Better stretch your hand-wringing muscles, because Douglas Preston is at it again.
For about two or three years Douglas Preston has made a public spectacle out of accusing Amazon of various skulduggery including stealing scraps of bread from the mouths of starving authors.
He got his start during the Amazon-Hachette contract dispute in 2014 as the leader of an astroturfing group, Authors United, and then by 2015 had moved on to making a spectacle out of calling for the US DoJ to investigate Amazon for antitrust violations.
After having succeeded in making that spectacle (but not succeeded in getting Amazon investigated), Preston declared victory last year and announced that his group, Authors United, would merge with the The Authors Guild.
One would hope that meant it was the last we would hear Preston's histrionics, but he's back again.
Preston has found a new reason to make a spectacle over Amazon. Like the antitrust issue, there is zero evidence to show that the new problem is serious, but that means little to Preston.
His new raison d'etre?
Amazon buy buttons.
Back in March Amazon quietly changed its policies so that prime real estate on book listings on its site, the buy button, now made a sale for whichever seller offered the optimum terms. This story made headlines when everyone noticed in May, but largely dropped off the radar after that when no one could show that it was a serious problem.
But that isn't going to stop Preston from creating a spectacle again.
From the NY Times:
March, Amazon quietly changed the way it sells books. An obscure and seemingly harmless modification to its website has opened the door for some third-party sellers to deceive Amazon’s customers by selling books as “new” that may not come straight from a publisher or its wholesaler, thus depriving authors of royalties they should have earned from the sale of a new book.
Amazon decided to allow third-party sellers to be featured atop the primary purchase button for new books, a spot previously reserved for Amazon’s own inventory, which comes directly from the publishers. Approved third-party sellers “win” this placement through a secret algorithm that considers, among other things, price, availability, seller’s rating and shipping time. In doing so, Amazon abdicates its role as the prime retailer on its own website. The main requirement is that the books offered by the third-party seller must be “new.”
So when you, the customer, hit that main buy button, you should always expect to get a brand-new book, right?
The reason I call this a spectacle is, well, it's Douglas Preston. He's the Don Quixote of our time, but in place of tilting at windmills, Preston's delusions center on Amazon.
So if he says something is important, and there is no wider press coverage in the mainstream media, it almost certainly is not.
If the Amazon buy button issue were actually an interesting or important story, the NYTimes would have covered it months ago with a story written by one of their reporters.
So what we have here is the new Preston spectacle.
While I am sure it's going to be entertaining, I wouldn't get too worked up over it.
image by Krysten_N