Protecting Amazon From Itself

This is not an article against Amazon.  While Amazon is a big company, and like all big companies it can do stupid things, in the twelve? Thirteen? Years, I’ve been a customer, I’ve found their customer service is exemplary and they really do bend over backwards to help the customer.  As an indie publisher, I’m also more grateful than I can say for the chance to make some money on my back list.

In a way this is a post to head off the inevitable conspiracy theories.


But the one thing you can say about Amazon is that when they put their foot in it, they sink it into the entire bucket without hesitation.  I still have libertarian minded friends who will not touch kindle because of the thing with 1984.  I find their reaction excessive, but I do understand it.  If you’re going to reach into someone’s kindle and remove a book, MUST it be 1984?  Really, kindle?

Well, the one I stumbled onto tonight is almost at that level of utter and complete cluelessness.  It’s going to give fodder to all the kindle conspiracists TM along the lines of “oh, now they sucked you in and they’re going to killlllll indies.”  This is a stupid reaction, because if Amazon wanted to kill indies, it would be more subtle.

No, this piece of brilliance is clearly some programmer’s bright idea.  IOW it’s a software solution to a publishing problem.

I’m sure you’ve heard – as have I – about the utter scum that take parts of other people’s books, (usually the free part) slam them into “collections” and put them out there, making money off other people’s words.  I don’t like them anymore than Amazon does.  Amazon decided to do something about that.  So far so good.

It’s possible too since our kind and enlightened ruler has been signing SOPA piecemeal as executive orders, that this move by Amazon is an attempt to comply with our new laws-by-fiat.  There are indications that way but who can keep up with the flurry of executive orders?

So, for whatever reason, the heads of Amazon decided they needed to detect when all or part of a “book” – which for Amazon can be a short story – is part of another “book” by a different publisher.  On detecting these, they pull them off the market and put them in draft, then send you a little note, asking you to confirm your rights by… publishing them again.

Since, for those not in the know, there is already a checkbox on the KDP form saying “I have the right to publish this book” this is basically a “are you really sure you have the right.”  I doubt it would stop any determined scammer, but never mind that.  It does, I suppose, provide Amazon with a legal fig leaf (which leads me to believe it is a way of appeasing the leviathan.)

Where this is a complete, warm bucket of fail is that they apparently don’t have anyone – not a single person among their team of managers or publishers – who has any experience with publishing contracts.  PARTICULARLY with anthology/magazine publishing contracts.

Just someone with mid-list level experience of being in anthologies could tell them that the anthologies (and mags) buy exclusive rights for exactly a year.  After that they still have the right to sell the anthology, but you have the right to resell the story and/or publish it individually yourself.

They had called out exactly five of my stories, which leads me to believe the other 80% or so that are still in anthologies will be called out shortly.  Which means I’ll have to go in and republish these every night for the foreseeable future.  I’m going to hope very hard that they at least have some sort of “stop bot” once the stories have gone through this again, otherwise the whole thing could get exceedingly tedious.

At the moment I MIGHT have 40 properties out (I haven’t counted lately.)  This is the tip of the iceberg of 200 plus, over a hundred of which have been published electronically by someone else and are still available as part of an anthology.  (It says so in the table of contents!  At least for most of them – sometimes I forget.)

Now think on this – it’s not just me.  It’s most published authors who were/are regulars in various anthologies.  EVERY ONE OF US, every story that’s out, they’re pulling to draft and asking us to go in and republish them to confirm we have the rights.  Let that sink in.  I know people who have HUNDREDS of backlog stories out.  And who then package them in various anthologies.

Beyond all of us, there are… all the reprint anthologies, including but not limited to the year’s best, and “best of” done by different publishers.  Robots are going to find common content in all of those and take them to draft.  (Which I suspect also takes them off the kindles of people who bought them.)

Stand back and contemplate the massive fail and all the conspiracy theorists screams of “Amazon is eeeeeevil.”

I’m used to stupid from conspiracy theorists.  I’m used to stupid from traditional publishers.  Needless to say, I’m used to stupid from governments.

I’m not used to this level of utter stupid from Amazon (though lately their inability to distinguish paid-for or hate reviews with simply having a writer who is also a reader and reviews the occasional book, has bordered on this level of stupid.  At least it’s the same TYPE of stupid – a software and general solution for a localized problem.)

If it is, as I suspect, a legal fig leaf to deal with the eternal flood of executive orders, wouldn’t it be easier to have an extra line on your publishing forms saying “This work was published before – with a place to fill in the name of the book in which it was published – or is being sold as part of – place to fill in – but I have the rights to publish it”?  And to send an email to your client saying “Please confirm via email that such and such and such and such and such and such books despite being part of contents of other books are yours to publish” for all the stuff previously published?

And if it’s not a legal fig leaf, what is the point, PRECISELY?  Do you think that people who don’t scruple to sell other people’s words without contract will balk at re-publishing them?  Why?

It’s not as if by republishing we’re showing you we have the rights to do this.  Neither you nor us have the time to deal with all the contracts under which these stories were originally published.

Let’s face it, yes, we hate those leeches who scam other people’s works as much as you do.  BUT – as with pirates – the number is really quite small and tends to take care of itself.

So… you fashioned a net to catch them that INSTEAD is going to catch hundreds of thousands of legitimate publishers – a public relations debacle that could be avoided by tapping the shoulder of any of us who are traditionally published and saying “Hey, how come your story is part of more than one collection and also indie” to which we’d say “Well, after a year, in standard contracts, the anthology buy is non exclusive.”

And then you could have put an extra line in your publishing form.  Granted, it wouldn’t involve software and cool bots.

Look, guys, I’m married to someone who does software.  He’s also a writer, so in this case he’d notice.  But in general, the mind-set is quite different.

Cool bots are cool bots.  They interact weirdly though with as byzantine a system as publishing, many of whose rules were old by the time the NINETEENTH century was new.

I wish Amazon well.  It’s been a boon for me, both as a reader and a writer.  We now own every model of kindle ever made in this house, and the money we spend on books is second only to the money our Victorian eats in utilities.  But… guys, as a friend – and I’m a friend – do try to ask writers a question or two before you let the zany software guys spend your money on programs that will only annoy people.  We’re cheap.  Heck, many of us would answer your questions for free.  A team of us can’t be that hard to assemble.  Take anyone with a lot of published stuff with traditional publishers who ALSO has a bunch of indie stuff.  Ten or fifteen of us should be enough to answer your questions if you run these “brilliant” ideas by us before you implement them.

And meanwhile, this new thing?  Drop it. When it comes to catching the real bad guys it’s as stupid as airports asking everyone to pinky swear they’re not terrorists, the infant in a pram and the guy in a terrorist vest alike.

It’s a lot of trouble and it solves nothing.


39 thoughts on “Protecting Amazon From Itself

  1. Oh, good Lord have mercy! I wonder what all was in those bills that nobody had time to read before voting on? In addition to the secret Executive Orders? What a freaking mess!

  2. I’d bet money (up to the cost of one of Sarah’s e-books) that within a week or two, Amazon will reverse itself on this, as it becomes known and as the complaints begin flooding in.

  3. i used to deal with Amazon when we lived in Germany. They were really good at sending books to military post boxes. When I was in the military, it was hard to find a company who would send things to a military post box. If you gave them an APO or FPO, they would immediately tell you sorry.

    It makes me sad that Amazon is losing their customer service abilities. They used to be the gold standard– Now they are getting a little tarnished.

    1. I think somehow they decided that programmers could do this stuff, no need to really think. Head>desk.
      They’re still very good, but tonight — after the day I had — this REALLY frosted my cake.

        1. This is only going to hit previously traditionally published stories. But that, I’d guess, is at least fifty percent of indie. JUST the insane amount of work they’re creating…

    2. I hope they don’t go the same way as Gateway computers. THEY were once declared the gold standard of customer service for independent computer manufacturers, but not many years later, they were considered a joke.

  4. If it happened recently, they might be setting the thieves up to take some heat under recent legal changes.

    Or it may be an excuse to boost their “number of books submitted” stats.

    I can’t think of any new laws off the top of my head, but I’m sure that someone could shoe-horn it into ONE of the giant bills they keep putting out.
    And that’s assuming it’s not a Washington State law– we have some of the dumbest laws you can think of.

      1. How about being liable for what crooks do if they steal your car and it wasn’t locked, no keys, wheel locked, parking brake on and wheels turned to curb if there’s an incline? (I think there were a few more points, but I can’t remember.) NICE judges have held that carjacking victims and cars on private property aren’t covered.

      2. Or treating people who have children in a running car while they’re not in the driver’s seat more harshly than drunk drivers? Two times and you lose your license.
        (But there’s a special provision in law to allow truck drivers with pets to leave their vehicles running so the animals don’t die from heat.)

        1. I left Washington years ago because of their laws. For another example, how about a burglar sueing for damages (and winning) because he got attacked by a dog inside of a locked house he was burglarizing? I can’t remember the name of the case, but it happened in either Lewis or Thurston county.

  5. One thought, Amazon may have been the gold standard. And they may be trying. And they have always been large. Now they are huge. There are going to be logic and service failures because those at the company that originally set the quality standards are overwhelmed. A few, even one, key people can set the bar for quality high in a small organization. As the organization gets bigger, more dedicated people are needed and there are never enough. Even if you find good people they need to understand the entire operation. Past a certain point this is basically impossible, at least in enough quantity to make the difference. Somewhere along the line economies of scale are cancelled by mass. Amazon may be reaching that point. I don’t think there is anything legal you can’t buy on amazon right now. If so, quality will slip and make room for competitors to move in. This is capitalism in operationj

  6. One of my constant refrains (particularly when it comes to tech) is “God save us from people trying to be helpful and/or clever”. F’r instance, iPad refuses to so much as see photos on external memory unless they’re in the same folder structure as in a digital camera. If you just want to move pics from the camera to the iPad, fine, but oooh, you want to slap pics from the desktop onto a flash drive and put ’em on the iPad? Too bad. You’ll to mimic a camera’s folder structure first. As for Amazon being able to remotely remove books, I keep the wireless on mine tuned off permanently – originally for the sake of battery life, and I manage my books with calibre anyway, but if it keeps them from meddling, so much the better.

  7. This seems a classic case of “never attribute to malice (conspiracy theories) what can be explained by stupidity.” Your analysis of the probable source of the problem seems reasonable; if they were engaging in some sort of grand conspiracy, this certainly seems a stupid one to deploy.

    Unless … this is just a distraction to keep us from noticing that they have discovered a way to retrieve physical items as they once did digital (again, 1984) … which would explain why their customer service rep was so nice about re-shipping an item I had bought in June, supposedly received in August and only discovered was missing in December. Sure, they said it was in the same package as a book I know was received, so maybe it was a first test of their Physical Retrieval System, probably an advancement on the system sock manufacturers employ to retrieve one sock out of a pair.

    1. … the system sock manufacturers employ to retrieve one sock out of a pair.

      No no no, don’t you know what really happens to socks? The spinning action of the clothes dryer creates a dimensional portal to the alternate dimension where Sockthulhu lies sleeping. Every so often he will sleepily reach out to one of the numerous dimensional portals arrayed in front of him and grab his favorite snack to munch on, and so one family somewhere on Earth discovers their laundry has one less sock. But in his slumber, his appetite is small. Woe betide the world should he awaken, for then shall come the foretold asockalypse, followed by the dreaded Wearing of Birkenstocks as the world discovers that sneakers without socks are really, really uncomfortable. Yet shall that cloud not be without a silver lining, for the massed odor of unwashèd feet shall pass through the Dryer Portals again, yea, even unto the abode of Sockthulhu, and its stench shall be great enough to knock out even such a one as he. And thus shall the cycle begin again once more.

      1. And here I thought he took the socks to cover the ends of his tentacles to keep them warm, and kept taking more as they wore out. I had no idea they were snack food.

        1. There was a riff on this by the cartoonist Jules Feiffer, about a man putting his socks in the washing machine, and recieving back diminishing numbers of socks plus an odd-colored sock. The final panel had him explaining, “As an experiment I put in nothing but my final pair of socks. I get back a body stocking, and in it is a note which says “Do not trifle with the laws of nature – BRING THE MACHINE MORE SOCKS!”

      2. Sockthulu! Yes! Just what I needed when I’ve got my next to last load in the dryer and the last load in the washer. 😀

  8. I think Amazon will get it sorted pretty rapidly – the ‘authors reviewing other authors’ books imbroglio got clarified and resolved as soon as the howls of indignation from all the authors who did review books penetrated the Inner Sanctum of Amazon. On the other hand, the Great Amazon-Booksurge Kerfuffle of 2008 actually ended up with a small POD publisher taking them to court, and winning.
    I was then an author with that publisher, and I was terribly worried about being cut off. I blogged about it all – here:

  9. As of last night, NRP had two short stories flagged and taken to draft status by Amazon that shouldn’t have been. We received notice on only one of them. I followed the instructions in the one notice we received and simply “re-published” them — no request for proof of rights which surprised me — and they are now both live again.

    As I said, I was surprised when Amazon didn’t ask for proof of rights. There have been a couple of instances where we’ve published the digital version of something that has been out in print before we acquired the rights where we’ve had to send the pertinent contract parts to them before the title would go live. I don’t mind that. It usually happens before the e-book is published or shortly thereafter. This pulling something without notice and then just having you resubmit it is for the birds. It isn’t protecting the authors and it wastes time and money because, yes, my time is worth something, to keep checking to see if anything else has been pulled.

  10. I’m rather awed by the fact that I’m probably published extensively enough to be hit by this. Is the stuff at Naked Reader E books ok?

    1. Does it help to know that I read it as “National Public Radio” three or four times before my brain stopped “fixing” it?

  11. I wonder if this will cause more instances of the broken link between copy and purchase. You can still re-download the original copy, but if anything is updated or if you like Amazon telling you that you already bought the book(I read so much some times I don’t realize till I start reading it again) it doesn’t link back to your original purchase so your SOL on both counts.

    I’ve found that a few times when the publisher has gone back and fixed formatting or something and rather than updated, it has been re-published. Amazon will not relink them, but the one time I asked they said if I had any problems at any point re-downloading from my library to contact them and they will make sure I get a new copy. Still annoying though for both the author and the reader.

  12. Seems that everyone is rushing to CYA before big brother dork vader and his evil empire make things hellish for them. Control is the main objective of the dork and his minions. Control what people read, see, and think, and you enslave and control the entire country.

    1. They’re based in the UK, but Games Workshop (makers of Warhammer and Warhammer40K; respectively a LOTR rip-off with Brit GrimDark humor, and the latter the same– IN SPACE1111) does have several series with space marines in it.

      I rather suspect that they can’t validlysupport it, though; here’s their trade mark registration:

      Word Mark SPACE MARINE
      Goods and Services IC 028. US 022. G & S: board games, parlor games, war games, hobby games, toy models and miniatures of buildings, scenery, figures, automobiles, vehicles, planes, trains and card games and paint, sold therewith. FIRST USE: 19870900. FIRST USE IN COMMERCE: 19871000
      Mark Drawing Code (1) TYPED DRAWING
      Serial Number 74186534
      Filing Date July 19, 1991
      Current Basis 1A
      Original Filing Basis 1A
      Published for Opposition November 23, 1993
      Registration Number 1922180
      Registration Date September 26, 1995

      Note: just because it’s BS doesn’t mean they won’t win.

  13. A bright side to not having a lot of stuff in other people’s anthologies! Well, except the fanzine that never got onto Amazon in the first place… Hm. Though that one is also in Sofawolf’s Best In Show — though it says that very explicitly in the description. I’ll have to keep an eye on it.

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