This article was written by Smashwords founder, Mark Coker.
Did you know for only $24.95 a month, you can subscribe to a service that gives you access to a database of thousands of articles you can turn into ebooks?
If you're too lazy or too clueless to write a real book, now you slap your name on another person's work and get rich in the process. Or, so parasitic "Private Label Rights" services are leading an ever-growing number of suckers to believe.
Back on January 14, while reviewing recently uploaded titles at Smashwords (my company), I ran across an ebook about childhood autism. My first thought was that this was an important topic for our customers. But on second glance, something about the book seemed fishy. The cover image was a cheesy stock photograph of a parent and a child. No title or author name on the cover image. It was poorly formatted. The author obviously hadn't bothered to read our formatting guidelines.
I suspected I had encountered this breed of vermin before. A quick cut and paste of a random string of text into Google gave me another clue. The exact text string appeared word-for-word in multiple other places on the Internet in articles and blog posts under the names of different authors and publications.
Did this author plagiarize the content? I suspected not. Another quick check and I confirmed the author learned about Smashwords from a Private Label Rights company called Micro Niche Finder.
I clicked to their web site, which cheerfully greeted me with the heading, "Imagine Having a Library of 29,768 Niche Market Articles at Your Fingertips!” The service offers a deviously ingenious software application they license for $24.95/month that allows any dunce with a mouse to point and click and assemble random chunks of content into a custom ebook in seconds. And it's legal.
I've seen these ebooks and so-called authors try to sneak their way in to Smashwords before. They usually arrive with 3-D covers and sloppy cut and paste formatting. Our Terms of Service strictly prohibits such drivel.
I zapped the offender's account like I would any unwelcome spam. Ordinarily, that would be the end of it and I'd move on to the next task. But the incident bugged me. I wondered if the company was deliberately sending its customers to Smashwords. I soon had my answer.
Their web site offers a video narrated by a man who identifies himself as James Jones. In the video, Mr. Jones demonstrates how simple it is to generate an ebook about dog food (yes, dog food). Mr. Jones then confidently explains to the viewer how they can make money on their dog food ebook by publishing it in the Amazon Kindle store and... no it can't be... Smashwords (!!). So not only are they deceiving gullible suckers with false information (neither Amazon nor Smashwords allow such content), they're also sending these suckers my way, only to have their visions of sugarplums turned to vinegar when we zap them.
I contacted Mr. Jones and informed him of his video's false claims, and asked him to immediately remove the video and stop telling his customers they can publish with Smashwords. Nearly two months later, I haven’t heard back. The same video is still up, making the same erroneous claims.
Micro Niche Finder isn’t the only operation promoting these shady private label rights articles. There are dozens of others. Their insipid content is popular with SEO scammers who use multi-level marketing schemes and affiliate programs to confuse Google’s search results by polluting the web with vapid ebooks, blogs and websites featuring this content.
If you’re a real author, this content makes it more difficult for your readers to find you on Google.
A quick search on Twitter for PLR, Private Label Rights and Private Label Ebooks yields a frenzy of activity.
While it’s fair to criticize these companies and their affiliates for pushing such trash, the people who utilize these services to manufacture and market their ebooks deserve ample blame as well.
The real victims of these services are ebook customers who accidentally purchase this content, and real authors who must compete against them for search engine visibility.
Mark Coker is the founder of Smashwords, an ebook publisher and distributor of over 8,000 original ebooks. This updated post first appeared at the Smashwords blog. Mark also blogs for the Huffington Post. Follow him on Twitter at @markcoker
This column was reprinted with permission from Writer Beware and Mark Coker.