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Self-Publishing Platforms Are Distributors Not Publishers 


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Read the full article that the The National Law Review

The self-publishing vendors (i.e., Amazon’s Kindle Digital Publishing, Barnes & Noble Nook Press and Smashwords) sought summary judgment asserting that they were not publishers of the book but merely allowed the author to use their systems to distribute it, and that were protected from any liability for third-party content by CDA Section 230.  In opposing dismissal, the plaintiffs argued that the vendors worked in concert with the author to provide a platform for publishing books the same way a traditional publishing house does. 

Siding with the defendants, the court dismissed the claims against the self-publishing vendors, finding that their services are not “publishing,” as that word is known in the book industry. The court pointed to the terms of service that the author agreed to when registering for defendants’ services.  For example, the terms of the Kindle agreement contained representations that the uploader owned all rights to the material and that no rights were being violated.  In the Nook agreement, the author represented and warranted to Barnes & Noble that he held “the necessary rights, including all intellectual property rights, in and to the [book] and related content” and that the book could be “sold, marketed, displayed, distributed and promoted [by Barnes & Noble] without violating or infringing the rights of any other person or entity, including, without limitation, infringing any copyright, patent, trademark or right of privacy….”   Moreover, the Smashwords agreement stressed that: “Smashwords does not… undertake[] any editorial review of the books that authors and publishers publish using its service.” 

It is interesting to read the summary of the court ruling.  While Amazon and the other companies provide a service, and have actually given Black folks more of an opportunity for our voices to be heard, they should not be confused with publishing.  You see unlike publishers that take on both financial and legal risk these self publishing platforms do neither.  They get paid not matter what and assume no legal risk.  Indeed they provide little more of a publishing service that my Canon printer.


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This kind of relates to a sneaker convo we are having about Amazon and how and why we need to get away... but won't. Amazon's Createspace is indeed a distributor. The person who owns the ISBN is the publisher because without that ISBN there isn't an ability to distribute the work and if there isn't any distribution there isn't any money. Amazon is not a publisher, but the person who decides to place the book into print is. I read this and I realized that it was rather redundant, but it does clarify the position of those who self publish and say that Amazon is their publisher. When I published The History of the Black Solider and Really, Come On America and a number of other books I was a publisher using either Lightning Source, Lulu or Amazon to print the books. I did not use Amazon's "Free" ISBN. I used my ISBNs that were paid for through RR Bowker. This meant that I was the Publisher. I built the webpage for the books, added author's info, and then promoted the books in whatever way I saw fit. This gave me the rights to extend contracts to my writers. The contract relationship with Amazon and other distribution platforms gives them no rights to the content only to the production.

At the end of the day, this is not really that big of a deal. Whether you are published by a large publishing house or a small one, without the right connections and without doing some form of advertisement your product will be overlooked it doesn't matter the price or content. It today's atmosphere all writers will have the responsibility of doing marketing for their work and being accessible to the reader.

Oh, the reason I brought up sneakers is because Amazon takes 15% and a monthly fee no matter what is sold. That 15% is brutal, but you have to be where the people are buying because the people no longer look for the best deal even if they know where to find you.

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