Amazon Refuses To Publish First Cornish-Language Ebook

from the there's-a-word-for-that dept

As we’ve noted before, Amazon is beginning to wield considerable power over the entire publishing chain. The past teaches us that as successful companies gain near-monopoly powers, their arbitrary decisions become more problematic. Here’s an unusual example of that, pointed out to us by @IndigenousTweet via @MLBrook:

Diglot Books Ltd has today been told that Kindle Direct Publishing will not publish their bilingual children’s picture book Matthew and the Wellington Boots because it is written in Cornish.

The book which was released for St Piran’s Day earlier this month has been successfully launched on the iTunes platform, but will not be available to Android or Kindle Fire users because “the book is in a language that is not currently supported by Kindle Direct Publishing.”

Fair enough, you might think — if Cornish uses some weird alphabet not supported by Amazon, there’s not much to be done. Except that’s not the case:

The Cornish language which uses exactly the same alphabet as the English language has been on the rise since its recognition as a living language in 2002 under the European Charter for Regional and Minority Languages, and is now spoken fluently by several thousand people.

That is, no special characters are needed, as the Cornish Wikipedia’s page on the language demonstrates, so there is no technical reason for Amazon not to publish the book. Clearly, this is just an arbitrary decision on the company’s part, one that it is essentially impossible to appeal against.

As the press release from the publishers quoted above notes, Diglot Books were able to use iTunes to offer their ebook instead. Some might say this is a case of out of the frying pan into the fire, since in the past Apple too has shown itself inflexible in terms of what it will and won’t accept. Had Apple refused to carry the title for whatever reason, it’s arguable that the Cornish language, still struggling to re-establish itself after dying out a couple of hundred years ago, would have suffered as a result of this lack of access to the main ebook distributors.

Promoting Cornish may not be high on everyone’s list of priorities, but Amazon’s refusal to publish the first ebook in the language provides another worrying example of how it is failing to use its increasing global power responsibly.

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Comments on “Amazon Refuses To Publish First Cornish-Language Ebook”

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Anonymous Coward says:

Putting on my tin hat

Why does Amazon care what language a book is written in, or if it’s written in any language at all (if someone wants to publish a book of random letters, more power to them) — unless — they are perform content-based censorship and their censors (human/automated?) fail anything they can’t read.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re:

It’s presumably about exposure. More people would probably be made aware of the book’s existence by browsing Amazon than whatever niche sites handle Cornish literature or writings (although iTunes is a good second choice for many). Having a book in that language sold on the biggest eBook seller might help legitimise the language itself outside of Cornwall. On top of that, many Kindle owners are consumers who prefer ease of use, and being able to transfer the book to their device without having to email it or transfer via USB might encourage more purchases – merely having Whispernet available as a delivery method with 1 click purchases might encourage readership. Many Kindle users simply don’t look outside of Amazon for content.

Nothing’s preventing them from publishing elsewhere, but the advantages of having the book on Amazon are pretty obvious.

Arsik Vek (profile) says:

I’m not really sure I can work up any outrage over this. Amazon only has a couple of (admittedly broad and subjective) content restrictions (available at ). If they don’t have anyone who can validate that the content meets these requirements, I don’t think I have much problem with them choosing not to carry it. They’re pretty up front about only supporting a half dozen or so languages, so it’s not like they’re singling out Cornish.

velox (profile) says:

Re: Re:

“They don’t have anyone who can validate that the content “

It should not be Amazon’s responsibility to “validate” content. “Validation” in this context is just another euphemism for censorship. If Amazon is truly concerned about their inability to monitor what is being published, why can’t they rely on crowd-sourced reporting of objections.
This case is an example of why I believe the concept of safe harbors ought to be extended beyond DMCA liability. There should be similar safe harbors from tort liability as well.

Arsik Vek (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

If Amazon has an acceptible use policy, they don’t have the responsibility to validate that the content meets it, but they do have the right to. Unless you’re suggesting that Amazon as a retailer should be compelled to carry any product someone wants them to. Would you also suggest that any publishers he sent the book to should be compelled to produce the book? If I go to Amazon because I want to sell a flaming, spiked, triple-ended dildo, should they be required to carry that as well? Amazon does not have a requirement to carry any product someone wants to sell on it. Refusing to carry a book that does not meet preexisting publication requirements is not censorship of the book. Seeking to prevent anyone from carrying it is, but that’s not what’s going on here.

Is it bad PR? Maybe. Has Amazon done something terrible? No.

velox (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

No, Amazon should not be compelled to sell something they do not want to sell, and no, they have not done something terrible by exercising their right to choose what is sold on their site. I just happen to disagree with their choice. It also is most certainly censorship – not in a universal sense, and not in the sense that they are seeking to deny anyone the right to find and access material that others may judge to be objectionable. Such a limited meaning of “censor” isn’t the only way to use the word. Consider, for example, that you can choose to censor your own expression.

I do believe this policy is related to liability risk. Amazon doesn’t want to get criticized and perhaps even sued by some angry parents alleging that Amazon should be liable for allowing their innocent child to be exposed to objectionable material on a site that Amazon made available to the public.

Zem (profile) says:

Amazon is within their rights

Clearly there is nothing wrong with refusing to publish a book written by a vegetable.

If they don’t make a stand now we can expect all sorts of stuff from Chile, Valencia, Leek.

This would seriously affect the income of human authors and I fully expect the Writers Guild of America to immediately start lobbying congress to make sure this book never gets published.

Chris (user link) says:

Amazon and languages...

Having recently published a book about learning Korean (only about 25% of the book is Korean characters – the rest is English), I remember getting a similar note from them. While I was afraid the effort was for naught, I simply took off the voice-over guy’s name (he’s credited in the book already), and wrote them a note asking why there are already 13,000 e-books with Korean in them already in their bookstore.

Let’s also remember there are humans behind this process. Someone having a bad day or being stricter than they need to be makes for a rejection. Might try re-submitting it just to see what happens 🙂

Gabriel McCall (profile) says:

amazon is not a monopoly

Anyone is free to stay up a competing e-publishing service with different policies, and if they do it better than Amazon then they deserve all the success they earn. “Monopoly power” doesn’t come into play unless there are legal barriers to entry which prevent competitors from offering an alternative.

The fact that Amazon is currently winning in the market, and enjoys network effects thereby, doesn’t make them anything like a monopoly. The history of the tech industry shows that no degree of incumbency will keep a product alive once a truly superior alternative is released.

Anyone who feels strongly that there is an underserved market for niche language e-books is welcome to become rich by serving that market well. The fact that Amazon doesn’t choose to serve that market is not any sort of a crime or philosophical failure; there is a nearly infinite number of markets that any given business has chosen not to serve.

Anonymous Coward says:

Technology related?

I’ll admit I know nothing about Kindle. Never even seen one in person. But could this be a platform restriction? i.e. are there widgets labelled “next page” and “previous page” in the language of the book you are viewing? If so, and they don’t have Cornish widgets, then they can’t publish a Cornish book.

BentFranklin (profile) says:

Here are some ways to test whether Amazon needs to be able to read and thus censor ebooks:

1. Write an ebook in English but “encrypt” it with ROT13.

2. Submit an ebook of Celebrity Ciphers.

3. Submit an ebook that is nothing but keywords sure to set off automatic security scanners, like people used to do with their sigs back when Usenet was the big thing.

Anonymous Coward says:

who says a publishing company has to publicise ANY book that they choose not too.

They may have well said, “we are not publishing it, because we did not like it”, or that “we felt there is not a large enough reader demographic to warrant publishing it.

But because ‘it’s a book’ and Amazon publishes books does not mean Amazon has to publish every book, or that they are not free to choose, for what ever reason what they choose to publish and what they reject.

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