Feb 182014

anarchy_symbolThere’s been a lot of talk about self-publishing lately. Perhaps the two most important view points on this coming from Hugh Howey in the “self-publishing is best publishing” camp, and Chuck Wendig in the “publishing is a business, it’s a lot of work, and it’s generally best done by professionals” camp. (of note: Wendig does self-publish.)

As previously noted, I have a visceral hatred for old power structures. Traditional publishers being just one example. I’m quite a fan of short-circuiting the establishment. Which is why I think it should be pointed out that Amazon Publishing is not self-publishing. It’s publishing through yet another gate-keeper.

“Amazon is a gate-keeper???” you say, spitting out your juice in exaggerated shock. “Bullshit!”

To which I point you to Wendig’s post where he says “I can literally write the word “fart” 100,000 times and slap a cover of baboon urinating into his own mouth, then upload that cool motherfucker right to Amazon. Nobody would stop me.”

As we’re all aware of how the internet works, we already know what happened within a few hours. Baboon Fart Story was promptly created and uploaded to Amazon.

And a few hours later, it was gone.

(Don’t worry, this IS still the internet. You can see the glorious Amazon page and the book’s stellar reviews (including one by Daniel Abraham!) right here.)

What happened? I don’t have the details, but according to Chuck the author received the following notice:

“We’re writing to let you know that readers have reported a poor customer experience when reading the following book: Baboon Fart Story.”

This is just the funniest example of this. Readers of Sasquatch Erotica are already familiar with Amazon’s gate-keeping ways:

“The Kernel’s article triggered a kerfuffle in the UK, and many stores (Amazon among them) pulled several titles, including some featuring mythological creatures.”

As it turns out, the only difference between Amazon and traditional publishing is that Amazon has almost nothing invested in what it’s publishing. Amazon is a gate-keeper who doesn’t care about the lands the gates are protecting, and so lets any old raider saunter through. What it does care about is its own image. As soon as THAT is threatened, the gates slam shut with a mighty fury (and often a blind one).

And due to the nature of ebooks, these publishers have Orwellian levels of power. If you wanted to recall or censor a traditional dead-tree book you had to count on the book-sellers pulling their stock from the shelves and sending it back or destroying it. Amazon can make an author vanish in the blink of an eye.

Rachael Acks recounts her experience in being disappeared from Kobo UK due to an erotica scare. Despite not writing erotica, and being with a publisher, all her work suddenly no longer existed in the UK, and her very existence was a matter of academic debate. (Seriously though, WTF is wrong with the English these days? No wonder they had to expel their puritans onto the New World, who wants to live with those assholes? They need to set up a moon colony so they can keep unloading those crazies).

It’s more fun than that – Amazon can wipe any book you’ve bought from your Kindle at any time (although they “promise” not to). Have you bothered to read your terms of use? Me neither, but FYI, you don’t actually own anything you’ve bought for your Kindle, you’re just licensing the rights to read it. Amazon can, and has, deleted and modified books at will. Readers are often advised to turn off their eReader’s wifi when crossing national borders if they want to keep reading books while they travel. Famously, Amazon remotely deleted all copies of Orwell’s 1984, because they were shooting for the Irony Olympics*. They only took silver, as Bradbury remained unmolested. At least in the dead-tree days you had to find a physical object and throw it in a fire.

So stop calling it self-publishing. It’s not. It is Amazon publishing. I’ve seen self-publishing. It’s making a file available on your own website. It’s selling or giving the raw file directly to the reader without an intermediary. The only person who can shut down Yudkowsky’s writings is Yudkowsky himself.

I sorta like Amazon. I like that they’re shaking up the dinosaurs, and waging this war with traditional publishing. They’re another option. But they are ultimately just another Corporate Dragon, they simply have a slightly different business plan than the Elder Dragons. So start calling it Amazon Publishing (or maybe Indy ePublishing if you’re going with someone other than Amazon)

Calling it self-publishing is appropriating a counter-culture movement and using its anarchic name recognition (what some would refer to as “street cred”) to try to sell more corporate product. Don’t do that.

*OK, it’s actually because the books were sold illegally. So kinda a legit reason. My point is the proof-of-capability. Kudos to whoever decided to use Orwell’s works to force Amazon to reveal that. :)

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