A FBA Mastery expose: How textbook publishers, Amazon, and a law firm conspired to place fake textbook orders to falsely accuse sellers of listing “counterfeit” textbooks
Video: Publishers falsely accusing sellers of counterfeits
If you’ve ever gotten a book order from a “Mike Candy,” you’ve been targeted by a long-running textbook publisher sting operation.
For several years, I’ve been tracking a story in the Amazon selling world involving fake orders, a shadowy law firm, textbook restrictions, and the surge of suspension letters from Amazon accusing sellers of selling “counterfeit” textbooks.
I’m not super sleuth here. This is almost entirely pieced together from what lands in my inbox, a private Facebook group I manage, and a light amount of internet sleuthing.
Here’s what we know…
Background of this textbook sting operation
Imagine if you were a textbook publisher. What’s the single most high-impact thing you could do to increase your profits? The best answer I could think of is to prevent anyone from selling used textbooks.
This story involves textbook publishers targeting thousands of Amazon sellers in (what appears to be) a conspiracy to reduce the number of used textbooks being sold on Amazon – all under the pretext of “fighting counterfeits.”
This is a pretty wild story that I’m surprised hasn’t garnered any mainstream media attention, but the story goes like this:
About 3 years ago, many Amazon booksellers started to find, overnight, they were restricted from selling large numbers of textbooks on Amazon. Booksellers who previously had full range to sell anything, found their business gutted.
The restrictions seemed random, except for one pattern: The vast majority of textbooks they were suddenly gated from selling were from the big three textbook publishers:
- McGraw Hill
(or one of the imprints they own)
Quickly the accused sellers collectively figured out that the common denominator among them was they all received orders from a certain address in Rockville, Maryland.
Who is O + Z Law?
To understand the sting operation I outline below, you have to understand O + Z Law.
O + Z is a law firm specializing in intellectual property-related cases. Among their clients, The Big 3 textbook publishers. They represented McGraw Hill, Cengage, and Pearson in their lawsuit against Amazon (and others, like Shopify).
Ostensibly, the lawsuits were looking to curb counterfeits. The textbook publishers sued to get Amazon to crack down on counterfeit textbooks sold on their platform. But as the details of this sting operation show, it looks like what they really want is all sellers of used textbooks banned from Amazon.
In what is probably not a coincidence, the same publishers of the most heavily restricted textbooks are the same ones who sued Amazon, and are represented by O+Z.
From the O + Z Law website:
O+Z is a dynamic litigation boutique founded by attorneys with extensive experience protecting content and brands. Top-tier clients in creative and innovative industries rely on us for compelling advocacy, strategic counseling, and decisive action in complex legal matters. Our attorneys come from prestigious firms and have litigated some of the most prominent copyright and internet matters of our time.
O + Z is based in… you guessed it: Rockville, MD.
(Spoiler: If you’ve received a large textbook order from Rockville, MD; you may be in trouble).
Anatomy of a fake “crackdown” on counterfeit textbooks
Here’s the sting operation textbook publishers are carrying out (with the help of O+Z Law):
It starts with an Amazon seller getting an order for (usually several) textbooks. Sometimes the orders are unusually large, including 10 or more textbooks.
The orders are placed by a “Mike Candy.” The address is usually (but not always, as I’ll cover) on Wyaconda Road, in Rockville Maryland.
Why is Rockville, Maryland significant? It’s where (drum roll…) the law firm representing textbook publishers is located (O + Z Law).
What happens after that can vary widely, but involves one or more of the following:
- Sellers find themselves unable to sell large numbers of textbooks.
- Sellers receive a “policy warning” about a specific textbook they’ve recently sold, threatening suspension.
- Sellers receive a threatening “extortion” type letter from O + Z Law in Rockville, MD
(Reportedly, lawyers who were shown the letter by sellers told them to throw it right into the garbage and ignore.)
Fox Guarding Henhouse: A Unifying Theory of Textbook Restrictions
Subsequent to the lawsuit, this sting operation began.
My unsubstantiated theory is that Amazon and the textbook publishers entered into a settlement, whereby the textbook publishers could report counterfeit textbooks to Amazon. Then, Amazon would respond by restricting the sale of those textbooks and punishing the sellers.
Sometime around 2017, the theory goes, textbook publishers hired O + Z Law (again, based in Rockville). The prevailing belief is that this law firm is the one making the textbook purchases and reporting Amazon sellers as trafficking in counterfeits (falsely accusing, according to everyone I’ve talked to).
This is where a crazy scheme emerges.
Textbook publishers could then mass-purchase used textbooks, and report them to Amazon as “counterfeit.” Amazon would then punish the sellers, and put that textbook title into gated status.
This would achieve two huge wins:
- Eliminate their biggest competition: Third-party Amazon sellers.
- “Gating” a huge swatch of the textbook market, and preventing
What happened after the textbook sting got exposed?
At some point, the orchestrators of this sting figured out that Amazon sellers were onto them, and switched their address. Ironically, to a UPS Store (at 13842 Outlet Drive, Ste A106, Silver Spring MD).
It’s reasonable to expect they have moved on to other addresses, and retired the name “Mike Candy.”
What can sellers do to prevent being targeted?
Unfortunately, not selling counterfeits is not enough. Insuring you’re not selling counterfeit textbooks is not insurance, since every seller I’ve talked to confirmed they inspect their books and were not selling counterfeits. A setup is a setup, and every seller I’ve talked to confirms they were in fact 100% set up.
If you’re selling merchant fulfilled, you can be on the lookout for large textbook orders from Rockville Maryland, and cancel them immediately.
If you’re an FBA seller (and you’re not actually selling counterfeit textbooks), there’s literally nothing you can do. FBA sellers don’t have the ability to cancel orders.They were literally set up.
You might (just for fun) check your order history for any larger textbook orders from a “Mike Candy.” If you see such a purchase and didn’t get dinged by Amazon, you dodged a bullet.
- Textbook publishers hired a law firm to crack down on “counterfeits”
- Sellers received a flood of fake textbook orders from a fictional Mike Candy in Rockville, MD
- Many of those sellers were falsely reported to Amazon as selling counterfeit textboks
If you get a textbook order from anyone named “Mike Candy,” and didn’t get a notice from Amazon – you dodged a bullet.
There is every expectation the sting operation continues (with orders coming from different names and addresses)…
PS: For a full rundown of the textbook restrictions imposed after this lawsuit, and the results of this sting on Amazon sellers, check my article: Are Textbooks Gated? 12 Facts About Textbook Restrictions.