Pluralistic: Kickstarting the Red Team Blues audiobook, which Amazon won't sell (21 Mar 2023)

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A graphic showing a phone playing the Red Team Blues audiobok, along with a quote from Booklist, 'Jam-packed with cutting-edge ideas about cybersecurity and crypto. Another winner from an sf wizard.'

Kickstarting the Red Team Blues audiobook, which Amazon won't sell (permalink)

Red Team Blues is my next novel, a post-cyberpunk anti-finance finance thriller; it's a major title for my publishers Tor Books and Head of Zeus, and it's swept the trade press with starred reviews all 'round. Despite all that, Audible will not sell the audiobook. In fact, Audible won't sell any of my audiobooks. Instead, I have to independently produce them and sell them through Kickstarter:

Audible is Amazon's monopoly audiobook platform. It has a death-grip on the audiobook market, commanding more than 90% of genre audiobook sales, and every single one of those audiobooks is sold with Amazon's DRM on it. That means that you can't break up with Amazon without throwing away those audiobooks. Under the 1998 Digital Millennium Copyright Act, I can't give you a tool to convert my own copyrighted audiobooks to a non-Amazon format. Doing so is a felony carrying a five year prison sentence and a $500,000 fine for an act that in no way infringes anyone's copyright! Indeed, merely infringing copyright is much less illegal than removing Amazon's mandatory DRM from my own books!

I've got amazing publishers who support my crusade against DRM, but they're not charities. If they can't sell my audiobooks on the platform that represents 90% of the market, they're not going to make audio editions at all. Instead, I make my own audiobooks, using brilliant voice actors like Amber Benson and Neil Gaiman, and I sell them everywhere except Audible.

Doing this isn't cheap: I'm paying for an incredible studio (Skyboat Media), a world-class director (Gabrielle de Cuir), top-notch sound editing and mastering, and, of course, killer narrators. And while indie audiobook platforms like and are amazing, the brutal fees extracted by Apple and Google on app sales means that users have to jump through a thousand hoops to shop with indie stores. Most audiobook listeners don't even know that these stores exist: if a title isn't available on Audible, they assume no audiobook exists.

That's where Kickstarter comes in: twice now, I've crowdfunded presales of my audiobooks through KS, and these campaigns were astoundingly successful, smashing records and selling thousands of audiobooks. These campaigns didn't just pay my bills (especially during lockdown, when our household income plunged), but they also showed other authors that it was possible to evade Amazon's monopoly chokepoint and sell books that aren't sticky-traps for Audible's walled garden/prison:

And today, I'm launching the Kickstarter for Red Team Blues, and even by the standards of my previous efforts, I think this one's gonna be incredible.

For starters, there's the narrator: Wil Wheaton, whose work on my previous books is outstanding, hands-down my favorite (don't tell my other narrators! They're great too!):

Beyond Wil's narration, there's the subject matter. The hero of Red Team Blues is a hard-charging forensic accountant who's untangled every Silicon Valley finance scam since he fell in love with spreadsheets as as a MIT freshman, dropped out, got his CPA ticket, and moved west. Now, at the age of 67, Marty Hench is ready to retire, but a dear old friend – a legendary cryptographer – drags him back for one last job – locating the stolen keys to the backdoor he foolishly hid in a cryptocurrency that's worth more than a billion dollars.

That's the starting gun for a "grabby next-Tuesday thriller" that sees Marty in between three-letter agencies and international crime syndicates, all of whom view digital technology as a carrier medium for scams, violence and predation. Marty's final adventure involves dodgy banks, crooked crypto, and complicit officials in a fallen paradise where computers' libertory promise has been sucked dry by billionaire vampires.

It's a pretty contemporary story, in other words.

I wrote this one before SVB, before Sam Bankman0Fried and FTX – just like I wrote Little Brother before Snowden's revelations. It's not that I'm prescient – fortune-telling is a fatalist's delusion – it's that these phenomena are just the most spectacular, most recent examples in a long string of ghastly and increasingly dire scandals.

Red Team Blues blasted out of my fingertips in six weeks flat, during lockdown, when technology was simultaneously a lifeline, connecting us to one another during our enforced isolation; and a tool of predatory control, as bossware turned our "work from home" into "live at work."

The last time I wrote a book that quickly, it was Little Brother, and, as with Little Brother, Red Team Blues is a way of working out my own anxieties and hopes for technology on the page, in story. These books tap into a nerve. I knew I had something special in my hands when, the night after I finished the first draft, I rolled over at 2AM to find my wife sitting up in bed, reading.

"What are you doing?" I asked.

"I had to find out how it ended," she answered.

The next day, my editor sent me a four-line email:

A! Fucking! Ride!

Within a week, he'd bought Red Team Blues…and two sequels. I finished writing the second of these on Monday, and all three are coming out in the next 22 months. It's gonna be a wild ride.

Kickstarter backers can get the usual goodies: DRM-free audiobooks and ebooks, hardcovers (including signed and personalized copies), and three very special, very limited-run goodies.

First, there's naming rights for characters in the sequels – I'm selling three of these; they're a form of cheap (or at least, reasonably priced) literary immortality for you or a loved one. The sequels are a lot of fun – they go in reverse chronology, and the next one is The Bezzle, out in Feb 2024, a book about prison-tech scams, crooked LA County Sheriff's Deputy gangs, and real-estate scumbags turned techbros. The third book is Picks and Shovels (Jan 2025), and it's Marty's first adventure after he comes west to San Francisco and ends up working for the bad guys, an affinity scam PC company called "Three Wise Men" that's run by a Mormon bishop, a Catholic priest and an orthodox rabbi who fleece their faithful with proprietary, underpowered computers and peripherals, and front for some very bad, very violent money-men.

Next, there's three Marty Hench short story commissions: the Hench stories are machines for turning opaque finance scams into technothrillers. While finance bros use MEGO ("my eyes glaze over") as a weapon to bore their marks into submission, I use the same performative complexity as the engines of taut detective stories. Commissioning a Hench story lets you turn your favorite MEGO scam into a science fiction story, which I'll then shop to fiction websites (every story I've written for the past 20 years has sold, though in the event that one of these doesn't, I'll put it up under a CC license).

Finally, there's a super-ultra-limited deluxe hardcover edition – and I do mean limited, just four copies! These leather-bound editions have Will Staehle's fantastic graphic motif embossed in their covers, and the type design legend John D Berry is laying out the pages so that there's space for a hidden cavity. Nestled in that cavity is a hand-bound early draft edition of The Bezzle, the sequel to Red Team Blues. The binding is being done by the fantastic book-artist John DeMerritt. Each copy's endpapers will feature a custom cryptographic puzzle created especially for it by the cryptographer Bruce Schneier.

I often hear from readers who want to thank me for the work I do, from the free podcast I've put out since 2006 to the free, CC BY columns I've written for Pluralistic for the past three years. There is no better way to thank me than to back this Kickstarter and encourage your friends to do the same:

Preselling a ton of audiobooks, ebooks, and print books is a huge boost to the book on its launch – incomparable, really. Invaluable.

What's more, helping me find a viable way to produce popular, widely heard audiobooks without submitting to Amazon's DRM lock-in sets an example for other creators and publishers: we have a hell of a collective action problem to solve, but if we could coordinate a response to Audible demanding the right to decide whether our work should have their DRM, it would force Audible to treat all of us – creators, publishers and listeners – more fairly.

I'll be heading out on tour to the US, Canada, the UK and Germany once the book is out. I'm really looking forward to as many backers in person as I can! Thank you for your support over these many long years – and for your support on this Kickstarter.

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Colophon (permalink)

Currently writing:

  • A Little Brother short story about DIY insulin PLANNING

  • Picks and Shovels, a Martin Hench noir thriller about the heroic era of the PC. FIRST DRAFT COMPLETE, WAITING FOR EDITORIAL REVIEW

  • The Bezzle, a Martin Hench noir thriller novel about the prison-tech industry. FIRST DRAFT COMPLETE, WAITING FOR EDITORIAL REVIEW

  • Vigilant, Little Brother short story about remote invigilation. ON SUBMISSION

  • Moral Hazard, a short story for MIT Tech Review's 12 Tomorrows. FIRST DRAFT COMPLETE, ACCEPTED FOR PUBLICATION

  • Spill, a Little Brother short story about pipeline protests. ON SUBMISSION

Latest podcast: Gig Work is the Opposite of Steampunk

Upcoming appearances:

Recent appearances:

Latest books:

Upcoming books:

  • Red Team Blues: "A grabby, compulsive thriller that will leave you knowing more about how the world works than you did before." Tor Books, April 2023

  • The Internet Con: A nonfiction book about interoperability and Big Tech, Verso, September 2023

  • The Lost Cause: a post-Green New Deal eco-topian novel about truth and reconciliation with white nationalist militias, Tor Books, November 2023

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"When life gives you SARS, you make sarsaparilla" -Joey "Accordion Guy" DeVilla