There are so many interesting (strange and unusual) things about indie publishing and digital self-publishing that I thought it would be fun to share some of them with you. Here’s this week’s quirk.
The other day, I received a notice from Amazon that I needed to verify my rights to one of the backlist Delacroix titles I had re-published there. This would prove that I have the right to publish the book and am not a content pirate. Fair enough.
I’m not sure what generates these messages, because they don’t arrive routinely or on any schedule that I can discern. They just pop up, demanding attention right this minute. (I would think it would be easier to routinely request such a confirmation for the re-publication of every backlist title, but probably it would be too much data. Maybe it’s a lottery. Maybe it’s based on a complaint or the uploading of similar content. I’m also not sure whether doing this one means it’s done for good, or whether one can be asked again at a future point for the same evidence.) It’s not a bad thing that Amazon checks for rights – in fact, it’s a very good thing – but there are some curious details about this process as it stands.
The message (which is a form letter) requires the publisher (me) to provide a reply and proof that I am the rights holder within five days. Until that proof is received, the title is blocked from sale. Presumably, if there is no satisfactory reply within those five days, the book will be permanently removed from sale.
Five days. It is apparently inconceivable to Amazon that someone (anyone) could be unable (or unwilling) to check their email for five consecutive days. Five days is not a long time. Evidently, one should also be within range of one’s evidence of one’s rights. So, if I go on vacation for more than four days, I should take my file of rights reversions letters along with my email log-in (and maybe a fax machine). This time expectation might be a result of Amazon being more of an IT company than is typical in the publishing business – nothing happens in five days in publishing!
The second thing that is curious about this, for an IT company, is the apparent lack of any research on their end. Again, this is probably a question of volume – it’s easier to demand proof than to poke around and see if you’ve already got any. For example, if this message has been prompted by a similar file having been made available by a pirate, each file would be date-stamped by the server when uploaded. It would be clear that mine was the older and thus the first file.
In addition, I have already verified that this is my content (and had that claim validated by my agent and publisher) through Amazon’s Author Central portal, which is how authors manage the lists of their books, as well as how their bio displays on Amazon.com. Months ago – actually when it was re-published – I claimed this very edition of this book to be mine through that portal. So, I’ve already said it’s mine and that I have the right to publish it several times. It does not appear that Amazon KDP and Amazon Author Central share information, which would save everyone some time.
The third thing that is odd is that most reversion letters – at least those from traditional publishing houses – are on paper. Like many legal documents, they aren’t digital. You might expect Amazon to know that. But this ping doesn’t include a mailing address or a fax number where a copy of that reversion letter could be sent as evidence that I hold the rights. In previous incidents, I offered to send it, but Amazon was content to know that I had it. As a result, I’m not sure what the exercise proved – although it’s lovely that they believed me, surely someone who would steal content would also find it easy to lie about their right to do so. I’m hoping that this time, they actually want the proof.
So, on the one hand, it’s a strange exercise. On the other, I’m glad that Amazon does even this much. A great many authors get these messages and become quite agitated about them. No one likes to be challenged, but Amazon is the only portal that even asks for validation of rights. All sites have the check box on the form for publishing the title (“I verify that I hold the rights…”) but on other portals, that’s it. There seems to be no follow-up. So, kudos to Amazon for making the effort. Maybe someone is finally realizing that it’s not just authors who lose money when books are pirated. Over time, I’m sure that systems will be integrated, verification of rights will be part of the publishing process for every title, and it will become harder to publish content without holding the legitimate rights to do so.
For the moment, I’m just glad to be too busy to plan any vacations longer than five days!