It is by no means any secret now that Amazon in Germany screwed up and shipping about 180 copies of George R. R. Martin’s A Dance with Dragons to people who had placed orders. Martin is furious about this, as he should be. A Dance with Dragons is book 5 in the Song of Ice and Fire series, and a long-awaited addition to the series, particularly after HBO completed its airing of the first season of Game of Thrones. I have read the first two books (my thoughts here and here), and I’m partway through the third book, A Storm of Swords, and I am enjoying the series quite a bit. Like many people out there, I don’t to know what is coming next until I have the book in my hands and can read it myself. Put another way, I want to avoid spoilers.
But what I find most interesting about this recent Amazon debacle is that it feels like regardless of what Amazon’s responsibility is in the matter, it will be the fans who have received the book early that we will depend on to hold their tongues for another couple of weeks. It seems as if it is implicit on fans in this situation to keep their mouths shut, despite the fact that mistake that was made was not their own. Should one of these fans write a post about the book, others might react negatively to it, and I’m not sure that is right.
After all, there is no contract between an author and a fan. The fan is there to be entertained, and part of that entertainment is discussing what they’ve read with others. Now, there are some generally accepted practices when it comes to spoilers, and the first and foremost is to be sensitive to others who have not yet read the book. If you are going to write about it, be sure to warn readers that spoilers are included. That is what a good, conscientious fan would do. But even that is not a responsibility of the fan. They don’t have to do it. Doing it makes them a good neighbor.
And yet, in this case, if a fan were to post his or her thoughts on the book and even include a clear warning that there are spoilers present, I imagine that fan would take some heat. I imagine that they might be pressured by the publisher to hold off. Whether or not the publisher could actually do anything is another question. But for me what it comes down to is a question of ¬†what is a fan’s responsibility in this case?¬†If one of these early recipients decides to write about the book, and clearly warns that there are spoilers, the decision is pretty simple for people who come across the post: either read it, or don’t. Either case the person reading the post comes out a winner: if they don’t want to wait, they’ll read it and what they read may spoil the book for them. But in that case, their primary driver was not to read the book but to know what happens. Those who choose to ignore the post can read the book in innocence when it is released. They get the pleasure of discovery that has filled the series so far, along with just about everyone else who reads it.
I guess what frustrates me about this whole thing is that it feels like an unreasonable burden is placed on a fan for something that wasn’t their fault. Why hold it against them if they post spoilers in such as a way as to make it clear that the post contains them? You can choose not to read the post!
It’s true. You can browse the Internet on a regular basis and still avoid learning some things. I only ever read the first Harry Potter book. I’ve seen all of the movies, but I still to this day don’t know how the story ends. I simply avoid anything that refers to that last book. It’s worked for me so far. Of course, it takes some willpower. Those who have it will avoid the spoiler and those who don’t won’t.
I want to be clear here: Amazon is the one who screwed up. This shouldn’t even be an issue, and if anyone is at fault, they are. But now that the books are out there and spoilers are appearing, the responsibility of keeping things quiet lies with those who have received and read the book. Because most of these folks are good people, they will keep quiet. Some few will put out spoilers, but it is likely to be the same kind of people who deliberately try to spoil things (for whatever nefarious reason) all the time. I just think it seems unfair to ask those people who received the book through a mistake outside their control to behave one way or another. They did nothing wrong.
I empathize with George R. R. Martin’s frustration and anger. He has every right to be angry. But not at the fans who got the books. He should be angry with Amazon.
I’m really on the fence about this one. What do you think? Where does a fan’s responsibility lie when it comes to spoilers?