WARNING: Websites Offering eBooks at “Bargain” Prices

Perhaps one of the toughest things to wake up to is being told by a friend and colleague in writing that you are being ripped off.

dangerous_siteThat was exactly what happened to me this morning when John R. White reached out to Philippa and myself on Facebook to let us know that a website was selling our books, both from our New York publishers as well as our own independent titles, for discount prices and allegedly these sales are neither paid to the publisher nor are they counted in statistics. (I say “allegedly” as I am still researching exactly who is backing this website, but I know that the site content appears to be scraped from Amazon and Imagine That! has not been contacted by this website’s administrators for price negotiations on our titles.) I checked, and sure enough our titles from the Tales from the Archives are on there, at a discount, with no consent from us.

Spending a bit longer and digging a little deeper into this site, I discovered something far more serious (if not sinister): You cannot “buy” books from this site. At least not straight away. You “Join Free” and then this vendor contact you with the lowest negotiated price for the book, almost as if it’s a Priceline for eBooks.

I say “almost” because this site strikes me as a potentially dangerous site. Not just for authors, but for readers.

Once you join, this site has your email. This is their blanket permission to start sending you SPAM. That may not seem like a big deal, but your email can also be used for a variety of phishing scams ranging from the “I’m in distress and need money” email to compromised bank and online account warning. The reason why SPAM is so prevalent? In 2009, a survey discovered that 12% of SPAM was replied to in earnest. Give your email address some worth and share it when necessary.

There is also a possibility that this site may also be slipping malware on your browser in order to record your actions on your computer (a process also known as keylogging). There are also malware packages that recruit your computer for Denial-of-Service (DoS) attacks, making it difficult for law enforcement to trace back where these attacks originate. If you ever do visit sites like this (and you really shouldn’t, which is why we’re not reposting the actual URL of the website), it is a good idea to run your antivirus software immediately.

Screen Shot 2013-03-21 at 8.59.53 AM

Finally, the other reason—perhaps the one that matters the most to both Philippa and myself—is that sites like these do not benefit an author. When you see the other vendors on Amazon selling our books used at elevated prices or sites like this where they claim to be “negotiating with the publisher” for the lowest price (and trust me, Imagine That! Studios has not been contacted by anyone about this), these sales are not recorded with sales from legitimate vendors like Amazon, Apple, Kobo, and Smashwords; nor do any profits  originating from questionable vendors end up in the author’s pocket. Whether you are torrenting a book for free or picking it up at a discount price from a questionable vendor such as this one, the author is hit the hardest.

In a nutshell, if it sounds too good to be true, it usually is. Especially on the web. Be safe, and be smart. Stick with the vendors who are established and reputable.

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Posted on March 21, 2013, in News and Commentary, Online Safety, Scams & Schemes and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 5 Comments.

  1. I found my books on this site a week ago too off a tip from Kindleboards. It looks like they have every book on Amazon listed and use Amazon’s info. Here’s the thread on Kindleboards about it: http://www.kboards.com/index.php/topic,143987.0.html

    I contacted Amazon and let them know. I considered sending a cease and desist, but decided not to because I don’t want them having my email!

    This site honestly scares me.

  2. The problem with a half well written article is the bad half invalidates the good half.
    Most web sites need your email address as a unique identifier. The fact that you could be spammed is like saying you could be robbed because your house is listed in the phone book. You do know that the site is selling discounted ebooks without permission. You don’t know anything else. You don’t know that they’re installing malicious software,so you should just stick to the facts you do know.
    Their website is clean. Their English is awful, and they prey on stupid people. They don’t even sell the books, they just give you instructions on where to find it, so they are in fact harvesting emails, however according to techradar, spam gets a response of 1 in 12,500,000 emails, so email harvesting is essentially out.
    They may receive commissions from the web sites the customer purchases from, but no other revenue model presents itself.

    • What do I know about this site and their intentions? In the article I state quite clearly:

      You cannot “buy” books from this site. At least not straight away. You “Join Free” and then this vendor contact you with the lowest negotiated price for the book…

      So in response to your statement of “The fact that you could be spammed is like saying you could be robbed because your house is listed in the phone book.” I would say turning over your email in exchange for discount ebooks is no more sound than turning over your email and password to some third-party in exchange for more Twitter followers. But let’s stick with facts: in your comment you state “according to techradar, spam gets a response of 1 in 12,500,000 emails, so email harvesting is essentially out.” I can assume you mean this 2008 article where TechRadar also reports: “Yet even with this apparently abysmal response rate of less than 0.00001 per cent, the researchers still estimate that the controllers of a network the size of Storm are still bringing in about $7,000 (£4,430) a day or $3.5m (£2.21m) over a year.” So yes, not many reply; but it is still a valid reason why email harvesting continues to this day. And had you bothered to do some additional homework you might have seen this 2010 article where TechRadar reported that “95 per cent of user generated content is generally spam or dangerous links and 85 per cent of emails sent are no more than 419 scams cunningly disguised – or not so cunning if they begin: ‘dear friend’.” There is still a business for email harvesting, and still a reason to be cautious when it comes to handing your email address. Another article on TechRadar from the previous year also goes into the details of how spammers work with emails and how harvesting still happens.

      And while I will admit not knowing if the website is installing malware, I am leaning on the side of caution. In my previous experience working in the identity protection field, the danger of malware is that the user has no idea that malware is being installed, even when their antivirus software is up to date. IBM reported earlier this year “…with so many users not being suspicious, it’s no wonder that websites have become the favorite media used to infect users with malware. In fact, malicious websites have become so prevalent that Google blacklists roughly 6,000 websites every day because they carry some sort of malicious software that is dangerous to visitors.” Finding yourself on a dodgy website as this just means taking caution, which was the point of my column all along. Sadly, in this 2012 article from TechWorld, some antivirus software is proving ineffective in detecting malware which turns responsibility to staying safe online back to the user themselves.

      Yes, I could have provided all of these details in my column, but my column is a warning. I was not trying to “scare people straight” but raise awareness on this site and warn both authors and readers of the potential dangers found on this site. You, however, wanted more details and resources, and I have provided them. I sincerely hope you take the column and advice I give in kind and remain safe.

      But there is one more fact that should be addressed. The site claims to be “negotiating with the publisher” for the lowest price. The title featured in the screen capture I have on this article is Imagine That! Studios, my own self-publishing venture. I have not been contacted by anyone about this site nor in negotiations. Any sales this vendor makes will not be recorded as I will not know they’re happening. That is a fact, one I addressed in the original column.

      So, in closing, thanks for visiting. If my advice is still not up to snuff with Bitreads, then thank you for the visit and I wish you all the best.

  3. The site that triggered this has apparently gone. A victory?

  4. This is only one site you’ve discovered. I found one the other day that looked like a book club. You paid a bulk price for 100 books to get the discount. It looked legit because there were only a few ‘new’ books and the rest were freebie stuff. I figured what they were doing was padding a very few ‘new’ books to get the money. However, it was worse than that. When i researched, several people observed that they carried things that aren’t available, such as harry potter ebooks. As a reader and consumer, i didn’t even know the harry potter books had a specialized ebook access. As writers, we have to share that this is fake – trust your readers to want to know. We don’t need warnings about the con site’s goals, as we respect your right to make a living as a writer – well, i do, but perhaps that’s because i am a writer too. Just let us know when you find one, blast it over g+ and fb. We’re listening.

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