Barry Eisler

Friday, March 07, 2014

A Rich Legacy Publishing Tradition: The Purchase of NYT Bestseller Slots

Updated below

Remember the well-meaning folks at "No Sock Puppets Here Please," those doughty defenders who banded together to protect online commerce from "revelations" about sock puppetry? Will they raise their voices now in protest about people buying New York Times bestseller slots? Come on, NSPHP, the integrity of the legacy publishing industry, the public's trust in our great institutions... it's all on the verge of collapse! Something must be done!

If not... might there be some sort of weird double standard at work here? A handful of individual authors writing fake reviews represents a mortal threat to the entire publishing ecosystem and must be denounced, but publishers cooperating in the outright purchase of New York Times bestseller slots is just one of those rich publishing traditions and business as usual?


Okay, if not NSPHP, maybe the Authors Guild will do something. They're always the first to denounce the worst aspects of legacy publishing. Over to you, president Scott Turow...


Update:  Someone on the Passive Guy's blog commented that this must be what literary agent Donald Maass meant when he claimed legacy publishing is a "true meritocracy." Indeed.
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25 Comments:

Blogger Woelf2.0 said...

This might be a perfect example of society's sycophantic double-dealing nature. Too many have too much vested in trad pubs for anyone to make any noise about this. Nothing will come of it, I guarantee you. If there is even a mini explosion I'll come back and say I was wrong and eat a hat or something.

Friday, March 07, 2014 4:40:00 PM  
Blogger stevemosby said...

I was one of the NSPHP people, so here's what I think about the issue.

Firstly, one instance of pointing out what I see as ethically and legally dubious practice does not compel me to comment on every single instance I then encounter. Just because you speak out once does not mean a future instance of silence implies agreement.

Secondly, it's difficult to comment on something you haven't heard about. I don't want to rehash arguments from the year before last (how time flies!), but the sockpuppetry business received a massive amount of media coverage and the letter itself was in response to that (and obviously discussion also rolled on after that). Maybe this story will generate a similar head of steam, but until it does, it's unreasonable to imply "double standards" of people who simply haven't read the entire internet.

The story itself seems bizarre. As far as I can tell, Mars Hill Church paid a marketing firm over $25k to promote a book by its pastor, Mark Driscoll, onto various bestseller lists. ResultSource did this by actually purchasing thousands of copies, bringing Mars Hill's overall outlay to over $200k. For that, they got a book that was a bestseller for a single week. It's not clear to me what happened to the stock - whether the church then owned the copies to sell on - but it seems highly doubtful they made any kind of profit. The book dropped off the charts the next week, so clearly insufficient numbers were prepared to pay another $200k simply on the basis of seeing it on a chart.

It feels like the same ballpark of behaviour as paying for reviews with verified purchases. I think the latter is wrong because it artificially hoists a book into view and gives it a false illusion of both popularity and quality. This business is slightly different, as no biased reviews were attached, and in the case of a paper's bestseller list, the reader is not being misled at the direct point they're browsing for a purchase. It seems wrong to me, but also a bit bewildering, as though I was watching a man mugging himself in front of me.

If it's a widespread practice by publishers - and there is no evidence publishers are involved in it, even in this instance - then I'd have to think before I condemned it because it would just be such a fundamentally stupid thing to do. It would be quicker just to shovel money out of the window. But hey, if that evidence comes to light, I'll try to care more.

Sunday, March 09, 2014 7:56:00 AM  
Blogger Jeremy Duns said...

I agree with Steve's comment. I read this story the other day and linked to it on Twitter, but it was just one story.

Also, one person's idea of 'moral panic' is another's of valid criticism. For example, I could claim that your 'outrage' at this story and blogging about it is spreading moral panic to your readers. It's very easy to characterise other people's objections to something as moral panic and a good way to deflect attention from the substance of the issue. What do you make of Anne Rice's petition - is that also moral panic in your view? I haven't read anything by you about it so I'll presume you've been hypocritically silent on that - would that be acceptable?

It is almost impossible to have any valid criticism without someone on the internet overreacting. You can see a small example of that in the first comment in this thread, by 'Woelf2.0', who holds up this one story as evidence of 'society's sycophantic double-dealing nature'. Well, maybe. Or maybe that's a little OTT.

Similarly, if behaviour like this does emerge as more widespread, it is perfectly possible (I suspect very likely) that some people on the internet will be outraged to the extent of slinging a personal insult or two. One could then point to those examples to dismiss the whole thing as a moral panic, witch-hunting, bullying or even McCarthyism. You can do that about pretty much every issue nowadays. The internet's a big place, and you can always find some people who have acted inappropriately to an issue.

I still think the reaction to Ellory, Locke and Leather was generally very level-headed and perfectly warranted. Not every single person's reaction, for the reasons just explained, but in most cases. The petition was drafted with many authors' input, with the largest contribution being from Lee Child. I think it was worded sensibly and constructively, and the conversation around it was broadly level-headed. In fact, I think the majority of the below-the-belt behaviour was from people attacking those who objected to this fraudulent behaviour. You and Joe Konrath made repeated and to my mind rather absurd attempts to paint the objections as a moral panic, perhaps in order to dismiss the substantive issues it raised. On this very site, a bestselling author used a sockpuppet account to support your case and accuse me of being a bully and a witch-hunter. She's since apologised to me for that. My Wikipedia page was rpeeatedly attacked by anonymous editors, one of whom added a large passage accusing me of much the same. I currently have around a dozen anyonymous blogs accusing me of a variety of issues. Most (but not all) of these are by one of the authors criticised, I think. These are just a handful of the examples I could give. But I stand by the petition, the wording of it, and my and others' behaviour around it. I think it was justifiable, responsible and proportionate.

In my view, the recent reaction to Lynn Shepherd's (woeful) piece was much closer to an example of moral panic.

Sunday, March 09, 2014 9:07:00 AM  
Blogger Barry Eisler said...

Thanks for the thoughts, everyone. Steve, agreed that "one instance of pointing out what I see as ethically and legally dubious practice does not compel me to comment on every single instance I then encounter. Just because you speak out once does not mean a future instance of silence implies agreement.” OTOH, I don’t think it’s unreasonable to expect at least some of the many people who were so concerned about reports of sock puppetry that they created NSPHP to take equivalent action about reports that the NYT bestseller list is itself being gamed. Nor do I think it’s unreasonable to speculate about what priorities and mindset are being revealed by a flurry of action in the first instance and a lackadaisical response in the second.

Jeremy, agreed that "one person's idea of 'moral panic' is another's of valid criticism.” But what isn’t this true for? And does the existence of differing opinions necessarily mean that neither side can be right?

Along these lines, it might be worth examining the characteristics of a moral panic (at least as defined in the Wikipedia article I link to in my post) and pondering how well that shoe fits the various examples we've talked about: NSPHP; my post on which we’re commenting; Anne Rice’s petition; Lynn Shepherd; etc:

"Moral panics have several distinct features. According to Goode and Ben-Yehuda, moral panic consists of the following characteristics:

• Concern – There must be awareness that the behaviour of the group or category in question is likely to have a negative effect on society.

• Hostility – Hostility towards the group in question increases, and they become "folk devils". A clear division forms between "them" and "us".

• Consensus – Though concern does not have to be nationwide, there must be widespread acceptance that the group in question poses a very real threat to society. It is important at this stage that the "moral entrepreneurs" are vocal and the "folk devils" appear weak and disorganized.

• Disproportionality – The action taken is disproportionate to the actual threat posed by the accused group.

• Volatility – Moral panics are highly volatile and tend to disappear as quickly as they appeared due to a wane in public interest or news reports changing to another topic."

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Moral_panic#Characteristics

I think NSPHP fits all five of those characteristics uncomfortably well. But I understand and respect that we disagree on that.

As for Anne Rice’s petition, this is indeed the first I’ve heard of it. Just Googled it (well, technically it's not her petition; someone else started it but she's enthusiastically signed on) and it does indeed strike me as an instance of moral panic, at least according to the characteristics noted above. Shit, now I’m going to have to waste more time blogging…:)

I know we don’t see eye to eye on a lot of this, so again thanks very much for offering your thoughts here.

Sunday, March 09, 2014 12:31:00 PM  
Blogger stevemosby said...

Barry -

"Nor do I think it’s unreasonable to speculate about what priorities and mindset are being revealed by a flurry of action in the first instance and a lackadaisical response in the second."

But you haven't speculated - you've just made oblique (and to be frank, somewhat cowardly) insinuations, inviting others to join the non-existent dots you've thrown out. And look at the first comment: someone ran with it, didn't they? How convenient that it's become about traditional- versus self-publishing, even though the NSPHP letter was about behaviour, and at least two of the authors responsible were traditionally-published.

If you think a "lackadaisical response" to a bizarre, one-off news story with practically zero-coverage is revealing of something, then say what that something is. Have the courage of your convictions and speculate out loud. Take me as an example, if you want; that's fine. You don't think it's unreasonable to speculate about my priorities and mindset - so let's hear your speculation.

Sunday, March 09, 2014 1:23:00 PM  
Blogger Jeremy Duns said...

'Does the existence of differing opinions necessarily mean that neither side can be right?' No. But neither does citing a Wikipedia article and saying all points in it apply make it so. I don't think they do. I don't think the petition characterised anyone as 'folk devils' or anything like. I don't think the authors we criticised posed a threat to society, or even publishing at large. I don't believe it was disproportionate: it was a sensibly worded open letter sent to a newspaper, with an accompanying website for people to sign if they agreed. I've continued to be vocal about fraudulent reviews, troubling author behaviour and the lack of accountability at Amazon and other major bookselling sites, most recently in an interview with The Guardian about one author impersonating another. I haven't let up on these issues at all.

I think the moral panic here was created by you and Joe Konrath, who both devoted several long blog posts to condemning everyone who signed the petition as witch-hunters, using much more hostile language than we did. You explicitly compared it to *McCarthyism*. You admitted when we last discussed this that your comparisons might have been 'incendiary'. They were.

Konrath drew false equivalences between what most people with sense (and 50 authors) could see was fraudulent behaviour. He argued repeatedly and shrilly we were creating a moral panic, with the predictable consequence that many of his followers became very hostile to those who'd signed the petition. Talk about moral panic.

You signed the petition, then recanted and decided it would be a great idea to add a comment to it linking to a Youtube clip from 1984 of 'Two Minutes Hate'. I think that was disproportionate. Also unhelpful to reasoned debate and rather insulting to a sensible and considered call for fair play from fellow authors.

While complaining our petition publicly shamed three authors whose behaviour had already been widely discussed in the media, Konrath wrote on his blog:

'In fact, if anyone reading this edits Wikipedia, they need to add the NSPHP petition to the moral panic examples. Feel free to use my blog as a citation.'

This is such an ironic example of inciting moral panic I'd add *it* to Wikipedia, if I didn't have rather less respect for the site than you and Konrath seem to, judging by how much you depend on it for your arguments.

After Konrath explicitly called on his readers to add our petition to Wikipedia as an example of moral panic, one of them did so within the hour. Just as he wanted. Public shaming, much? It's been deleted since - even Wikipedia editors sometimes see through agendas so transparent.

On this blog and Konrath's, I and others were repeatedly called 'witch-hunters' – kind of similar to folk devils. Finally, Konrath's not written about this since, as he's busy... protesting other things. You've briefly come back to it, but I don't think have been bothered in recent months by this McCarthyite moral panic that was going to lead to people being burned at the stake or something.

In fact, sad to say, our petition barely made a scrap of difference, did it? Amazon still has thousands of sockpuppet reviews. Leather still has a sockpuppet account on Twitter and no doubt elsewhere, and just last week tried to get one of my Twitter followers fired for tweeting he was 'hard to pin down' (really). Ellory apologised and has moved on, as has everyone else involved in that. Locke ignored the whole thing and has suffered no consequences whatsoever I can see.

So it is subjective, and we won't agree. But I'll continue to criticise fraudulent behaviour and problems at major bookselling sites no matter how much you or anyone else tries to mischaracterise it as a form of moral panic. It's not. It's simply raising reasonable concerns about real issues that affect writers.

Sunday, March 09, 2014 2:33:00 PM  
Blogger Barry Eisler said...

Hi Steve, I think my question was pretty clear: "A handful of individual authors writing fake reviews represents a mortal threat to the entire publishing ecosystem and must be denounced, but publishers cooperating in the outright purchase of New York Times bestseller slots is just one of those rich publishing traditions and business as usual?”

My guess would be that the former seems more threatening because it’s new, and a safer target because it’s individuals, while the latter seems more familiar because it’s establishment behavior and less safe because it involves big publishers and The New York Times. You’ve offered alternative explanations, including the notion that NSPHP was a response to “massive media coverage,” and that if enough people get exercised about the New York Times story, you might respond to that, too. I actually think that explanation tends to support my speculation/oblique and cowardly insinuation: if enough people are already denouncing an individual’s behavior, you’re comfortable joining the crowd, possibly because denunciation feels safer at that point. But again, that’s just speculation/oblique and cowardly insinuation and I certainly could be wrong.

Note, BTW, that it wasn’t just NSPHP I was tweaking; I also mentioned the “Authors Guild.” I think a lot of otherwise strange behavior in publishing is explainable more by reference to establishmentarian and iconoclastic world views than it is by legacy published/self published, but that’s just more speculation/oblique and cowardly insinuation and I could be wrong about that, too.

Sunday, March 09, 2014 4:44:00 PM  
Blogger Barry Eisler said...

Jeremy, my guess is that in the entire history of moral panics, not a single individual has ever recognized that he’s caught up in one. Nor, I would guess, has anyone who’s ever been caught up in a moral panic used the actual term “folk devils.” So respectfully, (i) the fact that you yourself don’t believe you were caught up in a moral panic with NSPHP, and (ii) the absence of the actual phrase “folk devils,” are probably not terribly relevant to the question of whether NSPHP was, indeed, an instance of moral panic.

I think a more useful way of approaching the question would be to analyze a given behavior in light of the five characteristics laid out in the scholarly article cited in Wikipedia, and I appreciate your views on that. I do think NSPHP would make a perfect example on the Wikipedia page (I know, no surprise there), and I don’t know why you would assume that example was posted by the rabble and removed by some responsible editor. Is it not equally likely that an ordinary individual with a different view took it down? If you disapprove, you’re quite sure the culprit was an incited follower of the evil Konrath; if you approve, you’re equally sure it’s simply the workings of responsible, level-headed, properly authorized adults. But do you have any evidence for any of this beyond your own biases?

Similarly, it’s certainly possible that it was the evil Konrath’s repeated and shrill false equivalencies that convinced people NSPHP was a bad idea. Or perhaps they were persuaded by his logic, evidence, and argument. Why is it when 50 people agree with you it’s because they’re gifted with sense and they’re objectively sensible and considered, but when they disagree with you it must mean they’re just a bunch of gullible dupes who’ve been taken in by repeated, shrill false equivalencies? You might want to ponder some of that.

I know you didn’t like some of the witch-hunt rhetoric and yes, maybe some of it shed more heat than light (although have a look at some of the bizarre questions David Hewson thought were relevant to the inquiry and it’s possible you'll see the rhetoric was a closer fit than one might like). Anyway, can we agree that under the circumstances it’s kind of funny you would describe my change of mind about the cost/benefit ratio of NSPHP as “recanting,” a word most commonly deployed WRT heretics? :)

As for your ongoing work in exposing authors who post fraudulent reviews, I think that’s largely a separate topic and FWIW, I think your efforts in that regard are useful, proportionate, and admirable (and indeed have said so on Twitter).

I don’t agree that it’s sad NSPHP in the end proved meaningless, given that I believe if anyone had really taken it seriously it would have likely done more harm than good. But given that it did indeed prove to be just a tempest in a teapot, why are you criticizing Konrath for not having written about it since? Yes, I tweaked you all about it in my latest post, which has largely led to a repeat of all the arguments we made a year ago (as Steve predicted). But beyond that, the whole thing blew over, so what is there to write about, really?

P.S. I don’t know why you would disparage Wikipedia overall; more relevant, it seems to me, would be whether the specific scholarly articles cited on the page I linked to are themselves somehow suspect. Regardless, did you know a study conducted by the quite reputable journal Nature found Wikipedia to be as good a source of accurate information as the Encyclopedia Britannica?

http://news.cnet.com/2100-1038_3-5997332.html

Sunday, March 09, 2014 4:51:00 PM  
Blogger Jeremy Duns said...

'But do you have any evidence for any of this beyond your own biases?'

For most of it, no: it's subjective. The same applies to you. You're not going to admit you and Konrath wildly exaggerated the tone and intent of our petition and thereby created a moral panic yourselves. Rather, you've just exaggerated what I said, sarcastically calling him evil so you can then dismiss a position I didn't take. You're also insinuating bad faith motives to us without evidence. If there is strong evidence of publishers buying bestseller lists, of course I'll condemn it. There isn't. Read the article you linked to. HarperCollins didn't respond yet.

This wasn't about joining bandwagons. The NYT published on Locke, but there was no media about Leather or Ellory until I pointed it out on Twitter, and people like Steve started writing about it on his blog. The point is that this behaviour was both proven and widely reported so we weren't 'shaming' them - all three had already publicly admitted it. Leather boasted about it on stage! If publishers are buying bestseller places, of course I'll condemn it! I'm not waiting for others to. I'm waiting to see credible evidence for the claim.

No doubt many people did find your and Konrath's arguments convincing. Fifty authors and a lot of others found ours convincing. As you say, that proves nothing. I found his arguments and yours on this extremely unconvincing, still do, and I've explained why. There's no absolute truth here. I think the Wikipedia article you cite as some sort of evidence we fuelled a moral panic describes the problem well: 'there is no way to measure what a proportionate reaction should be to a specific action'.

I mentioned Konrath hadn't written about these issues recently simply because you asked me to consider the criteria for moral panic you cited. In the first part of my comment I went through why I don't think any apply to what we did, and then I looked at how I see each of them applying to what you both wrote. The last was 'Volatility – Moral panics are highly volatile and tend to disappear as quickly as they appeared due to a wane in public interest or news reports changing to another topic.' Your interest and his in these issues (and indeed most of those commenters about it on your blogs) has largely vanished, so along with the other criteria your behaviour fits. Many of Konrath's blogs are strongly worded attacks on behaviour he disagrees with, of course. Sometimes he calls on people to act.

My continued interest in this isn't a separate topic. My claims for the other four criteria you listed were subjective, but the one on volatility actually wasn't. It's demonstrably untrue that my concerns about this have disappeared. In fact, you've just admitted they haven't, and praised me for it. I spent about an hour last week being interviewed by The Guardian on this, not for fun but because I think it's important. Steve has written about several related issues recently and I'm sure remains just as concerned as I and many others who signed the petition that major bookselling sites are still a largely consequence-free haven for abuse and fraudulence, where authors are essentially hostage to having their reputations sabotaged as a result of their not having any real oversight. Anne Rice evidently agrees. I also condemned the over-reaction to Lynn Shepherd's article, which I think is the sort of behaviour you and Joe were shouting from the rooftops we were doing with our petition, but which we in fact did not do.

Have another read of the letter. It wasn't a moral panic. It was just 50 authors responsibly condemning openly fraudulent behaviour in our community. That's it.

Cite Wikipedia as much as you wish - but the cite alone doesn't miraculously make your arguments hold water.

Sunday, March 09, 2014 5:43:00 PM  
Blogger stevemosby said...

Barry -

"My guess would be that the former seems more threatening because it’s new, and a safer target because it’s individuals, while the latter seems more familiar because it’s establishment behavior and less safe because it involves big publishers and The New York Times."

I disagree with three underlying premises here. One, the NSPHP letter was criticising behaviour, not targeting individuals (who were named for context, and whose behaviour was already public). Two, criticising the behaviour of individuals is not necessarily "safer" than criticising the behaviour of large organisations; it really depends on the circumstances. And in this case, I'm not sure what the risk to me would be in criticising Mars Hill Church and ResultSource Inc, because - three - there's as yet no reason to extend any criticism to either a singular big publisher (never mind plural) or The New York Times.

"You’ve offered alternative explanations, including the notion that NSPHP was a response to “massive media coverage,” and that if enough people get exercised about the New York Times story, you might respond to that, too."

Well, the alternative explanation is that people haven't responded in the same way because they haven't heard about the story. You're more likely to have an opinion about something you've actually heard of, aren't you? And then you need to decide whether it's important enough to air that opinion. In this case, I imagine people who are aware of it simply don't see it as the smoking gun that you do. If any evidence whatsoever emerges that this is a widespread practice, perhaps that will change.

Monday, March 10, 2014 2:12:00 AM  
Blogger stevemosby said...

Barry -

Just quickly, as I know you're busy with other stuff, but in your original post you describe the situation as "publishers cooperating in the outright purchase of New York Times bestseller slots".

Now, a brief perusal of the facts reveals that isn't true. There's no evidence so far that even a single publisher cooperated, never mind more than one.

And yet, Konrath has published a post, linking to yours, in which he states as fact: "Yet those same writers see no need for public outcry when publishers do things even worse than the things those writers promised to never do (publishers paying to get books on the NYT bestseller list)."

I find it hard to interpret this situation any other way than that you have written a lie, which because you've researched the subject you must have known to be a lie. And which is now being repeated as fact. Does that genuinely not bother you? Not even remotely? Amazing.

Monday, March 10, 2014 1:44:00 PM  
Blogger John R said...

FWIW, and it looks to be very much a sideshow to the discussions above, a quick check on the RSI website and their 'Bestseller Campaigns' case studies suggests:

(a) This is the kind of thing they've done before, purchasing in bulk (apparently for resale, presumably mitigating their losses) - "RSI financed 10,000 book sales to generate initial attention on the faith that once the 50,000 strong audience heard Mark’s message, every book would sell. And, they did." [The Fred Factor] - or controlling ordering times and volumes - "Then, 21,000 orders were strategically made through RSI’s vast network of reporting sources." [Who's Got Your Back]

(b) It seems to have nothing, on the face of it at least, to do with publishers at all except as the original source of stock. (It also seems that the NYT draws its bestseller ratings from retail outlets' reported sales, not publisher shipments to wholesale/retail, but that might just be the way I'm reading it.)

According to the wording of all of the case studies I read, RSI were contacted and employed by the author in every case. In the case of The Fred Factor, which I think is the only one mentioning the publisher, RSI approached the author to serve as agents, then cut a dual-imprint publishing plan with Random House, and then bought a stack of books for resale. No mention yay or nay is made of this being in pre-made agreement with the publisher.

(Note, also, that the wording in the contract for Real Marriage seems to mean nothing more than informing publishers of confirmed order levels in advance (the number dependent on how many intended recipients Mars Hill Church cobbled together as a list) in order to be sure those orders would all be met with sufficient stock on launch week; I imagine B&N provides a schedule for purchase of x,000 copies of Book Y and shares that with the sales arm of Publisher Z in order to make sure that those x,000 copies are in B&N stores on launch day. It could be more sinister than that, sure, but there's very little from which you can confidently make that assumption here.)

In most cases, though, they seem to be little more than an ad agency, speaking circuit scheduler and jargon-ridden mass email shitspout. (Apparently a hugely successful one.)

Sleazy, yes, and if people are deliberately trying to game sales lists by buying up a shit-ton of their own material in that way we all used to claim music companies did when we were kids, then they deserve a public kicking. But in this instance, without any actual evidence as yet, I can't see how it's possible to reasonably jump to attacking publishers or anyone else other than those directly involved.

RSI and Mars Hill Church come out looking like turds, of course, and the RSI "how we do it" section makes it abundantly clear that they're trying to avoid detection presumably by retail chains - their use of "1,000 different payment methods" etc. If it turns out others in the chain know about these things ahead of time when they happen, then they'll look like turds too, but that would require more information than we have here.

Monday, March 10, 2014 3:26:00 PM  
Blogger John R said...

(See also: this WSJ piece from a couple of weeks ago where their processes, which in the main seem geared around generating actual pre-orders en masse, or else persuading people to take copies of whatever business management book of the day they're pushing as gifts, and then delivering on them in one week, and pitfalls, are outlined in greater detail, as are the differing relations they have with publishers.)

Monday, March 10, 2014 3:34:00 PM  
Blogger Barry Eisler said...

Jeremy and Steve, thanks again for sharing your thoughts here (and Jeremy, for doing so particularly tirelessly on Twitter). In retrospect, I can see where it wouldn't have hurt to write "publishers apparently cooperating" rather than "publishers cooperating." I'd call that harmless error because the point remains the same, but I understand that it's critical to you and that you believe my views on NSPHP make me a reckless liar, etc. Again, thanks for taking the time and trouble to engage.

Monday, March 10, 2014 5:40:00 PM  
Blogger Barry Eisler said...

John, fair points. The author did ask Harper Collins Christian for comment and received no reply. I tend to distrust publishers, and so I read into that silence the probability of complicity. But I could be wrong.

Overall, I’d expect any organization that’s fundamentally concerned with the integrity of systems upon which customers rely in making book buying decisions would be pretty keen for answers on this one. Hopefully the WSJ will do some follow-up.

Monday, March 10, 2014 5:40:00 PM  
Blogger Jeremy Duns said...

Barry, I heartily recommend again that you read your own guidelines for how to comment and engage in fruitful debate, right over there on the sidebar of this page. 'Tirelessly' is just a petty and sarcastic dig, as was 'doughty' in your maliciously-intentioned post above. I was trying to act civilly to you on Twitter while you were making snide comments and offering to buy me a drink instead of tackling these issues properly.

I don't think making hyperbolic and unsupported claims and then using them as a basis to attack your fellow writers' motivations is 'harmless'. Your accusation that I and everyone else who signed the letter are hypocrites rests on one article, about a single case, with the main culprit clearly one sleazy marketing firm, who I and many others have already said have acted unethically.

I was aware of the LA Times story on this, but hadn't seen the blog article you link to above before I read your post. I suspect most people involved in signing the petition wouldn't even be aware of this story at all, as it hasn't had a lotof press, so it's absurd to attack them for not condemning it.

You also didn't even bother to read the blog post you linked to yourself. The author of that article provides no evidence at all that the publisher was involved in this one case. Your idea that a blogger asked HarperCollins something and they haven't yet replied so that represents 'the probability of complicity' on their part is rather reckless and irresponsible on your part, and says nothing about others' reactions. It's a very well established tenet that you don't rush to make accusations without firm evidence. In fact, one of the things Konrath and from memory you objected to about our letter was the possibility that we might falsely accuse other authors of unethical behaviour without proper evidence of it. That hasn't, as far as I'm aware, happened.

A blogger using the word 'apparently' doesn't make a publisher guilty, either. Especially as it doesn't seem to be supported by the document in question, as John has just pointed out. And even if Harper were guilty of doing this, this is a single case, and they are a single publisher. You wrote: 'A handful of individual authors writing fake reviews represents a mortal threat to the entire publishing ecosystem and must be denounced, but publishers cooperating in the outright purchase of New York Times bestseller slots is just one of those rich publishing traditions and business as usual?'

Well, if that was what had happened, sure. But it's not. Nobody argued sockpuppetry and related behaviour was a 'mortal threat to the entire publishing system'. You've exaggerated our position so you can dismiss it, commonly known as a straw man. And there is currently no evidence that even one publisher, let alone more than one, is 'cooperating in the outright purchase of New York Times bestseller slots'. You simply claimed this was happening with no evidence for it and then accused us of being hypocrites for not addressing it. It's pretty below-the-belt stuff to level at your peers, really.

Of course, Joe Konrath didn't do any research, either, just repeating your false statement publishers plural are, fact, doing this, with no supporting evidence for it but a link to this blogpost.

Both of you are irresponsibly stirring outrage against publishers and your fellow authors, for no good reason. One might almost call it... moral panic. There's a definition of it on Wikipedia, I believe. You might want to give it a read and gauge how your behaviour here fits the criteria. I think it fits rather well.

Finally, I'm not impressed at all that you admitted you got this wrong to me on Twitter, but have refused to actually apologise for it or alter the piece here, despite the ease with which you could do both. But I know nobody likes admitting when they're wrong. Least of all you.

Monday, March 10, 2014 7:18:00 PM  
Blogger Barry Eisler said...

Jeremy, imagine you have a friend who comes to you with the following complaint:

“Jeremy, someone on the Internet said he thinks I have a double standard. He was even a bit belittling and sarcastic in the way he said it!”

I’m guessing the following conversation might ensue:

Jeremy: “Well, did you explain your position to him?”

Friend: “Yes, repeatedly, via multiple lengthly comments on his blog post and through countless tweets!”

Jeremy: “And he still wasn’t persuaded?”

Friend: “No! In fact, I really think he’s a malicious, lying hypocrite. I think he’s guilty of all the things he’s accused me of. I don’t think he’s acting in good faith.”

Jeremy: “And you’ve made all these points to him?”

Friend: “Yes, repeatedly, and he just won’t listen!”

At this point, I’d like to imagine you would advise:

Jeremy: “Well, it sounds like he’s an asshole and not really worth your time. You’ve laid out a solid series of arguments for why he’s not just wrong but even a bad person, and anyone can see them via your comments and tweets and his responses. Presumably all those people now have enough evidence and argument to make up their own minds, and I’m sure they’ll see what a reprobate this guy really is. Why don’t you just move on? After all, these things do happen on the Internet from time to time. Sometimes we just encounter disagreeable people and can’t get through to them, and there’s always the risk that our egos will engage to such an extent that we’ll go on too long and start to seem shrill. So why not let it go? You can’t fix every broken person and you have so many more important things to do.”

Or would you instead advise:

Jeremy: “Well, you should continue to tweet at him and leave lengthly comments on his blog until he somehow capitulates! That would be the mature, dignified, and productive course of action.”

If you would advise your friend to take the second course of action, then okay, have at it. But on the assumption that if your ego were a little less engaged you might advise the slightly more sensible first course of action, might it be past time for you to take your own advice?

Peace.

Monday, March 10, 2014 8:18:00 PM  
Blogger Jeremy Duns said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014 1:55:00 AM  
Blogger John R said...

"The author did ask Harper Collins Christian for comment and received no reply. I tend to distrust publishers, and so I read into that silence the probability of complicity. But I could be wrong."

Isn't it also quite possible that HC haven't commented because their PR department is less likely to respond, and certainly less likely to respond quickly, to comment requests from lone bloggers as compared to those from mainstream press? (As large businesses, in my experience, tend to be.)

The WSJ managed to get quotes from two publishers, one who discouraged their author from using RSI, and one who said they recommend it to a small number of their authors (for their shitspout and/or direct sales order timing manipulation from the way Wiley described it; again no mention yea or nay of RSI's bulk purchasing for sales rank power). It sounds as though they contacted others, as you'd expect, but had no response (though even that is just an inference I take from their use of "at least one publisher..." in the article).

Personally I'd much prefer it if more publishers followed Berrett-Koehler or Wiley's lead and were willing to put their heads over the parapet on issues related to the often murky world of marketing and promotion instead of perpetually turtling and waiting for things to blow over. Coming out, on whichever side, would show them in a better light.

(IIRC none of them said a thing during the sock puppet affair, even though what two of the authors, including the one who came out with it himself (possibly with his editor in the room, if memory serves), did was potentially illegal under trading laws designed to prevent businesses passing themselves off as their own customers. They could've come out and said "we of course discourage our authors from doing anything that might deceive our readers", honest or not, and left it at that, job done. But went with keeping schtum instead. Poor show, IMO.)

Regardless of that, though, in this instance there's no evidence to suggest it's publishers trying to buy bestsellerdom and plenty that it's individual authors. I simply can't see how you can paint that activity as a "rich legacy publishing tradition" on the balance of available evidence.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014 2:56:00 AM  
Blogger Jeremy Duns said...

"Hey, is that my imaginary friend Charlie? I need your advice. I publicly accused several authors of being hypocrites for failing to condemn publishers for buying bestseller slots. Unfortunately, they've pointed out this is false because uh, I only gave one example and didn’t read it properly."

"But the example was of *one* publisher buying bestseller status, right?"

"Actually, no. At the moment, there’s no evidence suggesting the publisher was involved even there."

"OK. Did you apologize?"

"No. I admitted on Twitter I was wrong to claim credible evidence has emerged of publishers doing this, but I haven't amended the post making the accusation I concocted from that false premise. And I haven’t apologized for the false accusation of double standards I made about 50 fellow authors, either on Twitter or on my blog. I did reply to them on my blog, though."

"Did you condescendingly thank them for 'taking the time and trouble to engage'?"

"Yeah. They just kept right on making substantive points I couldn’t answer."

"Wait. They 'kept right on'. That sounds like... persistence!"

"So what? I’m persistent. This is my 3rd blog about this: one was over 4,000 words. Joe wrote several loong posts on it, too, and has repeated this false accusation."

"Yeah, but when you do it that’s “fisking”. These guys are just commenters... Oh, wait, you said they were fellow authors. You mentioned Twitter. That sounds a little geeky – can you condescend to them for using that medium?"

"Hardly! That would just be resorting to ad hominem instead of addressing their points with the 'evidence, logic and argument' I advocate on the sidebar of my blog and in my well-received Huffington Post essay 'How To Argue'..."

"But that’s all for show, right?"

"Uh... Well, I was hoping to stick to my principles a little. Also, I’m on Twitter, too. I tweeted back. One author sent me around 15 tweets, but only because I was being weaselly in dodging his points about my false accusation."

"You didn’t do that thing of patting him on the head and asking if he should chill out and open a Brewski?"

"Pretty much."

"Look. 15 tweets is enough to paint him as a sadsack loser. Insinuate he's being shrill, immature, prolix..."

"That would be immature on my part, especially considering how much I've written on this myself. And these aren't just silly online trolls. This is a lot of writers. They’re working in one screen but easily distracted, especially when publicly accused by a peer of something they didn’t do. They’re quietly reading the conversation and waiting for me to do the right thing. As they have a genuine point about my unfair attack on their reputations, I can’t honestly claim this is about their ego. It’s really about mine."

"Barry, ignore all the substantive arguments and get personal. Post a hypothetical talk between you and one of these authors who’s asking you politely to admit your error and apologize. Suggest self-deprecatingly you may be an asshole, but really he’s a bigger asshole for caring. It’s his ego talking, he’s being immature for responding in comments and tweets to your blog, comments and tweets, and for the sake of his very dignity he should just drop the whole thing. Then, if he responds again..."

"He looks like the over-sensitive shrill asshole I painted him as. Got it."

"But if he doesn’t respond..."

"All my snide insinuations stand and I get away with not having to apologise to anyone and look superior, too! Genius. Thanks. But what if everyone just sees through this absurdly adolescent piece of sophistry and responsibility-avoiding and calls on me to address the actual points and act like a professional anyway?"

"That'll never happen. Trust me."

Peace.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014 3:03:00 AM  
OpenID barnaby-r-jones said...

Oh Barry, haven't you learned not to feed the trolls? It only encourages them. Mr Duns and Mr Mosby clearly have far too much time on their hands!

Tuesday, March 11, 2014 7:55:00 AM  
Blogger Barry Eisler said...

John said, "Regardless of that, though, in this instance there's no evidence to suggest it's publishers trying to buy bestsellerdom and plenty that it's individual authors. I simply can't see how you can paint that activity as a 'rich legacy publishing tradition' on the balance of available evidence."

I think that's reasonable. As you say, it would be nice to hear some comment from Harper Collins Christian et al on this and related issues. Regardless of the extent to which the practice of buying slots on the NYT list is driven by individuals and how much much it's supported by authors, we might get a sense of just how widespread it is.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014 8:22:00 AM  
Blogger Jeremy Duns said...

No, Barnaby, we're just replying to a false accusation made about us by Barry in the above post, which he took the time to write, and which his friend Joe Konrath has now taken the time to repeat on his blog.

Barry would usually be the first to point out that the lame internet response of 'Don't you have a life, pal?' is always a poor deflection from arguing the issues under discussion, and never persuades anyone. But seeing as he's used a variation of that line in his most recent comment here, suggesting I've sent him 'countless' tweets and engage in shrill, lengthy diatribes (rather than simply pointed out he's made a false accusation and asked him to correct it), it seems unlikely.

Lectures in prolixity and tone on this subject are particularly ironic coming from Barry Eisler. He's written two previous blog-posts accusing the authors and editors who drafted the letter and everyone who signed it of a variety of things, from stupidity to malice. One post was around 3,500 words long, while the other was over 4,000 words. He clearly didn't have too much time on his hands to decide to write a third one.

I'm sure he's now simply counting on the fact that most people will see his accusations here and on Konrath's blog and not bother to read the comments pointing out how they're provably false. But I happen to know that several authors who signed the letter and some who didn't have read this far into the comments and have noted Barry's telling habit of making false accusations about other authors and then resorting to sarcasm, condescension and veiled personal insults to avoid the substance.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014 8:33:00 AM  
Blogger Jeremy Duns said...

'Regardless of the extent to which the practice of buying slots on the NYT list is driven by individuals and how much much it's supported by authors, we might get a sense of just how widespread it is.'

And if we 'get a sense' that Harper Collins Christian was involved in rigging this book via actual evidence, I and others will condemn the practice. That's the responsible thing to do.

Read your post, from the headline down again. You've accused of not leaping to condemn a widespread practice by publishers on the basis that there is evidence that one marketing company has done it. Which has been widely condemned.

'...someone on the Internet said he thinks I have a double standard. He was even a bit belittling and sarcastic...'

People on the internet accuse me of all sorts of crap. The point is this isn't some little scrap where an anonymous commenter has been sarcastic. You're a well-known author and have publicly accused 50 of your peers, including Lee Child, Joanne Harris, Val McDermid, Mark Billingham, Ian Rankin and many others, of hypocrisy and bad faith. We've pointed out that your accusation is baseless and you've as much as admitted it. Perhaps if you start applying some of your own stated principles to the discussion, we might get somewhere. What possible reason is there for you not amending the errors in the post above and apologising for the false accusation? I can't think of a good one - can you?

Tuesday, March 11, 2014 8:40:00 AM  
Blogger stevemosby said...

Barry -

"In retrospect, I can see where it wouldn't have hurt to write "publishers apparently cooperating" rather than "publishers cooperating." I'd call that harmless error because the point remains the same"

Even if the rephrasing were true, and it isn't, the point quite clearly doesn't remain the same. The cognitive dissonance setting on your fiskometer must be turned to its maximum setting right now. I think you know you're wrong, but refuse to admit it for some reason. It is hard to admit, I know. But I imagine we'll both walk away from this discussion with the feeling that our integrity is intact, and that's fine.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014 10:28:00 AM  

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