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.