April 20, 2012

I Am the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, or, Amazon is a knockoff factory


We’ve discussed the plagiarism issues Amazon allows to run rampant, but what about that other time-honored tradition of retail charlatanry: Designer knockoffs. It seems that there isn’t a single aspect of bottom feeding that Amazon isn’t willing to engage in.

How about a copy of Karen Peeble’s I Am the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo? Or perhaps you’re in the market for a copy of that blockbuster biography, Steve Jobs by Isaac Worthington (pictured above). It seems there is quite a business to be done in fleecing the inexperienced Amazon user. Fortune has an amazing article up about just these sorts of practices. It’s worth a read in full, but here is a representative portion from it:

Karen Peebles, who is the author of I am the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, says she has self-published around 10,000 books though CreateSpace, not all of which are in her own name. “I am a single mother who home schools her children,” says Peebles, who says she sells “thousands and thousands” of books a month. “Self-publishing is a great way for me to make income. I receive a pretty nice royalty every month.”

Peebles says CreateSpace has guidelines, but they are minimal. Not only has Amazon never rejected one of her books, Peebles says she’s never even been questioned by the online retailer, not even about the one with a nearly identical title to the international bestseller by the late Swedish author Stieg Larsson. Peebles says her book, which she has sold “hundreds, maybe thousands” came out before Larsson’s. It didn’t. Larsson’s book was first published in 2004, and released in the U.S. in 2008. Peebles’ book has a 2008 copyright, but it wasn’t released by Amazon until mid-2010, well after the Larsson book had become popular in the U.S. Says a reviewer who gives Peebles’ book one star on Amazon, “Perhaps I will enjoy the author’s next book, I am the Girl who Played with Fire.”

You really ought to look at some of Ms. Peeble’s writings. It seems that Amazon might not only be a troublesome monopoly, but also a street market needing a hosing down/out. But that’s just the thing with a company like Amazon, when you try to deal with one of the hydra’s heads you wind up missing the others. Again, from the Fortune article:

After Fortune contacted Amazon late last week about the apparent fakes, the company removed the pages for the Worthington and Daniels books from its site. A spokeswoman says Amazon is no longer selling the books. Both books, though, are still for sale on other sites with Amazon’s CreateSpace listed as the publisher. An Amazon spokeswoman says the firm has a process in place to detect and remove books that don’t “improve the customer experience.” The spokeswoman said Amazon has rejected or removed “thousands” of books. “We expect to keep improving our approach,” says the spokeswoman. A spokesperson for Simon & Schuster, the publisher of Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson, declined to comment.

Perhaps Amazon could go for the hat-trick and offer to sell the CreateSpace (whose motto is, humorously: “Publish your words, your way”) produced books to the real publishers so they can, you know, cover all bases. The hat-trick being the addition of extortion added to plagiarism and brand infringement.

Paul Oliver is the marketing manager of Melville House. Previously he was co-owner of Wolfgang Books in Philadelphia.