I mentioned in a previous post that our most vocal critics are other publishers and competitors–hardly credible sources. Given our 99% author satisfaction rate, our authors’ comments are better sources for accurate information, as is examining 3rd party reviews of self-publishing companies and then averaging those scores to arrive upon a scale of the best firms according to a wide range of sources.
Perhaps you have even stumbled across an “outskirts press scam” topic or thread yourself without even trying, given Google’s own propensity to highlight rubber-necking results with their so-called “Google Suggest” functionality. I have discussed Google’s controversial functionality at some length in previous posts, where I demonstrated via Google screen shots that EVERYTHING is a scam according to Google, even Google.
So, congratulations! If you’ve stumbled upon this postings, you’re more than likely a victim of Google’s own manipulation — you didn’t even know you were looking for a scam until Google suggested it to you. But, if you take the time to read further into nearly any of the “scam” results Google presents for any company (whether it be for bottled water or shoes), you soon discover that you haven’t really discovered much of a scam at all.
In our case, a competitive publisher, who as far as I can tell has published less than 25 books (half of which are by the publisher herself), demonstrates her vested interest when she calls into question one of our book contests, which by the way isn’t even sponsored by us, but rather by the Colorado Independent Publishers Association. This posting, appearing on Gather.com, carries all the indicators of a questionable source that I have mentioned previously (i.e., it is written by a competitive publisher, the content is slanted and biased, the date of the posting is from 2007, and the content lacks accurate information since it wasn’t vetted for accuracy, as newspapers are).
Another posting/topic shares many of the same indicators of a questionable source. In this case, the blog was created by a small press publisher. The date of all its postings are from 2008 (in other words, 2.5 years ago!). And the content lacks accurate information (in fact, by its own admission, the content is 100% supposition) since it wasn’t vetted for accuracy, either.
It’s interesting, actually. Of the first page postings, half of the “scam” results are from competitive small presses who publish their own books, and are using this tactic to attract customers to their own business or products, since more people search for “Outskirts Press” than for their company. Heck, makes sense to me. If I was selling RC Cola, I’d write as much about Coke and Pepsi as I could. But even RC Cola can’t convince itself, much less anyone else, that it is superior to Coke or Pepsi.
Other scam postings appear because they are asking if Outskirts Press IS a scam on various Q & A sites (the answer is “no”) or because we have published many, many books on the topic of scams. “Scams” are a popular topic, in a supermarket tabloid sort of way.
And all this goes back to support my previous posting, which is… do your homework when conducting research online.
As I continue this discussion of the new Google Suggestions and “Google Instant” functionality, particularly as it relates to its rubber-necking tendency to reward controversial searches like “scam” (see the previous post for a refresher), it presents an opportunity to remind new customers investigating online business that all too often, the perception is worse than the reality. A high number of “scam” results in Google may not mean what it implies. For instance, in many cases, the Google Search results may simply be locating questions from consumers about whether or not a business is a scam. The answers may be to the contrary, and yet Google still displays the page, which in turn causes an undeserved negative perception.
Along the same lines, in the case of Outskirts Press, for instance, some of the books we have published have various scams as their subject matter; so those books appear in the results, yet it takes additional investigation on the part of the Google searcher to separate those realities from the perceptions.
So a customer/consumer/client must first determine, really… how big of a “scam” is it, based upon the Google results.
That said, here are 3 things a consumer/customer/client can do when investigating an online business to truly determine the relevancy/accuracy of any such “scam” claims that they may run across thanks to Google’s new search functionality.
1) Determine the source of the controversial or negative websites/blogs.
More often than not, the source is not reliable. Outskirts Press, for instance, is a part of a fiercely competitive industry without much regulation or policies. As a result, the competitive environment is ruthless, savvy, sometimes unethical, and even downright nasty. The same can be said for many other industries. So if you, as a potential customer are looking up a business on the Internet and run into a blog posting or a website claiming Business XYZ is a “scam” or in some other way not on the up-and-up, then it is up to you to determine if the source of that information is truly impartial, or whether they have ulterior motives. You’d be surprised how many businesses post inaccurate, unsavory, or maliciously libelous statements about their competitors behind the anonymity of blogs or in the name of journalism. Due diligence is essential.
2) Look at the date of the information
Information posted on the Internet is available for a loooong time… and yet it is easy to assume everything you read on the Internet is timely. Don’t be fooled. You may be looking at information that is 3, 4, 5 or more years old. It may no longer be relevant or even accurate (if it ever was). Always look at the date information was initially posted to make a better assessment of its relevancy to your search.
And speaking of being fooled, be extra cautious of information posted on April 1. “April Fool’s Day” has earned its namesake in the Internet age, with desperate marketers using the date as justification for posting false, fraudulent, and libelous claims. A competitor of Outskirts Press, for example, once distributed a press release on April Fool’s Day claiming that the Library of Congress needed to add another wing to accommodate the vast quantity of books being published by said competitor. Another company in our industry (this one not so much a competitor of Outskirts Press) claimed to have reached a deal with J.K. Rowling for the ebook rights to Harry Potter. Were both these press releases clever? Of course they were. But they muddy the waters in an already misunderstood industry and ultimately confuse the end customer/consumer/client (or author in this case), who may not realize that such a press release is a “joke.” Separating the facts from the falsities is hard enough on the Internet; companies don’t have to make it even harder one day out of the year.
3) Don’t believe everything you read on the Internet
With a 99% satisfaction rate, all of us at Outskirts Press take great pride in our services and our books. But when you publish 150 books a month, that leaves 1.5 authors, on average, who are less than satisfied. That’s incredible in an industry with so much emotion and “artistic fervor” at stake, yet we constantly add additional procedures to improve our satisfaction rate even further. For instance, I am now personally touching base with every new Outskirts Press author who starts publishing with us, just to see how things are going and if there is anything I need to do to make their publishing process more enjoyable. One such correspondence I had recently with an author touched specifically on the subject of not believing everything you read on the Internet, and it seems appropriate to share that correspondence in its entirety, and I’ll do that next time…
In my last posting I discussed the self-defeating Google Suggestion functionality and the manner it which it feeds on people’s fear and uncertainty by validating–even rewarding–irrelevant, unscrupulous, inaccurate content on Google.
Google does this disservice to its users by misinterpreting terms like “scam” as relevant rather than morbid curiosity. According to Google, it’s Suggestion functionality uses “a wide range of information to anticipate the queries users are most likely to want to see. As the user types into the search box, we provide suggestions to help them formulate the query, reduce spelling errors, and save keystrokes.”
What this logic doesn’t anticipate is that many human beings like looking at car accidents, like reading the Enquirer, often feed on negativity, and seek controversy. Especially on the internet, where anonymity removes all accountability. So when Google takes into account the popularity of a suggested phrase based upon the number of times it is clicked from the suggestion box, is it any surprise that the controversial ones find their way to the top?
This isn’t rewarding relevant content; it is rewarding rubber-necking.
Just to see how ridiculous Google had become, I did another search, this one for “chiropractor salaries” and even before I could say “back pain” Google suggested this:
So then I did a search for “bottled water.” Yes, bottled water… should be safe right?
Even clean, fresh, bottled water isn’t safe.
Do you recognize a theme here?
Everything is a scam according to the Internet, because every Tom, Dick, and Harry (usually the middle one) can post anything about anyone on the Internet, no matter how inaccurate, inane, ludicrous, or irrelevant it is to your inquiry. And yet, Google, in their infinite wisdom, has decided, in essence, to authorize and validate this inaccurate, ambulance-chasing content by making it even easier to find.
Is anyone safe? Nope. Try searching for scarves on Zappos, the #1 All-Mighty Customer Service-Centered Company According to Everyone (especially CEO Tony Hsieh):
Heck, even Google is a scam according to Google:
Thank you, Google. You’ve just proved my point.
In yesterday’s post about Outskirts Press on the Inc. Magazine Fast 5000, I listed “scam” in the tags and categories since that posting discussed #1 Inc 500 company Ambit Energy; and I wanted to refer to my posting today about Ambit Energy and, more specifically, what I refer to as the Google Search Engine Scam (officially called “Google Suggest”).
Certainly you’ve seen this relatively new functionality of Google, whereby Google tries to anticipate a search term and offers suggestions even before you finish typing. Convenient, yes? Well, no. The reality is that Google now ends up penalizing real content (and, ironically, “real content” is Google’s whole M.O.) by pairing logical, relevant results with the car-accident-gawking illogical results derived from human curiosity.
For example, since I wanted to compose a blog about Ambit Energy in my last posting, I searched for Ambit Energy on Google. And here’s what Google Suggest offered to me even before I finished typing:
The #1 fastest-growing, cover-story-leading company featured in Inc. Magazine and probably hundreds of other magazine and newspaper articles receives a slap in the face by having “ambit energy scam” appear on the list of Google Suggestions immediately below the actual term I was searching for. Well, gosh, thank you Google. I didn’t even know I was looking for a scam until you told me I was. And gosh, thank you so much, Google; you list it #2 in the suggestion drop down, so it MUST be important.
How silly did I feel believing any of this? Was the Outskirts Press CEO really susceptible to Google voodoo logic to believe a “scam” just because Google suggested it? It felt like a visit to the carnival side show hypnotist, who whispers suggestions into your sub-conscious. Snap out of it.
Let’s consider this: Is “ambit energy scam” more relevant, valuable (or impartial) than the 3rd suggestion “ambit energy reviews?” Of course not. Is it more relevant than “ambit energy rates” or “ambit energy phone number?” Absolutely not.
Here’s the unfortunate, Big Brother-esque reality: Google now rewards the human being’s natural inclination toward controversy by improving the Suggestion Rank of suggested terms based upon nothing more than the illogical number of times someone clicks on it. And, like it or loathe it, human beings are fascinated with negative, controversial things. That means Google’s suggestion algorithm flies in the very face of Google’s mission, which is to display the most relevant results first. Instead, what Google now displays are results people didn’t actually search for OR care about (or even have in their mind) but which appeal to our basic, morbid curiosity.
And therefore, instead of valuable, relevant content, Google delivers the rantings of a few kooks and/or the carefully crafted blogs of unscrupulous competitors. Neither is what the Google user was searching for.
And that, as Spock would say, is very illogical, Captain. More on this next time…
Every year Inc. Magazine recognizes the 5000 fastest growing private companies in America. Last month they published their findings. Outskirts Press was ranked #1266. Getting on the list once is hard enough – the majority of companies don’t appear on the list twice. Well, actually, most companies don’t appear on the list even once, but that’s a different story.
Lists such as these average a company’s growth percentage across a number of years. What makes this interesting is that a company’s annual revenue can actually increase year after year and at the same time, their overall average growth percentage will naturally decline. This is what happened at my company, Outskirts Press. 2009 revenue was the highest it has ever been but the exponential leap in revenue over previous years was smaller. Not surprising really when an average company is considered successful if it increases revenue by 10% year over year and companies appearing on the Inc 500 in 2010 have average revenue increases between 20,000% (#1 Ambit Energy) and 600% (#500 AtTask).
20,000% ?!? How is that even possible, you may ask. Well, a growth percentage like this is usually the combination of 2 things:
1) A new company that barely qualifies for the Inc 5000′s minimum revenue threshold in the first year, and
2) Receives an infusion of cash from investor(s), bank(s), or venture capitalist(s) in the remaining years.
This is what happened for Ambit, which earned $1.6 million in 2006 (their first year in business) and then received substantial investments which brought their 2009 annual revenue to $325 million. In fact, their whole business model is based upon finding rich people to invest in their company. Whether or not that is a sustainable business model is a topic for a later day.
But this is what makes repeating an appearance on the Inc 5000 list so difficult. It’s difficult to continue inticing investors into giving you money. Eventually those investors are going to expect companies to earn it. A company must continue growing at exponential rates either by receiving money or earning it.
In fact, if you look at this year’s Inc. 500 list in the September 2010 issue of Inc. Magazine, you have to scan all the way down to #18 to find a company that was on the list previously. Of the 500 companies listed, only 101 appeared on the list previously — 20%. These are probably the companies that are actually making money from customers, rather than having money handed to them by investors. I wonder what the Inc. 500 would look like if these companies were ranked according to the actual amount of money they earned from their customers, and not from their investors…
But that’s a topic I’ve spoken about in the past, so I won’t dwell on it much here, although I might dwell on it more next time.