When Outrage & Good Intentions Backfire

Wednesday brought about another firestorm online.  So far, it’s been confined to a few blogs, facebook posts and is running rampant on the Amazon kindle boards.  At issue is whether or not Amazon should refuse to sell a book that has been listed by an author through its DTP platform.  (For those of you not familiar with the DTP platform, it is the platform that allows small publishers like NRP an self-published authors to put their e-books out on Amazon.  Barnes & Noble has a similar platform called PubIt.)

I’m not going to link to the book in question because I don’t want to give it any more promotion than it already has.  Let’s just say that this book discusses one of the most despised crimes there is.  The author says he wrote it to protect our children.  But it is also reported that he has said as well that he wrote it to help those engaging in this illegal activity avoid capture and prosecution.

Needless to say, it didn’t take long for the uproar to begin.  People are demanding Amazon take the book down and refuse to sell it.  The problem is that all their demands have done is increase curiosity in the book and, last I looked, it was now in the top 100 e-books on sale by Amazon.  Can you say major fail?

I want to make it perfectly clear that I would prefer this book and all like it never saw the light of day.  But they do — unfortunately, in my opinion.  So it becomes my right not to look at them and not to buy them.   I understand the outrage these readers feel.  But I could have told you when I saw the first protest earlier today what the outcome would be.  Whether or not Amazon pulled the book, before that happened many more copies would be sold and samples would be downloaded than would have been had there been no outcry.

As a writer and an editor, I also have concerns about Amazon pulling the book.  Unless the book violates their terms of service, to pull it would smack of censorship.  Once you start down that slippery slope, it’s hard to stop.  What becomes the criteria to pull a book that doesn’t violate the TOS?  Two demands from the buying public?  Three?  A dozen?

Think of it this way.  When the Harry Potter books came out, the hue and cry in some communities about how they glorified “witchcraft” and were anti-Christian filled the news.  Parents wanted the books pulled from library shelves.  Should those same protesters have had the ability to demand the book not be sold?

There’s one more thing to remember.  Amazon isn’t the publisher of this book.  It is the distributor.  To put e-books on their site through the DTP platform, you have to agree to their terms of service.  Part of the TOS includes language to the effect that the e-book doesn’t contain defamatory material or material that violates the laws of any jurisdiction.  So, I fully expect the folks at Amazon to pull the book once they’ve had a chance to review it because, if it does instruct perps on how to avoid capture and prosecution, it’s going to violate someone’s laws.

Do I understand the outrage at learning such a book had been published?  Absolutely.  But this time the crowd mentality — one person noted the title and posted his protest and everyone climbed on the bandwagon — did exactly what they didn’t want to happen.  It gave the book publicity and more sales than it probably ever would have otherwise.

There is no easy answer to this situation.  Unfortunately, it is also something I’m afraid we’ll see more and more of.  That’s what comes when technology makes it easy for someone to publish a book or story or article without having to go through a publishing house, no matter what the size of that house.  The best answer I can come up with right now is to exercise your right not to read a book that offends you and not to discuss it if you think that discussion will lead to more sales and publicity for the book.

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