Chicken Little: “Amazon is removing all erotica and self-published books”

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):

The Kernel article: “An Epidemic of Filth” by Jeremy Wilson

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

BBC article: “Amazon removes abuse-themed e-books from store” by Matthew Wall and Dave Lee

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:

NEW AMAZON SHAME: HOLOCAUST DENIAL by Edna Crowley

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

Content Guidelines

say

“Pornography
We don’t accept pornography or offensive depictions of graphic sexual acts.

Offensive Content
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.

Summing up:

  • 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.

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11 Responses to “Chicken Little: “Amazon is removing all erotica and self-published books””

  1. Harold Says:

    Looks like Kobo is removing all indie titles, but calling it a quarantine.
    See details at: http://www.the-digital-reader.com/2013/10/14/kobo-responds-complaints-deletion-self-pub-titles-incomplete-misleading-statement/#.Ul2hGNJwrjb

    • Bufo Calvin Says:

      Thanks for writing, Harold!

      I’d seen that information…it’s not clear to me that they removed all of them, or just some of them outside of the genres in question.

      Why would they have expanded beyond the obvious ones?

      If it’s like the USA, publishers can put books into any categories they want, so just “quarantining” a genre won’t do it.

      My intuition is that the other books were published by publishers that did the books in question.

      The other possibility is that they’ve just turned on the “review” switch, which might have resulted in a lot of books being pulled for other reasons, like infringement.

    • jjhitt Says:

      Also note that Kobo has removed most, but not all, of their hentai (erotic manga).

  2. jjhitt Says:

    deSade’s 120 Days of Sodom is still available for sale. Hard to believe any self-published works are going to top it for unbridled repulsiveness.

    • Bufo Calvin Says:

      Thanks for writing, jjhitt!

      Certainly, there have been a lot of things that can and have had objections, and different things will offend different people. I’ve always considered the UK to be less tolerant of violence in media than the USA, and more tolerant of sexual content and language. You can certainly see that on some BBC America programs…

  3. jjhitt Says:

    It should also be noted that there is no shortage of racist and other hate literature also available on Amazon. I find something like The Turner Diaries a greater threat to society than anything under the “naughty” umbrella.

  4. Lady Galaxy Says:

    For the first question, I would chose “let me decide” with the caveat that explicit stuff be clearly labeled. Awhile back I downloaded a freebie that I thought was just a mystery, but it was a hard core porn mystery, so I deleted it and removed it from my Kindle library. I would have returned it, but that seems not to be an option for free books, so my download counted as a purchase! Had there been a warning or an option to download a sample, I wouldn’t have downloaded it. Unfortunately, free books don’t offer the sample option. I don’t like surprises that make me go @@!

  5. liz Says:

    I consider erotica to be similar to alcohol – it’s a personal choice whether or not to consume it. And like alcohol, some individuals misuse it. Does that make either wrong for everyone? No.

    However, I would like an alert of some sort (like Lady Galaxy mentioned) so I can make a choice whether or not to be “exposed” 😉 to erotic writings. And I’d rather they be separated from non-sexual items as well.

    A couple of years ago, I was looking through Kindle blogs in the Lifestyle & Culture section, and there were so many overtly sexual blogs (with photos!) mixed in with “Bible Verse of the Day” and “Epicurious” that I had to stop looking. I asked Amazon to consider creating a new category for “adult” blogs, but apparently nothing has been done … as I was checking that category right now, “Everything Erotic” is listed immediately between Epicurious and “Catholic News Agency”. In fact, two blogs down from CNA is “Clusterf**k Nation” – the title is most definitely not ***’d out. I can only imagine how disgusted my grandmother would have been if she had been looking for a nice blog about knitting, but saw skin and language like that instead.

    So, I have no problem with Amazon or anyone else selling such items; HOWEVER, I would prefer they allow the user a way to filter it out. In fact, I’d rather have to select an option to opt in to seeing it, rather than have it shoved in my face first.

    By the way, I really like your point about free speech being a means of keeping non-mainstream ideas more up-front, rather than making them fester under the covers. I lived in Germany for a couple of years; although they strictly control items that are Nazi in nature, there are still some neo-Nazi groups there (and here, too, for that matter). I have sometimes wondered how different things like that would have been if it was more open, instead of being controlled. Would it be more prevalent? I doubt it – many times, overly-controlled things are more interesting and exciting, leading certain people to try them; if these things weren’t as controlled, they might not be as interesting for some to search them out.

    • Bufo Calvin Says:

      Thanks for writing, liz!

      No question, people can absolutely be surprised by sexual images in the Kindle store…not just words, but visuals as well. I’ve always been surprised they don’t do something about that, seeing that they could run into trouble with it. In brick-and-mortar stores, “adult” magazines often have their covers covered, and I remember there being little curtained rooms with adult books in otherwise mainstream bookstores.

      This is one reason why I think banning information can make it more dangerous, not less:

      1. People know it is banned
      2. They believe it has been banned because the government thinks it is dangerous
      3. If something has no power, it is not dangerous…therefore, the government is defining it as powerful
      4. That, then, attracts people who believe that they need more power. Those people may be more easily manipulated than those who are already reasonably self-confident

      Just my thoughts on it, though…

      • Lady Galaxy Says:

        I can still remember my shock as a high school junior seeing my history teacher emerge from behind “that curtain” in my local book store. I guess HS students were easier to shock back then.

  6. Edward Boyhan Says:

    Looking at the response to your polls, it would seem that your readers are a pretty “free speech” libertarian lot 🙂 .

    I wanted to comment on the statement that Amazon has the right to carry in their eStore whatever they want. While I agree with that for now, as I look forward to the possibility that most “information” (books, video, music, news, opinion, etc) will be delivered electronically, I can see a situation where governments may want to change this.

    Let me explain. If things continue along current trajectories, in a few years we may have a situation in which there are only a few “distributors” of electronic information (if I were to guess: Apple, Amazon, Google, Microsoft, …). In this oligopolistic information delivery universe these distributors might come to be viewed less as electronic department stores, and more like distribution intermediaries (for eInformation only — not for socks and soap :grin).

    The treatment might then be more akin to that for “common carriers” (telephone, cellphone companies) or local television stations in which the carrier is not liable for any objectionable or illegal content that they might carry, but that they are subject to a variety of “must carry” rules.

    Since the distribution of information, opinion, etc is mostly electronic, and since the number of outlets for such distribution are few ( the oligopoly scenario), society (and governments) might decide that they would be better served by forcing the distributors to carry everything presented/requested of them — Amazon would be viewed as providing a distribution “service” for which they get paid a fee rather that a department store selling a product.

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