can they not choose their pricing, but Amazon keeps the lion’s share of the revenue. While I recognize that they have expenses in delivering the blog to their devices, they also don’t have the expenses in producing the content.
Still, since I am committed to making this site available on as many platforms as possible and have no real issue with it being on the Kindle, I did add Plagiarism Today to the site. You can subscribe to PT via Kindle here. For the site, Amazon chose a price of $1.99 per month. I wanted to make the site free but the option was not available. As such, in the unlikely event I see any revenue from the Kindle I’ll promise now to donate it to Creative Commons.
So, if anyone wants to spend $2 per month to read PT on a Kindle, have fun. Personally, I think most people would be much happier getting it for free via RSS as they do now…