Friday, March 05, 2010

Guest Blog Post: The Scam of Private Label Rights Articles

Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware

Today, Smashwords founder Mark Coker guest blogs about "private label rights" services, which make it possible for anyone to "author" their own ebooks or to populate blogs by putting together chunks of content from the service's database. The result: scads of badly-formatted, poor-quality ebooks and blogs, which are often used by SEO scammers to confuse Google Search results.

I'd never heard of these services before, and I'll bet a lot of my readers haven't either--which is exactly why I've been wanting to host more guest blog posts. Many thanks to Mark for illuminating yet another shady corner of the Internet.

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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

43 comments:

annerallen said...

Great post. An important heads-up. Thanks!

Anton Gully said...

I had a fellow follow me on Twitter that seemed to be legit. He posted apparently useful articles on his website. Then one day he posted an article about making money by buying property... this was just after the property crash so I got suspicious. I Googled some phrases and tracked it back as far as I could tell to an original article that was written about six years ago.

This same article had been posted on roughly a thousand blogs. It was syndicated and being used with no rhyme or reason.

We're all in danger of drowning in this garbage.

Su-sieee! Mac said...

Thanks for the post. I hadn't heard about this issue before. Another groaning thing with which we professional writers have to contend.

Ruth Ann Nordin said...

Thanks for this post. I found it very informative. And it's nice ot know that Mark Coker is taking the extra steps to protect authors and customers. Now I'm doubly impressed with Smashwords.

Robert Phillips said...

Boy am I glad that I found this web site. For more than a year i've been trying to find information about publishing companies that writers (authors) have published through. I was sure that I wasn't the only author who believes that atleast one publishing company is not an honest company to do business with.
I published two books through Xlibris and I want to do more than just write a blog about them, I want them to be brought to justice. My investment added up to $12,716 dollars for the two books, an email marketing campaign, and a returnability package.
Their marketing rep assured me that he had people who were interested in my books and that I could expect that sales would be made to at aleast one percent of the efmail maraketing rrecipients. I do have a complaint filed with the Az Attorney Generals office (consumer protections) and with the Indiana Attorney Generals office. I had some other problems with the company as well but I am writing a blog not a book at this time.
I agree that Xlibris loves to call people on the telephone believing that they can say anything they want to say to make a sale and that they can always get away with it. I believe that they love to play mind games with people, and that that is a reason why more people haven't complained. I think that people get sick of their tactics and want most of all to be left alone by them.
Xlibris knowing that I have complaints filed against them and knowing that I have absolutely trust in them, they called and left messages attempting to sale me other expensive junk, and one email during the week of February 17th.
On February 17th they posted that they sold one of my books. The only book that they claim to have sold to this date.
Are any of you suspicious also as I am, that the company might be saling books and not reporting them?
Writers, It's good that we are posting our complaints on this and maybe other web sites,but we need to do more. We need to stick together and make our complaints known to our Attorney Generals and to the Attorney Generals of the states where these companies are located. (Consumer protections dept)
Anyone who wishes to is welcome to email their complaints to me at rphillips62@cox.net and I will include them with the materials that I send to them.

Let's stop the crime!

Anonymous said...

I'm angry that such people even dare to call themselves writers. The whole SEO thing makes finding freelance writing jobs harder too.

All articles have to be SEO optimized to draw in clicks. They are completely clueless about what the reader really wants and needs. I prefer properly written text by someone who's taken the time to find out what they're writing about -- not someone who is focused on search engines or pasting together existing text for easy money.

DR. NORM said...

I was thunderstruck by this article. Totally unaware such a thing existed. I was so impressed I immediately posted the article on Dig, Facebook, and Myspace and have suggested it to the Copyright site. Thanks for keeping us informed.

Jeannie said...

I guess I don't understand exactly how this is legal. Are these plagiarized articles in the public domain, or owned by the company that offers them? Or are the so-called "authors" merely taking such small pieces of each work that they can avoid a lawsuit?

Also, am I correct to infer that this kind of trash-content is created to hook readers into looking at advertisements on the same web pages?

wordver: werses

The long you is on the internets, the werses it gets.

Jeannie said...

Ack, typo.

The LONGER you is on the internets, the werses it gets.

So there. :p

Maria said...

But where does the content come from? Who is writing it? How do these companies get the rights to sell them?

Is this in any way related to the scam that's EZineArticles.com?

Anonymous said...

I am a professional writer and editor (i.e. its my dayjob,six figures); I am also a print book author, through both traditional publishers and POD. I want to thank you for publishing this info, as I didn't know about it.

A note about Xlibris. They have changed hands at least twice since they were founded independently in Princeton in the late 1990s. After a couple of years, they moved to Philly and Random House bought into them. Sometime in the last year or two (or 3?), Random House bailed and Xlibris was taken over by the same people who run AuthorHouse (and now also own iUniverse).

Jeb said...

Is there no end to the ways in which unscrupulous interneterati can make money off foolish wannabees? I can't imagine myself or anyone I know paying a $24.95 monthly subscription to a service like that for any reason under the son, but clearly there's an IQ line at below which people fall for the get-rich pitch no matter what tune goes with it.

Mark Coker said...

Hi everyone. I appreciate the comments.

@Jeannie, I suspect they're either using public domain content or they're acquiring the rights to previously written articles. They use the articles not only to create ebooks, but to populate the content of thousands of automatically generated blogs (if you thought dimwits masquerading as authors was bad, how about robots acting like authors?). Many of the blogs are interconnected and link back to one-another so they serve as constellations of SEO-optimized sites, almost like giant gill nets trolling the sea. The sites monetize the content by running Google adwords ads, or by marketing similar PLR services.

Shawn James said...

Thanks for the tip on these scammers.

S.M. Carrière said...

Oh wow. Just.... wow.

What idiot would pay for that rubbish? Honestly!

Mark Coker said...

@ S.M. From my experience, it's a mix of:

1. People looking for a quick buck, and who buy into the big promises made by these companies. The company in question above is running the follow ad on Google: Micro Niche Finder 4.6 www.micronichefinder.com Find hot niches and make $300-$500 daily with Micro Niche Finder 4.6! <-- i suspect this more of a "system" of which the PLR articles is just one component.

2. A couple of the so-called authors were not native English speakers, so I expect it's a combination of greed and naivite.

3. Truly desperate people with financial hardship. Unfortunately, these scammers know how to say things that appeal to people with serious financial problems. Sad.

potenta said...

great post i realy like it..:)

Simple Observer said...

Hmmm...I've been seeing a lot of freelance SEO writer want ads lately for this same thing. Writer gets paid once for something that then gets posted all over the place (in varying shape)in a site's attempt to confuse Google. Call me conservative but I prefer content over SEO, plus I hear Google can get pretty snarky when they figure out what's happening.

Jeannie said...

Thanks, Mark!

Anonymous said...

I had an article I published on an ezine ripped off and posted on a guy's website. His picture consisted of his head pasted onto a body in a wheelchair, asking for donations if readers liked "his" article. Luckily, I was able to get him to remove my article from his site. I was mad beyond belief!

custom labels said...

I guess I don't understand exactly how this is legal. Are these plagiarized articles in the public domain, or owned by the company that offers them? Or are the so-called "authors" merely taking such small pieces of each work that they can avoid a lawsuit? Also, am I correct to infer that this kind of trash-content is created to hook readers into looking at advertisements on the same web pages?

Bryan Knighton said...

The biggest problem that has come from the use of plr articles is the improper use of them. It would be fine and perfectly acceptable if people would use them, not with the raw content they get, but rather as idea generators and help with their content creation. Nobody wants to find these plr articles where they are expecting credible information, so the proper use of them is as a guide for your own unique articles and content.

Ann on MLM System said...

I assume that what Mark Coker found was called the Black Hat SEO, right? Scamming, spamming, and confusing Google Search results are some of the black hat strategies. They have more out there. It's a good thing google bans the sites once they are confirmed to be a black hat strategy.

Martin Percival said...

At the risk of becoming a pariah, I thought it might be worth just trying to calm some of the hysteria.

PLR is what, in any other industry, would be called white label goods. The articles are written and sold by individuals for use by other individuals and the authors attach usage rights to their work that allow almost unlimited rights to the buyer (including those of either giving it away, or rewriting it and adding their name).

Users of PLR may just be trying to build a blog with all known information about a particular subject and may use such content as an extra way to build out their site. Google has ways to work out the first time it saw such material and the original is usually rewarded with better positioning in any searches.

Now, of course, there is some PLR which is pretty poor, but on the other hand, some PLR is extremely well written and sold in very small numbers (at higher prices).

So, is this evil? It has it's abusers certainly, but James Jones is a pretty staight guy. Micro Niche Finder is used by thousands of people daily to research the kinds of things others are searching for. It's not a scam, it's a tool and even whiter than white authors could use it to check that they are really hitting the mark with their material.

So, that's the flip-side of the scamming, spamming flood of evil that is PLR. Do some research, make your own minds up.

Susan said...

The world of information products (including books and blogs) has two extremes. At one end there are those who want the money and will find the content to help them make money using any legal means or sometimes illegal means. At the other end there are those who are more concerned about the quality of the content including its originality than making money. Those who chase after the money say that spending time preparing content reduces their ability to make money. Those who want to spread quality content find it harder to make their mark because of those whose only aim is to make money.

I have seen James Jones live on a webinar and he took 10 minutes to produce a kindle book. He encouraged people to use pen names so it was not so obvious that they had so many books listed. No wonder he does when he has over 450 Kindle books listed on Amazon. He says the market is not saturated yet as the only people doing this are him and the people he has taught to do it.

Whatever you reap you will sow. People like JJ will eventaully gain the reward they deserve. If money is your God then it is a poor taskmaster.

Dawn Ross said...

This is aweful! I have worked so hard to write my book. I also post quality content regularly on a couple of blogs I own. It is terrible to think that someone could be taking content which I researched and spent so much time writing and turn it into trash in order to make money.

Thanks for warning us about this. Is there a way I can prevent it or have my blog posts become public domain?

Angela Wilde said...

Thanks Mark, for a wonderfully informative article. As a translator,I am most grateful that Smashwords also does not allow public domain works, which operate under a similar scam to the private label books.

CF Solomon said...

Thank you Mark, for educating us and providing not only a decent service, but also an education in how to use it well!

TrafficWhiz said...

The InfoMarketers are in full swig about how to publish eBooks. Watching ay of their "free video seminars" which are merely fronts to sell a much more expensive course you'll find them full of questionable tactics as well as downright totally incorrect information.

Check out Warrior Forum - the favorite watering hole for these sleezebags - and you'll find all sorts of courses and materials for how to sell books on Amazon and Smashwords. PLR's are only a small part of the garbage info they are hawking.

I even had a marketer wail that their Amazon book had been rejected. When I explained why, she said in complete and utter amazement "You mean **I** have to write it???? But I can't write! How can they demand original content???"

This is what we're up against, people. The arena we pour our blood sweat and tears and best efforts into is one of the latest in the get rich quick schemes being promoted by the scammy Info Marketing world.

Thank you Smashwords and Amazon for not allowing this garbage to appear on your digital book shelves.

thebigapp said...

This is pretty scary. I was tempted to write some ezine articles in order to promote the subject of my Smashwords book but now I have to rethink that strategy. It must be difficult for legit websites to find interesting articles so it is a real pity that the scammers have taken hold.

Cheryl Wright said...

As Martin said, PLR is completely legitimate and legal. The people who write it, (many of whom are professional writers) do so with the sole intention of selling it to others who can rewrite it or expand it to call it their own.

TrafficWhiz - the Warrior Forum may have a few 'sleazebags' but the majority of people there are legitimate business people helping each other out, and educating each other.

There are also a lot of professional writers there who have secured many of their clients through that site.

I don't believe anyone should use PLR to write a book, then try to publish it on Smashwords or Kindle.

But there is absolutely nothing wrong with PLR provided it is used correctly.

PLR is widely used in the Internet Marketing arena, mostly as articles. The majority of marketers who use it do so as a research tool rather than 'publishing' it as is.

As an FYI, a LOT of writers are making a killing writing and selling PLR to marketers.

Anonymous said...

I don't know about this particular site but there are millions of articles like this and they aren't plagiarized. There is an entire PLR - private label rights industry - and people sell the rights to articles and ebooks. Some really excellent writers are involved and I've used them myself, although not to create ebooks like you're talking about. I understand that serious authors don't want 'created' books on your sites but the good ones are great research and can be rewritten to make really great content for blogs, etc.

Dave Zethmayr said...

Thanks, Mark, for watching out for us.
As a programmer I'm thinking how Google might bend their talents and technology to weed out this clog from their product, following your intuitive procedure in a robot of their own. One would think they'd see it as a real threat and assign a tiger team to it.

livesimply said...

I got a solicitation the other day from a company selling an "article spinner". If you REALLY want to be offended, you need to google that phrase. Go ahead, I'll wait...
...
...
Pretty sick, huh?

Elizabeth Young, AKA The Gore Hound, or Elspeth Chagall said...

Wow...definitely an amazing heads up and a big thank you for the post. I'm an aspiring writer, unemployed and struggling to get published. I did a ghostwriting assignment recently which as it would turn out engages in fraud practically stealing your work from under you without fair or even legal means. But this post also opened my eyes to the scourge of scams out there that dupe hard working and albeit newbies just wanting to be taken seriously as writers. I still own the rights to my work, thank you CO laws so I don't think these creeps have a leg to stand on, but it's a scary web world out there and we really have to be mindful of what danger lurks around every corner.

Lizaard said...

I'm presently going through the task of finding an editor. To my surprise some editors prefer to take manuscripts without any security attached. MS-word enables a document to be secured with a digital signature, in this way you decide who can edit, copy or print your manuscript. Computers can get stolen, usb sticks can get lost and emails can go astray. After reading this blog I suggest writers take this step if you value your manuscript.

Ryan Even said...

Yes, I totally agree...some people are creating junk PLR just so they can benefit from this. Whatever happened to quality and creativity?

http://badaga.wordpress.com said...

Can I take information from MY OWN blogs [ like http://badaga.wordpress.com ] to be published in the ebook I am thinking of creating?

Elizabeth Young, AKA The Gore Hound, or Elspeth Chagall said...

Hi Badaga,
Using your own material that you have posted to your own blog is fine, but when you want to use it in another project, just to help cover your butt, it's always better to credit the source of what you are using whether it was something you wrote or not. In school, they don't let you use a paper you wrote for another class one semester and use it for a current course on the same subject. I've heard of many people getting into plagiarizing themselves. Yes, it sounds silly but if you have something published somewhere...and on posting to a blog even our own is publishing, make sure you link back to the original or make a reference to it in your ebook.
Good luck!

Victoria Strauss said...

As long as you own the copyrights, I don't see why not.

rouschel said...

Thank you for sharing this information. I was aware that plaigarism existed online, but I did not know that people were manipulating it in such a devious manner.
This makes me leery of posting original content on my blog (I post short stories), despite posting ample warnings about copyright.
I have posted a link back to this article on my blog for others who may wish to know.
Thank you again.

Diane said...

Thanks for this information. I am sure that they use content illegally stripped from other websites as well. I have a website called how-to-be-a-bad-artist.com and I often find my images used on other websites without my permission. I think it is an unfortunate side-effect of publishing on the web and digitally that there are lots of thieves out there as well as honest people.

Alexander Skobeleff said...

This is a good article, thanks Mark.

This is why I waited years, to be ready to publish my stuff.

I didn't know about AuthorHouse being in bed with those creeps. I contacted them a while ago, when I wanted to buy this deaf book, The Legend of Five Great Deaf Ghost Stories, and finally bought it, and then I inquired about publishing my own stuff, and then ever since they keeps sending followup emails, and I was trying to save up to get a package, to publish my work, but there it is, now you say they're same as the creeps, thanks, I'll cut them off and not bother.

I also today signed up with SmashWords, after I read the Style Guide and there some strict rules that I liked, very much so, and I was excited, thinking of seeing my works out there, and then there's the royalty thing and, oh my god, the insane tax thing... now I wait, I emailed questions and asking Mark about it.

I'm a pensioner, so I never dealt with such things in all my life.

All these w7 forms, w8ben, it's all crazy.

But I can understand. I'm just out of my comfort zone, two words I learned recently what it means.

Scary as hell, but... interesting.

I remember those LBRs, I hated them, they're useless, it made me feel sick. I prefers REAL work, not these fakes. When I came across them, I thought it was weird, what was they talking about? I tried to understand. After a while I figured it out, it was all bs, that's all. No real content.

I got a quit smoking ebook I wrote a while ago, I posted it up on Free-Ebooks.net, and it's for FREE, to help those who wants to quit smoking, I offer how I did it. It's rather dense, though, at only 30 pages or something. Not many readers, though, but that's okay. Just one successful ex-smoker and he can tell everyone how he did it and they'll have a try, no worries. Been thinking I should edit it to make it simpler to read for some folks, i didn't know some find it hard to read. Why they don't tell me I don't know. It's okay, anyway.

There was this spanish woman, who says she's a marketing engineer and asks my permission to translate my ebook into her language, so she could help her people quit smoking, and I gave it. I lost contact, so I do not know if my ebook helped her people or not. I can't find where her emails it, it was this website, only I cannot remember. Oh well. I hopes many of her people quit smoking and are happy with fresh air, and saving money, ha ha!

No worries, good article! Thumbs up!