Wednesday, November 12, 2008

A Moment for Grandstanding

I buy a lot of books from Amazon. I'm gonna say, 100 a year. That's a safe estimate. I do a lot of historical research and they sell used history books for sometimes 10% of the cover price. Short of hanging around in libraries a lot (not so good with my super-late schedule and the fact that I'm no longer a college student), this is my option. When the "Amazon is the big bad thing that is going to kill publishing as we know it" articles come out (they're very similar to the ones about 10 years ago about Barnes and Noble), I'm generally in the Amazon camp. So, with all the money I give them, it disgusts me when they do something like this.

About two weeks ago, I read an article on the Times Online about a book called The Complex: An Insider Exposes the Covert World of the Church of Scientology. As it looked interesting, I decided to buy it. Amazon.com didn't offer it yet, so I bought it from Amazon.co.uk. A few days later I received this email:

We are contacting you regarding your Amazon.co.uk order which included the following:

'The Complex: An Insider Exposes the Covert World of the Church of Scientology' (Asin 1903582849)

This item has been removed from sale for legal reasons. We have cancelled your order for this item and can confirm that you have not been charged for it.

This is not the first time publishing has had trouble with Scientology, or Amazon specifically. Andrew Norton's unauthorized biography of Tom Cruise was not published in Norton's native UK by its publisher, St. Martin's Press, because the UK has stronger libel laws than we have in America, and to be honest, it was a pretty libel-y book. In fact, you could make a semi-decent profit for awhile on eBay selling the book to international buyers who couldn't buy it in Britain.

Then sometime in March, there was a bit of a scandal about how all negative reviews of the Scientology bible, Dianetics, were mysteriously disappearing from Amazon's website. When some friends of mine who were users who posted negative comments asked why, Amazon told them their reviews "did not meet the review guidelines set by Amazon.com." They reposted their reviews to more specifically meet the guidelines (only discuss the book and the author, not Scientology in general), and the reviews were posted and then deleted again. Eventually some press got wind of this, and Amazon had to repost all of the negative reviews. Score one for free speech.

The Norton thing wasn't Amazon's fault; the Dianetics thing was. Anyway, I haven't read the The Complex. It's on the way from an independent British bookseller. When the publishing company (Merlin) is an Irish company that when contacted, did not know their book had been pulled from Amazon.co.uk (which no longer LISTS the book, much less claims it's out of stock as Amazon.com does). By all accounts the book isn't libelous - it's just one person's story of his time in Scientology. And it says really, really bad things about Scientology because the guy saw and did really bad things when he was in Scientology. That's not slander; that's an autobiography.

So Tom Cruise suddenly shows up at an Amazon all-hands meeting in Seattle? Does he need to promote Valkyrie to Amazon executives that badly? Is he looking for an internship for a relative? Or is it directly related to them pulling that book by that guy who said he was programmed to kill for Tom?

As if I had another reason to be angry with Scientology, which is currently campaigning to take my live-saving drugs off the market via lobbying in state legislatures through its anti-drug front group, the Citizen's Commission for Human Rights. And now you mess with the BOOK INDUSTRY!?!?

Argh. Rejector SMASH.

23 comments:

Anonymous said...

Sounds like you've got enough here for a really interesting magazine article. Time to pitch MoJo and other mags that still do investigative pieces. Not that, you know, you have anything else to do ...

The Rejecter said...

Mojo?

I have a big unfinished piece that was supposed to be done by the anniversary of the Jonestown massacre (Nov 18th) but with book 2 due on the 15th and book 3 due Jan 1st, it hasn't been finished. I'm a religious person, so I'm very interested in cults and the power of religion (or pseudo-religion) on the human mind.

Etiquette Bitch said...

Ugh. Yeah, I normally love amazon for their low prices and quick shipping, but now I am SO glad I bought "Consider the Lobster" from my local, independent bookseller yesterday. Yay!

Amy Nathan said...

I really enjoyed this post, very informative - and makes me think about the books out there and the ones that aren't. Publishing has enough problems these days...books need to be sold. All books.

Katherine said...

It will be interesting to see if you get any calls to take this post down. I certain hope not!

beth said...

Excellent spiel. Seriously--this is a topic that I am glad you're covering.

Bellesouth said...

This does not surprise me one bit. They always try to silence any opposing voices.

Sina'i Enantia said...

You know, I've respected Tom Cruise despite his conversion for a long time because I liked a lot of his older movies.

The man has just lost my respect.

Good post.

Anonymous said...

you're on metafilter!
http://www.metafilter.com/76504/More-fun-with-Scientology

Molly said...

Piqued my interest enough that I went and found someplace in the UK who'd sell it to me, though I'm trying not to think about the cost. Perhaps this will all backfire on the Scientologists if we buy copies and pass them around!

Anonymous said...

"Some people will say that what we do is illegal. Before that happens, make sure that WE are the ones who define what is legal and illegal."
-- L Ron Hubbard

The Rejecter said...

If you can get a copy of the Complex, you can see it on eBay and probably get more than cover price for it. I know a lot of people who are eager to read it.

Anonymous said...

You've been supporting the wrong team, Dear. Like Google, Amazon has a dark side - deception, lying, censorship.

Amazon is no friend of the author. Look at this crap they're trying to pull over POD books.

I refuse to do busines with them. There are lots of other online booksellers who are content to sell books instead of becoming the thought police. Try Half.com next time.

BuffySquirrel said...

Eh, Amazon came for the ebook authors, then they came for the POD publishers, then....

Srsly, how many heads-up do you need?

Fredric said...

I purchase all of my books used from the local libraries, but it's disgusting that the Scientology crime syndicate engages in such obvious racketeering crimes to try to silence the truth about their corporation.

Marian said...

I bought a copy of A Piece of Blue Sky several years ago, and now I can't remember whether I ordered it from Amazon or from B&N.

It's in stock at Amazon, though, and that makes me :)

The Rejecter said...

I don't look as companies to good or evil, except in movies, where they're generally evil. Companies act on their own interests, so it's not out of the park for them to act in their own self-interest at the expense of others or try to get a monopoly going (in the case of the Kindle-only format of Kindle books deal or the Booksurge thing). I do, however, expect (naively) for them to act ETHICALLY. A bookstore should not practice censorship because a cult/corporation paid it to do so.

BuffySquirrel said...

I suppose it depends what you consider unethical. I'm not particularly enamoured of seeing my e-author friends deprived of a significant source of income for months while Amazon got the Kindle format ready. But I suppose it would be hard to make a case that they were morally entitled to continue selling in other e-formats during that period. Amazon doesn't depend on that income; my friends do.

RD said...

Amazon is merely another reflection of the ethical decline of business in an increasing competitive market. Will this decision keep Amazon from profiting? Let's see - Amazon gets press, the book gets press (and becomes a scarce book - read: increased demand and increased $). I think the only ones shooting them self in the foot is Mr Risky Business and his pseudo religion.

ALC said...

This is totally un-related.

Is it normal to get no response to an email query? I've gotten a couple of responses to my initial queries, but a couple haven't responded at all (not even for a rejection) and it has been a month.

Do literary agents simply not answer some queries?

1979 semi-finalist said...

ALC:

Yes. Some queries just go unanswered - which is even worse than a rejection in my opinion.

I asked The Rejecter a similar question about this previously - what to do if I don't hear from someone at all - she said "consider it a rejection and move on". Though I gave them more than a month before I officially crossed them off my mental list...

The Rejecter said...

Yes. Some queries are not answered because of time restraints. Consider it a rejection.

ALC said...

Thanks.

I'm new to querying.

:)