Amazon: The Tiger Strikes

Burning Books

Since the launch of the Kindle and KDP, we've had doomsayers--mostly tradpub authors, editors, and agents--prophesying Amazon's imminent descent into tyranny. Most forecasts of impending woe were founded on the premise that Amazon is a monopoly, and as such would impose draconian royalty terms on authors as soon as the Big Five New York publishers were out of the picture.

Best selling author Joe Konrath liked to answer these jeremiads with a simple metaphor. If wolves (tradpub) are gnawing on your leg, worry about them instead of the tiger (Amazon) that has yet to strike.

I've repeatedly gone on record to refute the wilder anti-Amazon zombie memes that keep turning up in publishing circles. It's no secret that my opinion of the company has been generally favorable. Amazon has enabled thousands of authors who never had a chance of passing the tradpub gatekeepers to reach readers and earn money. Many pro authors have escaped from odious tradpub contracts and are now making a living from their craft thanks to KDP.

That doesn't mean I uncritically carry water for a trillion-dollar megacorp. I'm also on record calling Amazon out when they've screwed up in the past. My loyalty is to readers and and fellow authors. It's been my informed opinion that Amazon was a net positive for both. Though I always accepted the possibility that Amazon could turn to the dark side, I counseled prudence and patience. Deal with the wolves, then worry about the tiger.

Yesterday, a sequence of events came to my attention that leave little room for any other conclusion than that the tiger has struck.

Daryush "Roosh" Valizadeh is a notorious international gadabout and pickup artist. He's written nineteen books, many of which offer advice to young men on how to seduce women. Judging by how his outlook has deepened of late, he may be on the cusp of an Augustinian conversion. He rose to infamy a couple years back when he tried to organize a worldwide series of get-togethers for his readers. These events were a chance for young men to meet up, have a few drinks, and share their experience of living in a world that actively hates them.

If Roosh's enemies had any plausible deniability about their hatred of men, it went out the window when they launched a global crackdown on his meetups. Local officials, police, and even the Australian Navy were called upon to stop young men from convening to talk about anything deeper than craft beer and sportsball. It makes you think.

That's just the prologue. Before we get to the main event, it's worth noting that in 2015, SJWs submitted a petition with 250,000 signatures demanding that Amazon pull Roosh's books from their service. Amazon chose not to act.

Flash forward to 2018. Starting on Friday, September 7, Amazon began removing Roosh's books from the Kindle Store and their paperback service CreateSpace. Nine of his nineteen titles have now been removed in total.

Even more insidious, Amazon refuses to explain why they banned Roosh's books. The usual song and dance about "violating are guidelines", which should sound eerily familiar at this point, was bandied about. But when Roosh contacted the company to find out specifically which guidelines his books violated, he was thrust into a cyberpunk kafkatrap wherein the rep on the phone told him the banning department could only be reached by email, and his email query referred him right back to the nebulous "guideline violations" dodge.

Not one word about the tawdry subject matter of Roosh's books. A cursory search will turn up dozens of far sleazier KDP titles. Despite the high-handed claims in their guidelines, Amazon hosts straight-up porn. If Amazon wanted to purge all the smut from their site, I'd cheer them on. But this is no moral crusade.

What exactly is it? Contra the alarmists, the fact is we just don't know. Here are the most likely possibilities in no particular order:

  • Scenario 1: Amazon's algorithm mistakenly pulled Roosh's books. As best selling author Nick Cole has pointed out, the A9 algorithm is actually pretty dumb. Like all computerized systems, it knows only what it's told. The algorithm's job is to get products in front of people who are likely to buy them, and that also means filtering out noise. Some glitch or crossed signal could have resulted in the algorithm erroneously tagging Rossh's books as spam. This is the most benign possibility, and it should still scare the hell out of you.
  • Scenario 2: An SJW hatemob falsely flagged Roosh's books. The 250k strong SJW hatemob from 2015 raises the odds of this possibility. Amazon is pretty aloof, so them ignoring a petition is par for the course. If even a fraction of those same SJWs falsely reported Roosh's books for violating Amazon guidelines, that's a whole other can of worms.
  • Scenario 3: A rogue Amazon employee pulled Roosh's books. This is my currently favored theory, since it's happened before. A low-tier SJW manager instigated the Corroding Empire affair last spring. If an SJW inside Amazon's organization could get a book from a dissident publisher banned once, another SJW in the same position could do it again.
  • Scenario 4: Top-down political censorship: This would be the doomsday scenario we've been told was just around the corner for over a decade. The only difference is that instead of acting on a profit motive to low ball authors, if this theory is true Amazon is jumping on the Big Tech censorship bandwagon. The main evidence for Amazon going full Orwell is the timing. Recently, conservative firebrand Alex Jones was banned from social media, reinstated after Trump tweeted about Big Tech censorship, and finally re-banned after the cucks in the Senate let slip they'd prefer a "free market" solution. Then again, Amazon was the only major Big Tech firm not to ban Jones. If KDP's censoring of Roosh is due to Big Tech feeling their oats after the Senate hearings, they missed the memo that Infowars is the target of the day.
Whatever the cause of Roosh's ban turns out to be, Amazon had better get its act together. Unless they either A) reinstate Roosh's books or B) offer a damn good explanation for their removal, including citing the exact guidelines he violated, authors and readers will be forced to conclude that Amazon is no longer market-facing, has been ideologically compromised to a dangerous extent, and cannot be trusted.

For the time being, stay alert, formulate a plan, and wait for Amazon's next move.

Silver lining: Roosh spent years building a strong brand and a platform to support it. His books are still available through his web site. It's now more important than ever to support independent authors and alternate sales channels. Back my red hot Indiegogo campaign for Combat Frame XSeed today. We're just 20% away from funding our first stretch goal: combat frame trading cards. Becoming a backer now, and claim the brand-new XSeed poster perk!

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  1. Remember, Vox Day and Castalia House had some issues stemming from a rogue Amazon employee. Hopefully, this is more of the same, as, let's face it, there are more relevant targets for censoring than Roosh.

    1. That's my current theory for the same reason.

    2. Well, the banning at Kobo makes it look like this isn't just a rogue employee.

    3. Hadn't heard about that. Thanks for the tip.

  2. It's probably a rogue employee, but since Roosh doesn't have an Amazon executive on speed dial like Vox has, it will take longer to get resolved.

    Amazon is moving into the data science space. They charge big money to run long running, complicated equations.

    They are hyping their cloud services to universities as well.

    As time goes on, the zon might care about selling books/authors less and less.

    1. They barely care about the book market now. Ask Nick Cole, and he'll tell you that Bezos' real motive for starting Amazon was to become the top player in the data science game. The whole point of the storefront is to refine the algorithm.

      Amazon's culture of treating the book business as an afterthought has probably been a blessing in disguise for authors. On Facebook and Twitter, the users are the product, so Zuck and Jack police their content heavily. The algorithm is Amazon's actual product, so they tend to be more hands-off than the rest of Big Tech.

    2. Brian,
      Let me refine your assumption:it's a rogue employee enabled by a spergemob (tm) astroturfing their affront. I draw 2 conclusions:
      1) The spergemobs are ominously coalescing into an Inquistion demanding auto de fe (Alex Jones) and recreating the Index of prohibited books (Roosh)
      2) we must dispell ourselves of rogues/lone wolves when there's a support network ideological and increasingly physical which aids and abets these trends.
      We have to engage in counter insurgency by draining the water so the fish flop.

  3. Wonder if its a coordinated group of people. If it happened on Amazon and Kobo. Might even be involving middle management. Maybe they are testing the reactions of regular buyers to see if this creates enough outrage or backlash. If it doesn't does that mean they might go after other books next? Will they artificially inflate other reviews ala Hillary Clinton's "We lost now I cry" campaign fail novel?

  4. B&N have now banned Roosh, as well. Not to be outdone, they removed all of his books and revoked his press account.

    The current theory is that the algorithm flagged his new book Game for manual review when it crossed the top 10,000 threshold. From there it fell into the hands of SJW censors, who manually reviewed and pulled nine of his titles in all. Roosh believes that a team of SJW operatives is now reporting Amazon's ban to every book retailer he deals with, hence the Kobo and B&N bans.