The Register, Slashdot, and others have been posting the story of Katie.com, a personal website that’s existed since 1996 but whose name was hijacked for a book about an online victim of a sexual predator, published in 2000 by Penguin Putnam.
The author has been getting harassed now, and that’s misguided. Here’s why.The short answer is that authors often don’t have any control over the titles of their books. They can make suggestions, but ultimately, the book title is usually up to the publisher.
That’s my experience as an author. My book was titled Optimizing Windows for Games, Graphics, and Multimedia. It didn’t exactly roll off the tongue, contained an oft-misunderstood technical term (“Optimizing”) and a dated buzzword (“Multimedia”), and, well, don’t get me started. I lobbied against it. I wrote in with a dozen alternatives, at least. None were picked.
I didn’t make a huge deal about it. I was more concerned about getting published.
Maybe the author, Katie Tarbox, approved of the name. Maybe she didn’t. Ultimately, it was the publisher’s decision and the publisher who is accountable. By some accounts, she seems to approve now of the publisher’s actions, but to think she has the ability to control her publisher is foolhardy. And to think she’s going to contradict her publisher is equally foolhardy. Getting into print is hard. Staying in print is just as hard, if not harder.
The Slashdot crowd has written numerous negative reviews on Amazon.com, and today Slashdot seems dismayed that the negative reviews and ratings are gone. Why? Amazon is not a public forum for your personal agenda. Amazon has had problems in the past with authors sending their shills to post glowing reviews of their books and/or malign their competitors’ books, and has tried to eliminate some of that. If you want to exercise your right to free speech online, exercise it on your own web site.
Don’t get me wrong. The groundswell of support is good. A book publisher should not have the right to steal someone else’s pre-existing web domain, whether it’s a registered trademark or not. I’m not one of those people who believe that big corporations can do no wrong. They’re just like Big Labor and Big Government: They’ll all do as much wrong as they think they can get away with, as long as that wrong is somehow profitable.
Penguin Putnam had intended to call the book girl.com but realized that name was taken and probably owned by someone who would put up more of a fight. Besides, at the time it was a porn site.
Corporate bullying? It looks like it.
So complain to Penguin Putnam. Tell them you’re not going to buy their books until they quit victimizing innocent bystanders online. Tell them you’re going to ask your local bookseller not to stock Penguin Putnam books for the same reason. If you own any Penguin Putnam books, consider dumping them on the used market, cheap, to take away a potential new book sale from the company. One way is to list them on half.com and see if you find any takers. You can let Penguin Putnam know you’re doing this as well. (Don’t burn the books–that doesn’t hurt the publisher any, but the used channel potentially does.)
For that matter, tell ’em it’s a stupid and misleading name anyway, because 13-year-old girls generally don’t use names like katie.com in chatrooms.
The key is to not make this about the book. Make it about the publisher. Books come and go, and publishers know this. Negative balance sheets and corporate image last much longer.
That type of protest has a small but real chance of making a difference. Online harrassment via Amazon.com does not.