[EDIT (December 1, 2011): If you’ve followed a link here from Wayne Borean’s slanderous blog post about me at “madhatter.ca,” here are a few reasons Mr. Borean owes me an apology.
Wayne Borean insinuates that I work for Amazon or one of the content farmers on Amazon. Where’s the evidence? What proof does he have? Oh yeah, he says I must be guilty of something because I didn’t answer his questions. But I ask you what obligation I have to waste my time answering questions, let alone insulting ones, from passers-by on my personal blog? And why should I tolerate some self-important nobody questioning my character, again, on my own blog?
Sure, Wayne Borean styles himself as a wild and fearless guy and imagines that he’s the sort of person everyone must answer to. But that’s all he is: one of the many impotent blowhards who lobs accusations on the internet against all and sundry from a safe distance. That’s easy to do, which is why it’s such a growth industry.
All the same, I did answer his questions until he insinuated that I worked for Amazon. Just look at the thread below. It ended when he wrote the following: “At this point I have to ask a really impolite question. Do you work for Amazon?”
Of course, Mr. Borean now pretends that this was a perfectly innocent question, claiming that “Asking a question isn’t slander.” If the question he asked wasn’t slanderous, why did he admit when he originally asked it that it was a “really impolite question”? Maybe it’s because everyone knows (including Mr. Borean) that when someone asks you whether you beat your wife during a discussion of domestic violence that you’re only saying what you’re saying because it’s in your interest. There’s no ambiguity in this case or mine: it’s a personal attack.
Moreover, you’d be stupid to answer a question like that. We all know that no one can prove a negative. No one can prove he didn’t kill someone at sometime and bury the body in a secret grave somewhere, anymore than he can prove beyond a doubt that he doesn’t work for Amazon. All anyone can ever say is “no.” That’s why the burden of proof in court rests on the prosecution. Ask yourself: could you prove you don’t work for Amazon, the CIA or the Devil? Come to that, can Mr. Borean prove he doesn’t work for all three?
That’s also why decent people don’t ask those kinds of questions without some kind of evidence. On top of that, in my case all the presumptive evidence points in the opposite direction. First, I’ve publically criticized Amazon’s star ranking for fiction books on this blog. Would you criticize your boss on your blog? As for content farmers, I’ve written scathing reviews of some of these publishers on Amazon itself, warning people that it’s content farmed material. I’ve also tried to raise awareness of content farming on other blogs. And as you’ll see, I offered Amazon my services in the post below to get rid of content farmers. So all in all, it’s pretty obvious where I stand and that Mr. Borean owes me an apology.
There’s one final bit of irony that I couldn’t resist mentioning. Mr. Borean portrays himself as a valiant crusader against content farming, especially on Amazon. Yet Mr. Borean himself has published a four volume set of e-books on Amazon entitled “Copyright Wars.” I looked at the samples. They all seem to consist of a short preface followed by a bunch of e-mails he has sent to various people. You read that right: his own e-mails. Talk about delusions of grandeur! The man who denounces others for selling e-junk on Amazon cuts and pastes his personal e-mails into an e-book file and sells them on Amazon under the grandiose title, “Copyright Wars.” No irony there—none at all.
You may now return to the original post.]
Amazon has been getting flack for a long time over the amount of useless junk from “content farmers” it allows on its site. Seth Godin is the latest to weigh in. If he was in charge over at Amazon, he tells us, he’d promptly delete all the recycled Wikipedia articles and repackaged public domain books uploaded by unscrupulous profiteers. In fact, he’d make it possible to rate publishers, like Hephaestus Books, which specializes in what Godin calls “shovelware.”
I’d love to do that too; I bow to no one in my distaste for the blight that content farming has become. But unlike Seth, I recognize the enormous financial cost and logistical nightmare involved in trying to regulate content on a mass-retailer like Amazon.
Consider what should be obvious. We could all slog Hephaestus Books today, and Amazon could ban it tomorrow. But the day after that the same outfit changes its name to “Vulcan Press” and uploads exactly the same material under the new name. Not only was little gained, but Amazon’s system is jammed with material from this and every other banned spammer uploading their material as fast as it’s deleted.
Did that not cross your mind, Seth?
The problem with banning publishers also holds for deleting the junk uploaded by individuals. Consider the following scenario.
Suppose Amazon hires someone like me to clean up its philosophy section. I’ve got the background to tell the wheat from the chaff, so I could clean out the electronic stacks to the satisfaction of any impartial observer. (And if you’re reading this Jeff Bezos, I’d love to give it a try.) I’m even assuming here that the philosophy section contains the same amount of junk (James Gill suggests it’s around 40%) as every other section. At about one hundred titles a day, I’d have cleaned up 10,000 titles in about four months. On the face of it, at least, a one man deletion crew like me could provide a low-cost solution to the spam.
But what stops these individuals from resubmitting their junk the day after I delete it? Nothing. So my one hundred titles a day becomes, say, twenty titles a day, because I’m playing whack-a-mole with the spammers.
It gets worse. Some of the people I delete begin to complain to Amazon (and to whomever else will listen) about “censorship” at Amazon. And you can be sure a lot of the folks who had previously complained about content farming on Amazon will be happy to blog about “Amazon’s ham-fisted censorship policies.”
Now Amazon has to institute some oversight, an appeals board to hear complaints from people I’ve deleted—if only for the sake of its image. That policy trickles down to my work; now I have to write up reports about titles I’ve deleted. And once I have to explain every decision I make in layman’s terms, most of my day will be consumed with paperwork. Instead of twenty titles a day, I’m down to deleting and explaining the deletion of five or ten titles a day—and likely the same one’s day after day.
Isn’t it obvious where this is headed? It’s a financial and logistical nightmare already, and we haven’t even touched on the problem of me as a gatekeeper. Is an expert in philosophy the one you want judging what goes up under philosophy? Maybe I’ll delete all those “personal philosophies” that don’t cut the mustard from an academic standpoint, which might nonetheless appeal to lovers of personal philosophies. Or maybe I’ll do it in a willy-nilly fashion, begging the question about my partiality.
Finally, that money would have to come from somewhere. Would it come from customers? Not likely. Would it come from writers who upload e-books? Say, in the form of smaller royalties? You can count on it, so be careful what you wish for.