Kickstarting “The Bezzle” audiobook, sequel to Red Team Blues (permalink)
I’m kickstarting the audiobook for The Bezzle, the sequel to last year’s Red Team Blues, featuring Marty Hench, a hard-charging, two-fisted forensic accountant who spent 40 years in Silicon Valley, busting every finance scam hatched by tech bros’ feverish imaginations:
Marty Hench is a great character to write. His career in high-tech scambusting starts in the early 1980s with the first PCs and stretches all the way to the cryptocurrency era, the most target-rich environment for scamhunting tech has ever seen. Hench is the Zelig of tech scams, and I’m having so much fun using him to probe the seamy underbelly of the tech economy.
Enter The Bezzle, which will be published by Tor Books and Head of Zeus on Feb 20: this adventure finds Marty in the company of Scott Warms, one of the many bright technologists whose great startup was bought and destroyed by Yahoo! (yes, they really used that asinine exclamation mark). Scott is shackled to the Punctuation Factory by golden handcuffs, and he’s determined to get fired without cause, so he can collect his shares and move on to the next thing.
That’s how Scott and Marty find themselves on Catalina island, the redoubt of the Wrigley family, where bison roam the hills, yachts bob in the habor and fast food is banned. Scott invites Marty on a series of luxury vacations on Catalina, which end abruptly when they discover – and implode – a hamburger-related Ponzi scheme run by a real-estate millionaire who is destroying the personal finances of the Island’s working-class townies out of sheer sadism.
Scott’s victory is bittersweet: sure, he blew up the Ponzi scheme, but he’s also made powerful enemies – the kinds of enemies who can pull strings with the notoriously corrupt LA County Sheriff’s Deputies who are the only law on Catalina, and after taking a pair of felony plea deals, Scott gets the message and never visits Catalina Island again.
That could have been the end of it, but California’s three-strikes law – since rescinded – means that when Scott picks up one more felony conviction for some drugs discovered during a traffic stop, he’s facing life in prison.
That’s where The Bezzle really gets into gear.
At its core, The Bezzle is a novel about the “shitty technology adoption curve”: the idea that our worst technological schemes are sanded smooth on the bodies of prisoners, mental patients, kids and refugees before they work their way up the privilege gradient and are inflicted on all of us:
America’s prisons are vicious, brutal places, and technology has only made them worse. When Scott’s prison swaps out in-person visits, the prison library, and phone calls for a “free” tablet that offers all these services as janky apps that cost ten times more than they would on the outside, the cruelty finds a business model.
Working inside and outside the prison Marty Hench and Scott Warms figure out the full nature of the scam that the captive audience of prisoners are involuntary beta-testers for, and they discover a sprawling web of real-estate fraud, tech scams, and offshore finance that is extracting fortunes from the hides of America’s prisoners and their families. The criminals who run that kind of enterprise aren’t shy about fighting for what they’ve got, and they’re more than happy to cut some of LA County’s notorious deputy gangs in for a cut in exchange for providing some kinetic support for the project.
The Bezzle is exactly the kind of book I was hoping I’d get to write when I kicked off the Hench series – one that decodes the scam economy, from music royalties to prison videoconferencing, real estate investment trusts to Big Four accounting firm bogus audits. It’s both a fast-moving, two-fisted crime novel and a masterclass on how the rich and powerful get away with both literal and figurative murder.
It’s getting a big push from both my publishers and I’ll be touring western Canada and the US with it. The early reviews are spectacular. But despite all of this, I had to make my own audiobook for it, which I’m pre-selling on Kickstarter:
Why? Because Audible – Amazon’s monopoly gatekeeper to the audiobook world, with more than 90% of the market – refuses to carry my work.
Audible uses Digital Rights Management to lock every audiobook they sell to their platform. Legally, only an Audible-authorized app can decrypt and play the audiobooks they sell you. Distributing a tool that removes Audible DRM is a felony under Section 1201 of the 1998 DMCA.
That means that if you break up with Audible – delete your Audible apps – you will lose your entire audiobook library. And the fact that you’re Audible’s hostage makes the writers you love into their hostages, too. Writers understand that if they leave the Audible platform, their audience will have to choose between following them, or losing all their audiobooks.
That’s how Audible gets away with abusing its performers and writers, up to and including the $100m Audiblegate wage-theft scandal:
Audible can steal $100m from its writers…and the writers still continue to sell on the platform, because leaving will cost them their audience.
This is canonical enshittification: lock in users, then screw suppliers. Lots of companies abuse DRM to do this, but none can hold a candle to Amazon, who understand that the DMCA is a copyright law that protects corporations at the expense of creators.
Under DMCA 1201 commercial distribution of a “circumvention device” carries a five-year prison sentence and a $500,000 fine. That means that if I write a book, pay to have it recorded, and then sell it to you through Audible, I am criminally prohibited from giving you the tool to take it from Audible to another platform. Even though I hold the copyright to that work, I would face a harsher sentence than you would if you simply pirated the audiobook from some darknet site. Not only that: if you shoplifted the audiobook in CD form, you’d get a lighter sentence than I, the copyright holder, would receive for giving you a tool to unlock it from Amazon’s platform! Hell, if you hijacked the truck that delivered the CD, you’d get off lighter than I would. This is a scam straight out of a Marty Hench novel.
This is batshit. I won’t allow it. My books are licensed on the condition that they must not be sold with DRM. Which means that Audible won’t sell my books, which means that my publishers are thoroughly disinterested in paying thousands of dollars to produce audiobooks of my titles. A book that isn’t sold in the one store than accounts for 90% of all sales is unlikely to do well.
That’s where you come in. Since 2020, I’ve used Kickstarter to pre-sell five of my audiobooks (I wrote nine books during lockdown!). All told, I’ve raised over $750,000 (gross! but still!) on these crowdfunders. More than 20,000 backers have pitched in! The last two of these books – The Internet Con and The Lost Cause – were national bestsellers.
This isn’t just a way for me to pay off a lot of bills and put away something for retirement – it’s proof that readers care about supporting writers and don’t want to be locked in by a giant monopolist that depends on its drivers pissing in bottles to make quota.
It’s a powerful message about the desire for something better than Amazon. It’s part of the current that is driving the FTC to haul Amazon into court for being a monopolist, and also part of the inspiration for other authors to try treating Amazon as damage and routing around it, with spectacular results:
And I’m doing it again. Last December, I went into Skyboat Media’s studios where Gabrielle De Cuir directed Wil Wheaton, who reprised his role as Marty Hench for the audiobook of The Bezzle. It came out amazing:
Now I’m pre-selling this audiobook, as well as the ebook and hardcover for The Bezzle. I’m also offering bundles with the ebook and audiobook for Red Team Blues (naturally these are all DRM-free). You can get your books signed and personalized and shipped anywhere in the world, courtesy of Book Soup, and I’ve partnered with Libro.fm to deliver DRM-free audiobooks with an app for people who don’t want to mess around with sideloading.
I’ve also got some spendy options for high rollers. There’s three chances to name a character in the next Hench novel (Picks and Shovels, Feb 2025). There’s also five chances to commission a Hench short story about your favorite tech scam, and get credited when the story is published.
The Kickstarter runs for the next three weeks, which should give me time to get the hardcopy books signed and shipped to arrive around the on-sale date. What’s more, I’ve finally worked out all the post-Brexit kinks with shipping my UK publisher’s books to EU backers. I’m working with Otherland Books to fulfill those EU orders, and it looks like I’m going to be able to sign a giant stack of those when I’m in Berlin later this month to give the annual Marshall McLuhan lecture at the Canadian embassy:
Red Team Blues and its sequels are some of the most fun – and informative – work I’ve done in my quarter-century career. I love how they blend technical explanations of the scam economy with high-intensity technothrillers. That’s the the same mix as my bestselling YA series Little Brother series – but these are firmly adult novels.
The Bezzle came out great. I hope you’ll give it a try – and that you’ll come out to see me in late February when I hit the road with the book! Here’s that Kickstarter link again: