top of page
  • Writer's pictureChristopher G. Moore

Amazon: Brave New World of Surveillance and Serfdom

When oppression carries a small price tag most of the time you learn to pay up and move on. Once in a blue moon you feel moving on is a mistake. You decide to fight back against the oppressor. In this case Amazon. All that separates Amazon from China (so far) is Amazon can’t send a black van with a security detail to drag you out of your house and put you in a detention centre until you confess your crime, profess your loyalty to the regime and agree to not cause any more problems. You are invited into a zero sum game that you can’t win.

There are reasons why Elizabeth Warren and others have called for the break up Amazon, Facebook and Google are gaining traction and a band of followers. They are too big. Too powerful. They are bullies extracting money from you. That is their business model. Extraction of your wealth. They have departments working on opening new and productive mines.

When I trained as a lawyer, anti-trust laws constrained the worst of these predators knocking them down in size. Whether you now call them oligarchs, rentiers, cartels, autocratic power, it doesn’t matter—as name calling doesn’t quite reach behind the opaque corporate veil where marching orders are issued and the rest of us are forced to comply or risk our livelihood.

Amazon shares with the Chinese State Social Credit Ranking system is their impressive, massive surveillance systems to monitor and control those under their authority. If you’re an author on Amazon, then your books are subject to surveillance by Amazon 24 hours a day. Amazon goes one step further into the oppressive, surveillance state, they demand that you comb the Internet for pirates or anyone else who has found a way to offer your book for free or $1 and demand they remove your title. If you don’t, and you refuse to lower your price to match the pirate’s, your book is delisted after five days.

Amazon demands you work for them for free or they delist your book. Amazon has given new meaning to the concept of the road to serfdom. Like all good rentiers, Amazon has the power to force you to work for them. Don’t like their offer? Then your book is kicked off their website. In common with the Chinese Social Credit Ranking system, Amazon punishes you. Only in this case, you are responsible for the actions of others over whom you have absolutely no control. Try sending a takedown order to a pirate website. Good luck on that. Not even the Chinese have gone quite this far in repressive measures.


Here’s my story. I received an email on 9 March 2019 from Amazon. It is one of those mindless, drone-like robot letters that would never pass the Turing Test:

“During a review, we noticed the physical or digital list price for the book(s) listed below is higher than the list price of the same book listed on Amazon or another website.

A Bewitching Smile (Land of Smiles Trilogy Book 2) (ID: B002VECT98) is listed on at $ 3.95 and at $ 2.99 on GooglePlay-US

Please adjust the list price within the next 5 business days to comply with our pricing policy. You’ll need to set your Digital Book’s List Price (and change it from time-to-time if necessary) so that it is no higher than the list price in any sales channel for any digital or physical edition of the Digital Book.”

It seems their robot is innumerate. Rather than another site having a ‘higher’ price than Amazon (they love that) but presumably meant Google was offering a ‘lower’ price than the one for A Bewitching Smile on Amazon. Higher, lower, who knows with Amazon what nonsense their robot will come up with next.

One other minor point, II had an IT person check on Google-Play-US and it turns out they aren’t selling A Bewitching Smile. I never uploaded to Google-Play-US and certainly haven’t received any payments or had any contact from Google-Pay. That doesn’t small matter of any contractual or other relationship with the ‘vendor’ in the Amazon worlds.

I was in no mood to be polite to the robot and replied:

I did not set the Google price.

I get no money from them.

I have no idea why they are selling A Bewitching Smile. Another corporate predator in the style of Amazon.

Your policy is fucking crazy.

What if google set the price at 1 cent for a book does that mean amazon removes my book unless I reset it at 1 cent on google?

Today 11th March Amazon replied

“Thank you for your response.

You can view where your book is available here:

Please note that, as the rights holder for your book, you are responsible for the distribution of your book and for ensuring that it meets the requirements of our Terms and Conditions.  If you’ve found your work available for sale on an unauthorized website, we suggest contacting that website to confirm your rights and request removal of the content.”

Never mind I wrote Amazon that their policy was fucking crazy, they thanked me for my response. This is the kind of response that converts a crime writers into a mouth frothing Jihad Luddite. A literary mob with axes descending on one. Of Jeff Bezos’s mansion and turning it into firework display.

I could reply that I live in a country where what Amazon is asking me to do is illegal. Work. Work without a work permit. I’m quite confident that under Thai law requesting a foreigner to work (for free it doesn’t matter) without checking to see if they are allowed to work is a criminal violation. Amazon spends no time or money on those issues as they would likely say under their Terms and Conditions you are required to get a work permit to do Amazon’s bidding. And if you can’t get one, get the fuck off their site. And Americans complain about Chinese government oppression.

Of course, I suspect the Amazon oppression falls hardest on the low volume selling author. All of those millions of authors on Amazon is impressive until you dig a little deeper and find most of them make next to nothing. Their books are worth pirating. Even for free, there is no market for most of them. Then at the very top are authors who make in a week what I make in 10 years in the Amazon gulag.

I decided on a little test. I’ve met Lee Child. He’s a wonderful, empathic person and has helped many writers in the crime community. In fact, I’ve met few writers with a bigger heart and an open door for others. So this rant isn’t a shot at him. It’s a shot at the Amazon system. Lee is like the Warren Buffet of crime fiction. James Patterson, I don’t know, makes millions a years from novels, mostly written by others, but published under his name in big letters. So do either writers like Lee Child and James Patterson or their publishers receive such letters from Amazon?

I was curious as to what would return from a Google Search of Free downloads books Lee Child, author of the highly popular and commercial Jack Reacher series. 161 million returns on the search. Lee Child or his publisher would have to employ an army of researchers and lawyers to send takedown notices of the countless thousands of pirate sites selling his books. I suspect there is no such takedown army. Going after book pirates is like the whack a mole game. They always pop up under a new IP and are back in business.

Amazon’s policy is to let the pirates set the price. And you are powerless as an author, unless you are Lee Childs or James Patterson, to do anything other than bow to the robot letter dispatched by Amazon. Like a good serf, I will drop the price of A Bewitching Smile from $3.99 to $2.99 knowing that in a short period, another email will be delivered to me and Amazon will once again want me to match a pirate.

Power corrupts corporations and governments. When market power corrupts, the poison spreads through an economic system. It becomes the norm. The way business is conducted. The domesticated population goes along to get along. Amazon is a monster born of a neo-liberal system that has grossly and narrowly benefited a few and consolidated political power as well as economic power into their hands. If you are a writer, you are part of the Amazon gulag, and you receive letters instructing you as to your duty to further their interest. After all what is in the interest of Amazon is totally aligned with your interest as a writer. You. Will Obey. Big Brother is watching.

Perhaps there is a law firm in the USA that might explore a Class action against Amazon for this predatory behavior. If so, please add my name to the list of claimants. I don’t want money, I want Amazon to have less power over the lives of writers. You have a choice where to buy books.

Don’t support a predator like Amazon. If Amazon were a sovereign state, there would be UN sanctions against their leaders and vilified for their roguish, threatening behavior. Use KOBO or SMASHWORDS for your ebooks or paperback books.

13 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All


bottom of page