Drug Testing Alone Will Fail – We’re Flying Blind When It Comes To Drugs & Alcohol

All the talk this week has been about drug testing loopholes and the lacklustre application of the law when it comes to drug and alcohol (D&A) testing of parolees and offenders under community sentences.

I agree that it is indeed important that these people are held accountable to their release conditions. However, I also think that such a narrow view of the issue shifts focus away from far bigger failings within the corrections system. These failures, or missed opportunities, however you want to view it, are the large cracks (chasms) in the system which don’t help offenders at all with their D&A issues. Hang on a minute, did I just say “help offenders”? Yes I did, but before you put me in the ‘leftie’ box and click away, let me explain. Firstly, when I say help I don’t mean release from prison or give a lesser sentence than that which is fair and just (I do work at SST advocating for justice and victims rights after all). What I intend is that we should be doing the most we can to make sure offenders are given the best chance possible to address their D&A problems, both in and out of prison. If these people can got off the booze and drugs, which I think is totally possible, we ALL benefit.

Focusing solely on D&A testing neglects the elephant and gorilla of problems that need to be addressed, which currently isn’t happening. To reduce D&A dependency and lower D&A related crime requires a three pronged approach. These are namely:

  1. D&A assessment (does the offender have a problem, what is the scale?)
  2. D&A treatment (in-prison and community programmes, mandatory requirements)
  3. D&A testing

Now if you’re a naive kiwi like myself you’d think these things happen already. However, according to Roger Brooking (alcohol & drug counselor who works with offenders), D&A assessment and treatment options for offenders is virtually non-existent in New Zealand. I’m all for justice and punishment, but not addressing an offenders’ D&A issues when we have the chance is a grave mistake. One we all end up paying for with higher rates of recidivism.

Flying Blind

The book, Flying Blind by Roger Brooking, couldn’t be more timely. It highlights exactly how weak the corrections department is at tackling the D&A issues of offenders. This directly affects us because these people are released back into the community and have a much higher chance of reoffending. The main premise of the book is that without assessing the scale of the problem we are virtually ‘flying blind’ when it comes to dealing with D&A related crime.

While this book makes some good points, it doesn’t totally nail everything. For the remainder of this section I’ll explain the best bits. Following that I’ll deal with the parts I disagree with.

A lot of the blame predictably falls onto government. The amount of crime predicated due to drug and alcohol abuse is staggering, especially violent crime. The lack of assessment and treatment programmes in the corrections department is a major problem. This includes both in-prison programmes as well as community based programmes.

Two well-known examples of how the system failed are Graeme Burton and William Bell.  Burton’s drug addiction was not addressed even though he had six psychiatric reports  recommending D&A treatment. These never happened. William Bell breached his release conditions and should have been sent back to prison, but wasn’t. Also, while he was in prison he received no treatment for his alcohol and drug abuse problems.

In-prison D&A programmes are more expensive and less effective than community based programmes, however they still do provide a positive return on investment and should be implemented. In the past the government focused on cognitive skills programmes but this was a major failure and waste of money. Trying to teach life skills to someone without first addressing their D&A issues was pushing s*** up a hill.

Community based programmes are the most cost effective and provide the best outcomes. However, a lack of programmes and the fact that offenders aren’t made to attend any treatment after release or while on parole is ludicrous. The absence of any after care facilities such as half-way houses for released inmates is also a problem. The Canadians are given as a good example of such a system of reintegration. Such measures are not out of the range of possibility financially in New Zealand. Rather than just turning these people loose, I’d like to know we are doing everything possible to make sure they have the best chance of going straight.

When it comes to treatment, it has been shown that early prevention delivers the most bang for your buck. Scandinavian countries are used extensively as examples because they deliver better outcomes and are the most effective at lowering recidivism. Our Corrections Department is currently implementing a Drug and Alcohol Interventions Programme. It is yet to be seen what this actually consists of. Additionally, it is essential that whatever is offered is easily accessible for inmates as well as offenders on remand and shorter sentences.

All of this inevitably comes down to funding, which is obviously severely lacking. However, it’s not necessarily that the money isn’t there. It’s more of the usual stagnant paralysis of a government waiting for more “evidence”. The “let’s wait and see if it works over there” strategy has left New Zealand high and dry on so many issues; house prices, sugar tax, sex offender register, the list goes on…. Sitting back and waiting until things are 100% proven elsewhere means New Zealand is decades behind on a lot of important issues.

Rehabilitation Justice

One of the main bugs for me in the book was the way the terms rehabilitation and justice were used interchangeably. The term ‘therapeutic jurisprudence’ is used in Brooking’s book to try and blur the lines between rehabilitation and administering justice. However, these components should always be dealt with separately. Let me be clear, rehabilitation is NOT a part of administering justice.

An example of the writer using this strategy is by continually denigrating our ‘justice system’ as failing because of the lack of rehabilitation offered in prisons. While it is true that the lack of rehab is a problem, trying to say that prison is the problem is shifting the blame (more on prison bashing below).

Justice and protection for society and citizens are vital societal constructs. The influence of alcohol and drugs is no excuse for criminal activity. Offenders and misguided liberals may not like the idea of going to prison, however rehab and treatment is not an acceptable substitute. If you do something wrong you get punished. Rehabilitation and treatment for offenders is NOT a form of punishment and certainly no replacement for prison to provide justice for victims and society.

Brooking describes victims and groups such as SST as a “vengeful” lynch mob, but all we’ve ever asked for is more sensible sentencing. Revenge implies violence and malice. We’ve never gone down that road. All we really want is to see punishments administered that are fair and just in the eyes of society.

Mr. Brooking, what are your alternatives for administering justice in society apart from prison?

Prison Bashing (Again!?)

Another major issue in the book is the prison bashing! I’ve talked about this before. In terms of recidivism I agree that prison is not as effective at deterring offenders as actually helping them with their D&A issues.

Brooking talks about the need to reduce the prison population as a national goal. However, the real goal should be to lower the crime rate. The prison population is merely a consequence, the real problem is the amount of crimes committed. I mean if the goal was really to lower the prison population we could achieve this easily by releasing criminals early on parole or not applying custodial sentences where required… Hang on a minute, this is actually happening anyway. The problem is obviously exacerbated through the missed opportunity to treat these offender while they are in custody. Let’s stop talking about prison population. The goal should be to lower the crime rate. This is what we all want anyway.

 

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Sick and Tired of the ‘Prison Bashing’

Mt Eden Prison - Stop The Prison BashingI’m sick and tired of ‘prison bashing’. Apparently according to some warped neoliberals such as Nigel Latta and Roger Brooking (just to name a few), prisons are not effective at reducing crime and are therefore ineffective and redundant. In fact, Roger Brooking goes one step further and proposes that prisons actually create more crime.

These guys and people who think like this should have their heads checked, and given their experience should know better. Of course prison doesn’t reduce crime, that is not the purpose of prison. Locking people away won’t reduce crime and it shouldn’t be expected to. All to often seemingly intelligent people are confusing prison (justice in the form of punishment) with treatment and rehabilitation (helping offenders to reduce criminal tendencies).

It is true that the threat of imprisonment does have some effect on crime (contrary to the title of this post) in the form of deterrence. However this effect is difficult to quantify and, in my opinion, negligible compared to direct action (treatment programmes). It is also true that treatment and rehab programmes are carried out in prisons. However, when they don’t work and prisoners reoffend, somehow the neolibs blame imprisonment rather than the obvious fact that the programmes didn’t work.

Here’s an analogy which directly explains this way of thinking. Do you think schools that give more detentions (prison) have better or worse NCEA results (crime)? Should we reduce detention in schools to help increase NCEA results or do you think that maybe putting more focus on better teaching and learning (treatment) will give a better result? Or perhaps there is a million other factors that could also be influencing this relationship? The fact of the matter is that the two are not directly related. Trying to influence NCEA results by changing the way detention is administered is nonsensical.

Record high imprisonment rates and crime rates in New Zealand are strongly correlated. This makes complete sense of course because if you have more crime, you will have more people going to prison. Unfortunately too many people are making the incorrect assumption that somehow the relationship is reversed and the higher prison numbers are actually causing more crime i.e. the ‘prison isn’t working’ mantra. Remember Statistics 101: correlation ≠ causation. Blaming prison for the occurrence of crime in society and offenders behaviour once they are released from prison is asinine.

The focus needs to moved away from prison and more towards the main causes of our record high crime rate, which I believe are; inequality, social and mental health support services and family support services. I won’t delve into these too much here suffice to say that neoliberal policies have led to rising inequality (both here and around the world) and cuts to social services and mental health support are appalling.

Reducing crime in society benefits everybody. We all want that. I’m all for implementing systems of treatment and rehabilitation which could effectively reduce the amount of crime in New Zealand. However, the main point of this post is that it is important to make a clear distinction between imprisonment and treatment. There needs to be a disconnect when we talk about crime rates and prison. The two are just not connected.

Prison is doing it’s job, which is to lock up offenders who come through our legal system. However high this number is is no reflection on the prison system itself. We need to stop pointing the finger at prison as failing when our focus should be on our inability to help these people to stop reoffending and also on the systems in our society which have created this record high crime rate.

There are treatment programmes in prisons. A lot of them fail, but it is important we continue to try and do the best we can and look to provide the most effective treatment and rehabilitation programmes to help offenders. But what about preventative programmes in the community (before a crime is committed) or programmes after a prisoner is released, why does no one look there?

So please, stop bashing prison for being ineffective at fighting crime. Don’t fall into the neoliberal trap of reducing prison sentences to miraculously somehow reduce crime. Prison is not the cause, nor the answer to reducing crime.

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Child Sex Offender Name Change Bill – NOT a Human Rights Violation

The proposed Amendment Bill to disallow convicted paedophiles from legally changing their name sounds like a no-brainer to most regular kiwis. However, the Labour Party, Attorney-General, Green Party and the Law Society all think otherwise. Their main argument is that it would infringe on the offender’s freedom of expression rights under the Bill of Rights Act.

In my opinion, this is a big steaming load of B.S. It seems apparent to me that the main reason convicted criminals want to change their name is not to express themselves but to conceal their past and make it easier for them to access places a convicted criminal shouldn’t be able to access. My submission to support this Amendment outlines the rationale for this thinking, however it’s pretty bloody common sense.

You can read my full submission here. I’ve copied some of the main points here below:

3.0 New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990

The Attorney-General report on this Amendment Bill opposes it based on the following premise:

“Mr Finlayson says the proposed permanent ban on child sex offenders registering a name change limits New Zealanders’ right to freedom of expression under section 14 of the NZBORA and that limitation cannot be demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society.” (New Zealand Law Society, December 2015).

This is a gross error in judgement by the Attorney-General. The fact that he doesn’t think that such an obvious loophole in our legislation should be not be fixed immediately to protect our children makes me very concerned.

The whole context of Freedom of Expression rights is not appropriate when it comes to talking about convicted criminals trying to change their name. Labeling a legal name change as freedom of expression in the case of child sex offenders is a dangerous misconception.

3.1. Are Offender’s Freedom of Expression Rights Really Impinged?

Many agree that preventing a legal name change does not actually prevent anyone from changing their name. Thereby rights to freedom of expression are not limited. Even the Attorney-General, who opposes this amendment, admits that this is the case:

The Attorney-General states: “the Bill does not prevent, or only partially prevents, a ‘child sex offender’ from changing their name. At common law, a person can lawfully use a new name without registering it, so long as the new name is not used for fraudulent or improper purposes. The new identity is established simply by using the new name and by repute, and the change comes into effect when the person starts using the name. Similarly, a person is not legally obliged to give their ‘registered’ name, address, or other information unless there are statutory requirements specifying otherwise.” (New Zealand Law Society, December 2015)

The Attorney-General makes a solid point. People use nicknames and pseudonyms all the time. Anyone is free to express themselves and use whatever name they like. Take for example the guitarist known as Slash from Guns ‘n’ Roses. One day he decided to be known as Slash. He liked the name and started using it. Literally anyone can do this as a way to express themselves. People close to Slash will know him also as Saul Hudson. Whether Saul Hudson is his legal name or not some people will still know him as Saul Hudson. A piece of paper won’t change the fact that some people still know him as Saul Hudson.

3.2 Freedom of Expression or Something Else?

I think it is ridiculous that everyone is overlooking the obvious fact (elephant in the room) that the main reason child sex offenders would want to change their name is so they can conceal their true identity. This point is explained very clearly here;

JONATHAN YOUNG (National—New Plymouth): “But when people change their names—for example, if a company that owes a lot of creditors money winds up and changes its name, we say that that is wrong because it is seeking to elude justice. What this bill is about is not about stopping creative freedom, but stopping people escaping justice or escaping what would be considered to be a reasonable surveillance by a society in the protection of the most vulnerable”. (Hansard Parliamentary Debates, September 2015)

Why should our worst offenders be given a clean slate and chance to remain anonymous from their past? I’m sure that their victims would love to have the chance to start over, but unfortunately this will never happen for them. Giving convicted child sex offenders a new identity will make it easier for them to gain access to children and disassociate themselves from their past. This is a privilege they should not be entitled to and has nothing to do with freedom of expression.

It is obvious the current loophole in the legislation, which this Bill is attempting to fix, provides a mechanism making it easier for these offenders to reoffend. Do we really want a system which helps perpetrate the sexual abuse of our children by criminals who have already been identified as paedophiles?

This train of thought leads to the next question which is; why would a convicted child sex offender want to change their name legally? There are two possible reasons. Both of them described here by the Attorney-General (s26):

  1. “…a formal name change may assist in their rehabilitation and reintegration back into the community…”
  2. “The Bill assumes child sex offenders will exploit existing mechanisms for changing registered names for nefarious purposes.”

The first point is moot since there is no evidence paedophiles can actually be rehabilitated, let alone be reintegrated into our communities under a new legal alias. Secondly do we think any offenders at all will exploit this glaringly large loophole for nefarious purposes? You bet your arse we do! To place the decision regarding the safety of our children in the hands of convicted sexual predators is nonsensical.

I have clearly argued the case why I believe this Amendment Bill does not contravene the New Zealand Bill of Rights. However, if you’re still not convinced, remember that the removal of rights and civil liberties is not unprecedented;

IAN McKELVIE (National—Rangitīkei): Changing one’s name is no doubt a freedom that most deserve. However, everyone has a responsibility to their fellow humans and to their neighbours. In some cases abuse by these people, and abuse of that freedom, should lead to some rights being withdrawn. I think that there is often evidence that we can make a very strong case for some rights being withdrawn from offenders, particularly offenders of this nature.” (Hansard Parliamentary Debates, September 2015)

Effectiveness / Other Legislation

The other main argument against this Amendment Bill is that it is either ineffectual or that there is other legislation which may already have provision for such protections for our children. Specifically, the proposed Child Protection (Child Sex Offender Register) Bill, and to a lesser degree mechanisms such as Extended Supervision Orders. For example;

The Attorney-General (November 2015) states: “I consider the prohibition on child sex offenders changing their registered name will have a minimal impact on the ability for a child sex offender to use other names.”

ADRIAN RURAWHE (Labour—Te Tai Hauāuru): “…there are other measures already in place and there are measures—which, I have to acknowledge, the Government is currently pursuing through legislation—that would adequately take care of the situation that this bill purports to be able to deliver on.” (Hansard Parliamentary Debates, September 2015)

DAVID CLENDON (Green): “Again, the legislation might prevent somebody from legally changing their name, but it would do nothing to stop them using aliases or other forms of false identity that would enable them to avoid and evade any controls on their behaviour.” (Hansard Parliamentary Debates, September 2015)

Saying you believe this Amendment Bill will not be effective enough to warrant consideration is careless and is also contradicts many of the same antagonist’s previous arguments that such legislation would have an effect on offender’s rights. Will it have an effect or not? Make up your mind. Speculating the level of effectiveness or ineffectiveness of the legislation to suit your argument when we are talking about the safety of our children is reckless and irresponsible. Even if the effect of this legislation was very miniscule and prevented only one case of child abuse, would this not be worthy enough? What is an acceptable number?

Furthermore, relying on the implementation of the Child Protection Bill or other current legislation and mechanisms is lazy law-making. None of these mechanisms directly address the issue in question. The safety of our children will be less rigid if this loophole is not plugged. The Name Change Amendment Bill will complement the proposed Child Protection Bill. Both are separate legislation, addressing different aspects but with the same intent and purpose – to protect our kids.

It is important to understand what you can and cannot affect with legislation. Ian McKelvie MP sums up this point nicely here pointing out it the responsibility of law makers to do whatever they can to protect our children;

IAN McKELVIE (National—Rangitīkei): I accept the fact that you cannot stop someone from changing their name by passing some legislation, but you can certainly make it illegal to do so by passing some legislation. I think that that is really important for this Parliament to consider as it goes through this process.” (Hansard Parliamentary Debates, September 2015)

Prevent Reoffending

Some of our Members of Parliament have made some good points regarding the proposed amendment and its effect on reoffending. My comments below expand these further and offer further insight.

Hon ANNE TOLLEY (Minister for Social Development): “…in 2014, 294 child sex offenders were released from prison back into the community. The majority of these offenders will have no ongoing contact with justice-sector agencies after they complete their sentence or orders even though their risk of reoffending may be high.” (Hansard Parliamentary Debates, September 2015)

Hundreds of child sex offenders are released back into our communities every year. Recidivism rates are high for these offenders and there is currently no way to successfully help or treat them. All we can do is ‘manage’ the risk and then do damage control when they reoffend and ruin yet another child’s life. Giving them the chance to change their name increases the risk unnecessarily to the community and our children.

TODD BARCLAY (National—Clutha-Southland): “What we need to be focused on is how we prevent these people from falling into this position of reoffending. Part of it is by preventing them from changing their names”. (Hansard Parliamentary Debates, December 2015)

Todd Barclay makes the point here that allowing offenders to change their name makes it easier for them to reoffend. I agree and propose to expand on the reasoning behind this statement by explaining how exactly this Bill will affect reoffending.

By continuing to allow offenders to change their name it lowers the deterrent factor and provides them with an out if they do get caught. Their odds of offending and getting away with it are already pretty good as only one person is successfully prosecuted for every one hundred sexual offences committed (Sensible Sentencing Trust Submission). Providing offenders with an additional loophole tips the balancing act in their head further towards committing the act. Critics may say such effects will only be marginal, however with thousands of child sexual abuse cases every year, the numbers will soon add up.

So, I believe what Todd Barclay is saying, is that if an offender knows they are stuck with their name they won’t be affected by the factors described above. They will have to accept that they will have to keep their name and not be offered another avenue in which to support their possible further criminal activities. When it comes to child sex offenders, recidivism is real and it is going to happen. We have to accept that. The question is whether we have legislation to protect our children or legislation that supports the reoffending.

Additionally, not previously discussed in relation to this Bill, is the fact that since the proposal of this Bill has brought this issue into the public domain, we have now highlighted the fact that these criminals can change their name. Basically we’ve advertised it publicly to everyone. If we don’t now remove this loophole for them, incidents of name changes may increase, not just for child sex offenders, but more criminals now know this is an option available to them. The unintended fallout is impossible to know, but could be very bad. It is imperative that action is taken to protect our most precious citizens.

Finally on reoffending, the question that needs to be asked is; Will continuing to allow convicted child sex offenders to change their name make it more likely for them to gain access to children? It’s difficult to answer NO to this question. However, even if it was a 99% NO and a 1% YES (which it isn’t), this 1% YES is still the most conservative option and more worthy of going ahead when it comes to the safety of our children from sexual predators.

Conclusion

The benefits of this legislation are clear. Even a child can understand the rationale for not allowing criminals to change their name. The arguments against the proposed Amendment, which are flimsy at best and at worse careless and irresponsible, are not sufficient to be weighed against even one case of child sexual abuse. Let alone the hundreds and thousands of cases the closing of this loophole will prevent in the future.

It is common sense that tells us that allowing convicted criminals to change their name is a bad idea. To make the excuse that they may be changing their names as a way to express themselves is simply folly. How did we get to a state where we even have to argue for such things? It saddens me greatly that I have to make justifications for legislation which provides such an obvious benefit. Offender’s rights should never take precedent over the rights of victims and law abiding citizens. Hopefully our law makers will start to talk more about victim’s rights and less about offender’s rights in the future. But if they don’t, I’ll always try to remind them.

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Child Protection Bill – Is Naming of Victims Really an Issue?

Background

The Child Protection Bill aims to reduce sexual reoffending against child victims, and the risk posed by serious child sex offenders in New Zealand. This is going to be done mainly in the form of a sex offenders register. Submissions on the Bill have now closed and the report by the Social Services Committee is due March 2016.

29th October 2015 – The New Zealand Law Society (NZLS) submits their submission on the Bill. The NZLS submission proposes a more administratively demanding risk-based assessment system and suggests removing or reducing many of the requirements placed on offenders.

7th December 2015 – I write a reply to the NZLS submission pointing out many of the false assumptions, invalid points and lack of evidence to support the claims made within their submission.

Is Naming of Victims Really an Issue?

Following my reply to the NZLS being released I was interviewed by someone from the media and they asked me a question which flummoxed me somewhat. Of all the arguments against a sex offender register I’d previously read about or encountered, I’d never heard this argument before. The argument went something like this; “have you considered the fact that victims with the same surname as the the offender may be publicly shamed if a public register were implemented?”

My initial response was poor as I didn’t quite comprehend what was being asked and it was my first ever interview. However, on reflection I can tell you exactly why I’d never encountered this argument before, because it’s not really a issue, and here’s 4 compelling reasons why.

1. Victims names are not published on the register – This is a no-brainer. The victims are not named on any register so any relationship or connection is only inferred. No definite link can ever be made from a register alone. Anyway the proposed register isn’t even going to be publicly accessible (even though SST strongly wants this).

2. Other ways of finding out – these things don’t happen in a vacuum. There are many more definitive ways people can discover this info other than a hunch from a similar name. Word of mouth, the court case, media and news coverage are all other ways people find out what is happening in their community. Inferring a link from a similar name on a database is the least reliable and is by far the least pervasive means of disseminating this information, especially when compared to the other methods mentioned.

3. Do victims of sexual abuse really care if people know? Has anyone actually asked any victims if they think this is an issue?It’s not for us to say this is an issue. It’s up to them. The only ones who should feel shame here are the offenders. These poor young children have been traumatized. With all that they’ve gone through, do you really think these victims care if a few people think they know what happened to them? Really? At SST, we know that they don’t. What is more important to the victims is justice and making sure that these offenders don’t ruin any more lives.

4. So what if people do know – What’s the big deal? This issue implies a negative reaction. Think names on billboards and people pointing in the street and throwing rotten tomatoes. What kind of reaction do you really think people will have? The small minority of people that actually do know these people have been abused actually show only sympathy and support. There is no evidence of victim stigmatization, if even such a thing exists.

So now that I’ve addressed that issue, it’s time to get back the serious work of turning our legal system into a justice system and making sure the rights of victims and society are paramount.

I always like to have open dialogue regarding anything that interests me. The good thing about it, as in this case, is that these barriers can be broken down quickly before given a chance to strengthen. I thank the interviewer for giving me the chance to put this one back in the box early.

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Amazon Update: April 2015

Well it’s been a long time but I’m back. I never really left, however I’ve had a monumental personal crisis to deal with which made it impossible for me to post since November 2014. Anyway that’s over now and I plan to keep the updates going from now on.

I have still been operating my business, sending in stock and checking in to my account. However, I haven’t made any growth. No new ASINs or products at all. What I did notice though is that this business can run with virtually NO time spent on it at all. It’s been really great being able to pull in thousands of dollars while doing virtually nothing. This year I intend to grow. My plan outlined below.

Amazon Canada – amazon.ca

I recently received an email from an amazon.ca representative asking me to think about joining amazon.ca:

“You have provided an excellent experience for our customer base since you started with Amazon and we would like you to bring your products and your business online with Amazon Canada.”

I was pretty stoked with this comment and have since noticed the amazon.ca pulldown has been added to the top of my seller central home page (next to the flag).

Amazon Europe

I started this registration process late last year and I have to say it is taking far too long. At the moment my account is still pending validation. I’ve done everything including the address verification.

I’m really excited about starting in Europe because of the size of the market. With doing private-label it basically doubling your income with very little extra work. I already have my products, sources and listing descriptions so it really is a no-brainer.

I’ll keep you posted on my progress. Hopefully I can get my account activated and inventory organized in the next month. I want to be rocking in Europe by Q4!

Bad News!

Some major news late last year was that my best selling product’s listing was pulled from amazon.com without notice. I didn’t notice for awhile and when I finally got in touch with amazon they told me that an intellectual rights complaint was made. This was a blow to my sales stats and also I just had a shipment sent in and still to this day have 5141 units sitting in the warehouse unable to sell. Minimum removal fees are $771.15 ($0.15 per item).

Not taking this lying down, I pushed amazon further and asked for the patent or trademark to back up the complaint. They couldn’t produce one, which I already knew because I contacted the USPTO office and asked beforehand. In the end I just gave up. At the end of the day it’s just one product and not worth jeopardizing getting my account suspended or closed. It’s just a pity that this type of thing can happen. Your own private-label listing can get pulled from someone complaining and with no legal backing.

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Amazon Update: November 2014

Earnings
Gross Sales: $29,162.74
Units Sold: 2876
Amazon Profit: $15,171.91
Affiliate Earnings: $585.29

Total (Banked) USD$15,757.20

Sorry to all of you that thought I’d dropped off the planet last month. I’ve been a bit busy so didn’t get around to doing an update for October 2014. I’ll try and keep them monthly, but can’t promise anything.

Some one asked me if the profits I mention on these posts are actually what I get in hand. The answer is yes. The gross sales is taken from my business reports in Amazon. The Amazon Profit figure is the actual profit I get once the Amazon seller fess and product costs are removed. The Total Banked $ is what is mine to spend. 100% income minus all the fees and costs. This amount is less than what Amazon actually pays into my account because this amount hasn’t had the product costs taken out yet. I use my own spreadsheet to keep a track of and calculate my profits.

Mega Refund WTF?

I had a very disturbing incident involving a monstrous refund issued by Amazon for a product (see below).

Mega Refund!

Mega Refund!

The product is only $8.99, and with shipping of $5.58 the total amount is $14.57. However, Amazon chose to refund $98.19! Now, I have contacted Amazon about this and they told me that I can make a claim for this refund after 45 days. So, I’ll have to wait and see until then for an explanation about why this happened, as well as trying to get this money back. I’ll keep you posted.

What disturbs me the most is the fact that this is possible. I’ve added it to my Outlook Calendar so I don’t forget about it. I’m always checking my refund emails vigilantly now. I advise everyone else to do the same.

Mega Reimbursement

I received an unexpected bonus this month when Amazon “lost warehouse” 68 of my highest price tag items and reimbursed me for me for them (see image below).

Mega Reimbursement

Mega Reimbursement

I pocketed a cool $980 on top of what I usually make that day. I still had a load of these products left so it didn’t interfere with my sales. A reimbursement is as good as a sale in terms of what you get paid. Definitely made for a god day!

Sea Freight

I saw a post awhile back on the MySilentTeam facebook page about Forest Shipping. They are a company which does sea freight from China straight to Amazon. I’ve taken the plunge and got a quote. On paper it comes out at a quarter of the price as doing air freight. This sounds good to me so I’m in the process of sending them a whole bunch of inventory from all my various manufacturers. This is a considerable investment, but the products I’m sending are all selling well and shipping air freight month to month is getting infuriating. In the long-term doing big quarterly orders by sea is the way forward.

Once I’ve shipped and paid for it, I’ll post the details of the costs, weight shipped, and any other useful about the process and the company.

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Amazon Update: September 2014

Earnings
Gross Sales: $19,232.94
Units Sold: 1690
Amazon Profit: $8,697.55
Affiliate Earnings: $548.33

Total (Banked) USD$9,245.88

Amazon just seems to keep getting bigger and better. The growth is happening regardless of me adding any new products. I actually ran out of stock of a couple of my top selling products and still increased earnings. This business amazes me. No matter how badly you screw it up you can still make some great bank!

Consolidated Listings

This month I did something which I’d been wanting to do for a long time. I consolidated several of my listings into one parent listing with multiple child listings. When I first started out I set up a lot of my products, which were the same product but different colors etc, into separate listings with their own UPC, ASIN etc. They each received their own reviews and sold decently. My rationale here was to add them to various different categories to try to appear in more search results. However, after consolidation I now realize that the combined power of higher review scores (when you consolidate all the reviews are added together), gets much better results. My two biggest sellers have now over +100 review each. This has dramatically increased the sales rank of the items and sales have been much better!

New Products

This month I have added 9 variations to two of my current lines and also added one completely new product. I’ve got a few more in the research process and hopefully will have them also on the way to FBA by November.

Back To Work

I’m continuing to send out review requests to the professional reviewers in the Amazon Top Reviewers List. Around 100 emails a month seems to be a manageable number and gives goods results. I now have a database of the top 2000 reviewers names and email addresses. My seller reviews and natural product reviews are still coming in nicely.

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Amazon Update: August 2014

Amazon
Gross Sales: $18,028.72
Profit: $7,974.12
Refunds    ($395.69)
Reimbursements    287.59
TOTAL    $7,866.02
Affiliate Earnings
Clickbank etc…: $720.13

Banked: USD $8,586.15

Protaras Bay

Still on holiday on the beach in Cyprus while Amazon makes money for me.

Well, even though I was sitting on a beach for all of August my Amazon earnings still increased. I hardly did any work at all. I basically only checked in on things to check stock levels and seller messages. I think the continued increase is mainly due to my products getting more reviews and my seller rating which is still at 100%. With this type of increase it’s time to get back to work and really work this system to its full potential!

Reviews

My top product now has 81 reviews. From a total of 23 SKU’s (individual listings) I have 438 reviews total. I can definitely work on increasing this and now that I’m back at work this will become part of my daily tasks. I will start going through the Amazon reviewers list from 1000 down now. I have already catalogued the top 1000 list already.

Seller Feedback

100% Positive!

I reached a milestone this month; 200 seller reviews! I’m up to 219 now and ALL positive so far. I do get a few negative ones, but they’re mainly product criticisms or to do with shipping. If you create a new case with Amazon they remove these pretty quickly.

Duplicate Products

This month I had someone try and sell their own version of my product on MY listing. Now, I’ve had a few of these before and I have a sternly worded template which I fire out which usually does the job and gets them to take their products down. However, this time they didn’t. What is worse is that they were getting the buy box because of their price. I sent a final warning follow up email, but they didn’t acknowledge it. I created a case with Amazon support but they didn’t act and told me I had to follow this procedure:

1. File a violation on this link: http://www.amazon.com/gp/help/reports/contact-us

2. You have actually buy their product and take photos of it to prove it is not the same.

3. Include all of the usual ASIN and info. Give a brief descrition of why the product is different etc…

I did all this stuff (all the while losing sales as their crap product was selling on my listing) and pretty much straight away their products were gone. Now, I’m not sure what happened to them in terms of reprimands, but I do think Amazon would take this sort of counterfeit selling seriously. I’m sure it would also be noted and recorded against their seller account.

I checked this morning and I have another 2 sellers trying to sell on another lsiting of mine. I’ve sent them the second email, without reply, and now have now progressed to purchasing the product. I’m going to file the same report for these guys too. Too bad as they both seem new. Howevr, I did give them fair warning.

New Products

I have already started getting my agent looking for sources for my new product lines. I have 3-4 new products I’m trying to find a manufacturer for. Shouldn’t be too difficult. Just have to make a always get samples and do my due diligence.

Goals

While on holiday I saw a product on Clickbank where the guys were working the Amazon business and one of them was doing over $500,000.00 in PROFIT per month. This really made me think what is possible with this and expanded my thinking about the potential here. Now half a million a month is incredible, but with the right systems to scale this business up, I can see no reason why I shoudn’t be able to do something similar.

Time to think big!

 

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Amazon Update & Summer Break!

Pamukale Hot Springs

Pamukale Hot Springs

Amazon
Gross Sales: $14,837.87
Profit:    $6546.87
Refunds: -$248.78
Reimbursements: $305.19
TOTAL    $6,603.28
Affiliate Earnings
Clickbank etc…: $631.59

Banked: USD$7,234.87

Ancient City of Ephesus

Ancient City of Ephesus

I’m on holiday this month and next, however I still somehow managed to increase my earnings by a grand on last month. Maybe I should take more holidays! Seriously though, this Amazon stuff is AMAZING! I mean, I used to think affiliate marketing was a good gig (before Google Penguin), but selling on Amazon is waaaaay better. The hours required to run this business are even less than affiliate marketing, and I’m even talking if you have a VA team too. It’s literally only 30 mins or less a day to maintain this business. It’s takes more time if you’re adding new products, but once you get them going, it’s nothing.

Anyway, my seller feedbacks are still increasing steadily and still on 100% positive. My products feedbacks are increasing too. I think this may be why sales are increasing. I’m going to keep mining the Amazon reviewers list for more reviews since it seems to be paying off.

I’m looking forward to getting some new products going. However, I’ve still got another month holiday in Cyprus (first world problems eh…).

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Amazon Update: June 2014

Earnings

Amazon
Units Sold: 1063
Gross Sales: $12,612.13
Refunds: -$303.97
Reimbursements: $411.37
Profit (Money Banked): $5730.82
Clickbank
Affiliate Commissions: $532.67

Total (Banked): $6,263.30

Amazon Seller Feedback

Amazon Seller Feedback

Seller Feedback

My seller feedback is still increasing steadily. The number of positive reviews is very encouraging for me. It makes me fell like people really like my products and I am actually conduting my business in a positive manner.

Product Feedback

Amazon Product Reviews

Amazon Product Reviews

I haven’t talked too much about this before. But as I sell more on Amazon, I am beginning to learn how important getting positive reviews is for more sales. From all my products I have a total of 217 product reviews. Lately I have been giving away products for free to Amazon professional reviewers (you can see the list here). This strategy has been working very well and is giving good results. I can see my sales rank increase and also more sales coming in.

Last month I hired someone from Odesk; paid them $20 and they copied into a spreadsheet ALL the top 1000 Amazon professional reviewers names and email addresses. The best twenty bucks I’ve ever spent!

I use the mail merge feature in word to send bulk individual emails to them whenever I want some more reviews. Works like a charm.

SEO

No change here.

Amazon Brand Registry

This past month I recieved an email from Amazon asking me to join the Amazon Brand Registry. I did it, it was pretty easy. However, I haven’t seen any noticebale benefits or changes to anything in my seller account?

Frustration Free Packaging

I also had an email asking me to join the Frustration Free Packaging program (FFP). They said I had a couple of products which could be eligible. I made some enquiries and have since realised that this is not that easy to implement and they couldn’t tell me what the explicit benefits would be, so I didn’t bother joining.

New Products

It’s been awhile since I added any new products to my inventory. At this stage I have a pile of samples which I can add, but since I’m just about to go on summer holiday for 2 months, I’m going to leave it until I return. I’d really like to increase the sales from my existing product first anyway before expanding.

 

 

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