Recent changes to Google's search algorithm have sought to reduce the rankings of what Google has described as "low quality" and "low value add" sites. And while some of these websites have seen a significant drop in traffic, we may find that content farms aren't eradicated. Rather, they're relocating. Impact Media's Mike Essex suggests their new destination may be e-books.

On the Internet, many content farms are full of unoriginal content, often scraped from other sites, and republished under different headlines. The advent of easy self-publishing makes it incredibly simple for this process to be replicated in e-books.

Essex contends there are several things about the blossoming e-book and self-publishing industry that make this an obvious choice for spammers and scammers looking to continue their practices beyond the "prying eyes of Google."

There is Little Copyright Detection

While you do have to check a box when you publish an e-book that says you have permission to use the content, a check box is hardly an obstacle, and there are no other mechanisms in play that stop you from gathering (someone else's) content and repurposing and republishing it as your own.

Science fiction author John Scalzi complained about this last month when he found that a search for his name on Barnes & Noble unearthed a number of books that had been scraped together from various Wikipedia articles. In fact, these "shabby-looking books" actually ranked higher in B&N searches than many of his own novels did.

Publishing Made Easy

That's the point of self-publishing, of course - to remove as many of the barriers as possible that have stopped people from getting their material "in print," or at least in stores. You can go from content scraping to published e-book in less than 24 hours, with a time and monetary investment that means you don't even have to survive in the bookstore very long to be able to reap your payday.

Take, for example, the very prolific author Manuel Ortiz Braschi, who now has 3,379 titles for sale in the Kindle Store, on topics ranging from electric cigarettes to planning birthday parties to weight loss to weddings. Most of his titles sell for a dollar and have been rated one star by reviewers, many of whom comment on the typos and factual errors. "I thought there were some standards for Kindle books," writes one consumer. "I wish I knew how to get a refund."

Same Topic, Different Title

As Essex notes, one of the reasons that content farms have been so successful is that they've had multiple writers covering the same topic in different ways, all aimed at capturing different keyword searches. "Multiple writers," of course, doesn't actually mean different people. Just as long as you can tweak the name, tweak the content, tweak the title, you're good. The screenshot below suggests that this practice is alive and well in e-books.

Better Bang-for-your-buck Than AdWords?

Until Google's recent algorithm changes, many content farms ranked high in PageRank, and none of these changes have stopped content farms on e-books as they're sitting on the Amazon, Barnes & Noble or Apple domains. But not only is this new spammy content easy to find, it's also incredibly easy to monetize. Amazon takes a 30% cut from your self-published book, for example, but that still can net you roughly 70 cents for a 99 cent book - a much better pay-out than an average AdWords click. And although there are many disgruntled consumers, as the reviews of Manuel Ortiz Braschi's books demonstrate, people feel less inclined to make a big fuss, perhaps, because they're only out a buck.

For his part, Essex lists a number of measures that will help combat content farms on e-book platforms, including the integration of plagiarism detectors and investigations of those who publish more than 50 or so e-books. Until then, it's buyer-beware with self-published texts, it seems, much like it's been searcher-beware with low-quality websites.

(via Teleread)