Machine of Death is an anthology of speculative short stories about people who know how (but not when) they are going to die. The book is edited by Ryan North, Matthew Bennardo and David Malki, and somehow the three of them came up with a clever idea: They asked everyone who was planning to buy the book to do so on the day it was released, Oct. 26, so they could place high on the Amazon sales charts.
"When we picked a release date, we tried to aim for a day far from other major book releases," the authors explain on their blog. In that, they failed spectacularly: A number of potential best-sellers came out that day, including Keith Richards's autobiography, a new Barefoot Contessa cookbook, and Glenn Beck's latest book, Broke.
Nonetheless, the power of the internet is such that Machine of Death took the No. 1 spot on Amazon for that day.
While Keith Richards and the Barefoot Contessa seem to have taken this news with equanimity, it sent Beck into a spluttering, incoherent rage, and he went into a long rant on the air about the culture of death and Bill Ayers envying Keith Richards for snorting his father's ashes, and not knowing what Brown Sugar refers to, and the general disrespect of "the left" for daring to buy other books on the day his book came out. (There's a transcript and a link to the audio here.)
And as any public figure with half a brain can tell you, the effect has been exactly the opposite of what Beck intended. Rather than apologizing and buying two copies of his book, people have been laughing and pointing and, in some cases, buying extra copies of Machine of Death just to spite Glenn Beck. (Hey, it's only ten bucks on Amazon.)
The story has also gotten lots of press in a number of august venues, including The Atlantic Wire, but the best one of all is the Australian Broadcasting Corporation piece that includes North and Malki's tortured Super Bowl analogy. It is also getting plenty of play on Twitter.
It's worth noting that the creators shopped the book around to a number of different agents, some of whom loved it, but all of whom concluded that it was basically unmarketable. That has all changed since Oct. 26, but David Malki posted today that they won't be entertaining those offers.
We also realized that we had an opportunity here to gain a level. We could have struck a deal with a publisher, potentially even a lucrative one, that would have been nice in the short term and could probably have led to interesting places. But we have larger goals than just signing a book deal, and we realized we could play the long game here, not just for our benefit — but for the benefit of our friends and colleagues in webcomics as well.
And so in the last few days, using resources offered to us that previously would have been absolutely inconceivable, we have laid the groundwork for a complex but amazing publishing/distribution structure that, in the future, should hopefully allow us to get not just Machine of Death, but also all TopatoCo-published and TopatoCo-partnered books into regular bookstore/retail channels, both in the U.S. and abroad. Ryan, Matt and I are harnessing this amazing rising flood-tide to lift all the boats we can find, all the ropes we managed to grab hold of when the waters hit.
These are some smart guys, so that actually might work. They are also preparing a Kindle version of the book (which they will offer for free to anyone who has bought the paper edition), and they plan to release a PDF version for free, under a Creative Commons license, on Nov. 2.