Machine of Death is a self-published anthology of science fiction stories and comics based on a single premise:
"The machine had been invented a few years ago: a machine that could tell, from just a sample of your blood, how you were going to die. It didn't give you the date and it didn't give you specifics. It just spat out a sliver of paper upon which were printed, in careful block letters, the words DROWNED or CANCER or OLD AGE or CHOKED ON A HANDFUL OF POPCORN. It let people know how they were going to die." MACHINE OF DEATH tells thirty-four different stories about people who know how they will die.
Today, using a clever bit of internet marketing that urged people to buy the book on October 26th, the people behind Machine of Death have pushed the anthology up to #2 on Amazon's bestseller fiction/literature charts and to the very top of the science fiction charts. This orchestrated sales bomb is probably the best publicity for a book that money can't buy. When something tops the charts on Amazon, it tends to get very sticky, hanging around for a good long while.
Of course, none of this (including the 10 5-star reviews on Amazon) are any indication of the book's actual quality, but it does have contributions from the creators of Dinosaur Comics and XKCD, so at least those are guaranteed to be interesting. On the book's blog, they explain the process that led to the self-publishing route:
...Twe learned a little something about the anthology market. Stephen King isn’t in this book. Neither is Dave Eggers or Neil Gaiman or Nick Hornby. Nobody would buy this little book full of stories from nobody famous, we were told. We talked with six different agents who fell in love with this book; one even fell deeply in love and tried her hardest to sell it to anybody who would listen. One editor at a publishing house told us “Let me be blunt: I love this premise; I love this project; I want to read this book [...] the sample stories included in the proposal are really very strong, and if they’re all that good, then this is a genre anthology of high literary quality.”
But it was 2008, 2009. “The economy,” we were told. “And it’s an anthology.”
Given the book's success today, I think we can call this another mark in the "loss" column for publishers.