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Dear Amazon: Why can’t we sell our ebook on your platform?


March 26, 2021, 12:49pm

Dear Amazon,

We are writing today in response to your refusal to publish our most recent ebook, written by an emerging author who has not yet published a book of her own. In doing so, we wonder whether we are adding a new layer of speculative fiction to an ebook that is itself speculative fiction.

When we attempted to upload this book to the Kindle platform, you responded with the following:

“During our review, we found that the following book(s) may cause a misleading customer experience because the title and/or author listed in the book details closely matches another known work and/or author. The similarity between your work and the other work/author could impair a customers’ ability to make good buying decisions.”

However, an extensive review of the Amazon site uncovers no other book written by our author, Avital Balwit—who has an unusual name, one which does not seem to be shared with anyone else on your site—nor could we find a book with the same title, BIRD GIRL. There are two books that do have “Bird” and “Girl” in their longer titles, but since titles cannot be copyrighted, and since these titles are not in fact identical, this does not seem to be the problem. Which leaves us scratching our heads.

We have published 18 other books in our series through Kindle, by various authors, most of whom do have other books for sale through Amazon. We have included introductions and afterwords for those ebooks by well-known writers, all of whom have other books available on Amazon. Some of the titles we have published do bear a striking resemblance to other titles, particularly our ebook Much Ado About Everything, or more recently, Cape Cod, Revisited. And yet, we have never before had to “prove” to Amazon that these works were independent from their soundalikes.

In subsequent emails to us, all extremely vague and lacking any specific claim that might justify your actions, you indicated that perhaps the problem is instead a copyright issue. You suggested that the Massachusetts Review should “prove” that we have the right to publish this book. Although we have never before had to prove that we have the right to publish such works, we do contract for them, and so we obligingly sent you a copy of the contract with our writer—a contract drafted for us by a highly renowned copyright law firm in Boston. We have now sent this contract to you three times. You have suggested each time, again without providing specifics, that our contract does not “prove” permission. We are at a loss as to what would, in your eyes, qualify as proof.

There are certain things we do know. First, this delay on your part concerns a work of fiction that imagines a possible world where an anonymous tech company surveils and controls the lives of ordinary citizens. Second, the afterword to our ebook is written by Shoshana Zuboff, a scholar whose career is dedicated to investigating big tech companies, such as Amazon, and who has written extensively about their invasions and incursions into privacy.

And there are things we cannot know. Might these actions, we wonder, be an attempt by Amazon to censor a writer because her ideas criticize institutions like Amazon? As a possible scenario about a possible world, frankly, such speculation seems almost absurd: the Massachusetts Review is a very small nonprofit literary magazine, publishing a short story by a first-time writer, a work of fiction that includes a short supplemental essay of 500 words by a well-known scholar. Our annual budget is roughly half what Jeff Bezos makes in one minute. In relation to Amazon we are so small as to seem microscopic. And unlike David, we’re not good with a slingshot.

Yet perhaps we are on to something. Surely publicizing this bizarre runaround will help us sell more copies of BIRD GIRL, which in light of our recent email exchanges, seems more necessary than ever.

Yours sincerely,

The Massachusetts Review

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