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.)

6 thoughts on “Making life difficult

  1. Do you have the TV show Judge Judy in the UK? Briefly it stars an American judge who presides over minor cases and resolves them – she is a real judge and the cases are real. I once on a trip to the US got taken along to a taping of the show and to meet the Judge Judy (someone I know is in the show’s production team) and, despite major misgivings on my part, I thought her marvellous. I’m not sure what actually goes to air but in the recording she reacts very sensibly to stupid cases and tells people to stop clogging up courts and grow up. I thought then and still do that if we put a few Judge Judy types in charge of all our courts we’d be in a much better position – I can imagine that would be her reaction to this ridiculous case of the author suing for a bad review and I only wish I could watch it. It’s absurd, though I imagine it’s being done for PR on his part??? No one would be talking about his ridiculous book otherwise and maybe he thinks it’ll generate some sales. Or he’s barking mad, there’s always that.

    As for your bookseller’s association and its claims of ‘unfair competition’ I could scream. Talk about focusing on the unimportant things while your industry collapses around you. I think if you closed every book-selling charity shop in the UK tomorrow the UK booksellers would still be struggling just as much as the real problems are surely Amazon etc, the rising popularity of eBooks and the fact that they appear to spend all their time whinging about charity shops instead of getting off their collective bottoms and doing something positive. I am heartily sick of complaints like this (here the whinge for ages has been that everything would be OK if the sales tax was removed from books – but as the sales tax is only 10% and as most books from Book Depository and even Amazon (where we pay shipping) are 50% or more cheaper than local stocks the 10% seems a bit of a non-issue).

    • Great rant, Bernadette! Agree wholeheartedly, booksellers were in deep trouble from Amazon and latterly ebooks, long before charity shops swam to their notice. We do have “small claims” courts here – the problem in this case is the crazy UK libel law, which lets someone bring a case for defamation of character, which (currently) has to be heard in a high court – first, as in this case, a hearing to determine if the claimant has a case to bring (eg if he/she has a “reputation” that can be impugned). That is where the current Scrooby case is at, so let us hope that the judge throws it out as having no case to answer.

  2. Anything that preserves books from the pulping machine is fine by me! Much less wasteful. Would people buying the books in Amazon otherwise buy the book in a high street bookshop? I think not, to be honest.

    As for the author-publisher…yes, I agree with you and Bernadette – a publicity stunt…
    I wish there were some way that Amazon could indicate which books are self-published. Of course some self-published books are very good, but I think it smacks of dishonesty to set up a ‘publication company’ to publish one’s own book under a different name. It implies it has been selected for publication by an independent body, when in fact it has not.

    • Thanks for commenting, Clare, yes, I wish Amazon had a self/independent publishing category, too – and a translated fiction category!

  3. So, the Booksellers Association would rather books get pulped than be read by readers??
    It’s clear they’ve never bought a book from Oxfam lately — the three closest to me are selling their secondhand books for £2.50 to £3.50, so they’re not that much cheaper than what you’d get from Waterstone’s anyway.

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