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What will happen when Amazon dominates all markets?

The Sanford Antimicrobial Therapy Guide is a medical manual that recommends the right amount of medication to treat conditions such as bacterial pneumonia or infected wounds. There are lives that depend on her.

It is not the kind of book that causes confusion in a person dedicated to medicine or make her wonder: “Is a ‘1’ or a ‘7’ written on the recommended dose?” However, that is precisely the possibility that has stalked the publisher of the guide, Antimicrobial Therapy (AMT), during the last two years while facing a torrent of false copies – many of which were printed with poor quality and are difficult to print. read- they are sold in Amazon’s huge online bookstore.

“This threatens many patients and our business”, said Scott Kelly, vice president of the publisher.

Kelly’s problems originate directly in Amazon’s dominance of the book business. The company sells more than half of the books in the United States, including new and used print volumes, as well as digital and audio formats. Amazon is also a platform for other vendors, a publisher, a printer, a site for self-published books, a book center, a textbook provider and a distributor that now runs its own chain of physical stores.

However, Amazon adopts a lax approach to what is sold in its bookstore, because it never reviews the authenticity, much less the quality, of what it sells. It does not supervise in an organized way the streams of vendors that have arrived at your site.

That has resulted in a kind of anarchy. Publishers, who write and groups such as the Union of Authors said that Amazon’s book piracy has increased. The company has been reactive rather than proactive in dealing with the issue, they said, as it often takes action only when a buyer complains. Many times, they added, there is no way to appeal.

The scope of piracy throughout Amazon goes beyond books. E-commerce has brought the imitation products that were once in the flea markets to the commercial sales channel, and Amazon is by far the giant in this sector. However, the books offer a sample of the complexity of the problem.

“Being a technology monopoly means you do not have to worry about quality”, said Bill Pollock, a publisher in San Francisco who has dealt with fake versions of his company’s computer books at Amazon.

An Amazon spokeswoman denied that book piracy was a problem: “This report cites a handful of complaints, but even a few are already too many and we will continue working so there are none”. The company said it strictly banned imitation products and last year rejected the accounts of more than one million alleged “bad agents.”

What happens after a technological giant dominates an industry is an increasingly important question as those who legislate and regulate begin to observe technological companies more and wonder when the domain becomes a monopoly. This month, in the US House of Representatives it was said that they were analyzing the possible anti-competitive behavior of the technological giant. In addition, the Federal Trade Commission is specifically examining Amazon.

In the Amazon bookstore, insubordination has become widespread thanks to custom printing technology. Vendors who appear to have no verifiable existence outside Amazon offer $ 10 books in 100 or even $ 1,000 on the site, which has prompted suspicions of out-of-control algorithms or even money laundering.

The furious ones

“It’s unacceptable and I’m furious,” writer Andrew Sean Greer tweeted after people complained in the middle of last year that the imitations of his novel, Less, Pulitzer Prize winner, were being sold as if they were authentic. On the site was a pirate edition of Danielle Trussoni’s acclaimed memoir Falling Through the Earth, whose cover had its misspelled name. Lauren Groff tweeted that on Amazon there was an “illegal pocket version” of Florida, “her book nominated for the National Book Award.

Technical books, which are often more expensive than fiction, are frequent victims. No Starch Press has tried to finish for three years with fake editions of their computer manuals. Pollock, founder of No Starch, said Amazon had the same relaxed approach to bad agents on its platform as Facebook and YouTube.

“Amazon is the Wild West”, he said.

It’s not about Amazon being negligent

It is the business model of the company. Amazon, which does not specify the income or profits from the sale or publication of books, assumes that everyone on its platform acts in good faith until proven otherwise. “It is your responsibility to ensure that your content does not infringe the laws or copyright, brand, privacy, advertising or other,” warns potential publishers and sellers.

In Antimicrobial Therapy, the first warning that something was wrong with the Sanford guide came with reviews from Amazon. “Several pages are stained and can not be read”, said one buyer in 2017, and published photographs as proof. “It seems that the book was photocopied,” said another. “The characters are stained”, wrote a third.

The company, whose books were sold to Amazon through distributors, made trial purchases. He obtained some copies of Amazon and others from his external vendors, including UsedText4u, Robinhood Book Foundation and 24 × 7 Book. Of the 34 books that Kelly bought, at least 30 were pirates. None of the book sellers responded to requests to comment.

Specific cases

Kelly spent hours writing responses to customers who complained about their copies, but did not realize they had bought fake versions. He tried to trace the source of the imitations and tried to communicate with Amazon. In the end he wrote to Jeff Bezos, founder of the company, and told him: “Consciously and deliberately, Amazon is sending pirated versions of most of the orders of our work, which may contain errors that cause injuries or even the death of patients”.

Two weeks later, Kelly got a response from “Raj”, a member of the “Amazon vendor performance team”. Raj said that an unidentified external vendor had been forbidden to sell the book, but that now this might appeal directly to AMT, and that, if the company wanted to reverse the entire process, then they told him how to do it.

The Union of Authors said it was also watching “a massive increase” in book piracy. “The authors tell us: ‘I know I had more sales, but I do not see them in my royalties”, said Mary Rasenberger, executive director of the union. “Amazon owns the reseller platform, and we believe that’s where those books are being sold”.

A dream becomes something more

Amazon made Jamie Lendino’s dream of becoming an author a reality.

Lendino, 45, a computer lover who loves the digital past, wrote a book called Breakout: How Atari 8-Bit Computers Defined a Generation, about the Atari machines of the 1980s that heralded a new era of video games. Autopublicó the work two years ago through Amazon, which did not charge anything in advance, but took a commission of the 1223 pocket copies purchased by devotee fans of Atari.

After Amazon it became reality the dream of someone to become Jamie Lendino.

A guy supposedly named Steve S. Thomas took Lendino’s book a year ago and remade it as if it were his. Thomas got rid of the title Breakout and converted the subtitle -How Atari 8-Bit Computers Defined to Generation- in the title; he put a new cover and replaced the name of Lendino with his, although he kept all the biographical details of Lendino about his work as editor of ExtremeTech.com and writer for PC Magazine and Popular Science.

It was the most recent entry in Thomas’s impressive bibliography. He also put his name in academic and expensive books such as Preharvest and Postharvest Food Safety and Real-World Electronic Voting: Design, Analysis and Deployment, none of which he had written.

Some circumstances

The plagiarism that Thomas carried out with the book of Lendino put a stop to his misdeeds. Kevin Savetz, another lover of Atari, saw the title Breakout: How Atari 8-Bit Computers Defined a Generation. He ordered it, although “the title seemed a little known to me,” he said.

When Savetz received the book, he realized he was more than known and sent a message to Lendino on Twitter, who was surprised that someone was stealing him.

“If you’re going to hack a book, maybe you’d choose something from Dan Brown or Neil Gaiman,” said Lendino. “You do not choose an expert type of technology that writes about a computer forty years ago.”

Things got weirder. Allison Tartalia, Lendino’s wife, was exploring on Amazon while all this was happening when she saw that a 152-page biography of her husband had recently been published.

“I said: ‘Honey? Someone apparently knows something about you that I do not know”, said Tartalia.

He ordered a copy of the biography, which had been created by two entrepreneurs who used a rudimentary artificial intelligence program to extract content from the internet. So far, they seem to have produced three thousand, including titles like Dick Hardt, Identity Guy at Amazon Web Services. They are sold at a price of $ 15, although sales seem to be rare and satisfied customers are even less.

After Lendino complained to Amazon about the pirated book, the seller removed Thomas’s work from his store. Amazon declined to comment.

Rewards to the Amazon domain

Sanford’s antimicrobial guide is based on the work of Jay Sanford, director of infectious diseases at Southwestern Medical Center at the University of Texas at Dallas in the 1960s and later president of the Infectious Diseases Society of the United States. Now there is a digital version, but many doctors prefer the printed format already known.

Currently, Antimicrobial Therapy is directed by Jeb Sanford, Jay’s son; his wife, Dianne, and Kelly, son of Dianne and stepson of Jeb. It is a small company with only thirteen employees who operate a large barn-like building in Sperryville, on the edge of the Cordillera Azul.

The company refused to disclose its annual income, but the Sanford guide is its main product. The sales of the book have fallen during the last years, with a critical point descending in 2018.

In retrospect, that was probably a clue to the growing abundance of pirated books. “I estimate that approximately 15 to 25 percent of our sales were taken from us because of piracy,” Kelly said. “We are talking about thousands of books”.

After the guide is printed, all copies go to Sperryville. They are then sent to wholesalers, retailers and individual buyers. Wholesalers sell the book to Amazon.

External sellers at Amazon acquire their stock in several ways. A seller of a pirated copy told Kelly that she had purchased the book from Amazon on one of her regular sales of damaged or returned books.

Antimicrobial Therapy submitted complaints to Amazon about piracy at the end of last year. The book seller eventually eliminated many of the resellers, some of whom later turned to Antimicrobial Therapy and complained that they were innocent. Amazon declined to comment on the publisher.

The communications quagmire between Amazon and Antimicrobial Therapy was complicated due to the fact that they did not have a direct relationship. So in December, AMT opened a supplier site on Amazon, with which the book seller receives a commission of around 20 percent for each copy sold. With this arrangement, Amazon tells Antimicrobial Therapy where the client lives and the publisher sends the book from Sperryville.

While AMT was preparing this spring for the launch of the 2019 guide, it proposed a deeper integration with Amazon.

“To eliminate the possibility of Amazon facilitating the sale of pirated books, we would like to offer Amazon the opportunity to serve as wholesaler of our titles, so we would eliminate intermediaries”, Kelly wrote to the company.

Basically, he was rewarding Amazon by giving in to his domain.

“We would prefer not to be on Amazon,” Kelly said. “But we felt there was no other option.”


Also published on Medium.

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