April 10, 2013

More proof that small publishers and Amazon don’t speak the same language


Authors cannot publish in minority languages.

Small publishers are fighting Amazon, one language at a time. In a victory for both small publishers and minority languages, the independent publisher Diglot Books is celebrating after Amazon was forced to back down from refusing to publish its dual language children’s book Matthew and the Wellington Boots. The book, which is written in both the English and Cornish languages (and translates as Matthew ha’n Eskisyow Glaw in the Cornish) was initially rejected by Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing programme. KDP issued a statement which read:

“The book is in a language that is not currently supported by Kindle Direct Publishing. At this time, you can upload and sell books in English, French, German, Italian, Japanese, Portuguese, Spanish, Catalan, Galician, and Basque to customers worldwide in the Kindle Store. We’re working to add more languages to this list in the future.”

The statement is worrying for two reasons: first, the small number of languages that the programme can support, and second, because the Cornish translation uses the same alphabet as the English language—so no new or special characters are required.

Amazon finally acquiesced on its ill thought-out decision after Diglot Books launched a social media campaign to petition against the powerful online retailer. Diglot’s director Alison O’ Dornan marvelled at the power of social media to allow “a minnow such as ourselves to change the minds of a big company”. She also tweeted:

Amazon refused to comment on its change of heart, but presumably a member of Kindle’s staff just read the book and realised the alphabet was the same. If that’s the case, the book didn’t actually cause Amazon to change its policy, nor to reconsider how its platforms can support readers and speakers of what UNESCO terms “Endangered Languages“, which hold ‘cultural wealth but also important ancestral knowledge embedded, in particular, in indigenous languages.’

It’s no surprise that Amazon doesn’t care about this; the KDP service is available in order for Amazon to cut out publishers and own the self-publishing market. It’s there to make money, not to foster authors who want to publish books in say Icelandic, Arabic, or even Welsh.  Clive Boutle, publisher of Francis Boutle books, which takes pride in publishing the “lesser used languages of Europe,” commented:

“While so much good work is being done by small publishers in the area of minority languages, it is disturbing that so much power over the distribution of books is concentrated in the hands of Amazon, who also own Abebooks, Kindle, and now, GoodReads.

“It is not surprising that they don’t recognise or value languages like Cornish, which don’t represent significant market opportunities—that’s money! A small victory may have taken place with Amazon’s change of heart over Matthew and the Wellington Boots, but in the long run Amazon are the mortal enemies of diversity. Publishers use them at your peril.”

Of course, it doesn’t need to be said that physical books can be printed in any language and may include any character or symbol, and that the technology does exist for this is to be replicated in ebook form.

So it’s one small step for Matthew and his Wellington Boots but, once again, it’s only one small step for small publishers in their fight against Amazon.


Zeljka Marosevic is the managing director of Melville House UK.