Drawing The Line: Amazon and Cockygate

As #cockygate has proven in the last eight days, writers are a truly frightful force when we put aside our differences and muster in force. #Cockygate wasn’t

  • a gay vs straight thing
  • a cis vs trans thing
  • a liberal vs conservative thing
  • a black vs white thing
  • a male vs female thing
  • a Christian/Jewish/Muslim/atheist/other thing
  • a romance vs “serious litterrrrratoooooooor [sic]” thing

It was and remains a WRITER thing.

While the legal challenges to #cockygate, #rebelliongate, #embracegate et al may take months or years to resolve through legal channels, the writers and readers who rose up en masse and spoke with one voice to challenge these threats to the very fabric of freedom of speech have certainly proven we’re not interested in sitting idly by. When we see a threat to our basic right to earn our livelihood, we speak. We organize.

And by The Flying Spaghetti Monster’s noodly appendages, we fucking well ACT!

But, let’s take a moment and evaluate just how many points of blame and shame there are in all this.

  1. Obviously, the patent trolls deserve the lion’s share of the responsibility here. One doesn’t just get an entire community of intelligent, well-informed, critically-thinking people all heated and up in arms over nothing of any consequence, no matter what the New York Daily News says. That ground has been picked over so thoroughly and ably there’s really not much left to be said unless something else erupts. Thanks to Bianca Sommerland, Kevin Kneupper, Romance Writers of America and all the many, many others who took this seriously and brought it to the forefront of the writing community’s consciousness.
  2. Yes, some few individual people appear to have gone over the top (or went low) by reacting and speaking in anger and attacking the people around the actors rather than going after the actors themselves, calling out fans or weaponizing one-star reviews. I have NO doubt that as with any other community, there are a few assholes who are perfectly capable of bringing innocents into the circle instead of keeping focus on the real issues and those responsible.
  3. The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office has, as Ricky Ricardo told Lucy rather more than once, “some ‘splainin’ to do” about how their processes work and why it is that they’d rather let litigants fight out unlawful intellectual property claims in court than shut that shit down at its first gasp, which is, oh, I dunno, kinda the entire fucking reason for their existence… Seems to me like maybe someone in Congress would say, “Hmm…something’s amiss here,” and consider asking a few questions of USPTO in open session so We, the People can find out what the actual ever-loving FUCK these people are doing with the money they realize from registrations and the tax dollars their office is allotted every year. Because, sorry to say, it certainly doesn’t appear to be the job they’ve been chartered to do.
  4. Amazon’s hands aren’t clean here either. Their policies and procedures, which seem to boil down to “shoot first and ask no questions,” have caused real, legitimate harm to authors to the tune of thousands of dollars, with nary a word of sincere apology or any indication of interest in making things right for people victimized by #cockygate. They have been quietly suppressing authors’ books on mere suspicion of bad-faith actions by third parties and confiscating author earnings, and their terms of service seem to allow this with no recourse to the authors so affected. Amazon’s responses seem to boil down to boilerplate gibberish which bears with them an unsubtle, “Don’t like it? Sue us!” As if any author I know has the money or the time to go after Amazon and the battalion of attorneys it can probably summon to its cause with nothing more than a one-line email.

I’ve studied going into Kindle Direct Publishing and Kindle Unlimited several times, and every time I’ve found their contractual terms way too restrictive and frightening to be worth engaging with. Having been in bad contracts before at the beginning of my career (Yeah, I’m looking at YOU, Noble Romance Publishing, and since the NDA expired almost two years ago, feel free to choke on it.), I felt absolutely no need to subject myself to even more questionable terms by a third party whose nominal purpose is to take the content authors provide them and place them in front of readers while trying to set itself up as publisher but pretend it’s somehow not.

I haven’t been quiet about this, either. I’ve said at every turn I will not publish any work with Amazon which is not placed there by a publisher with whom I’m under contract. I’ve made it VERY clear Smashwords is my go-to self-publishing outlet, regardless of which e-reader my readers choose to use, because their terms are fair, the system is transparent and they don’t pull the dirt Amazon has been known to in the past.

Some of the practices I particularly object to include:

  1. Imposing unrealistic limitations on cover art or content, thereby suppressing freedom of speech
  2. Imposing restrictions on authors’ right to recover monies earned from their work so severe that such rights for all practical purposes don’t exist
  3. Setting up a system which was ripe for gaming, but punishing authors who in many cases were innocent of such gaming without discussion or consideration of the financial peril into which they placed the authors in question
  4. Taking publisher-level cuts (up to 70% of cover) of author profits and then dangling more restrictive clauses in front of authors as a road to possible financial freedom, leaving aside the fact this in effect leaves the authors in question subject to the will and whim of their corporate overlords, even up to threatening or outright negating their ability to realize one thin dime from the sale of their own intellectual property!
  5. Refusing to explain their actions to authors in favor of, “Well, someone somewhere said you done a bad thing, so you must have, so you did, so we’re not going to tell you anything more or give you any way to respond or fight back.”

Those are just a few of the reasons I said, “Uh…you know what? I’m good, thanks” when readers or my fellow authors suggest I should consider Amazon as an outlet. They’ve proven themselves to be too untrustworthy and capable of stabbing the very people who provide them the content their business relies on in the back to be worth my time.

I’ve stopped ordering things through Amazon’s iteration of IoT. I’ve strongly encouraged the girls of House Unicron to follow suit.

And now, I’m encouraging YOU, my reading audience, to consider turning away from Amazon in favor of other outlets who actually value independent authors, free thought and don’t take one person’s word as iron-clad proof of misbehavior without further investigation.

The Powers That Be are only powers because we, as authors, permit them to remain so.

Methinks it is LONG past time Amazon, and anyone else who cares to try to fill their shoes, learned that sword has two edges.


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