On April 27, 2020 Ingram Book Wholesalers began removing books from wholesale distribution that they determined to lack integrity and therefore negatively affect the reputations of publishers, libraries, and retailers, and, let’s face it, Ingram.
Ingram sent all the publishers for whom they distribute books worldwide a “Service Alert” beginning with an initial paragraph containing the sentence: “To align with our industry’s needs for content integrity, we will actively remove print content from our catalog that does harm to buyers and affects the reputations of our publishers and retail and library partners.”
That is a pretty broad statement, so what does it mean? In the most general sense, it means if you paid to independently publish yourself, if you published traditionally, or if you published through a full-service self-publishing company for a service fee, your book is most likely safe since most of them vet manuscripts in advance of acceptance (with the help of an actual human being).
On the other hand, for authors who have published books through Amazon’s CreateSpace or Kindle Publishing Platform, where the whole thing is done by lunchtime, you may have a greater concern since there was no human vetting process. Amazon publishes just about anything because their product isn’t your book, you are. Ingram knows this, so books published via CreateSpace and KDP are also likely to undergrow harsher scrutiny simply because of how the books themselves were published.
And that’s the problem. Automated, “free” online publishing platforms like KDP are making it possible for nefarious or unscrupulous individuals or companies to profit from publishing what Ingram identifies as content lacking integrity. To that end, Ingram finds itself forced to become the gatekeeper, a role once held by The Big Five publishers (and their various subsidiaries) but a role that has been sorely lacking in the publishing industry since the advent of automated online publishing platforms.
First Amendment pundits may be inclined to cry “foul” and wave their free speech cards, but Ingram’s use of “harm to buyers and affects the reputation of…” is not a subjective matter of opinion or free speech, but an empirical definition of value and quality. This is an important distinction that few humans have trouble making, but one that even fewer computers can make accurately. For instance, no legitimate publishing company would accept 200 blank pages titled “Scrapbook” and publish it as a book. A computer, on the other hand, might consider 200 blank pages to be perfect. After all, there would be no mistakes, no copyright violations, and no libelous content!
To support that point, Ingram’s notification to its publishers listed some examples of content lacking integrity:
- Content containing 90-100% blank pages like notepads, scratchpads, journals, or similar type content.
- Summaries, workbooks, abbreviations, insights, or similar type content without permission from the original author. For example: A Summary of J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets.
- Content that mirrors/mimics popular titles, including without limiting, similar covers, cover design, title, author names, or similar type content.
- Content that is misleading or likely to cause confusion by the buyer, including without limiting, inaccurate descriptions and cover art. For example: A book with a cover design that does not match the interior content; a cover that appears to be for a product other than a physical book.
- Content listed at prices not reflective of its market value. For example: a blank journal listed at $99.99.
- Content scanned from original versions where all or parts contain illegible content to the detriment of the buyer.
- Content created using automated means or mass-produced processes.
These are all examples of books commonly accepted through automated online publishing platforms, but are rarely accepted by full-service self-publishing companies with a human vetting process, which is in place for precisely this reason – to protect writers and readers.
Therefore, the question professional authors who use Amazon’s automated publishing platforms may want to ask themselves is this: Is that the company I want to keep?