InterVarsity Press Says Amazon Sold $240K in Counterfeit Copies of Tish Harrison Warren’s ‘Liturgy of the Ordinary’

It took Tish Harrison Warren nearly three years to publish her first book. It was more than 18 months of arranging childcare and carving out time to write before she had a manuscript—11 chapters chronicling details from her day-to-day life paired with the rhythms of church ritual.

By the time Liturgy of the Ordinary debuted in December 2016, she and her publishing team had gone through the process of selecting a cover (an open-faced peanut butter and jelly sandwich against a bright green backdrop) and editing the page proofs to check every dot and detail.

But over the past year, thousands of readers ended up with copies that didn’t quite look like the book she and InterVarsity Press (IVP) had finalized three years ago. The cover was not as sharp. The pages were a bit off-center.

These were not IVP’s books at all. They were counterfeits.

Just as The New York Times put out a report in late June on a surge of counterfeit books available on Amazon, the 70-year-old Christian publisher discovered that one of its own had also “been victim of a highly organized and sophisticated counterfeiting scheme.”

The Times covered complaints that the country’s top bookseller “has been reactive rather than proactive in dealing with the issue” and found examples of Amazon’s third-party sellers pushing fakes across genres: medical handbooks, popular novels, and classic literature. With Warren’s case, add Christian books to the list.

IVP estimates that at least 15,000 counterfeit copies of Liturgy of the Ordinary were sold on the site over the past nine months, their retail value totaling $240,000. That nearly cuts sales of Warren’s book in half; IVP reported 23,000 legitimate copies were sold over the past year. IVP also found evidence of counterfeiting on a smaller scale for one other title, Michael Reeves’s Delighting in the Trinity, which came out in 2002.

“I’ve been constantly thinking of the verse about, ‘Do not store up treasures where moths and rust can destroy, and where thieves can steal, but store up your treasures where moths and rust cannot destroy and thieves cannot steal’ (Matt. 6:19–20), and it’s really hard to process,” Warren told CT last week, a day after she learned about the scope of the fraud when IVP officials called her at her home in Pittsburgh.

“It’s a huge loss of money for my family. Percentagewise of what I make as a writer, it’s an enormous amount of that.”

Stealing spiritual formation

Any creator would be frustrated to learn their work had been swiped, but the offense hits especially deep for a Christian author like Warren, an Anglican priest and writer in residence at Church of the Ascension.

In her debut release, she shared not only the personal details of her life—marital spats and sick kids and lost keys—but also her core belief in encountering God in the everyday. The book was well-reviewed, well-ranked, and named CT’s Book of the Year in 2018.

“This isn’t just a consumer experience with people. This is part of their spiritual formation,” she said. “We have some moral language to care about things other than just getting the lowest price possible.”

Christian values can seem increasingly countercultural in a society drawn to the instant gratification offered by the world’s biggest online retailer.

“Some may protest that … we don’t all get what we want, when we want. Yet, Amazon is already awfully close to making it so,” wrote Craig Detweiler, author of iGods: How Technology Shapes Our Spiritual and Social Lives. “We may bemoan the consumerism that such options encourage, yet … we love choice. We love bargains. We love convenience. [Amazon founder Jeff] Bezos doesn’t expect any of those virtues to ever go out of style (and neither do I).”

Even as Christian writers continue to offer their books at conferences and church bookstores, “Amazon looms large in the life of every author because it is where most books are sold today,” according to Kelly Hughes, a veteran publicist for evangelical authors and president of DeChant-Hughes Public Relations.

Amazon has pushed up the marketing stretch for books, as authors clamor for pre-orders months in advance of their release day, Hughes said. And it trains shoppers to expect lower prices and free shipping.

These impulses can fuel fraud attempts, as illicit sellers claim to offer the cheapest version of everything from phone chargers to paperbacks. But even authors often announce when their prices drop on Amazon, knowing that it’s likely the easiest, most affordable, and most accessible outlet for people to find their books.

“Knowing your book will be for sale on Amazon means you’ve got to think of your cover in terms of a one-inch image that’s easily readable and back cover copy that’s laser-focused on immediate felt needs,” said Margaret Feinberg, a Christian author and writing coach with Write Brilliant. “Just as the medium influences the message, the distribution medium does, too.”

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Source: Christianity Today