Banned

Honestly, I try not to be a complete grumpy curmudgeon, rambling on about Doom, Gloom, and The End Of Civilization As We Know It. I really do. The universe sure makes it difficult, though.

Between the NSA, Caltrans, BART and AC Transit, and the Baseball Gods, there’s a lot of depressing stuff going on out there. I know last week’s posts were on the grumpy side, and the subject I’ve got lined up for Thursday leans that way as well (or at least towards the curmudgeonly*), so I figured I should talk about something lighter today. I started looking for something cheerful. Instead, I found this.

* Blame Lior. He’s the one who sent the link that set me off. He’s frighteningly good at that.

Last week, The Kernel, source of “tech, media & politics for enquiring minds” published an expose of the fact that Amazon sells “depraved amateur literature that glorifies rape, incest and child abuse”. Apparently this is new information to them. They also revealed today that Amazon also sells Holocaust denial works. But I digress.

The story was picked up by other British news providers, most notably The Daily Mail, which pointed out that several other ebook vendors also sell “pornography”, much of it self-published, and that at least one store mixed erotica and children’s books in search results.

So what happened? Amazon removed a few specific titles listed in the various articles, then decided that didn’t go far enough and began dropping any book whose title or description used certain key words such as “babysitter” or “sister”. Barnes and Noble is doing the same. WH Smith blamed the “problem” on their partner Kobo and shut down their entire site until “all self published eBooks have been removed”; Kobo is deleting all self-published titles.

Yes, you read that correctly. All self-published titles.

Keep in mind that all of these sellers’ terms and conditions for self-publishing specifically ban pornography. But rather than enforce their own policies, they would rather throw out the entire concept of self-publishing. After all, that’s much easier and legally safer than reviewing works at some point during the publication process. And it’s definitely cheaper than adding a filter to the site search functionality to hide material tagged as “erotica” unless the searcher specifically requests it.

Of course, if one has a publisher (even one that exists only on paper or operates out of your garage), you should be safe from the ban, since Amazon and the other sellers assume that a publisher is exercising editorial oversight*. As several commentators have pointed out, that means that “50 Shades of Gray” and many works that straddle the ever-finer line between “romance” and “erotica” are safe, at least for now.

* I don’t blame them for making that assumption: having them pass judgment on what constitutes a “real” publisher would be just as slippery a slope.

What makes this even more depressing is that Banned Books Week was only three weeks ago.

*sigh*

Here’s something to cheer you up. Kotaku is reporting that a Japanese company has introduced “Nyan Nyan Nouveau”: wine for cats. It seems to be a non-alcoholic, catnip-infused grape juice.

Now you and your faithful feline companions can sit down together and share a toast to Doom, Gloom, and The End Of Civilization As We Know It. Kampai!

9 thoughts on “Banned

    • I had a feeling someone was going to suggest that. Bad idea. Burning a Kindle, Nook, or Kobo reader (or a tablet with one of their apps for that matter) will release fumes hazardous to your lungs. It’ll also leave you with an ugly lump of melted plastic and metal that your local garbage pickup service will not take.

      How about just holding your reader over a TV showing the classic Yule Log video?

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  1. I’ve been wondering whether to list my children’s picture book, SEYMOUR’S FIRST CLARINET CONCERTO, on amazon’s Matchbook Program, thereby making it available as an e-book to people who have bought a hard copy. But if I do that,would amazon would worry that the first word in the title might be a sneaky heterograph that pornographers would instantly recognize as See More? And the fact that Seymour is a cat…well, what’s a bawdy synonym for cat? Two bits of evidence of a sneaky pornographer – let’s get that book off our site! Henry Miller, where are you, now that I need you?

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    • Don’t forget that the second word makes it clear that the story involves virgins…

      It only gets worse. According to a couple of Internet anagram generators, the title is concealing the phrase “Circumferential censor sort toys” (clearly you knew you were writing suspect materials aimed at children), “Stormily carefree constructions” (you knew you were going to get into trouble over it, and didn’t care), and “Arteriosclerosis cunt cry fem not” (clearly there’s some intergenerational content there). I think you’re in trouble.

      Jokes aside, I think you’re safe enough. As best I can tell from the news reports, the focus is on ebook-only authors, not those who are making physical books available as well — and especially not those who are selling physical books *first*.

      But if I’m wrong about that, you might follow the lead of one author who had a purportedly non-pornographic gay romance purged. He resubmitted it with a cover and description that just read “Censored by Amazon”. It was approved for sale.

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  2. Victoria Strauss of the Writer Beware blog has posted her own comments on what she’s calling the Great Erotica Panic of 2013 (damn, I wish I had thought of that name). She points out — and I agree — that, however heavy-handed or misguided the sellers’ actions are, they’re still acting within the legitimate purview of their businesses (in other words, it’s not censorship). Her main point, though, is that these events show that “self-publishing” is not equivalent to “independence”, and anybody promoting it that way (and many “self-publishing gurus” are) should be regarded with deep suspicion.

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  3. I’m happy to report that all my self published books seem to have escaped the purge radar — Okay, Kobo seems to be missing the third and fourth, but the first two and the most recent are accounted for. In all honesty, Kobo seems to never have had a complete collection of my books, so despite my inquiries, it seems to be “normal operating procedures” for them.

    Over the past few years I’ve noticed that some authors reporting that their books have been dropped FNAR (for no apparent reason) from one site or the other. Generally, a bit of persistent fit throwing solves the problem. There’s also been an occasional burst of lively discussion about books being banned. I think it’s part and parcel of the nature of books — who writes them, what they write, who reads them and those few who want to control what others read. The economics of ebooks — and particularly self published books — is perhaps the biggest deterrent to banning. There’s a whole lot of $$ at stake, making them a growing & thriving part of the industry. They’re here to stay, as they should be.

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    • Glad to hear you’ve escaped notice in the Great Purge — and my observations from a reader’s perspective about Kobo tally with your experience. With respect to the purge, some sources are saying that the sellers are only purging their UK stores, other say it’s global. It may take a while before things settle down enough for us to get an accurate body count.

      There’s always been a place for self-publishing, but it really took ebooks to make it a large enough segment to swing some marketing muscle. I’m inclined to suspect that the lure of the $$ will eventually overcome the current panic reaction, but again, I think it’s going to take some time. The segment isn’t dead, but it’s definitely going to get some time in rehab.

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      • It is good to have an advocate on your side, and also good to see a definitive statement from someone in a position to know regarding the UK/universal question.

        Thanks for the link. I have to ask, though: does he have religious objections to the concept of paragraphs, or is that a limitation of the blog tool he’s using? 😉

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