I really don’t know how else to explain this so I’ll just give it to you as it happened. Some of you may remember that I published a collection of comic strips by artist Josh Divine back in 2013. It was called Josh Divine’s Ducktown. I say “some” because the book flopped miserably and despite numerous attempts to revive interest in the work, it never saw the recognition it deserved. It remains a sore spot for me and I keep it in print primarily out of spite, but also because I still have sliver of hope that one day Josh will get famous and people will seek out his book. But mostly it’s spite.
You guys know Josh as he’s illustrated many of my book covers and even done interior design and illustrations on a few of them as well – very talented guy.
Well, a few weeks ago, Josh was a guest on a podcast and he promoted his book on it. Much to my surprise (and his I’m sure), someone who listened to the podcast bought a copy of Ducktown from Amazon. Cool, right? That’s when the trouble started.
Josh reached out to me on Instagram and showed me an Instagram story in which one of Josh’s fans (who listened to the podcast) showed the copy of Ducktown he purchased through Amazon, only there was a big surprise.
The cover of the book was the same but as soon as he turned the page it was apparent that this was not Ducktown. In fact, not only was it not Ducktown, but it was, in fact, a book about dicks, literally.
And when I say dicks, I mean dicks. The guy turned page after page of the book and after pausing a couple of times, I was able to make out the title, author and publisher. Obviously, this was not my book!
I’m not going to show you the images here – they are graphic and I don’t feel it’s appropriate. I’m also not going to share the name of the book or the author out of respect for their privacy – more on that later.
Anyway, as it turns out the first half of the book that this person purchased is a book on gay hustlers from world war II. It includes graphic photos and illustrations. The second half of the book is Ducktown.
To say I was shocked is an understatement. Josh and I had a good laugh about it and I contacted the customer to apologize and to offer to replace his book, which I did. He was a good sport about it and agreed to remove his negative review from Amazon, which I appreciated. I also got the details of his purchase because my next step was to contact Amazon and also the printer.
Josh said that it was ironic that it had to be this and not a book on recipes or birds etc. to be crossed with. Of course, because Ducktown is cursed. I am convinced of that now more than ever.
As you may or may not know/remember, I am a POD publishing house – print on demand. So when someone orders a book on Amazon, if they don’t have any stock on hand, the book is printed via my printing/distribution company, Ingram, and then shipped to Amazon or the buyer.
I knew right away that this wasn’t Amazon’s fault because this was clearly a printing error. Somehow, the printer had mixed Ducktown and this other book together. My questions were how/why?! The subject matter of the books is not even remotely close but I had to wonder, how a book my size (unorthodox size due to the book consisting of large comic strips) could get mixed with another book of the same size and binding…the odds have to be astronomical.
But first, I sought out the author/publisher of the other work.
I pride myself on being adept at finding information. I credit this to going to school prior to the internet era (see: having to actually do research at a library) and also to my background as a gumshoe journalist. So, it did not take me too long to track down the author/publisher of the gay hustler book. Surprisingly, he answered the phone.
I explained what happened and asked if anything like this had ever happened to him before. He said no and that, like me, his books don’t do a huge amount of volume. He was good-natured about it and said, “I hope they weren’t too shocked.” I had to hold my tongue.
The conversation was pleasant and he confirmed that we had Ingram (printer) in common, whom I reached out to next. It took me several emails and two phone conversations to escalate the issue to a supervisor (yes, Karen!) at Ingram. I explain what happened and they were both amused and surprised.
I also explained the liability involved in this issue occurring; my rationale being that were this mistake to happen with a minor buying the book, or a parent buying the book as a gift, the result could be disastrous for me. They took full responsibility and reassured me that the chances of this happening again (or at all), are in the less than 1-percentile. And while that was a little comforting, that there still exists a chance for this to occur is troubling. The only saving grace I have is that Josh’s book doesn’t sell. [cue laugh track]
I also contacted Amazon on several occasions. Their customer service was of zero help and they seemed absolutely clueless about the whole thing. Their customer service – from a publisher’s point of view – is extremely limited and frustrating. I had to also contact them to reset the 5-star rating that Ducktown had, which was reduced to ashes by the negative review left by the buyer who bought “Dicktown.” It took a couple of days after he deleted his review but eventually Ducktown’s 5-star rating returned.
And that was that. I now lose sleep wondering if someone else will buy a copy of my books and be hit over the head with pornography or who knows what else?! Thanks a lot, Ingram! I’ve seen a lot of shit in my time as a publisher but this one really threw me for a loop. And here I thought I’d seen it all, which bring me to my next point.
Part 2: Counterfeit Soul
After the Dicktown debacle, I didn’t think things could get any worse for your humble indie publisher, but as 2020 has done time and again this year, it said, “Hold my beer.”
The author/photographer of Lowriting, Art Meza, contacted me on Instagram and shared an Amazon listing of his book being sold for $50. I didn’t think too much of it at first because I’ve seen several of my books over the years get listed at ridiculous prices by third party Amazon sellers. I could never make much sense of it but this particular listing caught my eye after I started investigating it.
To my surprise, the copy of Lowriting they were selling had its own ASIN (Amazon Standard Identification Number) and no ISBN. It also had its own unique binding size (paperback bunko), which was not a size I offer or have ever printed in!
This took a lot of detective work on my part but I deduced that whoever this third party seller was, they had taken a legitimate copy of Lowriting, scanned all of the pages and the cover, and then uploaded that as their own work into Amazon’s POD server and were selling it…illegally!
In other words, they photocopied my book and were now selling counterfeit copies of it on Amazon! Whiskey, Tango, Foxtrot, over?
Once again, I was beside myself with confusion and frustration. I kept saying to myself: why me?
I again contacted the printer, who pointed the finger at Amazon this time. And after another failed attempt with Amazon’s customer service, I was put on the path of filing a copyright infringement claim through Amazon legal. This took several frustrating attempts but finally, Amazon Legal responded that my rights were indeed infringed and they removed the offending book. No damages or compensation were offered.
I was surprised to see several emails pour in from Amazon sellers, apologizing and begging me to write to Amazon on their behalf because they were in danger of losing their stores. Apparently, Amazon not only went after the counterfeiter, but also after anyone who tried to sell the counterfeit books. I did not respond.
Still, I was pissed. Someone said I should be flattered to be considered good enough to counterfeit, so I guess there’s that.
Why am I telling you all of this…?
Over the years the people who take for granted the amount of work and dedication and cost that it takes to operate a legitimate publishing company have grown. And all I can say is: it ain’t easy, folks! Nor is it all fun and games. I know it might seem like it from the comfort of your phone, but there’s a lot more that goes on behind the scenes than you realize. Publishing is a pain in the ass!
If it ain’t Amazon trying to drive me out of business, it’s cheapskates, counterfeiters, moralists, haters and the woke police, and don’t even get me started on the lack of support from the press or so-called community.
I’m on my own here, as I have always been. But it is what it is.
I hope these stories were at least a little amusing if not eye opening. As I’ve always said, publishing is cutthroat and the wild west. It is also survival of the sickest. And…it’s still the last battleground for freedom of speech in these so-called United States. That people take that for granted is depressing.
But I digress; support your local (and not so local) indie artists, writers and publishers.