Chicken Little: “Amazon is removing all erotica and self-published books”
I’ve had a story brewing for a couple of days about the removal of some titles from some e-book retailers (including Amazon) because of their content.
However, this has just started to explode, with multiple threads in the Amazon Kindle forums with some really hyperbolic statements.
There is some real SIF (Sky Is Falling) panic possibility here, so let’s take a look at what is actually happening…and the implications.
Let’s start out with this article from October 11th (and warning, the article itself is going to be offensive to some):
This is the one that caused a lot of response…which may have resulted in Amazon and Kobo removing some titles.
Here’s a brief quotation:
“Unlike the bookshelves in physical stores, online bookstores appear to be a Wild West of depraved content sure to horrify every parent and book-lover.”
Now, it’s worth taking a look at the other articles on that site. I’ll let you judge the tone of the website yourself. I’ll say…that they would probably agree with me that “dispassionate” would not be an appropriate adjective.
Shortly afterwards, there was this
Not just Amazon, but other online retailers, are apparently removing books, both cited in the Kernel article and not cited.
That’s what is raising the concern.
These are going to be independently published books, from what I’ve seen.
This has been expanded into Amazon removing all independently published books and all erotica.
Neither seems likely.
The concern here is whether Amazon is selling illegal books…and that’s not the case for all erotica or all independently published books.
It is important to note two things about Amazon’s role here.
Amazon has the right to carry or not carry whatever they want as long as it is legal. They are not censors when they choose not to carry something. That can be purely a business decision. If they decided that people didn’t like seeing books with purple font on the cover, they could just stop carrying those. They are under no obligation to carry anything.
Second, and this may be significant, Amazon can be seen as at the least a distribution platform for books coming through Kindle Direct Publishing, and is arguably a publisher. That may give them some more legal responsibility if the books are actually illegal.
That’s the next big question.
Are these books illegal?
This brouhaha is really happening in the UK, and I don’t know their laws about pornography well enough to make that assessment.
Let’s say, though, that the books depict illegal acts (using words, not pictures). That in and of itself does not make them illegal…if it did, huge categories of books, including all murder mysteries, would be illegal.
The books in question are fiction. It’s interesting to me that a society would make any fiction actually illegal. Suppose you take the very most vile kinds of sexual crime you can imagine, and depict them using just words. It’s somewhat different with images, since it is harder to fake some things there (but not a lot more difficult, any more).
With words, directly out of the author’s imagination, no one is actually harmed in the creation of the work.
There are those who argue that people are harmed by the consumption of the work, but that does get very complicated.
This is clearly illustrated by the lead article on Kernel today:
Even if you think something like Holocaust denial is absolutely reprehensible, is it a “shame” for a bookstore to carry books that take that position?
I’m a great believer in free speech (which has to do with what the government does, not what corporations are individuals do). If somebody has ideas with which I intensely disagree, I want those ideas exposed for everybody to see. Put them on TV, let them march, publish the screeds. If people agree with me, great. If they don’t, fine…but I don’t want those sorts of ideas to flourish only underground, where the greater society doesn’t know about them.
Certainly, the books listed in the first article which seems to have prompted their removal seem not only repugnant to me, but in violation of Amazon’s own self-publishing terms. In the US, their publicly available
We don’t accept pornography or offensive depictions of graphic sexual acts.
What we deem offensive is probably about what you would expect.”
Those have always seemed very fuzzy to me, especially the use of the word “offensive”. What offends me is not necessarily what offends you.
“A sodomite got very excited looking at a zoology text. Does this make it pornography?”
–Stanislaw J. Lec writing in Unkempt Thoughts, translated by Jacek Galaska
Amazon says it doesn’t accept pornography or “offensive content”, and yet it carries fiction that many people might find offensive (including depictions of incest, which was a focus of the first Kernel article).
Did the books cited simply get past Amazon’s review, due to a lack of diligence? Or was it a deliberate disregarding of their own rules?
In either case, I don’t think we are going to see Amazon sweepingly remove all erotica or all independently published books from its store. That just doesn’t make sense to me. Might they over zealously remove some books which “shouldn’t” be removed? Sure, that might happen…just as YouTube removed an Amazon ad for the Kindle Paperwhite that some people apparently found offensive. They won’t be any under obligation to restore books that got caught in too wide a sweep, but they will likely do so…it makes economic sense to have books in the store that aren’t in violation of the guidelines, and could affect their relationship with authors to remove books unnecessarily.
- An article on a website in the UK called out Amazon and others for carrying offensive books
- Amazon and others removed some books, apparently in response
- Those books appear to violate Amazon’s own guidelines
- This does not mean that Amazon is widely removing all erotica or all independently published books
I do want to ask you a few questions:
What do you think? If the polls aren’t enough for you to express your opinion, feel free to do so by commenting on this post. Yes, I do moderate which comments get published, but I welcome a diversity of opinion.
This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the I Love My Kindle blog.