nick-coleHarperVoyager author Nick Cole had been writing a new dystopian SF book, Ctrl-Alt-Revolt, and one of the character motivations he had to come up with was a remotely original reason that AIs might decide humanity needed to be destroyed. He didn’t want to come off as just another Terminator knock-off.  He needed the AIs to perceive humanity as a legitimate threat and act to counter it.

The idea he came up with involved the AIs seeing a reality show character decide to have an abortion because the baby wasn’t convenient, which led the AIs to realize that if humanity thought they were inconvenient, out they would go, too. Ironically, the notion of getting rid of something inconvenient apparently operated on a meta level as well—because when Nick Cole’s editor at HarperVoyager read it, the book was abruptly removed from the publication schedule without even a feedback note or suggestion to change.

So, he ended up self-publishing it instead. It’s on Amazon now, for 99 cents for Kindle or $12.99 in paperback.

In his blog post, Cole goes on for several paragraphs about how obnoxious his publisher was to try to censor the book, and concludes:

Thank God Jeff Bezos made a place where people can still publish their own ideas and thoughts regardless of how horrible our “betters” find them. If it weren’t for Amazon, they would have silenced me.

I’m certainly not going to touch the political question of abortion with a ten-foot pole. In his own comments on the matter, Passive Guy feels the same way. He just notes that “Big Publishing is extremely provincial. That’s one of its biggest weaknesses.” In some respects, it’s not even important anyway. It could have been any controversial religious or political idea  that caused the publisher to want to jettison the book.

But I’m not going to go into how out-of-touch publishers are with the viewpoints of the common person, either, the way PG does.

I’m just going to point out that this post comes just a few days after Authors United and New America convened to decry the immense threat to freedom of expression Amazon represents, in the way it doesn’t knuckle under to what the traditional publishers want. And, really, that should provide the only moral you need to this story right there.


  1. It is possible to be right and to be hypocritical at the same time.
    Cole’s story illustrates the potential danger to freedom of expression when a medium is controlled by a small number of individual players. As such, it illustrates that there may indeed be a potential for future abuse implied by Amazon’s growing market share. The fact that it may be utterly hypocritical for champions of the Big 5 publishers to be making this argument is secondary.
    As a counter-point, however, one could argue that other media (newspapers, magazines, television) are in similar straits and arguably represent a more critical concern, as the infrastructure costs to enter those distribution channels are much higher.

  2. That’s a silly argument Chris. You’re letting you love for Amazon muddle your thinking.

    Publishers routinely take a pass on books for a myriad of reasons. That means nothing. And virtually every book retailer around will order any book from his wholesalers. That’s all Amazon is doing here. Amazon doesn’t censor books because much of what Amazon is doing isn’t publishing, it’s just a giant and cheap vanity publisher. That’s why it has recently had to make moves against books so poorly done, they’re almost unreadable. The backstory to that it that in the past it hasn’t exercised any control at all. Only ticked of customers, and hence those less likely to buy again, has prompted this change.

    In short, Amazon is not championing “freedom of expression” because it’s not championing anything but its own cash flow. That’s Thinking Clearly 101.

    And keep in mind that Amazon does engage in censorship of sorts when it aids their cash flow. Titles that make little money, perhaps because they are priced inexpensively, get pushed down or even entirely off search results—even a search by the book’s very title—if puffing some other book will make Amazon more money.

    I’ve not only seen that happen with some of my titles, I’ve had an Amazon lawyer defend that very practice in a phone conversation I had with her. And, while living in Seattle, I had one of Amazon’s software developers tell me bluntly “Never trust Amazon search results” for that very reason.

    More recently, I searched Amazon for a specific Bluetooth headset by maker and model number. All the hits came up around $120. That Amazon lawyer had told me, in justifying what Amazon was doing, that if you clicked around on enough ‘bought instead’ links, you could find that better price. In essence, she was saying that Amazon’s deceptions were confined to just search results. Aware of that, I tried clicking around and I not only found that Bluetooth headset for $40 less, one of the sellers was the maker itself. That’s Amazon in a nutshell, doing its best to make customers pay more. Yet you want to make them into a champion of “free expression.” Sorry, but I don’t buy that.

    I realize that nothing I say will change Amazon fanboys, just like I realize that no revelation of wrong-doing, lying or incompetence will shake the faith of some in Hillary Clinton. But I do wish Amazon’s fanboys would show a bit more sense. Making Amazon into a great champion of “free expression” is ridiculous beyond belief.” Confine your gushing to the little stuff and some great deal you got. Gaming Amazon’s system can save you money. I do that all the time to get good deals. But don’t make the company into an exemplar of great morals. It’s not.

  3. I don’t think this is really about censorship or freedom of expression. Those seem to be red herrings and Nick Cole did himself a disservice about couching things in those terms.

    I think it’s about the moral right of authors to be treated decently by publishers. Presuming his account is accurate, his publisher (and the editor in particular) treated him unprofessionally, apparently placing personal feelings first and pulling the book before giving him a chance to respond or change. Amazon’s frequent arbitrariness is at least, as far as I know, seldom based on a political viewpoint, with the possible exception of the ban on books with guns on the cover being advertised through their internal ad programs.

  4. Okay. Enough is enough. Now that Harper Voyager is fully aware of what is happening it’s only a matter of time before this is exposed anyway. Cole was not dropped. Nor was his book banned. I mean really? Since when does a publisher shy away from controversy? And a pro-life stance is not out of the main stream. So come on. It’s not as if he was advocating or suggesting people attack clinics. So let’s get a grip here.
    What actually happened is that due to a 75% return of paperbacks on his last book, they would not issue a print edition. Digital only. Period. That’s it. He was actually still on the publishing schedule for a digital release at the time.
    When writers who are plugged in at HV first heard about this, they contacted them to find out if it was true. And believe me, if it was, I would be the first to stand with Cole. I’m pro-choice. But so what? Publishing and censorship should not be spoken in the same sentence. But that’s not what happened in this case.
    Cole was pissed off and used “banned by the publishers” as a marketing ploy. I must say that it worked like a charm. But I shudder to think what HV is going to do next. I suppose they might just ignore it…yeah, right.
    If you doubt what I’m saying, keep watching as this unfolds.

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