Today, April 27, 2020 marks the day Ingram (the largest book wholesaler) begins to remove books from distribution that do “harm to buyers and affects the reputations of” publishers, libraries, and retailers.
That’s a pretty broad and generic statement, so what does it actually mean? In the most general sense, it most likely means if you published through a full-service self-publishing company, your book is safe since most of them vet manuscripts in advance of acceptance (with the help of an actual human being). For instance, when asked, an Ingram representative specifically informed Outskirts Press that Ingram had not identified any Outskirts Press books that would be removed.
On the other hand, for authors who submit manuscripts to automated online publishing platforms where the whole thing is done by lunch, you may have a greater concern since there was no human vetting process. “Automated publishing” accepts just about anything because their product isn’t your book, it’s you.
And that’s the problem. Automated, “free” online publishing platforms are making it possible for nefarious or unscrupulous individuals or companies to profit from publishing what Ingram identifies as content that “lacks integrity.” To that end, Ingram is positioning itself to be a “quality gatekeeper”, a role that has been sorely missing in the publishing industry since the advent of automated online publishing platforms. In other words, books that were published neither to educate nor entertain, but to make a “fast buck” through an automated publishing platform are most at risk of being removed starting today.
First Amendment pundits may be inclined to cry “foul” and wave their free speech cards, but Ingram’s use of “harm to buyers and affects the reputation of…” is not a subjective matter of opinion or free speech, but an empirical definition of value and quality. This is an important distinction that few humans have trouble making, but one that even fewer computers can make. For instance, no human would accept 200 blank pages titled “Scrapbook” as a legitimate manuscript, but a computer would consider 200 blank pages to be perfect. After all, there would be no mistakes, no copyright violations, an no libelous content!
To support that point, Ingram’s notification, which was sent to all the publishers for whom they distribute books worldwide, listed some examples of content lacking integrity, starting with number one:
1. Content containing 90-100% blank pages like notepads, scratchpads, journals, or similar type content.
2. Summaries, workbooks, abbreviations, insights, or similar type content without permission from the original author. For example: A Summary of J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets.
3. Content that mirrors/mimics popular titles, including without limiting, similar covers, cover design, title, author names, or similar type content.
4. Content that is misleading or likely to cause confusion by the buyer, including without limiting,inaccurate descriptions and cover art. For example: A book with a cover design that does not match the interior content; a cover that appears to be for a product other than a physical book.
5. Content listed at prices not reflective of its market value. For example: a blank journal listed at $99.99.
6. Content scanned from original versions where all or parts contain illegible content to the detriment of the buyer.
7. Content created using automated means or mass-produced processes.
These are all examples of books commonly accepted through automated online publishing platforms, but are rarely accepted by full-service self-publishing companies with a human vetting process, which is in place for precisely this reason – to protect writers and readers.
Therefore, the question legitimate authors who use automated publishing platforms may want to ask themselves is this: Is that the company I want to keep?