EXTRA ETHER: Tim Ferriss’ 4-Hour Banning

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Tim Ferriss’ 4-Hour Banning

A BitTorrent blog post proudly proclaims: “It’s poised to be the most banned book in U.S. history. The 4-Hour Chef is one of the first titles underneath Amazon’s new publishing imprint; boycotted by U.S. booksellers, including Barnes & Noble.”

Laura Hazard Owen

Laura Hazard Owen says that a real book banning is more than a 4-Hour affair.

In Hey, Tim Ferriss: Book banning isn’t a marketing gimmick at GigaOM’s paidContent, she writes:

So is Barnes & Noble banning The Four-Hour Chef because of its controversial content? Not so much. Ferriss’ book is simply one of several that Barnes & Noble will not stock in its stores because it is published by Amazon.

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Timothy Ferriss

But Ferriss is talking right back to her:

I view things through a different lens. I think the implications of this boycott or ban — choose the word you prefer — are larger than people realize.

What we’re looking at is an interesting question. Yes, this corporate combat is playing out on the scarred battlefield of the digital dynamic: Barnes and Noble, like most booksellers, is struggling for its footing as Amazon’s digital supremacy and customer-service battering ram punch bigger and bigger holes in the fortress walls of old publishing.


But even if we all stood atop a clover-covered hill of peace at the moment, gazing down on a more cordial, pastoral colloquy between Owen and Ferriss, the issue would resonate with worthwhile urgency in our business-dominated era.

  • agent, author, books, digital, ebooks, Jane Friedman, Porter Anderson, publisher, publishing, Writing on the Ether, Tools of Change, O'Reilly Media, author platform, blog, blogging, journalism, Authors Launch, TOC Authors, Author (R)evolution Day, Publishing Perspectives, Ether for Authors, Ed Nawotka, FutureBook, Laura Hazard Owen, Tim Ferriss, Ingrid Lunden, TechCrunch, paidContent, GigaOM, The 4-Hour Chef, The 4-Hour Body, The 4-Hour Workweek, Amazon, Barnes and NobleWhat, actually, constitutes a “book banning?”
  • If a bookstore refuses to sell on the grounds of a business dispute, as is the case here, is a “ban” in place?
  • Indeed, what is being “banned” here is not Ferriss, not “Timothy,” as he’s known on his book covers, nor his writings or sometimes controversial lifestyle recommendations, nor his eagerly photographed 4-Hour Body, nor his assertion that one can be successful with a mere 4-Hour Workweek.

That’s the problem. There is no Girolamo Savonarola in the room. The Friar of 15th-century Florence might have burned Ferriss at a 4-Hour Stake at the first baring of those pecs and external obliques. But this “banning” is not ideological.

And Owen is questioning the use of the term by the wunderkind bestseller.

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This is the ad image BitTorrent is using to promote its “4-Hour Project” bundling deal with Tim Ferriss on Tuesday, launch day for The 4-Hour Chef.

If anybody can rally BitTorrent’s 160-million-strong “people-powered network,” it’s the articulate Ferriss. At 35, he’s a guy’s guy whose eloquence doesn’t always jibe with his game-the-system shtick.


He writes to Owen, in answer to her article (she has included his response), first with a vision of more trouble in Digital City:

If this book fails due to a retail stonewall, I can tell you for a fact that more than a dozen A-list authors I know will hit pause on plans for publishing innovation for the next few years.

Next he follows with respect for our icons mentioned by Owen in her piece:

Is The 4-Hour Chef the same as Huckleberry Finn?  Of course not, and I never implied that it was.

Then he declines to stand down:

But do I view stifling innovation and free speech (through distribution or otherwise) as a malevolent thing? Yes. Regardless of the motive (moral, economic, etc.), the outcome is the same: regress instead of progress. And regress snowballs quickly. At the end of the day, I want people to think about boycotting and banning, both historically and moving forward. The fact that you (Owen) wrote a piece about precisely that — raising awareness and stimulating conversation — is a great thing.That public discourse is one of my goals.

agent, author, books, digital, ebooks, Jane Friedman, Porter Anderson, publisher, publishing, Writing on the Ether, Tools of Change, O'Reilly Media, author platform, blog, blogging, journalism, Authors Launch, TOC Authors, Author (R)evolution Day, Publishing Perspectives, Ether for Authors, Ed Nawotka, FutureBook, Laura Hazard Owen, Tim Ferriss, Ingrid Lunden, TechCrunch, paidContent, GigaOM, The 4-Hour Chef, The 4-Hour Body, The 4-Hour Workweek, Amazon, Barnes and NobleTold you he’s good. I like this debate and I like Ferriss’ ready wit as much as I like Owen’s robust concern.

It’s good, really, to find a self-marketer of his magnitude waiting when someone as adroit as Owen comes looking for him.

She’s way too smart to leave home without her own rationale. Here’s her quick recitation of what normally rises (or falls) to the level of recognized “banning”:

Huckleberry Finn, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, To Kill a Mockingbird: Those are among the titles that schools and libraries have most commonly banned over the years. An Illinois school district banned a book this year because it included a reference to gay families. And Bibles and Korans are still burned by religious groups around the world.

Not a lot of folks would run at a phalanx of unassailable examples like that. But Ferriss does.


And Owen isn’t toying with her target here. She has perfect pitch for what sounds to her like a sales-gimmicky misappropriation of the term “banned.”

At the same time, you don’t have to agree with Ferriss to realize that for a guy launching a book on Tuesday subtitled “The Simple Path to Cooking Like a Pro, Learning Anything, and Living the Good Life,” this huckster brings a sweet intelligence to his own defense.

They’re a good match, these two, and we can thank them for the chance to think this out.

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Let’s look at how the Owen-Ferriss standoff developed Friday (the 16th of November), four days prior to the launch of Ferriss’ bookstore-“banned” book.

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Ingrid Lunden

In her coverage of the promotion at TechCrunch, Ingrid Lunden (a former paidContent colleague of Owen’s) wrote:

Necessity, they say, is the mother of invention, and a stalemate between Amazon and big retailers, including Barnes & Noble, over the sale of books from the online giant’s publishing imprint is giving a fillip to BitTorrent — once a hotbed of piracy, and now a straight-laced and legal content distribution network — as a platform for marketing books.

Lunden’s write-up, With Amazon Publishing Stonewalled By Retailers, Tim Ferriss Taps BitTorrent To Market His New Book, not only reminds us all that BitTorrent is no longer a pirate ship, but also that it characterizes its user-to-user network as comprising “more users than Hulu, Netflix and Spotify combined.”

If that doesn’t have you sitting up yet, try it this way: Lunden reports that BitTorrent claims to drive “between 20% and 40% of all Internet traffic.” Ferriss doesn’t play for pennies.


And BitTorrent, she points out:

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This time instead of music, it’s Bundling Ferriss. Lunden writes:

According to a BitTorrent blog post announcing the news, to coincide with the book being launched on November 20, BitTorrent users, “will get exclusive access to media from Tim: content from the book, as well as unpublished material. We’ll be distributing the writer’s process: the photos, drafts, videos and recipes that shaped Tim’s journey. And we’ll be asking users to support Tim and the Amazon imprint.”


In an important clarification for the many Amazon-bashers of our realm, Lunden writes:

A BitTorrent spokesperson says that this deal is directly with Ferriss himself, not Amazon, so it’s not clear whether there will be more Amazon books coming through this particular marketing channel.

So, no, this isn’t Seattle’s work. Nevertheless, if we go back one quote, we can hear that call-of-the-charities language that has triggered Owen’s alarm: “Support Tim and the Amazon imprint.”

It has that “come on out” tone we’re going to hear soon from Toys for Tots, right? It’s really another way of saying “buy my book.”

And that’s what has Owen donning her flak jacket.

| | |

In her write at paidContent, she goes back to the original announcement from B&N of its intention to keep books from Amazon’s fledgling New Harvest imprint off its shelves. As she reported in February, in Barnes & Noble: We Will Not Carry Amazon Publishing Titles in Our Stores, the big bookstore chain stated:

“Our decision is based on Amazon’s continued push for exclusivity with publishers, agents and the authors they represent. These exclusives have prohibited us from offering certain ebooks to our customers. Their actions have undermined the industry as a whole and have prevented millions of customers from having access to content.”

What’s more, Owen writes:

Readers can still order Amazon titles from Barnes & Noble’s website and most independent bookstores will order them if readers ask.


To Owen, Ferriss’ BitTorrent “project” is a wrongful use of censorship’s image for the purpose of getting people talking.

Ferriss doesn’t dodge her point. He turns it around and marches it right back to her:

I’d be remiss not to point out: booksellers use banned books as a marketing gimmick every year as a matter of course. Yes, I’m using the media to highlight what I view as a serious fork in the road for content creators.

And that’s a worthy point, too. How does a bookseller — Barnes and Noble or another outfit — account for the fact that refusing to carry certain books in a business protest actually hurts the authors through lost sales? We may not need to cry for Ferriss, who’s more than able to take care of himself. But what of other less successful authors caught in the crossfire of the B&N-Amazon skirmish?


And what of readers? Of customer service? Owen’s right that you can order the Ferriss book online from B&N. But what of consumers who head down to the local store to pick it up? They hear, “Oh, we’re not carrying that book.”

Do staffers on the floor at a B&N tell customers why The 4-Hour Chef is not in the store? If so, how do they characterize it? Do they explain that the author is not the problem? That Ferriss is caught in a fight with another retailer, a contretemps not of his making?


In closing her sally, Owen raises the fearful image of Bebelplatz in Berlin. It’s the site of the May 1933 burning by Hitler’s SS of what is said to have been some 20,000 books, something many of us can’t imagine without thinking of Fahrenheit 451.

Owen cites the text chosen to memorialize the Nazis’ fiery stupidity. It takes its line from Heinrich Heine. As Fra Savonarola could have told them:

“Where books are burned, in the end people will burn.”

And Owen then takes one last look at the Ferriss-BitTorrent effort. She sees no comparison:

The disruptors who do speak out for Ferriss won’t be risking personal harm. They won’t be standing up against free speech. Ferriss approached Amazon for a book deal and in four days, it will be published. That’s not exactly censorship.


Ferriss hasn’t run out of stones to throw, either, however:

If anyone is guilty of using “banned books” as a gimmick, it’s booksellers themselves.

| | |

A quick look at comments on Owen’s post shows what a joyless, even bitter environment surrounds this debate.

“Nothing is more irritating than faux victim-hood,” writes one.

“I would think the best response to a stupid marketing gimmick would be to ignore it,” writes another commenter, publishing blogger Nate Hoffelder. “Any post on this topic is a win by default for Ferriss.”

Owen responds: “It’s not really my job as a journalist to either help or hinder Ferriss’ sales. I’m sure this post could lead to some people buying his book and some people not wanting to (and I doubt it’d change a lot of minds on either side). Regardless, it’s worth writing about because it exposes a major rift in the publishing industry right now, and it’s my job to report on that. So I did.”

Another reader widens still further the term “ban”: “Amazon ‘bans’ books all the time. When publishers don’t agree to their burdensome terms they remove the buy buttons.”

And so now, Ethernaut, we turn to you.

Maybe in a society so fixated on economic issues, a retail move against a given product can be called a banning. Or maybe to call it that is simply trading one sales ploy for another and trampling a more important concept in the process.

What do you think? Can a corporate-competitive move like Barnes and Noble’s refusal to carry Amazon New Harvest print editions be called a form of book banning, as Tim Ferriss asserts? Or is Laura Hazard Owen right that the term’s association with censorship in culture and history is too important for it to be applied to a commercial shakedown?

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Les écrits gazeuses: Ether for Authors

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Porter Anderson (@Porter_Anderson) is a journalist and consultant in publishing. He's The Bookseller's (London) Associate Editor in charge of The FutureBook. He's a featured writer with Thought Catalog (New York), which carries his reports, commentary, and frequent Music for Writers interviews with composers and musicians. And he's a regular contributor of "Provocations in Publishing" with Writer Unboxed. Through his consultancy, Porter Anderson Media, Porter covers, programs, and speaks at publishing conferences and other events in Europe and the US, and works with various players in publishing, such as Library Journal's SELF-e, Frankfurt Book Fair's Business Club, and authors. You can follow his editorial output at Porter Anderson Media, and via this RSS link.
Posted in Writing on the Ether.


  1. Of course a retailer boycott isn’t the same as banning. It’s ridiculous to suggest it is–and I say that as an Amazon Publishing author whose book doesn’t appear to be stocked even at smaller independents. I wish to God my book *was* banned–then people might be interested in it. As it is, it’s simply invisible. What makes this really galling is that I didn’t sign with Amazon–Amazon bought my publisher shortly before my book came out. Basically, I’m collateral damage.

    • Good God, my sympathies for your plight — truly caught in the crossfire, especially when your publisher is an acquisition! Thanks for reading and dropping a line. I suppose the kindest thing I can say is: “May your book be banned at B&N!” Seriously, all the best with a bad situation. There’s a slim hope that enough exposure of the B&N boycott of Amazon printed books via Tim Ferriss’ visibility might help cause a change in this standoff. It’s the sort of thing that’s slow to reach the public until a major figure like our 4-Hour friend gets on it. Having the situation “go wide” with him might make it a little less comfortable for our competitive corporations to continue on their current paths. Time will tell. Thanks again for the input. Change your name to Ferriss at once. :)



    • I agree completely, as another author in the exact situation–one who signed with another publisher and whose contract was purchased by ACP. This boycott hurts authors, but it is not a banning. And yes, banning would at least bring the book to the public eye, which is exactly what Ferris is using the term to do here.

      • Yeah, and to some degree, I’m not sorry to see the visibility of all this raised by Ferriss’ high profile — whether we want to side with him or B&N or Amazon or what, this standoff is the kind of thing I’d rather the public know more about. The readers are stakeholders here, too, and inter-corporate warfare like this between B&N and Amazon can be missed by laypeople busy with their own lives unless something like this brings it to light.

        So this will be interesting to watch play out. And we don’t have to wait long, Ferriss book releases Tuesday.

        Thanks again!


  2. Ferris lost any sympathy I may have had when he trotted out the tired “At the end of the day” cliche. 😉

    Joking aside, I am inclined to agree with Owen that this is not “banning” in the traditional sense of the word. I have to admire Ferriss for his ability to seize opportunities to propel his interests, and like you, I agree with some of what he says. Then too, as the landscape of publishing keeps changing, the definition of “traditional” is more amorphous, and is shifting with evolving industry. But, that said, this is not a banning based on political/religious/moral outrage and won’t garner hate mail from any groups if the book were sold at B&N, or wherever. Plus, nobody is telling anyone not to read the book, as would happen in a real ban. Therefore, to me, it doesn’t constitute a true “banning.”

    I’d had my head in the sand, as usual, and hadn’t seen all the ruckus about this, so thanks, as usual, to you and Jane for bringing important and interesting publishing news to my attention!

    • Hey, @skepticgal:disqus

      Thanks for the great note and for reading us here today! I think your assessment of this probably matches many folks’ — and you notice that in his response to Owen, Ferriss, himself, mentions both “boycott” and “ban”; it may be seen by many as more the former than the latter.

      It’s interesting that many people have such strong feelings about Ferriss. Those who don’t care for him may well miss the point that he isn’t even the target, really, of the move that will keep his book out of so many stores. That’s inter-corporate warfare between two companies.

      It would make a terrirfic test if the Dalai Lama or another vastly popular figure chose to publish with Amazon. Imagine how tricky this retaliatory policy of B&N’s would become then. In fact, whatever folks may think of Ferriss, he does sell big, at least with his last two books, and B&N and other booksellers might have made a good deal of holiday-sales bucks on this book if it WERE in their physical stores.

      So the pain of these hostilities is felt by all involved, even — as I was saying — by readers who might have wanted to drop by B&N and pick up Ferriss’ book as a holiday gift, for example. Wouldn’t you love to know how many such customers will come away thinking that the bookstores don’t like Ferriss — when in fact for many of them the issue is not Ferriss but his publisher, Amazon?

      Strange times. Thanks for sharing them with us here, great to have you, do check us out on the Ether whenever you can and drop a note!


      Porter Anderson

      • Porter, your Dalai Lama scenario would, indeed, be a fascinating test (and I’m sure I’ll read it here (or at your Publishing Perspectives site) first if that happens). :) I’m of the opinion that retaliation and revenge tactics never end well; I just hope not too many innocent people will suffer as a result of pettiness. I’ll stay tuned for your updates!

  3. It’s highly doubtful that Ferriss knows anything about the process of book buyers and how they decide which books to carry in their stores. Not every book from every publisher gets picked up by Barnes & Noble. I worked for an indie publisher whose sales staff worked hard every season to get as many books placed in B&N stores as they could. For new startup publishers, it’s even more difficult, as most of their books don’t get broad national distribution in stores.

    Do any of these decisions constitute banning? Hardly. That people are buying this lame call to stop book banning makes me ill. He already has a national base of customers and bestsellers to his name. If he is really concerned about the affect of banning on literature and literacy, he’d also be championing the cause of small, quiet books that don’t have his brand marketing behind it. All I’ve heard so far, though, is a whole lot of “me.”

    In the end, all his huffing and puffing is a selfish manipulation of people’s feelings regarding the importance of books and literature. There’s obviously nothing illegal about what he’s doing, but I wonder how many would consider this strategy ethical. I certainly don’t.

    • Hello, Michelle Witte

      Great to have your input, thank you for reading the column and taking the time to comment.

      You’re right, of course, that a bookstore has (a) a perfect right not to carry a book and (b) many reasons it makes decisions to carry and not carry. This, however, is a case of a acknowledged and declared refusal by Barnes and Noble (and may independent bookstores) of print books from Amazon. This is a very small number of books. The Amazon Publishing venture (based in New York) has produced only a handful of books so far (it’s quite new). Amazon.com can sell them very well online, of course, and does, both as ebooks and in print. (They are printed for Amazon under the New Harvest imprint by Houghton Mifflin, in a special arrangement.) As Laura Hazard Owen has reported very well in the past, however, B&N has gone to special lengths to announce that it will not carry the print editions of books created by Amazon Publishing in its physical stores. This is a direct and loudly stated policy by Barnes and Noble. (You can read Owen’s report on this here: http://ow.ly/fnSCo )

      So in this case — and, mind you, I’m not saying a word here about Ferriss’ motivations, I’m just giving you the factual reality — in this case, Tim Ferriss is caught, as an author, in a fight not of his own making.

      This is not, to be clear, a case of B&N simply exercising its right to use shelf space for something it likes better (although we don’t know whether its buyers would or wouldn’t like Ferriss’ book). That becomes moot here because. As was the case with actress Penny Marshall’s book earlier this season, this is a business-retaliatory move openly declared as such by B&N.

      The hostility is against Amazon from Barnes and Noble (and other booksellers). They are mad at Amazon because it holds certain ebooks exclusive to its own site and won’t let them be sold by other companies like B&N. So B&N is retaliating. And it just happens that one of the authors caught in the middle of this is Ferriss.

      If for some reason Stephen King today decided to publish his next book with Amazon under the same New Harvest imprint, even he could expect NOT to find that book sold in physical B&N stores and other bookstores — not because of anybody not liking him, King, but because of this standoff with Amazon.

      So however you might feel about Ferriss and this “banning” promotion with BitTorrent, the basic battle he’s fighting is not his. He has lost just about all chance of physical-bookstore sales because B&N and other booksellers hate Amazon.

      What we have to ask ourselves then — and it comes down to a personal decision — is who WE can support in good conscience. B&N? Another bookseller who refuses to sell an author — any author — who publishes with Amazon just because they published with Amazon? Or Amazon? Or an author? Or our own position as readers who are not able to get to certain print editions we might like to buy in our stores.

      As you can see, this becomes a more serious question, and bigger than Tim Ferriss. Yes, on one level, the issue is Ferriss’ promotion, which is one way he’s trying to respond to being shut out of bookstores because of who his publisher is.

      But on a deeper level, this is a case of authors and their readers being limited in what they can easily buy and read — for now, in print — because of inter-corporate warfare.

      It’s a big question and an interesting stage in the unstoppable “digital disruption” of the industry. We will see more, probably equally debatable moments ahead as major portions of the former distribution pattern encounter the overwhelming force (as Colin Powell might have put it) of Amazon.

      In the end, we’ll be dependent on the thoughts and assessments of folks like you to help shape and define what’s happening. So thanks again for weighing in with your views and don’t hesitate to do so often on our Ether columns, you’re always most welcome!

      Bests for the remainder of your weekend,


      • I appreciate your thoughts and agree that it is only part of a much larger issue. However, in this case I see it as a lack of forethought on his and his agent’s part. Like you stated, B&N’s position on this issue is clear and widely known. If the author or agent knew this and still went ahead in publishing with Amazon, it’s not so much being caught in a fight as it is poor decision-making, as their evaluation of the consequences in signing with Amazon was rather poor. To cry foul, then, is disingenuous in the least, and possibly even deceptive, in an effort to gain attention for his book.

        Yes, the overarching issue in this case is the battle between B&N and Amazon. I completely side with B&N and indie bookstores in this case. Full disclosure: I opened a children’s bookstore that could not survive because potential customers balked at paying full price for a book. Of course indie bookstores can’t compete with 40% discounts when that’s often the discount they receive from publishers.

        With the predatory pricing and deep discounts they offer, they are, in essence, devaluing the cost of a book. People complain about paying $15 for a hardcover that they can reread ad nauseum but will happily pay the same amount or even more to watch a movie in the theater a single time. That is what I find most disconcerting about the entire battle: the devaluing of literature in general.

        However, I don’t see the biggest problem as that of two giant retailers fighting. I see it as physical bookstore fighting against a developing monopoly. But in this case, the monopoly controls the market through reducing the cost of finished products, when sometimes that purchase price is lower than the actual cost to produce said item. It won’t be long before Amazon uses their control of the book market to try to force publishers to sell their product below cost. That is not a feasible business model for anyone except Amazon.

        It taps into larger issues of the discount culture in America as well, where people expect good quality products at little cost, and then complain when the cheap but poorly constructed item falls apart soon after purchase. The sad thing is, in my current situation, I can’t afford to purchase quality goods, even at a discount, and so I’m reliant upon these predatory retailers, who are more than happy to drive every other retailer out of business to keep stockholders happy. But every time I am able, I will chose an indie or local business over a corporation every time.

        It is important to discuss these issues, like you said, and I appreciate you hosting this discussion.

        • Hey, @twitter-18925580:disqus

          Very sorry to hear about your experience with the bookstore, Michelle, this is the dark side of so much of the disruption right now — you get a terrible look at why they tell us fairness has nothing to do with business at times like this. I really regret the loss of your store.

          I worry, too, about the overall effects of extreme discounting. As I was writing recently about a column from Jonny Geller in London, I was pleased to see him calling on readers to risk paying for a book again. I’m not sure why we’re supposed to think of books as being the equivalent in value of that cinema ticket, as you say. And I’m heartened to hear self-publishers tell me that the very lowest bands of pricing they were pushing for so long are giving way to a gradual rise (though the common range is still below $5. Even Ferriss’ 4-Hour Chef Kindle price is at $4.99 as I write this, having just launched yesterday. Its digital list price is $22. The hardcover is going for $21, with a list of $35.

          And yes, much of this is tied to the discount culture in the nation, which, of course, involves the digital dynamic in many parts of the economy, hardly just in books.

          Thank YOU for your input and insights and participation, that’s what makes such discussions interesting. New Ether tomorrow (Thursday), do check us out!



  4. Amazon’s casual, retaliatory use of its database to remove buy buttons is in fact the *central* issue here, not a side light. I deeply doubt this Ferriss character, whiz kid though he may be, came up with the “Oh save me I’ve been banned!” squeal all on his lonesome. Amazon can’t say it, that would be TOO hypocritical, so they put him up as a sock puppet. It’s called Blaming the Victim, and it’s the first defense for bullies.

    The same way I doubt the Justice Department just happened across “price fixing” among publishers all by its sweet little self.

    Amazon’s got the hypocrite’s instinct to attack their own faults wherever they see them in anybody else.

    • Well, Laura,

      It’s been wonderful of you to share your high regard for Amazon with us, LOL.

      Seriously, thanks for your comment. Having been a journalist since about the time of the Magna Carta, I tend to hang on to things we can confirm, not doubts and suspicions. And we, of course, have no evidence that Amazon has had a hand in Tim Ferriss’ arrangement with BitTorrent, nor with the Department of Justice lawsuits. And we don’t actually know the details of why buy buttons are removed when it happens, so a very large part of the story on those instances is missing, too.

      All that said, I’m delighted to have you read the column and share your opinions here. My interest in sticking to what we know is in no way a condemnation of your own take on things, nor on your complete right to formulate and share it, and you’ve done that well. Thanks so much for coming by, you’re always welcome!

      • LOL, I’ll give you that there’s no evidence about Ferriss and the DOJ, that’s just my personal paranoid conspiracy theory :P.

        But Porter, are you really maintaining that we don’t “know” why Amazon has removed buy buttons? It’s been reported in numerous places, including the NYT, that they’ve done it during contractual disputes with publishers such as McMillan, Hachette and Bloomsbury in the UK. Whether or not they have openly stated that this is to indicate their power to control distribution for those publishers, the timing certainly fits the facts. It’s sent shockwaves through the industry every time it’s happened, and it’s happened more than once. In the interests of factual journalism, are we only allowed to suppose Amazon is just stumbling along with incompetent IT guys who just happen to randomly “lose” the buy buttons for particular publishers now and then? You’d think they’d get fired for that, instead of repeating it.

        We also definitely know that Amazon has made exclusive deals which prevent BN from distributing certain books in certain formats.

        In your reply to Michelle below, you state that BN has “loudly” stated their policy, and that the “hostility” is coming from BN toward Amazon. If we’re to use your logic above, that’s not a fact either, that’s an emotional interpretation of the straightforward BN statement that Amazon has proved it wouldn’t be a good publishing partner.

        In regard to Ferriss as being “stuck in the middle,” he’s a businessman too, and has to take the responsibility for his own decisions. He wasn’t forced to publish through Amazon, he chose to do it for his own reasons. He could have easily seen this coming. Every author has to decide who to publish with, and if they’re savvy, they and their agent will have a clue about how that publisher is placed in the industry at the time they sell to them.

        (I’ll note here that Audible, owned by Amazon, offers a very sweet deal for audiobook publishers who give them exclusive rights to distribution–they double the royalty rates. So any publisher or rights holder has the choice–take that exclusive deal, or not. How it pans out in the end over a 7 year contract (the only time frame offered) is just something the rights holder has to judge for themselves. There’s no use whining that they’re “banned” from other outlets by Amazon if they take the sweetheart exclusive. And yet, effectively that’s what’s happening, their audiobooks are only available through d/l with Audible for that very long period. Right now, Audible has the lion’s share of the audiobook market, but 7 years from now? Who knows? (I guess we can’t “know” what the point of this sweetheart exclusive offer is, but some might suppose it’s an attempt to monopolize the distribution of audiobooks.)

        It seems you give Amazon a pass on their business moves, but want to characterize BN’s similar decisions more emotionally.

        You’re certainly right that it’s a fist-fight, and authors are caught in the middle. But I’d say the guy who started this brawl is very very obvious, along with his ultimate intentions.

        CreateSpace, Audible, ABEbooks…Amazon is systematically buying the publishing industry upstream and downstream and both banks of the stream. This leaves authors in a very bad position for sure. But it ain’t BN’s fault, not this time. When somebody punches you, it’s self-defense to fight back.

        • Thanks again, @ffd686675d53af1a0c25a55f7900ea4e:disqus

          I can agree with you that Tim Ferriss is certainly responsible for his own business decisions. And remember that he has told Laura Hazard Owen that if he were Barnes and Noble, he might do the same thing it’s doing.

          So take heart. You may find agreement in surprising places. :)

          Cheers, and thanks again,


          Porter Anderson

  5. A philosophical point comes to mind.

    Some people fight to ensure we don’t live in an Orwellian, 1984 world, e.g., they fight the banning of books, they fight those who deprive us of information, they fight those who conceal the truth from us, and they fight anything that would hold us captive.

    But I think we’re more in danger of living in a Huxley world. What’s the point in banning a book when no one bothers to read them? What’s the point of truth telling when it’s drowned out in a sea of misinformation and irrelevance?

    The lack of distribution of a book—making it tougher to find and discover—is far worse than a ban in today’s culture. Banning gets you attention and aid. Lack of distribution/discoverability? That gets you silence. Fewer people know you exist. And you just dissolve back into the landscape of millions of other publications.

    • Hey, Jane,

      Thanks so much for this input. You’re capturing the cold cynicism of Huxley’s “brave” new world in which, of course, cowardice calls itself bravery.

      And if we think of the result of B&N’s corporate fistfight with Amazon as a type of “forced disappearance” of intellectual property, the thing that I think would bother me about it (if I were Ferriss) is the assumption on many readers’ parts that something was wrong with me as an author or with my book. It would be bad enough “to be vanished” from view but even worse, in my opinion, to be disappeared and made to look as if I were the reason for my own silence. Huxley, maybe Kafka.

      I don’t know Ferriss well enough to fully assess what he’s doing, but if I were in his position, the attention and aid you speak of that comes with banning? — might tempt me to call myself “banned,” as well.


  6. Porter, from one angle, it seems to be a case of B&N shooting itself in the cash register, since Ferriss readers (and new readers created by the teapot tempest) will, in the main, find the venue(s) where his book is available. As for Ferriss volleying about a cayenne-laden term like “banned,” I don’t blame him all that much. I think it’s less cynical and more marketing, which he knows a lot about. And he does keep 4 hours’ worth of boyish charm around for interviews about the matter. But he can afford to be charming, since he’s already in a rarefied air of circulating author branding.

    Of course, I don’t leave Amazon blameless in these internecine wars, but that’s probably just because I’m prejudiced against corporate behemoths. But behemoth as it is, it’s no lumbering one—Amazon moves at digital speeds, and big publishers don’t. But I probably won’t line up when Ferriss comes out with his next effort, The 4-Hour Bookseller, but many will.

    • Hey, @google-d1ccfd8d9fd3c2b040b0bb1f0db6b2bd:disqus

      Sorry for the delay there, had to focus on tomorrow’s new Ether for Authors at Publishing Perspectives — still a few things to work out in my process among the Ethers (Writing on the Ether still runs here on Thursdays) — it’s feeling a bit like taking the vapors this week, lol.

      But your comments are not only right on the money but also nicely turned, many thanks for such a comely comment.

      I do agree that B&N is letting itself in for a considerable miss on holiday-shopping dollars. Ferriss simply doesn’t sell a few books, at least in most instances. (Love The 4-Hour Bookseller, lol.) And at the same time, as you point out, there are two major players in this fight, and Amazon is one of them. That speed factor you describe in Seattle’s bearing reminds me of the McLuhan line that gives Jane’s site here its title, “being human at electric speed.”

      It will be interesting to watch this one play out, that’s for sure. Thanks again for the good input here — we soon shall see what we can learn from this. :)


  7. First of all, I loved all the comments here, and I love this blog, Porter and Jane with it. (Just felt the need to say that!) Tom Bentley’s comment and Jane’s are right on the money. And I have to add my own story: Last month, I found out that my second book, “The Diva Doctrine” had been “banned” by certain liberal-leaning reading groups who had embraced my first book, “Harlot’s Sauce.” It had been crossed off as a potential club choice not because of its content, but because it had been published by a Mormon publisher and Mormons are anti-gay. It was ironic and I thought, newsworthy. My publicist immediately put out a press release about the book being banned with a very catchy title, “Harlots Write Great Books, But Divas Read Banned Books?” That press release was picked up by Yahoo and several other outlets and I got many emails and tweets of support, as well as a bump in book sales. One person on my Facebook page questioned the “ethics” of this, and I know that person to be a disgruntled author. So here’s my question: Are people objecting to this because they don’t have the marketing chops of Ferriss and even my publicist? Are those who see Amazon as the enemy irritated because Ferriss found a way around all the disgruntled booksellers to have his cookbook and cook it, too? Despite the fact that in the last 4 years alone the number of published books per year have more than quadrupled, and the task of each author to have his book seen and read becomes more challenging every day, there are still some whining, “old school” professionals in the industry who find the idea of (to use literary agent Michael Larsen’s term) “authorpreneurs” distasteful. They are like the nobility who thought working to make a buck was beneath them. And guess what? They’re going broke. They’re losing sales and they’re losing authors. If Ernest Hemingway could be in a beer commercial and still maintain his status as a “real” author, I say kudos to Ferriss and others like him, including myself who do what we can to climb the mountain blocking us from our potential readers.

    • Hi, @374480ac16bd035062d2a31171e1ff71:disqus

      Thanks for the terribly kind words, and for the good thoughts on all this. I do think that there may be some sour grapes in the reactions of some to Ferriss’ ability to find new ways to market his book in the face of Barnes and Noble declining to carry his book. Success always draws a lot of envy, and Ferriss has been very successful AND unafraid to use that.

      I also think there’s a lot to be said for the intent and the spirit of your comment. We probably could find a number of authors willing to say that if the industry is going to expect them to do so much in terms of branding and marketing themselves, then they’re going to do what they can to walk over the impediments some parts of the industry put in their way.

      As in the experience you had with The Diva Doctrine, we’re looking at an author facing lost sales because of a battle between two corporations — not something within his control. While folks like Owen have many important points to make about how we utilize terminology based in history and cultural tragedy, anybody can understand the bind this author is in, too.

      I’m looking forward to seeing how the release of The 4-Hour Chef goes, should be interesting. Thanks again for such thoughtful input!


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  12. Few can argue that Ferris is a savvy seller (I say seller rather than marketer), but this screams to be more old school than new, which in the long run could harm him.

    His book isn’t banned, merely not being stocked due to political reasons between Amazon and B&N. It’s a strong word, banned, and on this instance he could regret using it. then again, maybe not, because I’m sure it’s lining his pockets as we speak ha.

    You can’t beat a good old debate, can you? :)

    Matthew (Turndog Millionaire)

  13. Great arguments here, and the comments have been good, too. Winner: Ferriss.

    I actually felt the same way as a lot of the haters, but that wit the author mentions has worked on me, and Tim has grown on me in general. Keep dogging him, question him, you’re doing exactly what he wants. Can any of this publicity actually be bad for him? Given his navigation of peoples’ critiques, I don’t think so.

  14. Ferriss has an unusual combination of decision-making genetics that drive him. He can zero in on a success model from a hundred miles away. However, his success is not everyone’s. Sometimes it is not anyone’s. Have you tried his formula for learning a foreign language? I guess it’s not fair to claim that he saw gold in the word “banned,” and is using it that disingenuously, but seeing how he approaches everything he does, it is very easy to believe. It’s likely he really does feel that his book is so important and his perspective so purely right, that if he sees his book as banned, it was banned. Period. I’ve read most of what he’s written and have followed him for years. What I see happening, slowly, is that people are getting turned off to him and his style. (That won’t hurt him a bit. There must be millions who have yet to discover him.) When I read the 4-Hour Body, or rather searched it, as I have it in Kindle, I found tremendously useful research conclusions and used them to make a U-turn in my fitness, thank you very much. I then wrote The Sugar Divorce to explain it to people around me, because I am not his target demographic and my fellow 50-ish flabby friends couldn’t stomach his writing or the 400+ page book. Tim does not understand how to be with the humans. He comes up with great stuff, but he feels to me like a desperately exploding star, unable to stop expanding.

  15. I haven’t shopped at barnes and noble since they convinced the public to fund their online presence, ran the stock into the ground and took it private.

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