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Amazon Quality Control and Table of Contents (TOC): Everything you Need to Know

Over the past week KDP authors have been on an emotional roller coaster as Amazon cracked down on titles whose Table of Contents (TOCs) were at the back of their book, and then changed their mind and said that having a TOC at the back of a book was permissible. What has been going on and why? Here’s the breakdown:

Is it okay to have my TOC at the end of my book?

The short answer: Yes, but it is not recommended. Amazon issued a statement on March 14th stating:

In many cases, putting a book’s Table of Contents (TOC) at the end of a book can create a poor experience for readers, and in general we suggest authors locate TOCs to the beginning of a book. If the formatting of a book results in a poor experience or genuine reader confusion, or is designed to unnaturally inflate sales or pages read, we will take action to remove titles and protect readers. That said, absent any other issues of quality, locating the TOC at the end of a book is not in itself outside of our guidelines.

Many authors whose TOC were located at the back of their books received notices from Amazon prior to this statement telling them to move their TOC to the front of their books or risk their books being removed from sale. The situation is fluid so if you are an author with a TOC at the back of your book you will need to weigh the risk of having your book flagged against the time you will have to invest in reformatting your book(s). If you are an author whose TOC is already at the front of your book, no action is necessary.

Why is Amazon suddenly cracking down on this issue?

Amazon pays out millions of dollars every month out of a Kindle KDP Select Global Fund to authors based on how many pages of their books are read. It turns out that Amazon’s technology is not smart enough to track whether or not a reader has actually read the book. Rather, their technology looks at the furthest page viewed in an eBook. Scammers have figured out this weakness in their system and have been publishing books that include a link at the front of the book that takes readers to the TOC at the back of the book. Amazon’s tracking then thinks that the reader has completed the book and the author gets a payout based on all the pages of the book being read. It is being speculated that potentially millions of dollars in Select Fund payouts have been siphoned off through these scammy techniques. However that is just speculation at this point. Amazon said in their statement that they will be cracking down on these practices and not making payouts to these authors.

Relatedly, some in the community have contacted us about the activities of a small minority of publishers who may attempt to inflate sales or pages read through the use of various techniques, such as adding unnecessary or confusing hyperlinks, misplacing the TOC or adding distracting content. We both actively police for this type of activity on our own as well as investigate when the community points out such abuse (thank you to those of you who have helped us in this regard). Any abuse we find results in the immediate suspension of a title. Some circumstances, including repeat offenses, will result in KDP account suspension. In any abuse cases, we will also remove related pages read from the allocation of the monthly KDP Select Global Fund.

Are only books enrolled in Kindle Unlimited affected?

No, as far as we can tell ALL books are subject to Amazon’s new quality control measures – both those enrolled in KU and those not enrolled in KU.

Why do so many authors have their TOC at the back of their book?

Many popular ebook conversion tools, like Calibre, automatically places the TOC at the back of the book. A lot of authors feel that having the TOC at the back of their book is a better reader experience as it gives more pages upfront for sample reads. The vast majority of books with a TOC at the back of the book are legitimate titles.

How many authors have been affected?

We don’t know exactly  how many authors have received notices from Amazon nor how many have proactively made changes to the placement of their TOC. We have heard from several of authors we work with who have received notices and more who have proactively made changes to the placement of their TOC. Author Walter Jon Nebula blogged about his experience and you can read other authors experiences in the comments section of David Gaughran’s post on this issue. You can also share your experience in the comments section below.

As an author what should I be doing?

Make sure to check your email daily for notices from Amazon. Check your book pages on Amazon every day and make sure your Buy Buttons are active and working.

Where can I learn more?

David Gaughran broke this story and has a detailed post with more information.

Amazon’s statement from March 15th is here.

Selena Kitt has also penned a comprehensive post about the scammers here.

Where can I share my experience?

Please share your experience and any additional information you have on this issue in the comments (scroll down to the bottom of the page).
Posted 03/17/2016

 

View Comments

  • Thank you for an enlightening post, Ricci. The serious problem with the scam book is that until January 2016, many of those books had up to 10,000 pages. Thus a Click Here message on the first page of the book to enter a giveaway or win a Kindle, took the reader to the end of those 10,000 pages. That sucked huge sums of $$$ out of the KENPC fund. Amazon's response was to say: it will only pay up to 3000 pages. Still a nice return on the book. $14.40 royalty. Those scam books will have perhaps one actual book in English and that not well written. It is a borrow in the Kindle Unlimited subscription. If the reader doesn't like it...the reader merely returns it for another--but seldom before ticking the Click Bait message. A dreadful situation and Amazon does not yet have a handle on it. By-the-by, I got a Quality Control notice on one of my titles, a USA Today bestseller. It was triggered by a price change. I moved the TOC to the front matter. I also asked Amazon if this was a new, firm and fast rule. Amazon KDP said YES. So I paid to have a formatter move the TOC to front matter. But! I am going to move them all to back of book matter. I publish exclusively with Amazon. I'm not moving my units wide.

  • Thanks for the post. Good to know. And curses to the scammers, again. I know it's not in human nature, but I just wish people would stop trying to game the system.

  • A) If I buy the book, I expect the auther to get his fair share even if I don't read it. B) Who in their right mind would think that a table of contents at the back of the book is a good idea? By the time the reader gets to it, it's too late!

    • Hi Avid Reader, the concern addressed by the article has to do with Kindle Unlimited. Not sure if you are familiar with the service, but you pay like $10/month and get access to read as many book enrolled in the program as you want. Only way for Amazon to decide appropriately (and without emptying their vaults) is to pay authors based on how much of that book is read. Why would an author be paid the same if a reader dropped out 5 pages in for a poor quality book vs. another that gets read virtual cover to virtual cover. But since their algorithms to determine the # of pages read are smart, but not omniscient, some were gaming the system by putting in lots of filler pages and giving a link at the front that tricked readers into jumping to the end of the book and triggering a "full read" payout from Amazon. As to why a TOC at the back of the book was considered good by some reputable authors? It's nice to get it out of the way of the Look Inside sample and ebooks can jump to the TOC with a quick tap even if its at the back of the book. My epic fantasy novel Veil of a Warrior has a 100 chapters. That's a lot of unreadable space (and scrolling!) for someone looking to sample the first chapter or two for a potential purchase.

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  • Avid Reader, Most fiction books don't really need a TOC anyway, but if you don't have one you'll get a notice from Amazon alerting you t that fact. Some indies thought they were required. They're not, although they are recommended by Amazon even if it's fiction. So! Many of us indies noticed that the TOC took up a lot of needless . space in the Look In Book sample. Wanting to give readers more of a "taste" of the book, we put the TOC and the copyright page in the back matter. This became an issue later when scammers took advantage of setting up a link in the front matter to send readers to the TOC in the back to fraudulently signal that the entire book had been read, thus earning more KU money.