Tech by VICE

Get-Rich-on-Uber Ebooks Capture Drivers’ Hope and Desperation

An Amazon cottage industry reveals an Uber driver sideline.

by Roisin Kiberd
May 25 2016, 2:45pm

Image: Matteo Gallo

Remember the golden age of the business marketing ebook? Not long ago, Amazon was glutted with ebook entrepreneurs, promising to make their readers rich and famous through working online from home. Their websites bore the usual hallmarks: never-ending scroll, brash copy, lurid visuals, dodgy Microsoft clip art, flashing gifs, and shadow font. Each one had an ebook to sell, claiming you could "GET RICH QUICK" simply by reading it (or occasionally by signing up for a series of webinars).

Today, the Netscape Willy Loman has all but died away, beaten into obscurity by Google SEO and the rise of social media. But the get-rich-quick ebook lives on in certain pockets of the web, and appears to have experienced a resurgence with the advent of the sharing economy.

Type "Uber" and "money" into Amazon and you'll find them, with their dodgy illustrated covers and their dazzlingly optimistic claims.

"How To Make Money Being an Uber Driver: The Definitive, Foolproof, One Hundred Percent Way To Making Thousands Being an Uber Driver" appears to be typical of the Uber ebook genre

There's a distinct pathos and campy humour to the Uber ebook. They walk a line between hope and desperation, old-web idealism and self-help literature. Each title is bombastic, breathless, and rich in capitalisation and keywords. Try "UBERNOMICS: A Special Report on Driving Your Way to Riches and Hacking the Rideshare Economy," or the hypnotically repetitive "RIDESHARE EVERYTHING YOU NEED TO KNOW!: RIDESHARE EVERYTHING YOU NEED TO KNOW! LYFT, UBER."

"How To Make Money Being an Uber Driver: The Definitive, Foolproof, One Hundred Percent Way To Making Thousands Being an Uber Driver," by Robert Davenport, appears to be typical of the Uber ebook genre. At 26 pages, the book itself is not that much longer than its title; it's a riot of dodgy formatting, even worse grammar, and hilariously obvious advice, such as "sleeveless shirts, open-toed footwear and sleepwear are gigantic no-nos," and "never walk female clients to the door upon reaching her endpoint. This may cause future or existing spouses to consider you as romantically linked to the customer."

The book ends with the recommendation that Uber drivers should "deliberate on other sources of income," perhaps the most valuable advice it has to offer. It continues: "Popular income augmenting means include creation of e-books, e-courses, membership websites, and contracting work."

"RIDESHARE EVERYTHING YOU NEED TO KNOW" begins with a guide to rideshare companies, before it stops making sense entirely and devolves into slipshod Babelfish prose. "The thought behind ride sharing is to acquire cash while convey a traveler in a generally vacant auto," it states (please, continue, you're giving me ASMR). "Some customary taxi organisations and related controllers seem vexed by these upstarts."

In "The Big Uber v Lyft Ridesharing Book," driver and Amazon author Al Case relates his haphazard autobiography. As a narrator, Case is meandering but consistently engaging.

He opens with a depiction of a world watched over by Uber, with drivers on hand to collect every child at the school gates, convey the old and frail to their relatives, and gracefully scoop faltering drunks from the gutter. In the author's words, Uber has transcended its original purpose and has gone "beyond": Uber is now a way of life.

Reality creeps in, however, by the end of the first chapter. "Of course, you'll have to learn how to drive, where to drive, who to accept for fares, and so on. If you don't you'll be making $8 an hour…."

Case breaks with dispensing advice to include his own Uber referral code, along with his code for Lyft. He thanks the reader in advance for using it when they sign up for what he calls "the best job in the world."

At points, however, what follows is less Travis Kalanick and more Travis Bickle. The author describes his repeated troubles with the app malfunctioning, incurring missed profits and cautions from Uber for refusing to take passengers. He relates how riders try to game UberPool by piling in more passengers than indicated. And that's before you begin to factor in the backseat drivers, the passengers who are drunk or drugged up, or on one occasion one who apparently decides to jump from the vehicle at 20 miles per hour, only to flag Case down again minutes later while being pursued by the police.

Case also has issues with Uber itself. He complains about having to use UberPool and implies that Uber has rigged its mobile app to offer more work when drivers switch on Lyft at the same time. Asked about this, Uber's communications representative replied, "We do not change the rate at which we dispatch drivers based on whether or not the Lyft app is open on their phones—we would have no way of knowing that."

In the end, Case's book reads less like a guide to the easy life and more like a driver's lament.

Meanwhile, "Uberpreneur: 20 Ways to Make Money On Each Ride" by Laurence Williams eschews personal storytelling in favour of simple money-making tips. His book aims to teach you not only how to make money as an Uber driver, but how to use Uber to launch a satellite career as a mobile salesperson. What follows is a list of things you can sell from a car, ostensibly without making your passenger angry or uncomfortable: "Sell Sodas," "Sell Energy Drinks," "Sell Tobacco Products," "Sell Over the Counter Drugs."

The punchline in Williams' book comes at suggestion #20—"Recruit new Uber Drivers"

In contrast with other ebooks, Williams paints the average Uber customer as agreeable and endlessly tolerant. Following this logic, he moves into surreal territory: "Sell Etsy jewellery" (he lists a specific shop by name), "Sell the 180 cup" (an 18oz beer cup popular in infomercials, with a shot glass built into its reverse). He advocates selling a product called "WTF candles," which start out smelling sweet before transforming as they burn ("Coffee to Stank Breath," "Baby Powder to Baby Diaper"). Embedded URLs for these products are included. (Williams could not be reached for comment—his Amazon author page goes nowhere, and an embedded link for an "Uberpreneur Newsletter" leads to an error page.)

The punchline in Williams' book comes at suggestion #20—"Recruit new Uber Drivers"—making it clear that the Uber ebook game can be something of a pyramid scheme. The more people buy Uber ebooks, the more referrals the author hopes to get through recruiting them, earning them money.

Each book sets out to recruit new drivers into the fold, even as some authors rage against the app, their customers, and their economic precarity. You can envision readers going on to drive for Uber themselves, amass knowledge, and then write an ebook of their own, like in The Ring: some cursed soul began the genre, and now the damned must pass it along.

This is not to dismiss the Uber ebooks entirely; they exist as documents of working life within the sharing economy. Hidden behind their 99p paywalls, these books reveal in their authors, and their readers, a combination of hope and hopelessness: Before their careers as drivers have even begun, people are seeking out ways to hack the system for dreams of greater profit.

Uber Earth is Motherboard's exploration of the ways Uber has already changed the world and how it stands to do so in the future. Follow along here.