Once upon a time, which was actually Wednesday, October 9, 2013, a little U.K. rag called The Kernel ran a piece by Jeremy Wilson, vilifying Amazon as the purveyors of pornography. Specifically, they named erotica books that allegedly contained underage sex, incest, non-consensual sex and bestiality, four of the biggest no-no's in erotica because these are usually illegal in real life.
There's two things you need to understand before I continue:
1) The Kernel is so bad it makes the U.S.'s National Enquirer look like the epitome of top journalism.
2) Most traditional publishers, including those in newspapers and magazines, have a bad case of ADS, aka Amazon Derangement Syndrome, a term coined by the Passive Guy, the well-known, pro-indie publishing blogger of The Passive Voice, to describe the rampant trashing of Amazon in the publishing industry by those traditional pundits who still use Amazon's services to sell their merchandise.
On Saturday, October 12, 2013, The Daily Mail latched onto the so-called "story", but they added Barnes & Noble, W.H. Smith, and Waterstones (all brick and mortar stores with an online presence) into the lambasting of porn sales. Yes, this is the same Daily Mail singer Amanda Palmer mocked for reviewing her boobs instead of her singing.
That same day, the BBC (British Broadcasting Network which is the state-run television network) jumped on the bandwagon. They only focused on Amazon and the contents of the original Kernel story. According to the Amazon spokesperson's statement to the BBC, all books mention in the original story had been removed.
A legal side note to explain something: the U.K. does not have any equivalent to the U.S.'s First Amendment guaranteeing a right to freedom of speech. What the U.K. does have is the Obscene Publications Act, which makes the retailer liable if a shopper accidentally encounters material that would outrage public decency.
On top of the OPA, Prime Minister David Cameron is pushing a far-reaching law that would prevent anyone in the U.K. from accessing any kind of sexually explicit materials, not just child pornography. This proposed law has been jokingly referred to as the Great Firewall of London, but it would have some serious ramifications for writers, retailers and consumers if it is enacted.
At some point on Sunday, October 13, 2013, W.H. Smith shut down their website. I don't mean just the e-book portion but the entire fucking thing. Here's the screen shot of the holding page as I write this at 1 AM CDT on Thursday, October 17, 2013:
As you can see, more finger-pointing started. W.H. Smith blamed Kobo for the content of their e-books. Nevermind that W.H. Smith had been making money off that content for some time.
Kobo, in turn, started deleting books from their online sales site. But it wasn't just the books mentioned in The Kernel and The Daily Mail articles. Nor was it a deletion of erotica titles. It was a wipe of small/micro press and indie books regardless of the genre. Specifically targeted were books handled by distributor Draft2Digital (D2D) and those uploaded through Kobo's Writing Life.
One of the writers hit was thriller author and pro-indie pundit David Guaghran. The guy does NOT write erotica.
[DISCLOSURE: Two of Alter Ego's erotica titles handled by D2D are no longer available through Kobo. Both the Suzan Harden and Alter Ego erotica titles distributed through Smashwords, Inc., are still available on Kobo's website.]
On Monday, October 14, 2013, at 9:26 AM, I received the following e-mail from D2D's CEO Kris Austin:
Dear Suzan Harden:
We have discovered that over the weekend Kobo removed all books published through our account. While we have received no official word concerning this issue, we believe this is related to recent articles in the media concerning erotica titles available at WHSmith and Kobo’s storefronts.
However, Kobo’s response to this situation seems to have been removal of all books for any publishers (including distributors) that have offending titles until they find a solution.
I deeply regret that authors who have released books that are not erotica have been affected by this situation as well.
We are working aggressively to resolve this issue as quickly as possible and we will keep you updated as we learn more information.
President and CEO
Late Monday afternoon, Kobo finally made a statement concerning the removal of D2D books.
Defense of indie writers from the Kernel's hatchet job started early. The Digital Reader came back with some valid points.
On the IndieReader, Michelle Fox describes the witch hunt going on over at Amazon. Apparently, The Kernel didn't do their research. A couple of the books they mentioned didn't have the things they described. Kernel writer Wilson claimed author Chelsea Fox's book, Dog Gone It, supposedly had acts of bestiality. His reasoning? There was a dog on the cover.
Since the story went viral, The Kernel has taken down several of the alleged bad books on their page. Why? The U.K.'s laws concerning libel and slander are a lot more stringent than the U.S.'s. Writers like Chelsea Fox could have a hell of a payday if they decide to pursue actions against The Kernel.
Even though Chelsea's book was originally removed, it's now back up on Amazon (at least the U.S. website).
In the meantime, Amazon is doing more than taking down the books named by The Kernel and The Daily Mail. Erotica superstar Selena Kitt has a spectacular rundown over at One-Handed Read. While not mentioned by the British tabloids, one of her bestselling books, Babysitting the Baumgartners was removed from Amazon. She had to change the title only in the data base, not on the cover or text, to get Amazon to put it back on sale.
My thoughts on all of this? Major overreaction on the parts of the retailers. Smashwords has had an adult content filter on their website almost from day one. Why the mass purging when a little forethought could have saved these retailers a lot of trouble?
Because Amazon, Kobo, et. al. are only going through the motions. They WANT you to find these erotic books. They WANT to sell these books. Erotica makes them a BUTTLOAD of cash every year. I know because I've been making a buttload of cash since I created Alter Ego.
Right now, they're calming the pearl-clutchers as my friend Angie refers to the holier-than-thou assholes like Jeremy Wilson, knowing that writers will rename their books and upload them again when the kerfluffle dies down. THE RETAILERS DON'T GIVE A FLYING RAT'S ASS. Not about the writers. Not about the consumers. Not about Jeremy Wilson and drama mamas of his ilk.
Welcome to capitalism, baby! Ain't it great?