Hyperrhiz 20

Literary Forkbombs: Interventionist Conceptual Writing in the Age of Amazon

Karl Wolfgang Flender
Freie Universität Berlin

Citation: Flender, Karl Wolfgang. “Literary Forkbombs: Interventionist Conceptual Writing in the Age of Amazon.” Hyperrhiz: New Media Cultures, no. 20, 2019. doi:10.20415/hyp/020.net01

Abstract: With their Ghost Writers project, the Austrian artistic and publishing collective Traumawien flooded Amazon with e-books entirely composed of YouTube comments, presenting us with a satirical reflection on the system of production, distribution and reception of self-published e-books in the age of Amazon and Google. This essay reads the project as interventionist conceptual writing that not only appropriates the culture industry’s materials, but also its means of production. The result is a type of “interface-specific literature” that is not only designed to integrate the affordances of Amazon’s interface, but also uses the interface against its purpose in a digital détournement. The essay argues that the Ghost Writers project, with its author model of human-machine hybridization, offers a new way to think about writing literature as designing strategies of resistance to monopolistic platforms beyond outdated imperatives of originality and readability.

Keywords: ebook, hack, Amazon, YouTube, spam, drama, Kindle, conceptual writing, interface, appropriation.


In 2012, the Austrian artistic and publishing collective Traumawien flooded Amazon’s self-publishing platform with thousands of e-books, exploiting a vulnerability in the upload system with a project called Kindle’voke Ghost Writers. The e-books looked like actual e-books, the text typeset like canonical drama, but in fact their content was nonsensical rubbish: the dialogue was composed of YouTube comments, making the e-books essentially spam. Yet if one examines them as conceptual writing, they can still be perceived as literature, great literature indeed.

Conceptual writing is a self-described avant-garde movement established around the year 2000 by writers such as Kenneth Goldsmith, Vanessa Place and Christian Bök, but it has also come to mean a range of writing techniques, chiefly the strategy of appropriation of texts and their reframing as literature, often in the interface of the book (Goldman n.p.). This reframing is mediated through various constraints or post-production procedures (such as formatting, alphabetization, erasure) to deconstruct the textual content, to reveal its meaning-making processes, and to render visible the aesthetics and politics of the appropriated materials’ language, writing, and signification practices. In the tradition of conceptual art of the 1960s, these works privilege the idea over the text, calling for a “thinkership” rather than a “readership” (Fitterman and Place 11), and taking as their topic the changing nature of literature in the digital age; for example, the transformations of authorship, institutions, the medium of the book, or the distribution and reception of works.

So how to read these “ghostwritten” texts that probably challenge even seasoned readers of conceptual writing or electronic literature? The sheer number of e-books alone poses a serious difficulty for traditional reading strategies. Their mundane content can be easily dismissed as unliterary, and if we did read them, we would most certainly be disappointed and miss the point. Instead, I propose to look for not solely the literariness in the texts, but also at the conceptual modes of intervention within the system of literature production, distribution and reception. I argue that Traumawien—by expanding the arsenal of conceptual strategies through techniques native to generative literature and hacktivism—defines a new genre with its Ghost Writers project: interventionist conceptual writing.1 I suggest that projects like these can best be read and analyzed by applying Nick Thurston’s “approach to writing by which someone composes or choreographs how the practices and institutions at the intersection will affectively inter-relate” (qtd. in Gilbert, “Publishing as Artistic Practice” 20). Reading the intervention in the operations of Amazon, a major player in today’s literary field, as a “site-specific gesture”—analogous to the exhibition, gallery, and museum as the “sites” of 1970s site-specific art and institutional critique (Gilbert 20)—I will thus analyze the strategic choreographed production, distribution and reception of the Ghost Writers e-books. Additionally, taking cues from Jessica Pressman’s and Roberto Simanowski’s methodological overhaul of close reading to suit digital artifacts, I engage in a close reading that is extended beyond the interpretation of textual formal devices in order to include paratexts, “the political implications of the technologies” (Simanowski x) and the conditions of its production, which “means a merger of formalism and textual studies, aesthetics and media studies” (Pressman 25).

Move Fast and Break Things: How They Did It

To produce the e-books, Traumawien’s Lukas Jost Gross and Bernhard Bauch2 “created a software program which automatically performed every step in the publishing process for an e-book in Amazon’s Kindle Store” (meandmykindle n.p.). Inspired by the categories in the Kindle Shop, the algorithm searched for matching YouTube videos with more than 10,000 views—for the category “Cats” this could for example be The Mean Kitty Song.3 Then the “extraction spider” downloaded all related user comments and fed them into the “Ghost Writers’ Table,” which, according to Gross, is a “book compiler that handles generation of book content, book covers, authors at the same time” (qtd. in Mims n.d.). The program assigned a randomized title from the database and transformed the comments into the form of a classical drama.

Figure 1. Diagram of the e-books’ automated production process. Source: Traumawien.

The “Kindle Scatter Bots” then uploaded the e-books to fake Amazon accounts, set the price at about two dollars and added product descriptions, as well as fake reviews. The bots worked with masked IPs via the anonymous Tor browser, so they would not get detected, and were able to upload thousands of e-books in just a few days. While human authors need to publish their books step-by-step through a process facilitated by Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing interface, Traumawien has successfully mimicked the corporate system of content creation with its own technological ecology of a “digital printing press,” automating it into mass production and publication (Figure 1).4

According to Fitterman and Place, “radical mimesis” lies at the heart of conceptual writing: the conscious appropriation of a text and its reframing in a new context, with the conviction that this détournement “does not aim to critique the culture industry from afar, but to mirror it directly. To do so, it uses the materials of the culture industry directly. (…) The critique is in the reframing” (22). If we deal with site-specific interventions like those by the Ghost Writers, I suggest that the concept of “radical mimesis” must be expanded, as it goes way beyond the textual level and is applied to the (infra)structural level. Here, “radical mimesis” does not content itself with the appropriation of the culture industry’s materials, but appropriates the means of production, in doubling, mirroring, and imitating the corporate system of content creation with its own technological ecology.

Using hacker tactics, and for a moment operating at eye-level with a giant like Amazon, the expansion of the method of “radical mimesis” to the infrastructural level might even revive the critical potential that the appropriation gesture has long lost, as it has been successfully incorporated into commercial art. Even if the Ghost Writers do not succeed in ultimately seizing the means of production, there is at least a moment of disruption. Interventionist conceptual writing is thus not only radically mimetic in a textual sense, but also in a structural one.

“Context is the New Content”: Paratextual Tactics of Camouflage and Interface-Specific Literature

The method of “radical mimesis” is spelled out further when looking at how the e-books are displayed as they are sold through Amazon’s webstore (Figure 2), more precisely their paratextual aspects.

Figure 2. E-book on Amazon’s Kindle self-publishing platform. Source: Traumawien.

The covers obviously imitate the iconic Willy Fleckhaus design of Suhrkamp Verlag editions: same variety of colors, same font, similar layout. This cover camouflage invokes seriousness and allows the books to purchase “cultural capital” from Suhrkamp by imitating their design. It also channels the reader’s expectation, as only high quality literature gets to be printed with this design and Suhrkamp is especially famous for twentieth-century drama by figures like Beckett or Brecht. Traumawien thus strategically masks its e-books in the disguise of seriousness. Yet one can already feel the tension between design and presumed content, as the authors’ names and titles, like Crap soo find pray, sound strange, to say the least (Figure 3).

Figure 3. Comparison between the design of Traumawien e-books and Suhrkamp paperbacks.

Instead of a publisher’s name on the book covers, we find a line of symbols, which is the code for a so-called “forkbomb.” A forkbomb is a denial of service attack on a computer, letting a process replicate itself infinitely to deplete resources and eventually crashing the system. The trick here is obvious: the endless flood of e-books is intended to exhaust Amazon’s servers and/or to test the limits of its censorship algorithms. The product descriptions are randomly compiled from YouTube comments. Figure 2 shows an easily recognizable copy/paste meme, urging the reader to send a chain message to all their friends, or else they will die. If read as a genuine cover text, this creates the kind of tension that is familiar from cheap paperback thrillers: “Stop reading this and something bad will happen”—quite a strong motivation to read a book! Almost all Ghost Writers e-books have this kind of threatening chain message as their blurb, or cover text. As the algorithm is designed to choose only lengthier comments, and as most users do not bother to write as long comments, only the longer memes get picked and copy/pasted. This coincidental meme-as-cover text is ironically reflexive of the differences between the attention-grabbing economies of literary culture (a cover text that aims to motivate the reading of the book) and the Web (a text that aims to turn the reader into a writer and disseminator, as an expression and reflection of the read-write culture of the Web). As a part of the project, fake reviews by big news outlets are also placed in the product description. Whereas publishers normally enter the praise of the press (and faking them is unheard of in the serious publishing business), in this case we see again a tactics of camouflage that is both an indicator of cultural capital and its parody.

These tactics of creating authenticating paratexts can be seen as a typical feature of conceptual writing and “appropriation literature” (Gilbert, Reprint). If we follow Philippe Lejeune’s notion of “paratext” as “the fringe of the printed text which, in reality, controls the whole reading” (45, qtd. in Genette 261), then as an act of “radical mimesis” they serve the purpose of reframing the comments as “high” literature, luring potential readers into believing in its legitimacy, as well as not immediately alerting Amazon’s watchdogs to unusual activity. Whereas familiar literary content like poetry or novels usually can be enjoyed and deemed literary without regard to their paratexts, in conceptual literature the paratext becomes essential in constituting the literary work itself.5 Regarding the Ghost Writers’ subversive use of paratext on a “site” like Amazon.com, I propose to expand the notion of literary “site-specific intervention” even further. The Ghost Writers system is, first of all, tailored to exploit a specific bug of a specific version of Amazon’s e-book upload system, allowing the automated mass-upload of material. Secondly, it is specifically designed to automatically fill all forms in Amazon’s webstore interface (author, cover, summary and reviews). Thirdly, as we will see, it is designed to produce e-books compatible with the Kindle e-reader. Thus, in this case, one can rightly speak of an “interface-specific intervention”—literature that is specifically designed to blend in with the affordances of an interface, yet to not provide a seamless or particularly enjoyable “experience” for the customer/reader, as pseudo-literary storytelling experiments on corporate platforms like Facebook or Twitter always promise, but to use the interface against their purpose, in a kind of digital détournement. This process defamiliarizes the normalized standards established by these platforms and reveals the opaque operations they hide and the corporate ecologies they represent.

Some of the most interesting conceptual writing has been produced through engagement with contemporary technologies of writing and publishing, but mostly these texts are then published in small presses or on independent websites in PDF format.6 With “interface-specific-literature,” however, conceptual writing ventures into the very heart of writing and publishing technologies, and does not simply employ them. This also means that the context of the site of intervention (the interface) is everything—the publication cannot be considered apart from its context, otherwise it would lose its aesthetic properties. The idea of an autonomous text or a monolithic book is here exchanged for the notion of literary contextuality: “[C]ontext is the new content,” as Kenneth Goldsmith would proclaim (“It’s Not Plagiarism” n.p.).

Close Reading the Text as Pseudo-Analog Remediation

Despite all claims to a “thinkership” instead of a readership in conceptual writing, the e-books must be read, as “noting a method (…) is no substitute for carefully reading the textual details of a work” (Dworkin xxxvii). But where to start reading when the number of e-books produced by the Ghost Writers is virtually infinite? Which text to select when none of these books can exist on its own, but only in multitudes? The answer can only be found in exemplary reading, each e-book offering a glimpse into the endless scope of YouTube comments that expands as we speak, yet not in an act of isolated, semantic reading, but in an intertextual reading of “aggressive, strategic medium translation” (Goldman n.p.). This mode focuses on the texts’ relation to their sources and media contexts, as these e-books “appropriate reflexively medium-specific texts and re-mediate them in formats that work against their original purposes” (Goldman n.p.).

Figure 4. Comparison between comments in the interfaces of YouTube (2012) and Kindle. Sources: Popculturestudent and Traumawien.

After the downloading of the raw comments from YouTube, they are transformed via an algorithmic post-production process into drama (Figure 4). With the passage from one medium to another, the comments “assume the formal character of the adopted layout” (Ludovico, “Printed Radicality” 21). This remediation into drama invokes, of course, a different reading practice than the YouTube interface: it implies the disconnected deep reading of literature, and not the skimming and surfing we practice online. So what if we actually read this “stuff” against its purpose in the literary framework?

The e-books might then portray “contemporary micro-dramas at play on community websites” (Nova and Vacheron 1).  By replacing the usernames with randomly assigned character names from a database, the authors of the comments are expropriated and their monological personal notes, not necessarily relating to each other, are transformed into a surreal dialogue that follows the convention of the dramatic form. Whereas in traditional drama the tensions of the dialogue and the conflict between characters are everything, here none of these characteristics can be found. As multiple YouTube authors are randomly merged into single roles, the speakers contradict themselves all the time: in one comment they hate something, in the next the same thing gets the enthusiastic response “LOL.” The reader is at odds with trying to detect distinct characters, as in these dramas there are no stable individuals, making this essentially “post-identity literature,” which turns Kenneth Goldsmith’s much disputed claim upside down (“Conceptualism, Identity Politics”). This process of desubjectification, from individual acts of self-expression into a dramatic representation of YouTube slang, creates “a digital Esperanto that,” according to Traumawien, “emerged out of millions of users worldwide” (Kindle’voke Ghost Writers).

When actually reading the text, we need to expand our provisional notion of “the intentional author” as programmer to what one could call a “distributed authorship” between YouTube users, programmers and algorithms, no one individual determining fully what the aesthetic qualities of the work will be. Thus the project is also an inquiry into the “specter of productions and human-machine collaborations spawned by these sorts of hybridizations,” and the specific aesthetics that comes with such a “machinic creolization” of cultural content (Nova and Vacheron 4).

If we read this drama further in relation to its initial YouTube incarnation, as a remediation of a “medium-specific text” (Goldman n.p.), the loss of all interface-related signs is striking. The thumbs-ups are gone, the date indicators as well; the time codes become empty signifiers, the links are robbed of their function and are meaningless gobbledegook, the hierarchy of the comments erased and consequently the few coherent discussions are deconstructed; and even the ASCII SpongeBob is broken (Figure 5), inviting us to reflect about its reminiscence of visual poetry. Moreover, it is entirely unclear what the buzz is all about, as the central reference point of the dialogue, the video, is missing, as well as the YouTube interface’s paratext which normally guides us how to read these comments.

Figure 5. In both interfaces, the ASCII SpongeBob is reminiscent of visual poetry. Source: Screenshot of YouTube (2018) / Traumawien.

Most importantly, in the Kindle drama the possibility to interact is gone—which is probably the most essential feature of the classic Web 2.0 comment section. Comments on YouTube are presumably less about actually reading all the interesting thoughts on Justin Bieber’s cat, than about one’s own utterance, leaving a mark to reassure oneself of their place in the world—a “phatic communion,” to use Malinowski’s phrasing, even if it is only a “lol.” With the translation from YouTube into drama interface, and the freezing of the ever-moving comment stream into a snapshot of a certain language, at a certain moment, in a certain Web community, as well as from a dynamic YouTube interface into its static Kindle remediation, the Ghost Writers drama seemingly performs the difference between digital and print media.

Figure 6. Pseudo-analog remediation of the book in Amazon’s Kindle Reader. Source: Vincenzo de Bernardo, Shutterstock.

Yet this is only true at first sight, as the Kindle is a merely pseudo-analog device (Figure 6). In a conservative remediation of the book, the Kindle emulates the bookishness of paper, allowing no links, no discussion, while at the same time strategically hiding its expansive exploitation of user data under its pseudo-analog interface design.

The Ghost Writers E-Books as Performative Critique of Immaterial Labor

In their extensive research on the project, Christian Ulrik Andersen and Søren Bro Pold have shown how the collection of data on user behavior lies at the core of Amazon’s business.7 This happens by monitoring sales patterns in order to offer products that customers are likely to buy, or by connecting the cloud service “Amazon Whispernet” to their tablets. This enables Amazon to track reading patterns, for example what, when, and where the user reads, and what they annotate and underline (Andersen and Pold, “Post-Digital Books” 170). Using a concept coined by Ted Striphas, Andersen and Pold have thus described Amazon’s business model as “controlled consumption,” which is characterized by a cybernetic industrial infrastructure, consumer tracking, programmed obsolescence and disruption of everyday life practices (The Metainterface 51). At its core lies the transformation of the reader/user from subject into object (Figure 7)—despite the all-pervasive “rhetoric of ‘empowerment’ and ‘interactivity’” that invites unwitting users to write reviews on Amazon or comments on YouTube (Striphas 183, qtd. in Andersen and Pold, “Post-Digital Books” 174).

Figure 7. Jeff Bezos presenting the new Kindle. Source: James Martin / CNET.com.

These activities on the user’s part can be described as “immaterial labor,” as outlined by Maurizio Lazzarato: “immaterial labor involves a series of activities that are not normally recognized as ‘work’—in other words, the kinds of activities involved in defining and fixing cultural and artistic standards, fashions, tastes, consumer norms, and, more strategically, public opinion” (133). The user-generated content produced through immaterial labor serves one primary purpose for platform providers: it offers a dataset for targeted advertising. Although it is hard to believe that these stupid comments would have any monetary value at all, they show the users’ engagement with specific videos, and through their Google accounts this can be connected to the analysis of itineraries on Google Maps, or Gmail messages, for contextual advertising. Combined with cookies, search results, and trackers, the comments play their part in creating a coherent dataset of the user, which is then ready to sell advertisements to, or to be sold to advertisers.8

The Ghost Writers project tackles this exploitation of immaterial labor on Web platforms, a common trait that Amazon’s business model shares with YouTube’s. Appropriating the users’ comments, erasing their names and violating their copyright, then selling their immaterial labor as e-books, Traumawien turns them into involuntary ghostwriters. Traumawien thus does openly what YouTube and Amazon do “secretly” via algorithms: making money off the labor of their users. In an “auto-cannibalistic model, user-generated content is sold back to the users themselves, parasitically exploiting both corporations,” pitting them against each other (Traumawien, Kindle’voke Ghost Writers n.p.). Traumawien thus “publishes” not only e-books; it performatively publishes the digital industries’ revenue models, in the sense that “publishing is making things public,” which is one of Traumawien’s claims (Traumawien, Relational Publishing n.p.).

But there is another twist to the story: what we also find here is a hybridization of two publishing cultures, with conflicting notions of copyright and authorship. On the one hand, there is the read-write culture of the Web 2.0, with its notion of the remixable new media object. At its root lies the anonymity of authors, as with copy/paste, remix, and mash-up processes all sources are obscured. On the other hand, we have the author-centered model of book culture with its notion of intellectual property and writers always indicating when they are using someone else’s thoughts. To play with this clash of publishing cultures, the Amazon fake accounts are assigned to YouTube usernames, turning the contributors into real authors on the Self-Publishing Platform. If a user, for example, signed up on YouTube with a real name, they could now be credited with a publication called This Fuck on Amazon’s webstore. In an ironic twist, this fact empowers the user by transforming them from immaterial laborers into genuine authors: “By manipulating the exploitation, our system will give fair fame to the authors of those texts that clearly deserve a fair piece of the pie of this nonsense economy” (Traumawien, Kindle’voke Ghost Writers n.p.).

The project here aims at returning to the romantic idea of the Web as a free and noncommercial space that Google and Amazon have turned into a corporate hell of “controlled consumption” (Striphas 183) and exploitation. We have heard the talk of this information-fueled dystopia a thousand times (and we apparently accept that it operates that way), and that is exactly why Traumawien does not employ a discursive strategy to criticize Amazon, but a performative one that makes these interrelations visible in situ.

The Ghost Writers’ Deletion between Censorship, Recuperation and Nobilitation

As it usually happens with such interventions, the Ghost Writers e-books were discovered. After three days, Amazon deleted thousands of books and accounts, the official reasons being the prohibited use of multiple accounts and the violation of Amazon’s Content Guidelines.9 In his study of fiction under the Amazon’s realm, Mark McGurl analyzes the company’s content policy (“We do not allow content that disappoints our customers,” Kindle Direct Publishing [KDP]) and concludes:

The quality strictures would seem to go more to the articulation of a disciplining ideal, and to justification for removing truly objectionable content at will, than to the company’s routine operations. The question is the extent to which these operations have begun to shape a literary culture—or literary culture in general—in their image (456).

With a literary approach that calls for new modes of aesthetic appreciation, the Ghost Writers protest against Amazon’s paradigm of literary craft, which simply excludes “content that does not provide an enjoyable reading experience” (KDP)—a quality “almost metaphysical in extent and implication,” as McGurl notes (456).10

Besides the disciplining impact of the company’s quality management on literary culture, Amazon’s deletion and censorship practices have been regular subject of scandals, and with its rapidly developing monopoly in book distribution, the availability of an e-book in the Amazon store, or its censoring and deletion, also have a political dimension. The company, for example, refused to censor books like The Pedophiles Guide to Love and Pleasure, claiming freedom of speech (Cheng), but at the same time deleted homosexual romance novels from the ranking system, then later attributing it all to a software error (Johnson and Pidd). In 2009, Amazon even deleted George Orwell’s 1984 from all Kindle devices because of copyright infringement in Australia (Fisher). This led to 1984 disappearing from users’ digital devices, which was almost like offering the final proof that big brother watches your every read on Kindle.

Traumawien’s intervention makes Amazon enact its arbitrary practice of censorship once more. In forcing Amazon to take down the spam books—making the system react to an unexpected interference—the arbitrary apparatuses governing literature and media circulation on monopolistic platforms like Amazon are exposed. Following the aesthetics of the coup and understanding writing as “a choreography of practices and institutions” (Thurston, qtd. in Gilbert, “Publishing as Artistic Practice” 20), interventionist conceptual writing like the Ghost Writers project heralds the strategic turn of literature: strategy here gains a literary value in itself. But as with most hacks, the infiltrated system closes the gaps as soon as it finds out. After the deletion, Amazon’s algorithms were revised, and the upload platform reworked, preventing these kinds of hacks in the future. Thus, in the long run, the Ghost Writers worked to improve Amazon’s platform—recuperation being the downside of every intervention.

Figure 8. Traumawien’s Ghost Writers e-book on sale on Amazon in 2018. Screenshot.

This, however, may just as well have been the point, as it is a typical strategy to get your work rejected, deleted, censored: the deletion by a big player like Amazon essentially ennobles Traumawien’s literature as “avant-garde.” And as such, right now there are Ghost Writers e-books for sale on Amazon, if only just a select few. They have no forkbomb on the cover, but rather “KINDLE’VOKE GHOST WRITERS.” In addition, their description reads “This book is part of the ‘KINDLE’VOKE GHOST WRITERS’ series published by TRAUMAWIEN” and, as Figure 8 indicates, the price is higher, too. This leads us back to the notion of conceptual writing: it is not the text, but the whole act of conception and publication that determines its literary value. Six years after the initial intervention, in an unexpected turn of events, by gladly offering these versions for sale, Amazon might ironically demonstrate an advanced sense of literary understanding.


Traumawien’s Ghost Writers project present us with a satirical reflection on the system of production, distribution and reception of self-published e-books in the age of Amazon and Google. The project reminds us that corporate programs or platforms are not just neutral tools to reinvent literature in the digital age, but should and can be questioned with site-specific literary projects, even if the forkbombs did not take down Amazon, and the intervention ultimately led to recuperation. The literary value of the Ghost Writers project lies in the trajectory between the possibility of a new kind of literature—exploring an author model of human-machine hybridizations as a “complex abstraction that seems to have arrived ahead of its time” (Ludovico, “UBERMORGEN’s Anomalous Contemporaneity” 7)—and the conceptual intervention and critique of contemporary publishing.

Expanding the method of “radical mimesis” to the infrastructural level, Traumawien not only appropriates the culture industry’s materials, but also its means of production. The result is a type of “interface-specific literature,” that is designed to integrate the affordances of Amazon’s interface, but in a digital détournement uses the interface against its own purpose. As we have seen, concept, strategy, paratext, and the text itself are inextricably intertwined in interventionist conceptual projects like the Ghost Writers, offering a new way to think about writing literature as designing strategies of resistance to monopolistic platforms beyond outdated imperatives of originality and readability. Interventionist literary projects like this one not only remain in the literary realm, but also connect with the tradition of site-specific art of the 1970s, and practices of media hacking, which strategically infiltrate media publishers to expose their apparatuses of censorship, monetization and data management. Such projects then set Internet capitalists directly against each other, instead of following the logic of another New York Times opinion piece about the dark menace that is Amazon or Google.

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Thurston, Nick. Of the Subcontract, Or Principles of Poetic Right. Information as Material, 2013.

Traumawien. Kindle’voke Ghost Writers, 2012, traumawien.at/ghostwriters. Accessed 9 Oct 2016.

—. Relational Publishing, 2014, traumawien.at/stuff/pdp. Accessed 9 Oct 2016.


  1. “Actually there is no real ‘hack’ or [sic] involved in the whole thing,” says Traumawien’s Lukas Jost Gross in an interview with the MIT Technology Review. “Getting all bytes, words, pieces and parameters together to compile books and tie robots on the same machinery, that sequential upload book to the kindle store is kind of a ‘hack’. But there was not need to break into Youtube or Amazon to get content or upload a massive amount of books” (qtd. in Mims n.p.).
  2. The Ghost Writers project was originally created in collaboration with the media artists UBERMORGEN.COM, who also present The Project Formerly Known As Kindle Forkbomb as part of the “Google Will Eat Itself” series on their website uuuuuuuntitled.com.
  3. The e-book Sparta My Have is obviously made up of comments about the The Mean Kitty Song video. This e-book and many others can be found on Traumawien’s website: traumawien.at/ghostwriters.
  4. On their website, Traumawien also provide plenty of material documenting their feat of “hacking” Amazon: an artist’s statement, a diagram, raw files, and upload protocols. See traumawien.at/ghostwriters/
  5. See also the articles by Nora Ramtke and Tomasz Waszak in Gilbert, Wiederaufgelegt.
  6. Examples include Nick Thurston’s Of the Subcontract, which is a collection of commissioned poems written by Amazon’s Mechanical Turk workers, or American Psycho by Mimi Cabell and Jason Huff, who re-wrote the homonymous Bret Easton Ellis’s novel by using Googlemail’s advertising algorithm.
  7. Andersen and Pold mainly write about the UBERMORGEN version of the project, but their conclusions also apply here. See footnote 2.
  8. Moreover, comments can be used by the company however it likes—when posting a comment the user trades off non-exclusive rights to YouTube for free.
  9. The deletion for “spam” seems far-fetched and almost ironic, as ten thousands of books compiled from Wikipedia are sold on the platform for 40+ USD; their content run through auto-spinners, which change the word order to complete nonsense. It is doubtful that such texts would really be any better than the deleted Ghost Writers e-books.
  10. Intentionally vague content standards on proprietary platforms are seemingly a common control strategy of Internet monopolists, as Lori Emerson argues in her analysis of the iOS Human Interface Guidelines, concluding that the company “maintains as much control as possible over apps by intentionally avoiding stating their criteria for determining what is objectionable” (24).