NOTE: There are numerous updates at the bottom of this article, including responses from Amazon – the latest update being from March 31 as this story continues to develop.
The short version is that Amazon has apologized for incorrect enforcement around TOCs and Quality Notices and stated you may now have a rear TOC without fear of removal. Amazon also said it is taking the scamming problem seriously. I have doubts about that, but you can make your own mind up…
Amazon is an extremely innovative company – and usually quite responsive to self-publisher’s concerns – but sometimes it gets things very wrong too.
Today is one of those times.
I’ve received several reports from writers threatened with having books removed from sale, and heard even more worrying stories from others who had their titles actually removed from the Kindle Store without notice.
What were these authors guilty of? What crime did they commit for Amazon to adopt such heavy handed treatment? Something completely innocuous: the Table of Contents was at the rear of their books instead of at the front.
Yep, that’s it.
We’ll get to what might be the root cause of this crackdown in a moment, but Amazon is claiming that having a TOC in the end-matter instead of the front-matter is a breach of the (ever-changing, 100+ pages) Kindle Publishing Guidelines (PDF). Amazon says that rear TOCs result in a poor reader experience, and it has very suddenly decided to clamp down heavily on this practice, without notifying the community-at-large, even though moving extraneous front-matter to the end of the text has been fairly standard practice for years.
Some individual authors are receiving Quality Notices warning them that their title will be removed from sale unless the TOC is moved to the front. Normally these notices – which appear to be generated by bots – give us just five days to comply. Other writers are having their buy buttons removed without receiving these notices.
To give you an idea of how disruptive this can be, read the story of author Walter Jon Williams – who had his Nebula-nominated SF novel Metropolitan removed from sale during a BookBub promotion. Can you imagine?
His buy button was eventually restored a few days later, but Amazon wasn’t finished. After he moved his TOC to the front of the book and uploaded the new version, Amazon then sent an email to all previous purchasers of the book saying that the author had now corrected serious formatting and editorial issues. Walter Jon Williams said that there were no such issues with this book – which has been on sale in one form or another since 2005 when it was originally published by HarperCollins – and the sole change he made was to move the TOC, as requested.
Needless to say, he’s not too happy at this message going out to his readers. (I should say that the author has been remarkably restrained considering the circumstances, I would be hulk-smashing in all directions.)
Note: I don’t know Walter Jon Williams but I’m sure he won’t mind if you would like to show your support by grabbing Metropolitan at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Apple or Kobo.
Metropolitan is currently #10,436 in the Kindle Store. But, after a BookBub promo, his book should be much higher in the charts than that. Because of the way parts of the Amazon recommendation engine work (such as what is colloquially known as the Popularity List), being off sale for those several days could continue to depress his Sales Rank and his general Kindle Store visibility for some time to come. Continue reading