Yesterday on Page 9 of the New York Times Book Review there appeared a full-page ad for a new book whose title or author is likely unfamiliar to you, Dark Monk, by Oliver Potzsch, the second in a series by the author published by Houghton Mifflin. Full-page ads in this publication, which reportedly cost north of $100,000, are not all that unusual.
But what is rare about this ad, which depicts a gothic image of monks in an old cathedral or abbey, with very little text to accompany it, is that nowhere in the ad does the name of the publisher appear. The author's name is there, with a smaller image of the book cover, the title, and a bold pitch line to readers, in red ink: IT WOULD BE A SIN TO MISS IT. Publishers always attach their brand to this sort of ad, but in this one the publisher's name is absent. Why is that?
It may be that Houghton Mifflin doesn't want its name to appear. Or it could be that the publisher of this book isn't really Houghton Mifflin. Most readers don't know that this book, and others like it, are being published through an arrangement with Amazon, the monopolist online retail giant that continues to spread its tentacles throughout the book industry (and upon government, as the company has successfully refused to pay sales tax for years and recently convinced a witless Department of Justice to file suit against six major publishers on its behalf -- but those are other stories).
The name Amazon is very hard to find on these books. It does not appear on the spine or cover. There is no Amazon logo anywhere. If you look carefully, you'll see the word Amazon in very small print on the title page, as that's required by the Library of Congress, a branch of government that apparently continues to function properly.
One must suppose that Amazon is keeping its name out of the ad and off the cover of the books it is publishing for one of two reasons. Either part of the deal with Houghton Mifflin was that it would not allow Amazon to put its name on the book, or Amazon is just being stealthily quiet about this particular aspect of the heist it is pulling on American culture and commerce.
In any event, something shameful is going on here. That much is obvious.