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Flatbush Flashback

Will It Ever End?

Twelve years ago, when my John Lennon bio, Nowhere Man, was published, Amazon was a company I loved. After having had the book rejected by every publisher in creation for 18 years, it was thrilling to watch Nowhere Man shoot up the sales rankings to heights that I’d never imagined possible. Not only was Amazon instrumental in turning the book into a bestseller in multiple countries and multiple languages, but anytime there was a problem with the book’s page, I was able to call my Amazon contact and she’d fix it immediately while I was holding on the phone. It all seemed miraculous.

I’m not going to go into any detail here about what’s going on with Amazon now. (If you’re interested, there’s an excellent article in the June 25 issue of The New Yorker that spells it all out; you can read the abstract here.) But if you’ve been following this blog, then you know that I’ve been having my problems with Amazon. It took three months before they gave the paperback edition of Beaver Street a buy box, meaning that it was impossible to order the book directly through Amazon. Though the company attributed the absence of a buy box to a variety of ongoing bureaucratic and computer problems, and told me that they’d never ban a book due to its content, most journalists and readers I spoke to about the book’s unavailability perceived the matter as a case of Amazon banning Beaver Street because of its explicit sexual and volatile political content.

It was only after I told Amazon’s PR department that the New York launch event, Bloomsday on Beaver Street, was turning into a public protest against the banning of Beaver Street that a buy box appeared on the Beaver Street page. But that wasn’t the end of it—the book still remained unavailable close to 100% of the time. Amazon would order one copy of Beaver Street. It would sell within a couple of hours. And it would again be out of stock for the next 9-11 days. This was the situation as Bloomsday on Beaver Street rolled around.

The Bloomsday MC Supreme, Byron Nilsson, is, among many things, a professional journalist, and he intimated on his blog, on March 28, the day the book was published, that there appeared to be something unusual happening with Beaver Street on Amazon. At the Bloomsday event, which was, indeed, a celebration of literature that some had branded as “smut” and “filth” (like James Joyce’s Ulysses and Beaver Street), Nilsson spoke eloquently about my Amazon problem, and described what was happening as “passive-aggressive book banning.”

So, where does this issue stand now, ten days after the event? Yesterday, Amazon appeared to have more than one copy of Beaver Street in stock. As of this morning, there’s one left. Will it ever end?
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