In the latest issue of Le Monde Diplomatique, a French journalist, Jean-Baptiste Malet, writes a disturbing article about the reality of work practices in Amazon's distribution centres based on his new book En Amazonie. Infiltré dans le 'meilleur des mondes'. The reality he describes does indeed sound like Brave New World. Malet's title alludes directly to the French translation of Huxley's novel Le meilleur des mondes a phrase taken of course from Voltaire's Candide.
Rack Press has some experience of Amazon's "soft power" as have many small poetry presses who about a year ago suddenly found their titles listed on Amazon as "not available" when they were very much available, in print, and in some cases the ink was not yet dry. I protested to Nielsen Book Data who supply the information to Amazonia whenever you register for an ISBN. Nielsen said that they could not and would not do anything because they could not interfere with the commercial practices of Amazon, even though they were damaging the commercial interests (yes, yes, I know that's a joke given our turnover) of Rack Press. Defending Amazon, Nielsen said that "not available" meant just that. It meant that Amazon couldn't be bothered any longer to source small press publications not that it was saying they were out of print. I fear this subtlety will be lost on most internet surfers who will conclude that the titles are truly not available as a result of being out of print.
OK, I said, then can we be removed from Amazon. We sell almost nothing through them, we prefer to sell through our own website or ace bookshops like the London Review Bookshop in London, and if all they can do is tell the world our publications don't exist we'd be better off without them. No way, said Nielsen, we "cannot" (a phrase one hears a lot these days) stop supplying Amazon with this ammunition against Rack Press. Have a nice day.
I then tried, with no success, to recruit some other small publishers in doing something about this but they showed no interest. Are people frightened of Amazon?
Today I tried a new tack. I registered as a seller of one of my own books with another small press that had fallen victim to the "not available" virus and added that it was also available direct from my publisher and was therefore very much "available". Like a flash Amazon came back and withdrew my seller listing which, they said, had "violated" their policy. Actually I was just being a bit cheeky. I am a Scouser, dammit. Amazon, however, takes the offence of lèse-majesté very seriously and smacked me down.
I was warned that any mention of a website or a phone number on a seller's listing was "prohibited" and that my listings had been closed down. They will have me back, they say, if I remove all "prohibited language" from my listings. Relax, guys, I won't be back with any kind of language whatsoever. Naturally all these threats were sent from a robot that "does not accept" replies so I cannot communicate with them. Once again, they are technically correct to say that they can maintain the monopoly of the sacred Amazon Payments System on their own website, but a wiser organisation would have seen the point I was trying to make and got into dialogue with me. What do they think they are gaining by antagonising tiny poetry presses and their readers?
Did I say, have a nice day?