The One Where I go off the Rails a bit Over Copycat Lean Six Sigma Books

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Normally, my only beef with “Lean Six Sigma” books is when they state the falsehood of “Lean is for speed, and you need Six Sigma for quality.”

But, recently I've noticed that Amazon “bestsellers” in the same categories as my books seem to be bad copies of the same book. They're not exactly the same, but there are common themes:

  • Authors who don't seem to be real people
  • Weird “for entertainment purposes only” disclaimers
  • Garbled English as if the books are written by a bot or a bad translation service
  • Content that's sometimes very incorrect about Lean or Six Sigma

So I wrote this on LinkedIn:

Does Amazon Have a “Fake Author”​ Problem with Copycat Lean Six Sigma Books?

This whole issue has bothered me more than it should. I'm trying to get my head and how and why this happens… I have more detail I could share about some of the horrible content. But, I dumped a lot of this on Twitter under the hashtags:

I apologize to those I annoyed with the Tweetstorm yesterday.

Some of those tweets:

This is exhausting. I need to stop being tempted to look inside these horrible books through my Kindle Unlimited account.

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Mark Graban is an internationally-recognized consultant, author, and professional speaker who has worked in healthcare, manufacturing, and startups. His latest book is Measures of Success: React Less, Lead Better, Improve More. He is author of the Shingo Award-winning books Lean Hospitals and Healthcare Kaizen, as well as The Executive Guide to Healthcare Kaizen. He also published the anthology Practicing Lean that benefits the Louise H. Batz Patient Safety Foundation, where Mark is a board member. Mark is also a Senior Advisor to the technology company KaiNexus.

5 Comments
  1. Daniel T. Jones says

    This is important and it is right to address this issue. It is also important to alert the wider lean movement to this development – I am sure I am not alone in not having come across this before.

    My son Michael who works for a digital platform called EyeEm informs me this began with poor quality editions of the classics sold for a few dollars to fake books using Wikipedia articles as content like these and is now even happening in music on platforms like Spotify. The lesson is that buyers should beware of what they are buying and who they are buying it from. Check out the Look Inside to read the opening text to see if it makes sense, then check whether the Author has an Author Page or a LinkedIn profile, and then look at the profile of the reseller on Amazon. If none of these are credible then don’t buy! Treat all reviews with a pinch of salt! The same advice applies to anything you buy on the web – this is just another category of fake products, and fake news, to be alert to.

    It would probably be worth digging into these publishers/resellers on Amazon, who must know more about them, as they control their ability to list their products if they do not fulfill on time. There must be a way to complain to Amazon about them selling fake products – in this case by unknown authors with no public profile or track record.

    This is a much bigger issue that relates to brand image and future regulation of digital platforms that in my view will come soon.

    Amazon has certainly changed the world – and we have all benefitted from them. However there must come a time when their monopoly is challenged and or broken. This fake news/books/music issue from players who can hide their identity and avoid taking responsibility for their actions is huge and will have to be addressed.

    So thanks Mark for alerting us to this…

    Best wishes
    Dan Jones

  2. Mark Graban says

    Thought from Jonathan Bailey from Plagiarism Today and CopyByte. I linked to him in my LinkedIn piece.

    Thank you for the heads up and the link. But yeah, this is a pretty big problem and Amazon is fueling it. Their self-publishing system is hot garbage and enables plagiarized, low-quality, knock-off and otherwise garbage ebooks. The idea is amazingly simple. Thanks to Kindle Unlimited, I can publish a lot of crappy books and, as long as people read them some (for free) I get paid. So even if you only read a few pages and realize my work looks like it was written by throwing magnet poetry into a blender, I still get paid at least some.

    It’s a problem in nearly all genres. We just had a major plagiarism story involving romance authors and Kindle Direct Publishing and, yes, tech books are a target too. Anything that gets lots of eyeballs on Kindle books.

    Amazon *could* fix it, there’s a LOT they could do. But they won’t. To them, it’s not really a problem as they earn money from it and aren’t motivated to invest resources into fixing it.

    In the end, without Amazon stepping in, there’s limited steps that can be taken. We can report books like this one and get it taken down but they can just as easily generate a hundred other books. Whether it’s using paraphrasing tools, traditional plagiarism or auto-generated text.

    As long as it fills pages, it’s all the same.

    Sorry I can’t be of more help but this is a huge problem and I don’t see an easy answer to it.

  3. Mark Graban says

    I think there’s a formula:

    1) Publish garbage book

    2) Make it free

    3) Pile up “verified” reviews

    4) Have a decent looking cover

    5) People buy it based off of the 5-star reviews

    6) If people get it free through Kindle Unlimited, they get paid a tiny amount per page. Sadly, me reading the book for these “research” purposes earns them money

    7) I imagine if the bad reviews pile up, they could kill the book, change it a bit, and republish under a different title and different fake author name.

  4. Mark Graban says

    Another unrelated annoyance in Amazon… when books get miscategorized.

    Look how many books in the Total Quality Management (yes, that’s the category) bestsellers list are not really close to being TQM books.

    That’s a different gaming of the system, where you put you book in some lower-volume category so you can claim “best seller status.”

    The current list:

    #1: The Prosperity Bible
    #2: Communications Crash Course
    #3: Internet Business Insights
    #4: The Toyota Way (YES)
    #5: Dropshipping
    #6: Built to Last (CLOSE BUT NOT REALLY)
    #7: Value Stream Mapping (YES)
    #8: The Lean Six Sigma Pocket Toolbook (YES)
    #9: Risk Up Front
    #10: Toyota Kata (YES)

    Only 4 out of the Top 10 are really TQM books.

    Only 3 out of the 2nd 20 are TQM books, including mine.

    So, if the category was TRULY only TQM books, mine would be “top 10” for what that’s worth…

  5. Bob Emiliani says

    In my view this is a lot of concern over nothing. For more than 30 years people in industry have made Lean whatever they want it to be: Fake Lean/LAME, Lean Six Sigma, etc. Confusion abounds. Authors that get Lean wrong in these terrible books can’t do any more damage to Lean than has already been done.

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