2015/09/04

Amazon Stumbles Over Parody Book

John Scalzi Banned This Book

Regular visitors to this blog will have noticed my generally favorable disposition toward Amazon. I consider it a public service to refute the deceptive zombie memes spread by Amazon's less scrupulous detractors.

These actions are rooted in my commitment to support what's best for readers and authors. In most cases there's no question that Amazon treats their customers--both writers and readers--better than legacy publishers do. However, I have no qualms about calling Amazon out when they drop the ball.

A disappointing case of Amazon violating their customer-centric prime directive has developed in the last few days. The incident arose in response to an ongoing flame war between best selling author John Scalzi, who recently signed a multi-million dollar contract with Tor Books, and game developer/SFF editor Vox Day, whom one might describe as the sci-fi equivalent of a heel wrestler.

The full details of the controversy can be found here. The part that interests me is Scalzi's request to have a parody book with a highly unflattering invocation of his name in the title removed from the Kindle Store--a request which Amazon granted.

Taking a moment to dispense with an obvious objection, Scalzi sought expert advice on the book's legal status and was informed that it is clearly recognizable satire protected under the First Amendment. So the book's unknown author is guilty of breaking no law.

I also understand that Amazon is a private sector company that has every right to decide what it will and will not sell. That's not the crux of my argument. I maintain that, even though removing the book was well within Amazon's rights, they were stupid to do so.

Bowing to the demands of a best selling, millionaire author makes Amazon look like they're siding with the establishment against the little guy--and in this case, they are.

It doesn't help that the same author chided Amazon back in 2010 for doing what he's just turned around and asked them to do.

Even more disturbing, some customers have reported the book missing from their Kindle libraries (see comments 5 and 10). Amazon has deleted eBooks from customers' Kindles before. Even Amazon president Jeff Bezos called the practice "stupid", but that didn't stop them from doing it again.

And since the book in question was the #1 parody title on Amazon, a lot of people may have had their purchases deleted. Amazon has always issued refunds when they've done this, but it's the perception of confiscating property without the owners' permission that makes this move a huge customer service failure.

Postscript: the book is back in the Kindle Store under a new title. It's to be hoped that Amazon learned the lesson that Sonny Corleone ignored to his peril: don't interfere.


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