Making life difficult

We live in uncertain times as currencies topple, banks seem uncontrollable, and politicians have lost our respect for being unable to deal with these admittedly complex situations. Some problems, however, are less difficult to solve – not that this stops people from producing them, for no apparent motive other than to create a controversy where none is, in fact, to be found.

The UK booksellers’ association, for example, is upset with a charity bookshop “for offering titles by best-selling authors and…approaching publishers directly for stock”. An un-named charity (presumably Oxfam) is attacked for having more branches than the UK’s “largest speciality bookshop”. Booksellers are having a tough time, but attacking the trireme of charity shops is quite laughable, given battleship Amazon. The vast majority of books sold in charity shops comes from the same place as the rest of their stock – from donations of goods by people who have previously paid for them. If a few publishers are using charity shops as an outlet for remaindered stock or for discounted “best-selling” books that (shock, horror) are not really “best selling”, readers are not complaining. And of course, struggling booksellers could have done what Amazon did, had they seen the necessity at the time, made a similar level of investment in online selling and come up with an Amazon-marketplace-like concept. A classic case of innovation not coming from within. The association says that it is going to explore alternatives to pulping unsold books – but what is better than a charity shop or a library for books that don’t sell? I look forward to finding out what they come up with.

In another piece of madness, a self-published author is suing a reviewer, Amazon and Richard Dawkins after unfavourable comments were posted about his book, a snip at £52.68, The Attempted Murder of God: Hidden Science you really need to know, by “Scrooby” (who has since revealed his real name – surprise, surprise, the same as the name of the publisher on the book’s Amazon page). The offending reviews have been removed for legal reasons, but of the eight remaining (at time of writing), six award the book one star and are very negative, unsurprisingly to me. The text of the one five-star review reads:

Read the first two chapters online of this and immediately thought that I would bulk buy a shipload and send them as joke Xmas presents. How anybody can waste their time and energy trying to decipher any of the meaningless crud contained within the said written dirge is well beyond me. I give this a five star rating for any person that can understand any of the waffle contained between the front and back cover deserves the Victoria Cross, let alone five stars!

It does seem somewhat bonkers that someone can inflict their self-published (probable) drivel on the world, and then sue the world if the world does not like what it reads. Not to mention the importance of allowing reviewers to express their opinion – particularly in this case of a book that sounds as if it has no scientific basis but is claiming to have some – rather than this situation: “Mr Jones, 28, a father of three from the West Midlands, cannot afford representation and is having to defend himself alongside barristers acting on behalf of co-defendants Amazon and Richard Dawkins”. (I hope I don’t get sued now.)

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