A worrying tale of Amazon's power

Mark Lynas's book on environmentalism appears to have been withdrawn from sale. Why?

Please see update below main post . . .

If the mess over the "Murdoch empire" has shown us one thing, it's that near-monopolies are problematic. Here's another one: Amazon.

The environmentalist, author and NS contributor Mark Lynas has spent the past few years writing and researching his new book, The God Species: How the Planet Can Survive the Age of Humans.

But look at the book's Amazon page -- on its opening weekend, when reviews are published, advertising is bought and a sizeable proportion of sales are made -- and the book is mysteriously listed as being "under review".

This product is not currently offered by Amazon.co.uk because a customer recently told us that the item he or she received was not as described.We are working to resolve this as quickly as possible. In the meantime, you may still find this product available from other sellers on this page.

It's hard to see how a book can be "not as described", unless Fourth Estate mistakenly had it printed on loo roll or in hieroglyphics. (Martin Robbins at the Guardian has a copy of the book and says he can see no technical problems with it.)

Peter Forbes, who was due to review the book for the Guardian, believes that the message is the result of someone invoking Amazon's complaints procedure because they disagree with its message.

If so, it's a worrying development, particularly given Amazon's incredible dominance of the book trade. There are several other subjects -- the Middle East, evolution, abortion -- which attract similarly strong feelings as climate change and it's uncomfortable to think that partisan players can, in effect, sabotage the release of books with which they disagree.

Lynas has written a blog on the subject, which lists alternative (and much smaller) outlets that are still carrying The God Species. He writes: "That the book should be withdrawn completely from sale just a day after its launch is a disaster for me . . . That this could be the work of interested parties who find the message of the God Species too threatening is even more troubling. In a free society, surely open debate about all issues is paramount and one of our most deeply held values."

He quotes an email received by a customer trying to buy the book. In it, Amazon states: "Please be informed that an item will be under review or investigation if series of reports from customers show that the item purchased was not as describe or has incorrect product details/description." As he notes, an automatic response with several typos doesn't fill you with confidence that Amazon is taking this seriously.

Update, Sunday 10 July: Mark Lynas has just posted on his blog that a "high-level source" at Amazon tells him that the book was withdrawn because it was a trade paperback and was advertised as a hardback. This hasn't been confirmed but he says he no longer suspects activists were involved.

He adds:

However, it is clearly the case that had I not been able to draw attention to the situation with the help of so many other people on Twitter and elsewhere, the matter would not have received much attention from Amazon -- possibly for several days -- and the book's chances would have been quite effectively scotched during the most vital launch period.

This does perhaps illustrate the dangers of market concentration when a single online bookseller now controls 70% of the UK market, and soon to be more if Amazon's takeover of the Book Depository is waved through by the British competition authorities. It certainly seems unfair that a book can be sunk through so easily and with so little justification because Amazon.co.uk is so dominant in the market and so slow to respond to complaints. I would hope that it could learn from this saga and tighten up its processes so other books do not suffer a similar fate immediately after they are launched. It seems very clear that if the Twitter campaign had not snowballed so quickly, the situation would still be unresolved now.

Helen Lewis is deputy editor of the New Statesman. She has presented BBC Radio 4’s Week in Westminster and is a regular panellist on BBC1’s Sunday Politics.

Steve Garry
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The footie is back. Three weeks in and what have we learned so far?

Barcleys, boots and big names... the Prem is back.

Another season, another reason for making whoopee cushions and giving them to Spurs fans to cheer them up during the long winter afternoons ahead. What have we learned so far?

Big names are vital. Just ask the manager of the Man United shop. The arrival of Schneiderlin and Schweinsteiger has done wonders for the sale of repro tops and they’ve run out of letters. Benedict Cumberbatch, please join Carlisle United. They’re desperate for some extra income.

Beards are still in. The whole Prem is bristling with them, the skinniest, weediest player convinced he’s Andrea Pirlo. Even my young friend and neighbour Ed Miliband has grown a beard, according to his holiday snaps. Sign him.

Boots Not always had my best specs on, but here and abroad I detect a new form of bootee creeping in – slightly higher on the ankle, not heavy-plated as in the old days but very light, probably made from the bums of newborn babies.

Barclays Still driving me mad. Now it’s screaming from the perimeter boards that it’s “Championing the true Spirit of the Game”. What the hell does that mean? Thank God this is its last season as proud sponsor of the Prem.

Pitches Some groundsmen have clearly been on the weeds. How else can you explain the Stoke pitch suddenly having concentric circles, while Southampton and Portsmouth have acquired tartan stripes? Go easy on the mowers, chaps. Footballers find it hard enough to pass in straight lines.

Strips Have you seen the Everton third kit top? Like a cheap market-stall T-shirt, but the colour, my dears, the colour is gorgeous – it’s Thames green. Yes, the very same we painted our front door back in the Seventies. The whole street copied, then le toot middle classes everywhere.

Scott Spedding Which international team do you think he plays for? I switched on the telly to find it was rugby, heard his name and thought, goodo, must be Scotland, come on, Scotland. Turned out to be the England-France game. Hmm, must be a member of that famous Cumbrian family, the Speddings from Mirehouse, where Tennyson imagined King Arthur’s Excalibur coming out the lake. Blow me, Scott Spedding turns out to be a Frenchman. Though he only acquired French citizenship last year, having been born and bred in South Africa. What’s in a name, eh?

Footballers are just so last season. Wayne Rooney and Harry Kane can’t score. The really good ones won’t come here – all we get is the crocks, the elderly, the bench-warmers, yet still we look to them to be our saviour. Oh my God, let’s hope we sign Falcao, he’s a genius, will make all the difference, so prayed all the Man United fans. Hold on: Chelsea fans. I’ve forgotten now where he went. They seek him here, they seek him there, is he alive or on the stairs, who feckin’ cares?

John Stones of Everton – brilliant season so far, now he is a genius, the solution to all of Chelsea’s problems, the heir to John Terry, captain of England for decades. Once he gets out of short trousers and learns to tie his own laces . . .

Managers are the real interest. So refreshing to have three young British managers in the Prem – Alex Neil at Norwich (34), Eddie Howe at Bournemouth (37) and that old hand at Swansea, Garry Monk, (36). Young Master Howe looks like a ball boy. Or a tea boy.

Mourinho is, of course, the main attraction. He has given us the best start to any of his seasons on this planet. Can you ever take your eyes off him? That handsome hooded look, that sarcastic sneer, the imperious hand in the air – and in his hair – all those languages, he’s so clearly brilliant, and yet, like many clever people, often lacking in common sense. How could he come down so heavily on Eva Carneiro, his Chelsea doctor? Just because you’re losing? Yes, José has been the best fun so far – plus Chelsea’s poor start. God, please don’t let him fall out with Abramovich. José, we need you.

Hunter Davies is a journalist, broadcaster and profilic author perhaps best known for writing about the Beatles. He is an ardent Tottenham fan and writes a regular column on football for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 27 August 2015 issue of the New Statesman, Isis and the new barbarism