Is illegal?
March 22, 2007 8:10 AM   Subscribe

Is my site legal?

I set up Misshelved with a friend a few days ago, and I received this in my email.

Taking into consideration my considerable legal knowledge and experience, as well as my dedication to the free market system, I am offering you fair warning. I will be forwarding your site to the major book selling outlets, as well as warning smaller, local booksellers about you.
This warning is to notify you that you are engaged in a conspiracy (by legal definition, a felony offense) to defraud booksellers. You are deliberately preventing them from selling what goods they have for sale and, in the case of your suggestion to swap book covers, potentially deceiving customers, causing them to purchase goods which are inappropriately priced.
I hope you understand the implication of conspiracy to commit fraud and the gravity of the offense. In the future, please engage in acts of protest which are legally acceptable, and do not interrupt the normal course of business by encouraging your minions to break the law. Might I suggest a grassroots campaign, perhaps something more education-based than criminal action-based.

My friend and I are of the opinion that it's not illegal, but want hard evidence.
posted by dkleinst to Law & Government (79 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
The site seems to be down. What does it do?
posted by By The Grace of God at 8:23 AM on March 22, 2007

Site's definitely down. Sounds like some kind of movement along the lines of

1) Swap covers on hardcover books
2) Customers buy wrong book
3) ???
4) Profit!

I can't figure out what the possible purpose of this would be, other than ticking off customers and having customers get peeved at their bookstores.
posted by philulrich at 8:24 AM on March 22, 2007

I doubt it's illegal per se, but I bet they could find something to throw at someone caught doing this a lot.

Also, I already do this at the library (where the number of copies isn't prohibitive): I put Hannity's books and the like waaaaaay up on a top shelf so nobody can see them.
posted by DU at 8:25 AM on March 22, 2007

site works for me

How does it work? This page, by vote (coming soon), posts a book that is so ridiculous or harmful to the human psyche that readers should act to impair its purchase. As such, when entering your bookstore all you have to do is misplace the book in another part of the building. That's all. This is a perfectly moral act of protest and solidarity and if enough people do it, we might stop a book sale or two.

posted by jourman2 at 8:26 AM on March 22, 2007

I saw the site before it went down. I don't know if it's illegal or not, but take down the site because it's stupid. People approach books in different ways and for different reasons. Who decides what's 'highbrow' enough, the person with enough brains to think that changing covers is clever? And what's the point? What does it achieve? The guy who buys a self help book for some light entertainment, or for research, or because he thinks it might help him just has to make an extra journey back to the shop to exchange it for the copy he intended to buy. Radical! Don't decide what is right for other people, let them decide for themselves.
posted by Elmore at 8:27 AM on March 22, 2007 [3 favorites]

Fraud? No. Vandalism? Perhaps.
posted by geoff. at 8:29 AM on March 22, 2007

All too often the intellectually curious are subject to literary garbage. These are the books that the informed minority know to be rubbish.

This is such a pile of assholery and snobbery it's hard to contain myself. Oh please, Great Informed Minorty, tell me what I should I read!! Guess what..."intellectually curious" people want to make their own decisions. Also, sometimes I want to sit on the beach and read a pile of shit. I keep my Pynchon at home for when I want to go to a cafe populated by hot, informed minority chicks in rectangular glasses.
posted by spicynuts at 8:32 AM on March 22, 2007 [16 favorites]

As with all questions of this kind, I think the only answer is "Please consult a lawyer".
posted by yeoz at 8:32 AM on March 22, 2007

My first thought is the question of jurisdiction. Your domain registration and details don't specify where on the planet you are, so the complaintant is making hypothetical assumptions that you're in the U.S. and that U.S. law applies to you. You could be in Liberia for all we know. Yeah, an investigation and subpoena might uncover that, but someone would have to have a strong case of damages and criminal mischief. And yeah, I'm not no lawyer.
posted by chef_boyardee at 8:33 AM on March 22, 2007

I read a lot of books I disagree with because I think it's important to know what other people are reading and what's influencing their thoughts. I want to make sure that when I argue with people, I'm addressing their actual beliefs, and in order to do that, I need to know what they're actually thinking. Reading books you think are stupid or wrong can be a great learning exercise, and I'd be extremely annoyed if someone thwarted my efforts to do so in an effort to protect me from books that some idiot on the internet thinks are "harmful." Whether your site is legal or not, it's a really, really stupid idea, and more likely to harm the cause of free inquiry and education than help it. Take it down.
posted by decathecting at 8:34 AM on March 22, 2007

In New York, there's criminal tampering in the third degree:
A person is guilty of criminal tampering in the third degree when, having no right to do so nor any reasonable ground to believe that he has such right, he tampers with property of another person with intent to cause substantial inconvenience to such person or to a third person.
When one person engages in conduct which constitutes an offense, another person is criminally liable for such conduct when, acting with the mental culpability required for the commission thereof, he solicits, requests, commands, importunes, or intentionally aids such person to engage in such conduct.
posted by Mr. President Dr. Steve Elvis America at 8:35 AM on March 22, 2007

(IANAL.) He's got a fair point. I wouldn't worry about him being able to make it in a court of law; but sure, theoretically, if he could somehow demonstrate that your site caused books to remain unsold, then he could convince a judge to hear the case.

All of which is beside the point, however, which is that you're behaving like an adolescent. Try working retail for minimum wage sometime, and you'll walk a mile in the shoes of the only folks who will ever be affected by your stunt. There's enough tedious busywork to do in a bookstore, thanks.

I put Hannity's books and the like waaaaaay up on a top shelf so nobody can see them.

You know who else tried to prevent people from reading books he didn't like?
posted by cribcage at 8:35 AM on March 22, 2007 [2 favorites]

Not a lawyer, but you are encouraging people to commit an activity that is definitely a nuisance. You also encourage people to hide books in the children's section - as a parent, I find this particularly low-class. If you're successful, the net result would be that parents would feel less good about letting their kids look in bookstores.

Also, I already do this at the library (where the number of copies isn't prohibitive): I put Hannity's books and the like waaaaaay up on a top shelf so nobody can see them.

Scummy. The only real result of all of this is that bookstore employees and librarians have to spend their time locating and re-shelving things. The person who wants to read Hannity will find the book, and all you've done is made life a little bit less pleasant for hard-working people.
posted by jbickers at 8:36 AM on March 22, 2007

Clarification: I wrote "Your domain registration and details don't specify where on the planet you are" -- your registration says Tattooine, CA, so for all intensive purposes it's fictional.
posted by chef_boyardee at 8:36 AM on March 22, 2007

It's a big pain in the ass for the booksellers (taking into account my considerable knowledge and experience as a bookseller). It's unlikely to affect sales all that much, but it will make it harder for book stores to track and maintain their inventories.

I'm not a lawyer, but I can't really imagine how this would be illegal. I can think of a hundred things that prevent stores from selling the books they have for sale, and none of them strike me as illegal. The notion that writing about something constitutes a conspiracy just seems stupid.
posted by OmieWise at 8:39 AM on March 22, 2007

for all intensive purposes

/pedantic mode on

It's "for all intents and purposes", not "for all intensive purposes"

/pedantic mode off

Oh, and regardless of whether the poster's site is technically illegal, it sure as hell is unethical and immature.
posted by briank at 8:40 AM on March 22, 2007 [1 favorite]

Yeah, you're idea is evil. Who the hell are you to decide what information people should be allowed to read? Implicit in this whole concept is the idea that unwashed masses are too stupid to make up their own minds, making your act of quasi-censorship necessary. Why don't you just burn them?
posted by phrontist at 8:40 AM on March 22, 2007 the case of your suggestion to swap book covers, potentially deceiving customers..

If I go into a shop with the intention of buying one book but get another (especially if it's a present for someone), I'd be pissed. I don't need anyone to make my reading choices for me.

I agree that there's too much crap around, but I also think anything that gets anyone into a bookstore and reading is good.

It's a good idea for a campaign, but it's been badly executed. The site comes across (IMO), as snobbish, pretentious and condescending. So climb down from your high horse, swallow your outrage and go check out the self-help section. You might find something useful there. If someone hasn't hidden it that is..
posted by Nugget at 8:41 AM on March 22, 2007

Purposefully misshelving something that you deem stupid or harmful may actually cause someone that otherwise didn't know the book existed to see it and read it. You put a "bad" book on the shelf with the O'Reilly computer books and next thing you know a poor, unsuspecting Linux geek has been infected by Ann Coulter or some shit.
posted by misskaz at 8:41 AM on March 22, 2007 [1 favorite]

what the hell?

i understand what your true intentions probably are, and i have had similar thoughts myself, but come on. this is a bad idea. to answer your question, its probalby not 'illegal' but that doesnt mean that you couldnt necessarily be sued in a civil court for it.

nonetheless i think you should either:

a) get over yourself, who are you to say what is morally/intellectually correct?


b) just get it over with and start burning the fucking books.

also i suggest you read fahrenheit 451. if you have already read it, go read it again because maybe you didnt understand some of the themes.
posted by kneelconqueso at 8:41 AM on March 22, 2007 [3 favorites]


Absolutely--I felt very bad while doing it. But I've only ever done it with the worst of the worst of the worst. Like Godless Liberals or whatever that latest piece of Coulter trash is. I would do the same thing with a book called Kill the Niggers.

The only real result of all of this is that bookstore employees and librarians have to spend their time locating and re-shelving things.

Oh how I wish. In fact, the librarians seem to never, ever, ever, ever look for or replace lost items. They are nice ladies, but if something at my library is lost it stays LOST.

The person who wants to read Hannity will find the book...

They haven't yet.
posted by DU at 8:42 AM on March 22, 2007

Ack. Why would you want this to be legal? Listen this “prank” constitutes doing something physical on private property to damage a business… I think illegal just about sums that up. The extent of the crime would be directly proportionate to the amount of financial damage someone can argue was done. In a state with minimum sentencing laws this could result in serious jail time. Plus it’s Total Asshatery.
posted by French Fry at 8:51 AM on March 22, 2007

in addition to what everyone else said, your idea is also counter-productive: in essence, you're providing free advertising for these books you disdain, potentially making your own readers curious to seek them out. Ain't no such thing as bad press.

Sometimes when you want to protest an idea, the best thing to do is to ignore it and let it die a lonely death. Of course, sometimes you need to fight it loudly and vigorously, but this seems to be more a job for the former...
posted by prophetsearcher at 8:52 AM on March 22, 2007

Uh...all the librarians at my library are ladies. And nice.

They also care far more about intellectual freedom than you apparently do. That they don't have enough money or time to replace all lost/stolen items is a different issue from their being nice.
posted by arco at 8:53 AM on March 22, 2007 [5 favorites]

While many booksellers may themselves despise the books you're wishing to do this too, they will probably be way more pissed when a customer comes in with the wrong book.

It may not be illegal, but it's snobbish, annoying, and assholeish. What if you went in trying to buy Camus, and someone had switched the flap so you ended up with a pro-religion anti-existentialism screed?

I've joked in the past about moving political books I thought were dumb to the humor section, but I also believe in the marketplace of ideas, so I don't actively hide any of them no matter how much I disagree with them (I would flinch whenever I sold a copy of The Turner Diaries).
posted by drezdn at 8:53 AM on March 22, 2007

OK, legal? Probably not. I would think. But that's beside the point. As much as I hate 'the Secret' (I'm a bookseller), I hate the idea of someone appointing themselves as the arbiter of what should and should not be read.

Also, speaking of intelligence, 'the Secret' is a very irregular sized book. Your idea of switching dust jackets just will not work.
posted by geekhorde at 8:55 AM on March 22, 2007

IANAL, blah blah.

You promoting a "prank" like this shouldn't get you into any legal trouble. You can't be responsible for what other people do when they "take your joke seriously". I mean, this is just a joke, right? haha?

I used to do stuff like this all the time, such as placing my favorite PC gaming magazine (PCXL) in front of all the other stuff. All that will really happen is that some poor retail slave will have to come and fix the shelf at the end of the day, and most likely none of them will have ever heard of your website.
posted by triolus at 8:57 AM on March 22, 2007

"you're providing free advertising for these books you disdain, potentially making your own readers curious to seek them out"

Exactly what I'm doing now. The website is pure ignorance.
posted by Sufi at 8:57 AM on March 22, 2007

They also care far more about intellectual freedom than you apparently do.

I know! I was, and am, wracked with guilt about it. Every time I go, I check to see if they've been found (I've only done this with two books, btw) and when I see they haven't I smirk and also cringe.

That they don't have enough money or time to replace all lost/stolen items is a different issue from their being nice.

I mentioned the niceness because I didn't want to imply that they were lazy or didn't care about the books. Just that they don't look for or replace missing items.
posted by DU at 8:57 AM on March 22, 2007

My mom used to own a small bookstore in a small town in Maine. It was the only bookstore for miles that carried gay-friendly titles, feminist theory titles, and so on (as well as a selection of NYT bestsellers). We had a customer who used to come in and hide the gay titles; turn the feminist books so the spine faced the wall; slip "You'll burn in Hell"-type fliers into books about Buddhism or yoga or meditation.

You think you're clever, hiding books that you think other people shouldn't read - and I am in agreement with you about the stupid books you mentioned - but it isn't yours to decide. What you're doing may not be illegal, but it isn't right. There are already enough people out there who think that someone died and made them the Arbiter of What People Shouldn't Read - why join them?

Write some reviews on amazon or your local paper. It'll have about the same effect, but it won't be immoral.
posted by rtha at 9:01 AM on March 22, 2007

Mod note: removed the self link, put it in your profile
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 9:02 AM on March 22, 2007

Oh man, all the comments in here are really ratcheting up my guilt levels over those two books. OK OK I'LL PUT THEM BACK!!!
posted by DU at 9:03 AM on March 22, 2007 [1 favorite]

This is on the same level as the people who check Harry Potter out from the library and never return it to prevent children from being exposed to the evil.

Seriously, illegal or not, this is in poor taste and counter-productive to a democratic society.
posted by teleri025 at 9:06 AM on March 22, 2007

What in the world is this site trying to accomplish? IANAL and can make no comment on the legality, just the inanity.

As a bookseller, if a customer comes to me to help them find a book and I can't, it really does not deter the customer from wanting the book - it just makes them irritated at me. Then I have to go and order a copy of the book for them, pumping up the circ statistics and probably getting more copies of the book sent to our store since it seems that demand is high. And, inevitably, the original copy that was so ingeniously hidden will turn up, be reshelved in its proper place, and sold again.

So this has three consequences:
1. Creating more work for underpaid booksellers, who really do try to keep the store organized so that everyone can find what they want
2. Aggravating bookstore customers into shopping at another store, through no fault of the bookstore's owners or staff
3. Actually increasing the quantities of the "bad" book in the store

Not to mention, of course, all of the arguments made above about the repulsiveness of trying to restrict what information people have access to. Sure, bookstore employees stand around in the back mocking people who read The Secret, but we'll always do everything we can to help them buy it.
posted by CtrlAltDelete at 9:06 AM on March 22, 2007

you, my sir, are an idiot.

it's probably not illegal but i could see you being sued by a large publishing firm for damages associated with the selling of their product. and if you have the finanical resources to fight them off, then keep up with this incredibly stupid idea (and an idea that actually makes you as in the wrong as those people in the books you to decry), then keep it up.
posted by Stynxno at 9:10 AM on March 22, 2007

IANAL and I don't have the "hard evidence" you request, but consider this:

It's not your own bookstore. It's not your own library. It's not up to you to decide what information other people should have access to you, even if you gather a self-proclaimed "community" around you to back you up.

First they hid the books, and I said nothing.

Then they burned the books...
posted by Robert Angelo at 9:10 AM on March 22, 2007

Who else here is involved with bookselling?
posted by drezdn at 9:11 AM on March 22, 2007

It may not be illegal, but it's an asshole thing to do. The booksellers have a right to make money. People have a right to buy whatever they want. And I suppose you have a right to behave like a moron, if you want. But try to refrain from doing so, if you can.
posted by littleme at 9:14 AM on March 22, 2007

:::raises hand:::

I've worked in a lot of bookstores over the years. When I shop in one now, I find myself straightening shelves and re-shelving things that have obviously ended up in the wrong spot (though if I don't know where it goes, I just tell one of the workers).
posted by rtha at 9:18 AM on March 22, 2007

RE: "Mshev is a campaign for the savvy consumer to fight back and protect the naive." and "hopefully the actions of Misshelvers everywhere will protect the minds of humanity at large" (from the site)

This site actually made me embarrassed, in a "Oh God Was I Such A Pretentious Asshole That Knew Everything When I Was In 18?" way.

And you are just promoting the books you're trying to "save" people from: I just spent time looking at all the linked articles about "The Secret" which I normally would never do (because the book is garbage, I'll give you that).

OK, now I have to get back to visualizing you getting some perspective and taking that stupid site down.
posted by sfkiddo at 9:18 AM on March 22, 2007

Please don't do this. I have put in my time as an underpaid, overworked bookstore clerk, and I can't even begin to tell you how misguided this is.
posted by sonofslim at 9:26 AM on March 22, 2007 [1 favorite]

I was a library page for a few years as my first job. My job was to find books that were misplaced on top shelves, bottom shelves, fix books that had wrong covers on them, and generally keep the shelves straight. I also got to remove the "you'll burn in hell" stickers from the romance novels, because there was a little old lady who would gluestick them inside the front cover. This tactic reminds me very much of a short-sighted, bible-beater / ultraconservative tactic -- "Oh, if we just keep them from reading the books, they'll read something worthwhile instead!" sounds just like "If we don't tell them anything about sex, they'll play cards or dominoes instead!" Right.

I got paid minimum wage ($4.25/hr at the time) to do it.

I would show up after school and leave four hours later at closing time, my back aching, my $17 mentally clutched in my fist.

You are an asshole, and someone's making whatever the minimum wage is now to fix your stupidity.
posted by SpecialK at 9:33 AM on March 22, 2007 [4 favorites]

Silly as I think the idea is, if it's something you believe in, then go for it (and you're not even directly doing it - just encouraging others to). Protests and direct action always operate on the edges of the law - that's kind of the point.
posted by reklaw at 9:34 AM on March 22, 2007

Your site is not illegal, I am fairly certain. Your site is stupid and insulting to many different sorts of people many of whom you claim to like. So your meta-question which I interpret to be "Is my site a good idea?" can be answered simply: no, it is not a good idea.

And, as a librarian, I personally want to sit you down and have a nice talk with you about how the library works and how the tactics you are considering using are -- as many people here have told you -- mostly used by rabid zealots of a less-desirable variety (who are afraid of witchcraft and the word "scrotum" and all sorts of other fussy silly things that hinder free expression and intellectual freedom generally) and you appear by your methods to be in bed with them. This is probably not what you want.

It might interest you to know that even in the field of librarianship we have discussions about what to do to get people to read "good" books versus "trash" and it's a hotly contested topic. There are approaches ranging from "well at least they're reading" to ones that are only a hair shy of the ones you are suggesting. Last year the American Library Association had a lengthy discussion at their governing Council meeting about whether the original motto of the ALA "The best books for the most people at the least cost" (or something similar) should be retired because it smacked of paternalism in much the same way that your project does.

At the end ALA decided to keep the motto, but there were a lot of hurt feelings on both sides. Which is to say that this is a question that has puzzled braniac book workers for much longer than you have been alive and while it's nice to see fresh approaches to an age old conundrum, I think the ill will that this sort of endeavor will engender are not at all worth whatever small beefit might be realized if it goes exactly as planned.


a librarian
posted by jessamyn at 9:38 AM on March 22, 2007 [12 favorites]

As one more former bookstore clerk who worked for minimum wage, I'd ask that you choose to not go down the path, as well.
posted by Atreides at 9:39 AM on March 22, 2007

It sounds an awful lot like theft to me. Don't think you're that original; fundies have been doing this with anything they is "occult" for a long time.
posted by dagnyscott at 9:43 AM on March 22, 2007

[[raises hand]] Add me to the list of booksellers who think this is stupid and misguided.
posted by limeonaire at 9:50 AM on March 22, 2007

Hmm. Let's just take a minute and think back to those figures in history who wanted to control what the general public read or didn't read.

posted by allkindsoftime at 9:59 AM on March 22, 2007

Amusingly, your google ads are selling the books you're trying to hurt.
posted by crabintheocean at 10:01 AM on March 22, 2007

You are an idiot.

If it's OK for YOU to do this, then it's presumably OK for people who hold exactly the opposite political point of view to you to do it? You know, hiding all the 'progressive books' and putting Hannity in Michael Moore jackets and so on?


You mean you didn't get this far in thinking about it?

posted by unSane at 10:11 AM on March 22, 2007

This is fucking horrible. Take your site down, not because it's illegal, but because it's presumptive and insulting.
posted by !Jim at 10:16 AM on March 22, 2007

Another former bookstore employee who thinks your idea is paternalistic and a pretty nasty thing to do to booksellers.
posted by Mavri at 10:20 AM on March 22, 2007

"How does it work? This page, by vote (coming soon), posts a book that is so ridiculous or harmful to the human psyche that readers should act to impair its purchase. As such, when entering your bookstore all you have to do is misplace the book in another part of the building. That's all. This is a perfectly moral act of protest and solidarity and if enough people do it, we might stop a book sale or two. "

Illegal? No, I don't think so. It's just childish and stupid. this is something that a bored 5 year old would do. "act of protest" - my ass.
posted by drstein at 10:26 AM on March 22, 2007

I have to admit that when I first read this question, I found the idea sort of funny, along the lines of's restaurant menu pranks. I've considered doing the same thing with Hannity at the library that DU copped to. And I've worked at a bookstore and a library!

I learned so much from the reactions from people with better critical thinking skills than mine. Great thread, all around.
posted by M.C. Lo-Carb! at 10:34 AM on March 22, 2007

I would assess things like so:

Bad idea? Absolutely yes.

Illegal? Probably not.

Actionable in civil court? Maybe.

"Conspiracy to commit fraud?" Ridiculous. Certainly not.

As a rule, describing actions you would like people to take does not make you a co-conspirator when they do take that action. Its a complicated area, but there have been cases where people urged radical environmental defense on the web and it has been difficult to prosecute them when people do it.
posted by Lame_username at 10:34 AM on March 22, 2007

Wow, you just got called an asshole and an idiot by a whole lot of people.

I'd like to think that you're not an asshole or idiot, but rather a well-meaning person who's jumped to unfortunate conclusions due to a poor understanding of what freedom of speech is all about (since you and your friends hold the correct views on everything, the world would clearly be a better place if everyone could just be encouraged to think like you, by any means necessary.)

I'd also like to think that you might've figured this out on your own, but were blinded by visions of the glory you would achieve as the progenitor of a Cool Web Project and went ahead without much thought about the ethics. Hopefully the chorus of abuse here has cured you of those delusions, but please don't take it too personally. People can be especially mean to somebody who ostensibly represents their viewpoint, but whose actions bring discredit to the whole movement by association.

I hope you take the site down. If you don't, you'll cause headaches for bookstore employees and serve as an example "amoral liberal wacko" for the very people you're trying to hurt to point their fingers at. The authors you're targeting thrive on "persecution" from the "liberal elite." Please don't play into their hands.
posted by contraption at 10:36 AM on March 22, 2007 [5 favorites]

I'm not going to call you names, but just to add my vote: I worked in bookstores for a couple of years and my job was thankless enough dealing with endless folks who picked up a book off one shelf and then decided 5 minutes later that they didn't want it and just dropped it wherever they happened to be. Also, lots of people who come in asking for that one book that just came out that has a red cover.

Purposefully coming in and making my job harder would have bothered me a great deal, and bothers me now in sympathy for the people who have to deal with this. People will come in looking for the books. They won't find them. The clerk will look bad knowing they have a copy (from the computer) and not being able to find it, and will then have to order it. The comment upthread about this artificially stimulating supply is dead-on.
posted by Nabubrush at 10:39 AM on March 22, 2007

Yeah, this doesn't sit too well with me. I had an unpleasant first-person experience with something along these lines -- as an author.

Basically: maybe two years ago, a customer ordered a copy of my first book from Amazon. Amazon shipped her a "new" copy, which was actually one that had been on the shelf in a bookstore for a few weeks and then returned to Amazon's warehouse (or the distributor's warehouse). Someone, at some point, whether in the bookstore or in the warehouse, slipped a bunch of very graphic anti-abortion propaganda into the copy of my book -- postcard pictures of dead babies and such -- that went unnoticed. So the book went back to the warehouse, unauthorized inserts still inside, and then was shipped out to a customer. An eight-months pregnant customer, who was expecting to get a book about the culture shock of new motherhood and instead got a shocking eyeful of dead baby. Which she then had to explain to her four-year-old, who saw the postcard first.

*I* then got a freaked out email from the customer, who had also written to my publisher, accusing me of totally misrepresenting my book -- since the book came in packaging and the materials were inside it, she assumed they had been written by me and produced by my publisher. How could I be doing something so heartless, how could I trick readers, all she wanted was to read about motherhood and instead I confronted her with horrific images, now she couldn't even look at the cover of the book or my name or anything without feeling physically ill.... You get the idea. I wrote back (as did my editor) explaining that I was just as shocked and horrified as she was, etc. etc. The head of the publishing house offered her a personal apology, and then asked Amazon to go through all of the copies of my books -- and the publisher's other authors' books -- they had in their warehouses to make sure there were no other offensive, unauthorized leaflets in any of the books.

There were no other inserts. It turned out to be a random crappy thing instead of an organized crappy thing. The materials listed the address of an anti-abortion website that it turned out was run by a person located in the same geographical area as the Amazon warehouse, and the website had a whole mission statement encouraging believers to disseminate their message -- put it in books in bookstores, leave the stuff in churches or at playgrounds. I believe somebody did just that -- stuck the stuff in my book in a random bookstore, maybe even put it in other books whose contraband was discovered before being bought or returned to the Amazon/distributors' warehouse. Mine was the lucky one that got bought with the crusader's message fully intact.

This turned into a long story. But I guess my point is, this shit you're proposing affects people. And maybe you think that's okay because you're only doing this to "bad" books. But who's to say your definition of "bad" is the right one? Somebody clearly thought my book -- even though it never in 300 pages mentions abortion -- was the perfect delivery vehicle for their message. But who were they to decide that? And why should a random reader, some random trusting person who orders a book and assumes she's getting what's advertised, have to bear the consequences of that decision?
posted by mothershock at 10:39 AM on March 22, 2007 [6 favorites]

"Give readers a conscience."

Oh, thank you dkleinst for saving me from myself.

Conscience means we make wise and prudent choices. It does not sound to me like you have interest in giving anyone a conscience, instead trying to create a bunch of mini-dkleinsts who think and act like you.

Why don't you just read bestseller lists and then write thoughtful responses to them, offering counterpoints? Seeing as you have such a keen grasp of right and wrong, I am sure your arguments would be most persuasive.

Our you could just burn then books and then burn the people who read them.

And the elders looked at me and said "street sweeper!" and I responded "The will of my fathers be done."
posted by 4ster at 10:50 AM on March 22, 2007

Has worked a menial job in a bookstore and agrees that this will cause more collateral damage than you realize? Check.

Sees little difference between this and the methods used by your political opponents to suppress information? Check.

Thinks this is a very, very bad idea? Check.

Advises you to take down the website? Check.
posted by googly at 10:58 AM on March 22, 2007

also i suggest you read fahrenheit 451

I have a feeling he's misplaced his copy.
posted by turaho at 11:12 AM on March 22, 2007 [1 favorite]

I'm having a flashback to The Ministry of Reshelving (previously on metafilter).

Of course, the Ministry of Reshelving left notes saying "All copies of George Orwell's 1984 have been relocated to [Politics, American Government, Current Events]". So they weren't really preventing people from finding the book if they really wanted to. Just drawing attention to it.

This, on the other hand, just seems kind of lame. How will this democracy of censorship work: we vote on which author's free speech we want to try to limit?

Eh, whatever.
posted by Zephyrial at 11:20 AM on March 22, 2007

Consider submitting the email to the Chilling Effects C&D forum.
posted by mlis at 11:40 AM on March 22, 2007

Another weigh-in from a librarian:

You know what happens when a book is "lost", "stolen", or "unreturned"?

Well, usually we re-order it. So, now we have a new copy of that Ann Coulter (or now 2 copies, if the "lost" copy shows up). Right, your plan really worked out, didn't it?

This is where it burns you even more in the end - books come from our budget. A set budget. So you can say goodbye to that Noam Chomsky book we were going to order - that you were wanting to read - but now don't have the funds for.
posted by Windigo at 11:47 AM on March 22, 2007

I don't think you're an idiot. I don't think you're an asshole. I don't think you are stupid.

I DO think that folks who attack you in that fashion should get better social skills. Theirs seem concretely worse than yours, IMO. Does anyone here think name calling is mature? Jesus.

What it appears you ARE is someone who objects to something you consider junk, and who is looking for a creative way to address it, and who might be young/inexperienced/socially uncertain.

As you can tell from the reaction, your idea ruffles a lot of feathers, including mine, but I have to admit wanting to poop on Ann Coulter's books every time I see her mug on the cover of one at Border's. Perhaps we're all tempted.

Maybe you should just consider this reaction as evidence to explore other ways of motivating people towards what you consider intelligent and worthwhile material. Your efforts may be better spent on learning how to critique the crap and write intelligently about it for people who don't know as much as you might.

Your site might be compared to political assassination... it sounds fine when applied to your opponents but bad when applied to your allies. Better to just abandon the idea and consider that a baseline for decent behavior in an evolviing and struggling society.
posted by FauxScot at 11:48 AM on March 22, 2007

As a publisher of "controversial" (gay romance) books, I have to fight tooth and nail just to get those books into bookstores in the first place. If a misshelved book ends up unsold because a customer couldn't find it, that book is returned to the distributor at full credit, often shelf-worn beyond saleability. The book is generally destroyed by the distributor, and I eat the cost (and the hardworking author doesn't see a cent of royalties from it, either), and the bookstores are unlikely to order it in the future.

The effects of tactics like this on mainstream books is pretty negligible, because the bookstores order so many copies, and the books are available from so many different outlets, that people who want to read them will get their hands on them. But the effects on small press, who struggle every day to get even one copy in 1% of bookstores, can be devastating.

It sickens me that an "informed minority" would presume to know what's best for the public at large, while disregarding the living, breathing people they're harming in their all-knowing wisdom.
posted by tomatofruit at 11:49 AM on March 22, 2007

Actually, you know what, I hope you leave the site up so that I and others can point to it as a perfect example of the idea that groupthink, thuggery and pissing on one's own principles in the service of some grand utopic vision is not isolated to "The Right". So called 'educated', 'enlightened' 'liberals' are just as capable as Fascists are of stomping on individual rights because they think they know better than the rest of us. Kudos.
posted by spicynuts at 11:54 AM on March 22, 2007 [2 favorites]

I'm sorry, but the entire premise of your site is bogus, filled with shrill moral self-righteousness and based on the faluty premise that you have the right to determine what people read. I'll leave the legality of the site to the lawyers, but it's a frackin' stupid idea.

What gives you the right to decide what is and is not appropriate for people to read? Just because you and your readers don't like certain books doesn't mean you have the right to misfile and misplace them.

If I was to go into your site and move a few pages because I don't like the content, would you be fine with that? Would that be a "perfectly moral act of protest and solidarity"? No, it would be wrong on both moral and legal grounds. What you advocate is exactly the same.

The logical extreme of your site is to take the books like "the Secret" and burn them. After all, even if you misfile them, someone of lesser moral fiber than you might find them and read them after you've misfiled them. And then you should find authors like Rhonda Byrne and kill them, because they might write more morally damaging stuff. Perhaps then "the naive" as you so demeaningly call readers, might be safe.

My suspicion is that the whole thing is a troll to generate ad revenue, but if not, I'd suggest you seriously think about the implications of what you are advocating.
posted by baggers at 11:57 AM on March 22, 2007

My suspicion is that the whole thing is a troll to generate ad revenue, but if not, I'd suggest you seriously think about the implications of what you are advocating.

Yeah that was my suspicion too after someone up top mentioned the Google Ads.
posted by spicynuts at 12:11 PM on March 22, 2007

You have no responsibility, and further, no right to decide what books I should or should not have access to. Also, I wouldn't be surprised if people following directions and purposely misplacing books you deemed improper weren't arrested for trespassing.

Oh, thank you dkleinst for saving me from myself.

Yeah, I think that this is what people think of when they think of kooky left-wingers.

(Dort, wo man Bücher verschleppt, verschleppt man am Ende auch Menschen.)
posted by oaf at 12:28 PM on March 22, 2007

Some of you people are ridiculous. So the guy has a website where he says "this book sucks" and "that book sucks" and you should burn it. He doesn't have a magical teleportational hand that simultaneously goes to every bookstore in the country and removes every copy of certain books. Sheesh.

dklein, anyone can have a website where they review books and then decide they're so terrible that all copies should be hidden out of sight. This happens every Sunday in the New York Times book review.

You have no responsibility, and further, no right to decide what books I should or should not have access to.

Yeah I don't think he is claiming this responsibility or right.
posted by poppo at 12:52 PM on March 22, 2007

Yeah I don't think he is claiming this responsibility or right.

Yes, he is. Pay attention, poppo. He or she is encouraging people to intentionally hide books from possible readers, thereby asserting his "right" to decide that you should or should not have access to a certain book just because s/he disagrees with it.

It's not the "this book sucks" part that we find offensive. It's the "you should burn it" (your words) part that is beyond the pale.
posted by arco at 1:17 PM on March 22, 2007

If you're even still reading this far, congrats on having a thick skin. I thought I'd point out something that has been lost:

While possible not illegal (inciting people to comit a crime(vandalisim/nusance)), you are puting yourself at odds with major publishers and booksellers. They have the ability sue you into oblivion. Now you've given them a reason. Would you win or lose the case? It doesn't matter. You would be unable to afford to defend yourself. Not only would your site get shut down, but unless you've taken some steps during set up (like incoporation or LLC) you personally could be financially ruined.

And, since I can't help it, a bit of advice:
Being a jerk never changes someone's opinion in your favor. Don't encourage people to be jerks.
posted by Ookseer at 1:18 PM on March 22, 2007

poppo- I'm pretty sure that the NYT doesn't ask their readership to go out and actually hide them.

FauxScot- Your carefully-worded response is thoughtful, but sometimes people are just assholes.
posted by mkultra at 1:19 PM on March 22, 2007

I'm another bookseller; mostly, I make coffee, or supervise other people and teach them to make coffee, but I try to help out all around the book store when I have a minute in my day, and I'd like to point out that:

1. Neither I nor anyone else in the store where I work are going to go out of their way to look for that copy of The Secret in the craft section, but the person assigned to re-organize in Crafts is going to find it within a couple weeks.

2. In the meantime, you've wasted the time of several customers who came in looking for the book you've judged for them and several booksellers who have looked for it for those customers, because the computer says there's a copy in the store. What you have probably not done is "saved" the customers from reading those books. If it's not on the shelf, I'll order you a copy, as soon as it gets here we'll email you, and I am so sorry that we couldn't find that for you, ma'am.

3. The "tip" on the page about switching book covers? That's just asinine. What about the reader that came in for the highbrow book you swapped it with? Surely you care that someone can come in and get a copy of that worthy book? Surely you don't think that the person who accidentally got The Secret will come back complaining and getting the "worthy" material, while the person who accidentally got something you deem worthwhile will suddenly realize the error of his ways and start reading great and worthy books instead of the McBook of the Week?

Censorship by stealth doesn't work. If you want more people reading more worthy books, promote those books. It doesn't mean you have the right to decide for others that their books aren't worthy. Even those who read Dumas and Camus just for fun might have a closet Xanth fetish--and there is nothing wrong with that.
posted by Cricket at 4:36 PM on March 22, 2007

Hiding books? Meh. But if you replace the dust jacket on a really expensive book with the dust jacket of a cheap book about the same size...
posted by obiwanwasabi at 4:08 AM on March 23, 2007

You might want to replace "“Never risk a joke with someone who is unable to comprehend it."" with something like "Sorry."
posted by hoverboards don't work on water at 8:18 AM on March 23, 2007 [2 favorites]

If you're going to encourage folk to do something like this, at least have them follow the example of legendary book-tamperers Joe Orton and Keith Halliwell - no one ends up with the wrong book or has trouble finding it, but you get to make some sort of point. Of course, Orton and Halliwell were jailed for six months, but they were a lot stricter about this sort of thing in the 1960s.
posted by jack_mo at 1:35 PM on June 4, 2007

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