Amazon’s “Beautiful Disaster” Strike 3?

I was informed of a rather scary (at first) publishing issue this morning by a Facebook friend. Rather than tell you in my words what happened, here it is in the author’s own words:

Screen Shot 2013-03-05 at 1.23.16 PM

While the author, Jamie McGuire states that one of Amazon’s problems with her book is “content,” and other trusted publishing blogs including this post at The Passive Voice and this one at Author Marketing Experts, Inc. hint at song lyric copyright issues being the primary “content” issue, all of these ideas are simply speculation as Amazon has kept conveniently silent, even to the author. In my opinion, a publisher and/or author should be informed as to any issues with their book, especially legal issues. What if Amazon had caught a copyright infringement issue when the book was still in distribution as a self-published title? Would they require the author to pay their profits as well as hers back? And would they inform her and let her correct the book?

When it comes to copyright, if that is indeed what’s going on here (again, speculation), authors need to be more careful in general. I always coach authors to only use what they know for sure is in the public domain, and even then find a way to say it in their own words to avoid any issues like this. Again, if copyright is the primary issue at hand, most authors haven’t a clue what they can and can’t use, what’s fair use and what requires permission, so they should at least be told that is the issue and given the chance to rectify it.

Here are a few other thoughts about this sticky situation:

First of all, if the author is being required to pay back the full retail price, plus the difference in her newly published book, where’s Amazon’s cut? Amazon took at least 35% from all her sales, so are they just pocketing that money? Why should authors be forced to pay back Amazon’s profits?

Secondly, in more recent news, Amazon has since said one point on their initial email to Jamie’s readers was a mistake, that being that the eBook would disappear from their Kindles if they didn’t request a refund and repurchase the new published edition. Why is Amazon now saying that if people don’t request a refund, their self-pubbed version of the eBook will remain intact and not disappear from their Kindles? If it really is a song lyrics content issue, since the self-pubbed version isn’t available anymore with any sort of lyric fix, Amazon should not say that version will remain intact. That is inciting further copyright infringement.

If copyright issues are the true reason for this entire fiasco, chances are Amazon does have to pick up the fees for infringement, which would go a long way toward explaining why they’re demanding the author, whose initial fault it was, to pay up. But the way they’re doing it, by not informing the author who was the initial publisher what is really the root issue, disrupting her life as a professional and then sending a simple, non-explanatory apology saying the initial email they sent was a “mistake,” is one more reason authors shouldn’t put all their eggs in one basket with Amazon’s publishing services.

There’s nothing more dangerous than the power of one company to monopolize and make or destroy people’s reputations and livelihoods on a whim. I’m not saying Amazon should be perfect. I’m just saying they should responsibly tell the author what the actual issue is, rather than beating around the bush and expecting the author to pay up for something that may not even have been her mistake to begin with.

Leave a Comment

CommentLuv badge
  • Warren Whitlock
    March 6, 2013

    You referred to the relationship between the author and Amazon as if Amazon were the publisher. 

    The word is “self-published” and in case that isn’t clear.. it means that the publisher of the book is the author. 

    As a publisher, I am liable for what’s in the book. I also have a fiscal responsibility to the authors I publish. I’ve not read the terms of the KDP contract lately, but assume that Amazon is not offering to act as publisher for authors in that program.

    I’ve seen discussions where uneducated authors imply that Amazon should be taking responsibility and assuming that Amazon somehow is out to defraud them. To imply intent without any evidence is reckless.

    I like how you label your views as speculation. Speculation and opinion are beneficial.

    On the subject of Amazon’s right to the profits they made in legal activity are covered by contract and case law. If the off author does something that harms Amazon and has accepted liability in contract between the parties, it’s probably not Amazon’s bill and the amount of money in dollars or percentages has no bearing on the legal.

    It may be a good marketing for Amazon to explain themselves and/or lower the cost of defending party. I can’t comment on whether or not they are doing that as I don’t have the facts. My calculation of what fines and legal fees would be to Amazon compared to the income made from a small publisher would have me guess that the author in this story is getting off cheap:)

    Reply
    • Kristen
      March 7, 2013 Warren Whitlock

      Technically Amazon was the publisher as the first self-pub edition was “published by CreateSpace.” Self-published and “published by” are two different things, though the industry has mucked the terms to be interchangeable. This author wasn’t independently published (that I know of) under her own name, and I do agree that ultimately the author is liable, as is evident in CS’ contract. 
      However, my point with this post is that Amazon has a lot of power, and they should be willing to communicate with authors. Unfortunately most authors don’t know squat when it comes to copyright law, so if an entity like Amazon finds something wrong with a book an author uses their services to publish, they should let the author know there’s an issue and exactly what that issue is so the author can fix it. Instead Amazon told the author there was an “issue with content” but not what that issue is (and this is not the first time I’ve seen this exact same message happen between Amazon and an author).

      Maybe I’m old school in thinking the publishing company or service provider should look out for their clients, and that’s a major issue I feel is very wrong in the vanity publishing world today. Authors aren’t educated, these companies refuse to even vet their books and publish them anyway just to make a buck, and authors end up paying the price. 

      Hopefully this will be a lesson to all aspiring authors to do their due diligence when it comes to copyright law and other potential legal issues. And yes, once again, that copyright issue is still pure speculation.

      Reply
  • Teresa Beeman
    March 6, 2013

    Great post, Kristen! When we see a behemoth like Amazon creating an uproar with explaining the reasons for their decisions, it creates all kinds of mostly unnecessary conjecture. We, as authors – and self-publishers – must take full responsibility for what goes out under our names.

    Reply