See the updates at the bottom of this story.
Fox News commentator and journalist Todd Starnes is well-known for providing news and views of the day. His book, "Dispatches From Bitter America," merges commentary and relevant cultural stories to create a pertinent assessment of the current sociopolitical scenario in America (TheBlaze profiled the conservative book last year). On Wednesday, Starnes announced that Amazon, a popular Internet sales outlet, has banned sales of the paperback version of the book, claiming that the literary work is "under review."
Following news of this development -- a curious one considering that the book has been on sale now for more than a year -- TheBlaze spoke with Frank Breeden, Starnes' literary agent at Premiere Authors, to better understand the situation at hand.
While the book deals with controversial issues related to politics, culture and faith -- all familiar themes to most Americans, contention and debate is par for the course these days. So what, exactly, is at the heart of Amazon's alleged decision to pull the book from its virtual shelves (we say "alleged" because we are not yet sure that this move was intentional)?
On the book's sales page, a message from the company reads, "While this item is available from other marketplace sellers on this page, it is not currently offered by Amazon.com because customers have told us there may be something wrong with our inventory of the item, the way we are shipping it, or the way it's described here. (Thanks for the tip!). We're working to fix the problem as quickly as possible."
A screen shot from the Amazon sales page for Starnes' book (the warning is inside the yellow box in the middle of the page)
Breeden told TheBlaze that Starnes is a hands-on author and that he regularly monitors reader comments. As a result of this engagement, he discovered that the book was removed a few days ago from Amazon's official sales roster (while the book is not being made available by the company's warehouses, a Kindle version is available listed and used copies can be published from third parties). The literary agent made it clear that being removed from the seller in such a manner is "a major hit for any title -- especially one that comes from a major publisher and has been out for a year."
"I have reached out to the publisher and Todd has reached out both as an author -- and he’s also reached out to Amazon.com as a news organization and requested a response," Breeden said, going on to claim that neither he nor Starnes have heard back yet. "We are very furious and we are very concerned."
He said that removing a book that has been on shelves for so long could send a negative message to brick and mortar booksellers -- businesses that traditionally watch Amazon book listings closely. Breeden's fear is that these companies will take a market cue from Amazon and subsequently decrease availability of "Dispatches From Bitter America."
Photo Credit: Todd Starnes
When asked if he has seen other authors he represents face similar scenarios, the agent said that this is a first for him. Noting that he has been working in his current capacity within the literary world for the past decade, Breeden said he has never experienced anything quite like this.
"It doesn’t mean that it hasn’t happened, but I haven’t seen it," he added.
It appears Starnes has been petitioning Amazon for a while now to deal with another issue that has emerged on his book's sales page. Negative comments (not reviews) have been incessantly posted in what Breeden calls "Amazon bomb campaigns," apparent efforts to disparage conservative voices.
"In this particular case, there are these Amazon bomb campaigns that occur -- and it happens a lot with conservative authors whenever they raise the ire of opposition," the agent explained.
Starnes' Fox News web site acknowledged this issue in an article that was published this morning. It read, "The book, which examines President Obama’s attacks on religious liberty and the culture, came under intense attack from liberals who posted phony reviews of the book on Amazon. The company declined requests from B&H Publishing Group to remove the fake postings."
Silencing a conservative voice, aesthetic problems with the copies that Amazon had on -- or simply an unintended error on behalf of Amazon? The jury is still out, but Starnes and his team are diligently trying to get to the bottom of why the company removed the paperback version of the book.
Update II: Amazon has responded to TheBlaze's inquiry about the reason for removing Starne's book. Publicist Sarah Gelman wrote, "'Dispatches from Bitter America' was temporarily unavailable in print format from Amazon.com. As it said on the book’s detail page, this was because customers told us there may be something wrong with our inventory of the item, the way we are shipping it, or the way it’s described on the book’s detail page. During this short period of unavailability, the book continued to be available from 3rd party sellers and in Kindle format. The book is currently available in all formats."
Update: According to the Amazon sales page, Starnes' paperback book is, once again, on sale (as of 2:40 p.m. ET).