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. didn't offer it yet, so I bought it from A few days later I received this email:

We are contacting you regarding your 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" 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 (which no longer LISTS the book, much less claims it's out of stock as 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.