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.


5 thoughts on “Protecting Amazon From Itself

  1. Hum… Sharon Lee has also recently blogged about this.

    It does sound as if someone has implemented a tech solution to a problem without necessarily understanding all the implications. I wonder if they have heard the term false positive and really understand it?

  2. As a newbie writer who is contemplating taking the plunge into writing for money (I know, I know–how Capitalist of me…), this kind of news is terrifying. A brand new legalities mire of rules and conditions writers have to traverse instead of creating new stories. Please tell me that the world of publishing is not usually THIS short-sighted and suicidal….

    1. Oh, no, the world of traditional publishing is USUALLY much worse. Amazon is not usually this short-sighted and suicidal, though.

      As for writing for money, it’s the only true pure motive. When people forego a six pack of beer to buy your book, you know it’s SINCERE flattery.

  3. Well, this is a new low. And it makes me wonder if I’m going to run into the same thing, as I’m currently putting together a bunch of stories as a collection, at least one of which is part of a different anthology that’s still being sold (but the rights have reverted).

    Amazon definitely needs to get its collective head out of its collective butt on this one. (Apologies for the saying, but it’s the only one that came to mind.)

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