Subverting the System: How to Annoy Amazon in Five Neat Little Steps
It’s a disquieting idea: everything you do on the web, on your smartphone and on your tablet is being tracked, and all that data is gathered somewhere in the void of the internet. Thankfully, most of that data is relatively anonymous, lost in a vast cloud that is hard to fathom. However, the idea of tethered devices – devices designed for personal use that are connected to the internet, sending the user’s data to the databanks of the manufacturing company – makes that data less anonymous and the user more visible (and therefore, also more of a target). Take, for instance, Amazon’s Kindle, where the conglomerate of Amazon.com is privy to the reading habits of Kindle users. In ‘The Abuses of Literacy: Amazon Kindle and the Right to Read’, Ted Striphas outlines just how Amazon.com can use (and abuse) the fact that the Kindle is a tethered device, by, for example, remotely removing purchased e-books from users’ Kindles.
In this same article, Striphas raises a suggestion how Kindle-users can, in minor ways, take back the power from Amazon, like by ‘corrupting the data cloud’. Here, they would introduce noise into the data-stream by inserting nonsensical notes into the pages of their e-books, or otherwise scrambling the data gathered by the device. While Striphas doubts how effective this would be, mainly due to the organization needed on the readers’ part, it raises an interesting point regarding Amazon.com on the one hand and their customer-base on the other: the system might use the data of the users, but the users use the system as well, and they should be able to do so creatively, unpredictably and, ultimately, subversively.
However, in the world of e-books, there are more parties than just the readers and Amazon.com. Publishers play their part as well, in a wholly different part of the system. What follows here is a plan, neatly divided into 5 steps, on how a fledgling publisher could subvert the system maintained by Amazon.com and beat the company at their own game.
Step 1: Publish a book
Find yourself a manuscript to publish. It should have controversial content. Maybe the protagonist is racist, maybe the protagonist is in a healthy sexual relationship with his or her twin sister, maybe there are a rabbit, a horse and a carrot involved as well. Whatever the case, it should be taboo. Should you take yourself seriously as a publisher, you might want to go with something well-written and well-crafted, though this is not a necessity to net yourself some good results. When you have found a fitting manuscript, publish it as an e-book and allow Amazon to sell it.
Step 2: Fight the machine
Next, it is time to draw a line in the sand. Perhaps you could decide not to go along with the discount policies of amazon.com, like the British publishing house Hachette Livre did. Amazon.com promptly targeted this publishing house by removing the ‘Buy Now’-button from the web pages concerning their books, making it impossible to purchase them directly. Do something similar, just make sure Amazon.com is taking steps against your publishing house specifically.
Step 3: Alert the media
Now that you have gotten Amazon.com to bully you, it is time to alert the media. However, rather than blaming company policy, you should be blaming the nature of your would-be bestseller as the reason Amazon is targeting you. Amazon.com is boycotting your envelope-pushing book! They are basically violating the Right for Freedom of Speech! After all, they did the same to self-publishing author Selena Kitt and her incest-themed erotic fiction, removing them from Kindles remotely. Put your degree in Literature to good use and defend your book and its ‘literary qualities’ as well as you can, citing Lolita, Lady Chatterley’s Lover and any book by the Marquis de Sade as similar books that were unjustifiably ‘banned’ as well.
Step 4: Wait
Let the media hype unfold. Two things should happen. First, Amazon.com should get tarred and feathered by the media, resulting in them in making a hasty retreat and blaming malfunctioning algorithms and glitches as the reason why your e-books suddenly disappeared from their store. Trust me, they did the same when books dealing with LGBT-themes suddenly disappeared from the sales rankings. (It’s not homophobic if it’s a system error.) Second, your controversial book should squarely be in the spotlight right now, so people will talk about it and, wondering what all the scandal is about, readers will promptly buy it.
Step 5: Profit
If things go according to plan, and you’ve chosen the right book to publish, you should now have a best-seller on your hands and plenty of money in your pocket. This would be the time to reconcile with Amazon.com, since, despite their numerous ethical quandaries, they do have a customer base that is not to be ignored: 137 million customers per week. Don’t worry about Amazon rejecting you: the company has absolutely no problem with taking a stand and going back on it, like they did when controversy apparently trumped Freedom of Speech. Rather than accepting the monopoly of Amazon and jumping through their hoops, you have instead used their reputation to promote your own e-book. Congratulations!
Note: This plan would work only once.
Ted Striphas, ‘The Abuses of Literacy: Amazon Kindle and the Right to Read’, Communication and Critical/Cultural Studies 7.3 (2010): 297-317.