Thursday, 5 April 2012

Complicated Satire

The Independent reports that self-published author Chris McGrath faces a six figure legal bill after trying to sue 28 year old Vaughan Jones, a father of three from the West Midlands, over unfavourable reviews on his book, The Attempted Murder of God, that had been posted on Amazon. McGrath also tried to sue Amazon, Richard Dawkins and the Richard Dawkins Foundation.

The Independent explains: 'Increasingly hostile replies went back and forth between Mr Jones, Mr McGrath and Mr McGrath’s online pseudonyms – the content of which became subject to libel proceedings [...] He also defended his use of online pseudonyms stating that he was “trying to pull off a complicated satire” at the time.'

Yesterday there was an online debate in the Seattle Times between authors Richard Russo and Barry Eisler about Amazon and the book publishing industry. The paper has been delivering an arse-kicking to Amazon in a four part series called Behind the Smile that reads like a Private Eye parody (they report that employment at Amazon's warehouses sounds like jolly hard work, but then complain that the company might introduce automation; they also report that although Jeff Bezos has donated some of his personal fortune to charity, he has invested in space travel and plans to spend $42 million on 'an actual clock meant to run for 10 millennia inside a mountain in West Texas'.) The Passive Guy blog discusses the latest article about the warehouses here. Links to the Long Now Clock here.

It's difficult to imagine a local paper over here taking the same attitude to a successful international company if it was based in a city outside London. Wouldn't they be drooling with partisan pride? If the founder of that company had spent huge sums of money on 'an actual clock' to be buried in a mountain in Snowdonia, wouldn't they celebrate his eccentricity and his investment in British engineering? (Though admittedly The Seattle Times did show a reassuring hint of parochialism when, as a preface to yesterday's online debate, they explained warily that 'Eisler lives in the San Francisco area'.)

Paul Aiken, executive director of the Authors Guild, also contributed to the online debate. Authors Guild president Scott Turow has recently attacked Amazon, even though they sell lots of books and offer better royalties to authors than any other publishing company, whether through KDP (for self-publishers) or through their imprints at Amazon Publishing. Eisler has picked apart his argument here on Joe Konrath's blog.

Yesterday's debate in the Seattle Times makes entertaining reading as the representatives from the paper try to deliver another kicking to Amazon, selecting hostile questions that had been sent in beforehand: 'Question from Melissa in New York: Richard, you're an outspoken critic of Amazon. I'm curious if you're worried about retaliation on their part.' However, the debate doesn't go in the direction they're trying to steer it. In fact, it's a bit of a shambles.

Have a look, it doesn't take long to read. The bizarre online polls that pop up arbitrarily mid-conversation, as the conversation gets heated, should make you giggle (2% of people would pay $25 for an ebook; 8% have used their ereader in the bath tub).

Barry Eisler comes across as an articulate advocate on behalf of authors and readers. The Seattle Times look as though they're trying to pull off a complicated satire - and it doesn't quite work.