Mars ain’t the kind of place to raise your kids.

Recently I have read several articles regarding the decision made by several on-line e-book retailers to remove books from their catalogs.  I’m not going to link to any of the stories, I’m sure you’ve seen them yourself, and if you haven’t, you can find them yourself, and decide which ones to believe.

As near as I can determine, sifting through a number of sources, the timeline goes something like this:

  • Novelist Jeffery Duns tweets displeasure regarding a particular title available in Amazon’s Erotic E-book category.
  • UK website The Kernel publishes a story about erotic e-books.
  • Amazon, B&N, and Kobo respond by deleting e-books from their catalog.

This is what I have been able to verify.  One point that seems to be common to many of the stories, but is difficult to prove at this point, is that book being deleted are all self-published books, that traditionally published books are not effected.  Personally, I believe that is likely, because the retailers are likely to believe that traditionally published books are vetted for content by the publisher. (Not a view I share, but a not uncommon one.)

Another point that shows up frequently that I haven’t seen any confirmed examples for is that books are being deleted on the basis of titles, not content, and that self-published books with words like “Daddy” and “Babysitter” in the title are disappearing, even if nothing sexual occurs in the book.  Again, I believe that this is likely.  (And an author whose book vanishes from a retailer without notice will probably take a while to react.) I recall when LiveJournal conducted a purge of groups that featured erotica that contained depictions of underage sex–a number of groups for childhood sexual abuse survivors (including one that I was a member of) vanished as well.

There are a couple of points that I would like to raise preemptively, because they tend to surface at times like this, and they derail discussions quickly.

  • First, this is not a question of “censorship” or “free speech”.  These e-book retailers are private companies, they can choose to stock or not stock what they wish.  They are not required to give server space to anyone, and are well within their rights to refuse to carry any material, at any time, for any reason, or for none at all.  That having been said, the fact that they cannot be prevented from doing so does not shield them from the economic consequences of their actions.  
  • Second, depictions of unlawful acts are not themselves unlawful.  I can (and do) write about violent murder.  Murder is against the law.  Writing about it is not.  I, myself, do not claim to know what sorts of written material are unlawful in various jurisdictions.  To be honest, I am not sure that anyone does.  I will accept the testimony of an attorney regarding what sorts of written material is considered pornographic and what possible legal penalties one can expect, in the areas where she or he is licensed to practice.  Outside of that, I don’t know what’s against the law, and I am going to assume that you don’t either.

I don’t have any conclusions at this point.  I would like to know more about these events prior to making any judgments.  What I expect will happen next is that the retailers will begin to return books to their catalog after checking them for content (whether the authors will choose to continue to do business with them after this remains to be seen, of course).

I will expect that there will be boycotts and threats of legal action and petitions (I have already seen one of the latter) and a great deal of disinformation posted, and a fair amount of hysteria.

What I hope to see is more people waiting to see what is going on, and verifying the information, before jumping to conclusions.  I’m not very hopeful, but it could happen.

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About MishaBurnett

I am the author of "Catskinner's Book", a science fiction novel available on Amazon Kindle. http://www.amazon.com/dp/B008MPNBNS
This entry was posted in On Promotion, On Publishing, On Writing and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

21 Responses to Mars ain’t the kind of place to raise your kids.

  1. Papi Z says:

    Reblogged this on The Literary Syndicate and commented:
    Some very good points presented by Misha on the great e-book “purge” of 2013. Check it out my friends.

  2. I’m definitely waiting to see how things pan out. I’ve heard about petitions already, but those never seem to work. I was told that Amazon is taking books out by doing keyword searches, which is where some of the confusion is coming in. It does feel like an over-reaction to a vocal minority and I hope it blows over soon.

    • MishaBurnett says:

      It’s funny how the ire seems to be directed primarily at Amazon, when all of the major e-book retailers are doing it.

      • Downside to being the big dog in the yard, I guess. I’ve seen some anger aimed at Kobo and B&N, but even I say Amazon when talking about this. I’m still not sure who started this and how it got so massive.

      • MishaBurnett says:

        And that is one of my big unanswered questions. From an article on a relatively minor website to all of the major e-book retailers pulling books, almost overnight? I feel like there’s a piece missing here. Usually this kind of thing takes time to build, and one retailer will jump first, then the others follow. This seems orchestrated.

  3. Dave Higgins says:

    With the internet being a difficult concept to resolve when it comes to legal jurisdiction, online retailers have always faced issues with selling something that might be illegal in a particular country. If the reports of the original complaint are accurate then there might be a case that one of the books stocked broke UK law, so the retailers needed to protect themselves.

    As it would be ridiculous to expect Amazon to read every book in their catalogue, I can also see why (both morally and legally) they might be slightly over-zealous in removing things from their shelves.

    Whether it is true of any one book or not, I suspect the proportion of author-published books that have not had someone not closely associated with the author look at them is much higher than for trad published. As each set of less-intimate eyes increases the chances of someone raising the porn issue (or even knowing there might be one), I can also see why author-published works are the starting point.

    I am almost certain it is not the “Amazon is conspiring to kill indie writers” horror story that some people are spouting; there are too many author-publishers on these sites for them not to be a solid part of the site’s business model.

    • MishaBurnett says:

      The internet does strange things to the whole concept of jurisdiction. It must make a lawyer’s life interesting at times.

      There is a lot of Amazon Is The Devil hysteria waiting to crop up at a moment’s notice–oddly enough, no one seems to be saying that B&N Is The Devil, although they are doing the same thing.

      • Dave Higgins says:

        Amazon are the face of internet sales (whether they are actually the largest), so will always be the Devil to those writers who believe Art is not Art if someone makes money. If Barnes & Nobel were seen as very profitable internet sellers, I suspect they would be the Devil too.

  4. I received an email from Kobo alluding to the article in the UK and indicating that they were now in the process of removing titles. They also included a very brief statement. I certainly don’t know enough about it to draw any conclusions. You seem to know more than I do at this point.

    • MishaBurnett says:

      I got a letter from Kobo, too, although I never put my book up on them. They seemed to be unable to figure out what to do with a routing number from a US credit union, so I could never set up an account.

  5. I am very glad that you gave the disclaimer about this not being about censorship or free speech. If a retailer, be they as big as Amazon or small as the village bookseller, decides that they don’t want to sell something they find distasteful, that is their decision.
    Your second disclaimer is also very well thought out — I am not a lawyer, either, but I know that there are obscenity laws and guidelines as to what is acceptable and what is to be considered pornography. And then, if considered pornography, there are then guidelines as to what is legal and what is not. If someone is writing child pornography (even though no real children are involved) is it still a crime? I don’t know, I’m not a lawyer, I’m just a human being that finds the very thought disgusting, and feel an urge to commit other, more violent crimes against such writers.

    If a retailer wants to refuse to carry a book because of content or suspected content, that’s their right, whether writers like it or not. Writers have no right to DEMAND that a venue sell their books.

  6. sknicholls says:

    I took the words rape out of my book description just to be on the safe side. Thy truly weren’t necessary for the story and I had been in a debate about what they revealed to the reader anyway…as in TMI. C’est la vie .

    • MishaBurnett says:

      Well, I don’t think it’s “rape” so much that has people flustered, it’s the incest angle that seems to be generating the most ire.

      • sknicholls says:

        I looked at some of the articles and I think you are correct. My independent publisher seemed a little miffed at me, asking me for my source of information. I don’t think he really wanted to pull that line. Que sera sera.

  7. kingmidget says:

    Interesting comparison with writing about murder. I wonder what they’ll do with my book … it describes a consensual sex scene that turns into a rape allegation.

  8. L. Marie says:

    Sigh. Oh great. I’ve got Elton’s song going through my mind now. (Not that it’s a bad thing.) Interesting discussion. I didn’t know that Amazon and B&N removed books from their catalogues.

    • MishaBurnett says:

      Yeah, it’s been all over the writer’s groups I read. It evidently just happened. And I use a lot of song lyrics as blog titles–one of these days ASCAP is going to kick in my front door and drag me to hell.

  9. Pingback: Ponder This… #9 | The Literary Syndicate

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