Thursday, 28 June 2012

A Gross Violation Of Terms?

If you're taking what amounts to free content on the web, selecting choice bits and publishing it as a series of e-books that could be dozens of volumes huge onto Amazon, using software apps, are you a legit publisher or just another spammer?

Not everybody thinks this is
great. Photo from here.

A bunch of people had his great idea to use bots to harvest comments from YouTube, compile them into e-books and publish these through Amazon's Kindle Direct Publishing. This group is made up of artists, it seems, and it looks more like they're sending some sort of message rather than trying to profit from selling books at volume. The entire process is apparently fully automated.

While some may see some literary (and entertainment) potential in the content, others feel differently. Amazon removed "several hundred"(!) of their books from the Kindle Store and blocked their personal Amazon accounts.

Luc Gross, co-founder of Ghost Writers, went on The Huffington Post to explain the project and decry Amazon's censorship of their books. "This has become a common practice by Amazon, a defensive and helpless reaction to the unexpected consequences arising from the phenomenon of self publishing," he wrote.

This is kind of funny, in light of what many see as Amazon's overarching ambitions in the publishing sector. The online retail giant even has supporters among indie authors who say it is helping, not harming, their careers. Others may have another point of view.

In the case of Ghost Writers, Gross feels censored, and says that Amazon won't win this one. "The nature of the internet is such that it is not possible to ban anything, or to silence a voice. Out of their ban, new and even stronger Ghost Writing mechanisms will arise," he promised.

Now I'm getting the shivers.

Your ... 'collective' spams Amazon's Kindle store with bot-assembled e-books made out of free online content, a tactic you admit is similar to how other 'publishers' do it, but it's different in your case because it's 'art' and therefore should not be banned or silenced?

And did you also pledge to come up with newer and "stronger" ways to spam us with more of your bot-churned material?

...I guess this is the downside of Amazon's open online publishing policy. At some point in time, though, it will have to step in and do some weeding, because the explosion of not-very-good material will be bad for customer experience and harm the company in the long run. A completely free market is impossible when consumers have so little energy and expertise to sift through so much material.

No, I don't think these guys are all that concerned about money. But just because someone pulled in millions with retooled fan fiction, doesn't mean everything taken from the web works. It wasn't too long ago that we had problems with "blogs" that comprise bot-harvested snippets/posts and lots of banner ads.

Maybe there is art and creativity in these funny, grammatically broken comments that deserve a wider audience. "if you think it s[sic] junk or crap, you may think so," Gross responded to the several commenters who, not surprisingly, sided with Amazon.

Amazon is still a business entity, and it has to have certain rules to keep their business model viable (and its customers happy). So if Amazon thinks you're stuffing its digital bookshelves with crap, it has every right to take action.

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