Help us solve a curiously stubborn problem for The Matter with Things
A call for help from publishing professionals familiar with Amazon
Dear Fans of Iain McGilchrist's books and ideas,
I am writing as the editor-in-chief of Perspectiva Press with an unusual request for your assistance in overcoming a curiously stubborn problem. We are looking for people with significant professional experience in publishing, expertise in dealing with Amazon.com, or ideally someone working in a senior capacity inside Amazon.com who specialises in book sales. If you are such a person or know how to reach someone who is, please read on.
Our problem is that the paperback edition of The Matter with Things: Our Brains, our Delusions, and the Unmaking of the World is effectively unavailable to US-based readers who look for it on Amazon. Amazon is the main gateway for American readers, and you can see that the book’s listing page on the site is missing the paperback, despite offering the hardback and the Kindle edition. (If you look at Amazon.co.uk, in contrast, you'll see that all three versions of the book are available.) The two-volume paperback is lighter than the two-volume hardback but still heavy, so ordering it in the US from the UK entails significant shipping costs, and therefore prohibitive to most potential buyers.
Some more background on the issue:
The paperback was published on March 1, 2023 and took longer than usual to appear on Amazon.com. Initially, it displayed strangely, with distorted text and imagery, missing reviews, and no recognition that Perspectiva Press is the publisher of the book. Then in late June, for no obvious reason, the paperback disappeared entirely from Amazon.com, though it remains available to purchase in North America at a handful of places for those who know how to look. (The book is printed in the UK and stored and distributed from the UK, but many US vendors buy it in bulk to sell to the US market.)
This problem may appear to be a small glitch, but the US is the largest market by far for sales of books of this kind, the paperback represents the longevity of the book's influence because it is relatively affordable, and a large proportion of sales come directly from Amazon.com or its intermediaries. While it is hard to measure precisely, this issue is therefore likely to be having a very negative effect on sales of Iain's book and is preventing his ideas from reaching a larger audience in North America. We are keen to solve this problem as soon as possible, ideally before the Christmas sales bump, and certainly before Iain has a book tour in the near future in North America.
Naturally, we would normally hope to solve a problem like this ourselves. We are only writing now because we have been trying as a team to solve it for several months. The 'back office' or infrastructure of the publishing world is labyrinthine and confounding at the best of times, and this difficulty is compounded by Amazon's behemothic influence and Perspectiva Press being a relatively new and relatively small publisher. We have published seven books so far and have not encountered this problem with any other edition of our other books.
We have thoroughly checked that the information (metadata) we provided is accurate and we are confident that the problem lies within Amazon. We have now tried everything we can think of, including several attempts to contact customer and seller support on Amazon, asking our distributors and metadata providers to use their influence and contacts, recruiting consultants who specialise in working with Amazon, and various lateral approaches. The challenge is that even when you reach a human being inside Amazon they are so bound by protocol, process, and algorithm that it can feel like you are still dealing with a machine. Several times we have been referred to other parts of Amazon who say they can't help us, and send us somewhere else within Amazon, who send us back, and so on. For those who know Iain's work, there is some painful irony here because this kind of 'hall of mirrors' experience is part of 'the unmaking of the world'.
After several months of trying, this call for help is the last resort before we have to pursue avenues that are potentially harmful to the paperback, like removing it from sale and reissuing it with a new ISBN. We would much prefer not to have to do that, but we do need a new way forward and we are out of ideas.
Is there anybody out there who can help us with this problem?
If so, please get in touch, by writing to us at: email@example.com
If we don't have any promising leads in the next two weeks we will begin alternative approaches.
P.S. Perspectiva is aware that there is a wider discussion to be had about publishers being complicit in Amazon's perhaps unreasonably large influence on book sales and therefore on culture at large. We are considering what we might be able to do about that. For now, however, our priority and primary responsibility is to our author, Iain, and to the importance of the book's ideas, which we have been promoting in various ways, including our series on Attention as a Moral Act — we plan to resume these conversations in the near future, ideally after this technical problem is fixed.