Monday, 14 October 2013

The Purge

The past couple of days have seen a purge of borderline illegal porn from Amazon, Barnes & Nobel and other dealers of self-published e-books. Sensationalist headlines by the likes of Mail on Sunday ensured that the action was swift and thorough, the ‘outrage’ these vendors felt for ‘finding out’ such books exist on their sites vocal.

I don’t write porn, legal or otherwise. So why should I care if books that push the boundaries of good taste and test what is legal are deleted? I don’t even read that stuff. Let it be banned.

But I do enjoy an occasional naughty book, like so many others judging by how well porn and erotica sell. Now it appears all kinds of erotic books are being taken off, just in case it offends someone. According to Nate Hoffelder on the Digital Reader, WH Smith has closed their site to remove ‘all self-published’ material.

That is worrying.

I write romantic books that have some adult content. Nothing over the top and the sex scenes aren’t the driving force of any of my books. But they might offend someone’s delicate sensibilities. So how long before that someone declares his or her sensibilities offended, writes screaming headlines and gets my books and those tens of thousands similar books deleted too?

A cynic would say that won’t happen. Romance is the biggest seller on e-books and likely a large part of it contains sex. There isn’t a vendor who would ban those books. But these things always start small.

Alice Munro, this year’s Literature Nobel winner, expressed it well in an interview from 1979 when pressure groups tried to have her book removed from libraries:
“As soon as one step is taken, you have to start resisting because that makes the next step easier … The people who are against the books, they somehow think they think if we don’t write about sex, it will disappear and it will go away.
Even if we allow that we don’t exactly know how many or what kinds of books have actually been removed, hearsay all we have to go by, the matter is serious. Vendors are getting rid of self-published books on the slightest pretence. And it allows them to introduce censorship dictated not by what is legal or what people are willing to read but by what advertisers want to be associated with. Because, in the end, that’s what it comes down to.

At the time, the purge is targeted at the self-published material only. That is bad enough. How long before they begin to purge other books too? Books are being challenged constantly for the slightest reasons. Amazon and others have opened the game with this purge. How easy will it be for them to continue?

I find that frightening.

As I prepared to publish this post, my Twitter friend, author Geoffrey Wakeling, told that all his books have disappeared from Kobo UK, though they are still available internationally. He writes sci-fi and horror, not porn. He says that most self-published books have been pulled from that site. So already this is affecting decent, hardworking authors who simply want to make a living. In no way can that be seen as good.

So far, I havent heard authors expressing their outrage for this, presumably because the books targeted haven’t merited it, for whatever reason. How about now that the larger purge has begun? Are we waiting for it to blow over? Your book could be next.


  1. I DO find it worrying, particularly because as you mentioned, I don't write porn. In fact, bar one of my books, there's not even a kiss. CRYO has some intimate moments, and a very fluffed sex scene between two consenting adults in their 30s *SHOCK HORROR*.

    At the moment I wonder if Kobo has only made this move to safeguard their relationship with W.H.Smith. The latter company has a bit of a British stalwart reputation to keep up. I also think that what started this all off - porn showing up in searches for children's books - IS bad. There's no reason for that to happen BUT these distributors should've thought of filtering LONG before this ever happened.

    I suspect that we'll start seeing more filters, more rejected books and scrupulous nitpicking in the future. Places such as Amazon and Kobo won't get rid of self-pub altogether - it makes them $$$ at the end of the day. But we may well soon see the re-emergence of gatekeepers as to which fiction is allowed, and what is not.

    1. You're right. They should be able to handle this better than removing everything. But I don't like the idea of gatekeepers either. Takes away what is best about self-publishing.