Since I was critical of Amazon a couple of days ago, I now feel compelled to defend them against some pretty outrageous claims that I’ve been reading and hearing out there on the Interwebs. The most bizarre of which is that Amazon created this pedophile book controversy to get free publicity during the prime holiday buying season.
WHAT!? That is the most ridiculous claim I have ever heard. It’s akin to the Catholic Church saying, “Hey, attendance has been really down on Sunday’s. How ’bout we accuse a priest of molesting some kid to get our name out there.” I hope you people making this claim don’t work in marketing, but here’s a tip if you do, pedophilia is bad for business.
Another claim is based on a misunderstanding of how controversies work. Way too many people have stated that Amazon is “promoting” this book. They aren’t promoting this book. They most likely never knew it existed until some customer’s brought it to their attention. Let’s be totally honest. The public outcry for a boycott is what is providing publicity for this book. The book sold one copy before some bloggers found it and started spreading a viral protest. If I had to guess, the person who bought that one copy was the author himself. Between the time a boycott was first raised and before Amazon removed the book, it sold in the neighborhood of 3,000 copies (according to some reports I’ve read). That’s how controversies work. They benefit the person or group being protested by making their offenses public and sparking curiosity. If you notice, when I address this situation on this blog, I’ve never given the title of the book or the author’s name.
A third claim that is misguided is identifying Amazon as a publisher in this case. While it is true that Amazon has a publishing division called Amazon Encore, they did not publish this book. The author used the Kindle digital site to upload his book as a “self-published” book. As far as I know, beyond copyright confirmation and format checking, there is no editorial review. And frankly, we (customers and authors) don’t want Amazon to create a review process of this nature because it is a process that will have to involve attorneys, and anything that is even the slightest bit controversial will never see the light of day.
Amazon is not without fault in this situation. They handled the initial complaints with sanitized blurbs that didn’t really satisfy anyone. But again, you can blame the attorneys and our litigious society for that. In any publicly held company, lawyers vet public statements because if the wrong thing is conveyed, lawsuits are filed and stockholders get pissed and the price of shares go down. But that still doesn’t excuse Amazon from using the first amendment argument. It presented them as hypocritical since they do indeed ban material protected under the first amendment. Their statement should have been, “A book that some customers find objectionable has been brought to our attention, and as a precaution we have removed the book from our site while we investigate the matter further. We want to give our customers the widest possible selection of products that adhere to our stated policies of decency. We take any breech of that policy seriously in order to insure that our customers have an enjoyable shopping experience.” Or something to that affect.
I’m not going to advice against a boycott because that would come off as totally self-serving on my part. I do sell books on Amazon, so I rely on the site for income (My previous post on this ordeal covered that). But I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out that boycotting because of a book does put us all on a very slippery slope. If it’s successful, the response will likely be very heavy handed. And not just by Amazon, any major book retailer will probably start going through all their inventory to make sure they don’t find anything too objectionable. Literary works like Lolitta will be banned. And no, I’m not saying the book that sparked this controversy is great literature. The quality of the work is not the issue here. It’s the content that’s the issue, and Lolitta depicts pedophilia pretty plainly and without apologies. If a guide to pedophilia by some sicko in Colorado costs Amazon money, they and other retailers will have to assume, a book like Lolitta could do the same. And maybe even a number of Shakespeare plays. And what about… you get the point. No matter how reasonable we think it is to ban a book that appears to advocate pedophilia, the line will keep moving when enough people find something objectionable.
I am in no way defending this book. It makes me sick that it even exists. I am saying be very careful what you fight for because as just as a cause may appear, the consequences of victory may be more far reaching and frightening than you could have ever imagined.
That’s it for this issue on this blog. I’m done with it. It’s taking up too much of my brainpower, and I don’t want to give it more attention than it deserves.