Eroticagate: Kobo Cull All Self-Published Titles

A media firestorm erupted in the UK on Sunday after a tabloid story about WH Smith selling “filth” alongside books aimed at children, which has resulted in Kobo culling huge numbers of self-published titles – most of which have no erotic content whatsoever.

This post is from 15 October 2013. It has not been updated except to clean up broken links but the comments remain open. If you are looking for something fresher, head to the blog homepage.

It’s hard to know exactly how many titles Kobo has pulled. What we do know is that Kobo has removed all 7,883 self-published titles distributed to their store via Draft2Digital, as confirmed in an email from D2D’s CEO to affected authors.

However, I think that’s only a tiny fraction of affected titles. Many self-published authors who distribute via the (much larger) Smashwords service have reported their books are no longer on sale on Kobo’s UK store, as have many authors who uploaded to Kobo direct, via their self-publishing platform Kobo Writing Life. And, indeed, it’s not just self-publishers that are affected. Lots of small publishers either use a distributor like Smashwords, or upload direct via KWL.

Those not in the UK will be unaware of the full extent of the problem, as only those with UK IP addresses can view the Kobo UK store. But when I ran a simple check of 10 self-published authors – none of whom write erotica or romance – half were missing from the UK store. Indeed, all seven of my titles have been pulled – which I uploaded direct via KWL – and I don’t write erotica (and don’t have any other pen-names).

In addition, Kobo’s UK partner – WH Smith – has closed their entire site. All that remains is a holding page with a statement, containing the following:

Our website will become live again once all self published eBooks have been removed and we are totally sure that there are no offending titles available. When our website goes back online it will not display any self published material until we are completely confident that inappropriate books can never be shown again.

The “offending titles” and “inappropriate books” are what The Daily Mail characterized as “vile books glorifying violent pornography, rape, incest and bestiality.”

Amazon and Barnes & Noble are reported to have quietly removed the titles in question, but Kobo seems to be at the mercy of its partner sites. WH Smith closing their entire site (and they sell lots of products other than books) has put intense pressure on Kobo, who reacted with the braindead decision to cull huge chunks of their self-published catalogue. I don’t know how they decided which books to pull, but it’s quite clear that most books removed don’t have any erotic content and are written by authors who haven’t published any erotic content.

And the moral panic is spreading. Whitcoulls – Kobo’s partner in New Zealand – has closed their ebookstore completely until they can “guarantee that any inappropriate material, that has been available through self published eBooks, has been removed from the Kobo eBook catalogue.”

This is pretty draconian stuff, affecting tens of thousands of authors who haven’t contravened any retailers’ guidelines. Kobo claim that removed titles which haven’t broken the rules, will be put back on sale “as soon as possible” – but no timetable was given.

Personally, I’m of the view (and I accept there’s a range of opinion on this) that a retailer can decide to stock whatever they like, and I don’t consider it censorship when any given retailer decides they don’t want to stock certain stuff. But when all retailers move in lockstep in response to a panic manufactured by a tabloid famous for clickbaiting, then that acts as a form of quasi-censorship.

And I have a real problem with outsourcing moral decisions to a tabloid like the Daily Mail.

Of course, there’s also quite a bit of double standards here. Even the Daily Mail admitted that not all the titles they outed were self-published, but Kobo’s actions have only targeted self-publishers. Indeed, the biggest selling book of 2012 was Fifty Shades of Grey which still remains on sale at Kobo, along with Flowers in the Attic (incest), Lolita (underage sex), and Justine by the Marquis de Sade (the works).

I’m not suggesting that those books should also be removed – far from it. I’m uncomfortable with the idea of corporations acting as moral policemen. I don’t think it should be a free-for-all, but we need to be very careful before we take the step of banning certain kinds of books because we personally find the contents objectionable.

Because where do you draw the line? How do you come to a consensus about what’s objectionable and what isn’t?

Obviously, nobody wants children to stumble across erotic content, but there are a variety of ways that retailers can (and do) filter this stuff that doesn’t require books to be banned. Those systems clearly weren’t working at Kobo and WH Smith, where searches on keywords like “daddy” returned erotic content alongside children’s books.

But the solution to that problem is not to remove self-published content en masse. One relatively simple tech fix would be to restrict authors of erotic content from using certain keywords in their metadata.

Alternatively, we could just ask the Daily Mail for an approved reading list.

David Gaughran

David Gaughran

Born in Ireland, he now lives in a little fishing village in Portugal, although this hasn’t increased the time spent outside. He writes novels under another name, has helped thousands of authors build a readership with his books, blogs, workshops, and courses, and has created marketing campaigns for some of the biggest self-publishers on the planet. Friend to all dogs.

143 Replies to “Eroticagate: Kobo Cull All Self-Published Titles”

  1. Awesome! I didn’t realize Kobo had evicted the self-published “authors.” From now on that will be my go-to ebook store.

    1. Kobo relented a few weeks later. The company was wrong to pull all independent books from the store. My stories to not contain ANY adult material; I don’t enjoy accusations for something I didn’t do. I won’t return to Kobo in the near future.

      1. David, thank you for clarification on WHSmith. My books were never placed in the store. I’m a responsible writer. How? I write a book and then hire freelancers for editing and covers. Like you, we compete with irresponsible writers who upload horrible first draft books with no editing of any kind. As I pointed out in my WordPress blog Saturday October 25, 2014 readers must wade through bad books to find good stories. It’s one reason why ebook sales have leveled off. No one wants to spend hours reading samples filled with blatant errors. Inventory is bloated on web retail sites. Further, a large segment of the market has no desire to read books filled with sex or porn fetish scenes. Personally, I feel they don’t add value to a plot. I understand why WHSmith and Kobo pulled books; I don’t like the way the company went about doing so.

  2. Thanks David, for clarifying the matter. This is the first I’ve seen on that, and frankly, I was getting a little worried. I am surprised they did not sent out a mass email to warn publishers of this issue. I will wait a few more weeks before submitting more books so as to see how this develops.


  3. As an author and publisher ( who publishes taboo erotica, I have seen sales drop to zero on Kobo over the last 3 months even though my book titles are listed in their search engine. Additionally, we publish under an imprint a number of history books. These books have been popular (1 million + sales in paperback), but have received zero sales on Kobo.

    Therefore, we ran an interesting test and purchased several books via our credit card. All sales went through, were charged to our cards, and the ebooks were downloaded successfully. However, a full week later, no credit for these sales has been entered in our dashboards.

    I wonder if other authors and publishers are having the same problem. I wonder if Kobo is using this censorship issue as an excuse to steal sales from authors? Certain ebooks are showing up in their search engine which indicate they have not been truthful regarding what has been censored. Please say something if you find you are not being paid for books sold on Kobo as of recent times.

    Phaedrus T. Wolfe
    Lot’s Cave

  4. Out of curiosity… why was erotica (and fantasy erotica at that) solely targeted? Much worse goes on in the horror genre and if children can see erotica on the shelves they can certainly see horror. Stephen King’s novel are graphic, to say the least and yet most children can simply walk into a bookstore and buy these titles… there is no +18 warning on any of his novels and yet they feature some of the most gruesome deeds known to man. I’m not picking on King, there’s hundreds of horror writers who make their living out of all things nasty. So I’m curious… why is erotica so bad and yet horror perfectly acceptable?

  5. Claire, it doesn’t worry me because no reasonable, well-read person (hopefully our readers) will be so general as to lump me in with the bad eggs. Just like how generally a reasonable, well-read person won’t believe that all feminists are horrid and that all minority race members are responsible for the crimes of a few.
    Besides that, how many people actually read the story or know about it? I only learned about it from self-published authors. No-one else I know had heard of the whole drama before I asked them about it. So we may be guilty for perpetuating it and putting it out there so much. Perhaps, the whole thing might have gone completely unnoticed were it not for us crying foul and victim and drawing the greater part of audience into the fray.

    1. While I can certainly see the wisdom of all your points, and you make good solid points that are mostly correct, I see other angles that maybe you are refusing to see? (denial is a powerful coping device)

      1) If the world was filled with ‘reasonable, well-read’ people, then human history would read quite differently. Only reasonable people assume everyone else is reasonable too.

      2) This is a VERY BIG DEAL because of the behind-the-scenes waves:

      –This will be a thorn in everyone’s side for a long long time. And this situation may very well hit self-publisher’s pocketbooks over the holidays (in sales), but it will be difficult to measure.

      –The most negative effect by far, more so than the stigma, which will stick around for a long time, is the censoring scrutiny we as self-pubs will have to endure from here on out. Sure, there should have been someone, somewhere, who said, “Hey, this title is going too far.” But now, there will certainly be a whole department of people looking at each title we publish, our metadata, our descriptions, our cover art, and if anything appears even remotely ‘flaggable’ then, ALL OUR OTHER PUBLICATIONS will come under that same scrutiny.

      –Its been happening now, quietly, at Amazon. Authors with cover art that doesn’t fit some vaguely defined guide, whose cover is considered too risque, are now seeing all their titles challenged, simply because one of their titles was flagged. I am not talking about risque content. I am talking about an attractive, scantily clad woman on the cover of a book. Want to see what I mean?

      –This post was ‘pre-tabloid-clickbait’ so, you can only imagine how much worse it is now. I am hearing stories of books being denied publication and author’s whole backlists being attacked, simply because of one cover that is seemingly too risque.

      3) Somewhere along the line, whether you realize it or not, you will find yourself defending your profession as a self-publisher, while in a discussion with one of the less-than-reasonable people that make up the majority of humanity. Reasonable, logical, well-read people are the minority. But, even reasonable people can be swayed by FORBES MAGAZINE. This click-bait tabloid scandal has grown far larger than its humble beginnings. All kinds of internet media has adopted the same ANTI-SELF-PUBLISHING stance:,0,963181.story

      This is a drop in the bucket, the needle-point tip of the iceberg. I found pages and pages of MEDIA ARTICLES. I am not talking about self-published authors whining, ‘woe is me.’ I am talking about MAJOR MEDIA.

      Whether you want to acknowledge it or not, as a self-publisher, the words ‘illicit pornography’ are tied to YOU. Your reputation is garbage.

      Doesn’t matter what you write. The moment you mention the fact you are a self-publisher, people all over the world can find an instant association with the words ‘illicit pornography, rape, incest, illicit erotica, and bestiality.’ Its called Search Engine Optimization. The words ‘Self-publishing’ are connected to the scandal in Google search engine.

      There’s nothing reasonable about that.

    2. I think Travis covered everything that needs to be said about that. The short answer is that it would be nice to assume everyone was well-read and reasonable, and then there is reality.

      As for unnoticed. I think when the BBC posted a story about it, thoroughly slamming ALL indie authors (for the UK at least) they gave credence to the anti-marketing BS. Once it gets into Reuters (the source of all modern journalism) it’ll go global on its own, and so it has.

      Newspapers don’t hunt stories like ye olde days. They all buy them from Reuters and post the same story. I don’t think crying foul and victim will ever make this particular problem worse, but if enough people cry BS it might also get into Reuters.

  6. Well, I for one think Kobo’s latest E-mail explaining their position in this is professional and should leave no doubt in anyone’s mind as to why the acted how they did. Good on them for taking a stance and having the integrity to stand behind it.

    1. Greg, on the surface, it does appear reasonable. But if you start asking some hard questions, you begin to see there’s something very rotten about this whole deal.

      1) I have never attempted to classify my adult novels as children’s novels. So, how can my books, which are removed in Kobo UK (not US), be a threat to underage kids browsing through Kobo?
      2) Did the offensive books have any metadata or category data that identified them as children’s books?
      3) Dumping thousands of Self-published novels because of a mistake in metadata and categories, or because of a handful of novels that don’t meet a certain content criteria is like throwing out the baby with the bathwater.
      There’s something deeply disturbing and strange with the witch hunt atmosphere propagated by both the online booksellers, and the media. The booksellers failed to properly classify adult novels. The booksellers failed to properly screen content. Where did the other 98% of Self-publishers fail this system?
      How did I fail this system?
      This is reactionary knee-jerk idiocy. And there is another agenda at work behind the scenes. There’s way too much finger pointing at the self-publishing industry.
      Christmas is coming – A multibillion dollar book buying craze that supports a large chunk of publisher’s revenues for the year. This witch hunt intended to remove self-published novels is very suspiciously, fortuitously timed for the biggest buying season of the year. The dots connect for anyone who takes the time to think about it.

      1. I’m also a self-published author.
        I think their response is completely fair. Kobo (Amazon, etc) don’t owe me anything. I have the privilege of using their systems for free to distribute my books and earn commissions. They have the right to remove that service at any time. Every day that i get to use it and benefit from it is a bonus.
        It’s the same when Google or Apple decide to pull a service I loved and used every day or when a cereal company stops selling my favourite muesli. It sucks, I benefited for a while, move on.

        The way that so many people are pulling out conspiracy theories has me worried. If it had been a ploy from the trad publishers, then isn’t it likely that the way we (indies) are responding is playing into their hands? We look like a group of kids that are storming off th efootball pitch because the other team scored a goal. We need to start looking at this as a minor setback (and it really is minor – how many of you are selling enough books a day on Kobo to actually start suffering a serious loss here?) and just come back stronger for the next round.

      2. I probably won’t lose anything, because my sales are about 90% Amazon. I can probably count on one hand the books I sold in Kobo UK, or Kobo NZ or Kobo Australia. So, its not a big deal. And this incident has taught me which online booksellers are worthy of my time and effort in focused sales promotions. So, Kobo is at the very bottom of my list, and may be soon scratched off.

        But, when the retailers and media run around crying foul about erotica, yet, their digital shelves are filled with TRADITIONALLY PUBLISHED erotica, one has to wonder.

        And of course, there is no ‘right’ to publish, the online retailers allow us to publish on their sites, and we love it!

        At what point in the self-publishing witch hunt does it become obvious enough to call a spade a spade?

        This is discrimination.

        You can justify it however you like, preach legalities and other nuances of law, doesn’t change the fact that it is discrimination.

        And, in any foul situation, an investigator who wants the truth starts by asking the most basic question: Who benefits from this act?

        We’re not talking about airplanes crashing into the Twin Towers here. We’re talking about straight line economics. Very simple to connect the dots.


      3. It’s not discrimination. The traditional publishers didn’t slip rape and snuff porn into the industry. If they did, you could be rest assure that said publisher would be blocked until the problem was sorted.
        The retailers in this case have done the same thing. Some content came in that was beyond what they could allow on their shelves. They had to quickly block that source, so as not to upset the good folk who had come to trust them over many years, and it happens that the source is the single publisher that they saw bringing that content in. Kobo. But Kobo is also partially a victim here, the publisher bringing the hardcore content in was Smashwords. People here keep just talking about erotica, but erotica is not the source of the problem, hard-core illegal content is. You cannot compare this to standard erotica.
        Now, it’s unfortunate for us that if we distribute through Smashwords or Kobo that we happen to be lumped in with one or two opportunistic types that put said content into the system, but in the eyes of the retailers, we are just one publisher (Kobo), not self-published authors. I believe that if a traditional publisher slipped such content into a retailer, the retail would also immediately remove all of that publishers stock from the shelves until they could be confident that it wasn’t going to happen again. Suggesting otherwise is just playing the victim and to be honest, the victim here is Kobo. They are the ones losing millions due to a few self-publishers that have ruined for the rest of us. You should be attacking those authors that uploaded the content, not the retailers and not the industry. I hate to say it, but at the end of the day, it is (a few) self-published authors that have caused this whole problem.

        As a little exercise, imagine for a minute that you aren’t author. Indeed, you are the proud owner of a long-established bookstore in your city. You have built this business up since the day you left school and are no a respected pillar of the community. Everyone knows your name.
        For decades, you have established trust and a loyal customer base. You sell print books to doctors, church members, community leaders, children, school teachers, and successful businessmen. Your own business success has helped you to put your children through school and house them in comfort. Life is good.
        One day, a new system comes to town. It’s a system that allows authors that don’t find a publisher – or even those who want to just go it alone – to publish books electronically. You had been watching the trend to eBooks grow over the last few years but had no idea how to implement your own system for this. That would be an expensive and risky move. If it broke, who would fix it? Who would be responsible for ensuring the customers were happy with their product and that it worked on their device? For the time being, you could only watch and wait to see what happened.
        Thankfully, a company called Kobo came along and offered you the chance to integrate their system into your store. All you had to do was put a few devices on display, have a terminal or two in-store where customers could download books, and allow them to put all of their eBooks up for sale on your website. The best bit, you don’t have to do the integration or any coding, they will do it for you. And they will manage the content and servicing of the site. It looks a deal far to good to miss. A healthy commission for selling books that don’t take up any space and that you don’t have to buy in first and sort out returns on when they don’t sell. Money for nothing. You jump at the chance, confident that Kobo is a professional publisher like the traditional publishers you have been buying from through your three distributors for the last decades.
        Everything takes off wonderfully. Your customers are happy for the new service, your bottom line is happy for the new profit, and the new distributor is happy for the new outlet. Life is good.
        Then, one morning as you ride the public transport to work (you like to do this so customers see just how good a person you are), you notice a tabloid on the seat next to you. It’s a trashy paper, everyone knows that, but all the same, everyone likes to read it. You know that most of your customers probably glance at it from time to time so you do too. What you read almost makes you bring up breakfast. The newspaper bastards have printed a story about you, about your store. Apparently, some of the eBooks that are found on your website contain content that is highly immoral if not illegal. You panic. Your customers can’t go about thinking you are highly immoral. All those children, teachers, doctors, good community people that have come to trust you and that know you are a good man. If they don’t see you react, they will lose faith in you and your business reputation and personal reputation will be destroyed. You need to act fast.

        So, what would you do?

        If it was me, I would immediately call my website guy and have him block the entire eBook system quickly. Why? Because I don’t have the ability to filter it out. I have to go to the source. The source is Kobo. I need to trust them to sort it out for me before I can allow them back in. This had never happened with a traditional publisher. Unfortunately, the world at large picks up on that as well and it is reported that self-publishers are to blame. And, technically, they are. It’s just unfortunate for us that we are a crate of many good apples with one or two rotten ones who ruin it for us. Maybe a gate-keeper isn’t such a bad thing? You know, like someone reviewing content of eBooks before they get distributed.

        I hope you can all see that I’m only trying to get us to think about this logically and fairly from all sides and not to argue down anyone’s views or opinions.

      4. I did take a look at Smashwords yesterday evening to see what kind of erotica is available. First their filter is set to safe search so anyone wishing to look for adult content must disable it. Having disabled it I found myself confronted by many titles. Obviously I didn’t look at them all (I would still be browsing the site late into this evening had I attempted to do so). However those I looked at all indicated that the persons featured in the books where 18-years-old or older. The legal age for people to feature in erotica is 18 in many countries including the UK where I live so the books would appear to be legal although not to everyones taste. I publish with Amazon who did not go in for the knee jerk reaction of WH Smiths/Kobo. It is a poor state of affiars if authors and the publishing industry are at the mercy of the tabloid press.

      5. The problem is, Greg, that when national newspapers, media and book stores label me a criminal because of the job I do (being an indie author) I get offended. You’re looking at it as a revenue source, but I see it as an anti-marketing campaign against indie authors.

        People I know; my gran, my friends, they don’t give a rats ass what Amazon or WH Smith sell, but they know that I’m an indie author. I’m now going to be fielding questions about the kind of books I write and have to explain to them that I’m not one of the seven criminals out of the millions of decent indie authors. Why? Because of how it was worded to imply we are all just criminals. The damage is already done, and the only thing that will change that is a retraction.

        The kind of stigma this type of anti-marketing will create can last for decades. Any indie author’s work, no matter how innocent or exceptional, will be labelled vile porn for many years to come because of this kind of mud slinging. For what purpose? Who cares. It’s defamatory either via stupidity or greed. Either way, it should be retracted.

        And it’s not the first time that a group of people have been slandered by the large press with a stigma that lasted for decades or even centuries. You do realise that when people go on about ugly, man-hating feminists that they’re actually quoting The Times from 1875, who ran a cartoon series to stop women getting the vote. The stigmas that feminists were labelled with in that broadsheet press, are still said today. It was a form of anti-marketing that still haunts the feminist movement, so much so that most feminists daren’t admit they are one. It took women killing themselves to get the vote, and what do people remember? Not Emily Davison, no they remember that The Times said: ‘feminists were ugly women who couldn’t get a man and so they hated them instead.’ It’s all spin city, just like this is.

        When the large press is done with us, people won’t remember any great fiction to come from the indie scene, they’ll remember vile content and criminals. That’s not okay with me.

        I don’t care where I sell my books, but I do take issue with people who defame my character and my work. That’s what this whole thing did. It destroyed all of our reputations, and the reputations of future generations with the general public.

        I don’t believe it’s a big fuss over nothing, I certainly won’t be going quietly into the night, and I don’t silently shuffle away at the sight of trouble. I believe that writers are meant to point out what is wrong with our world. If not them, then who?

        You keep writing that we should all calm down and not make a fuss, but I think I’ll make a fuss thanks. I’m not a sheep. I do what I feel is neccessary. Also, if you can’t see spin city here, then you really must have blinkers on. You just got labelled a vile pornographer just like every other indie author, and you’re okay with that, seriously?

      6. A great comment Claire. I didn’t know about the Times article of 1875, I will certainly check it out. Newspapers such as The Daily Mail undoubtedly did a disservice to the world of self publishing and I would, in no way condone their antics. However the public’s attention span is often short lived and in a few months time (unless the story is somehow given new life) it will probably drop out of the public’s consciousness.

  7. My first book, The First Time deals with the decision of a young graduate Becky to enter the world of prostitution as an escort in order to clear her debts. The story takes a serious look at the prostitution industry and is certainly not erotic. However I worry that books such as mine will be pulled simply because they deal with sex. I agree that Kobo and Smith’s reaction was over the top and that the Daily Mail acted irresponsibly but one gets used to that with the tabloid press! A great article, thanks.

  8. And it’s me again, I would also like your opinion on this annoying guy from Egoodreader who often gets his posts published, he always slams self publishers, applauds and is applauding the evacuation of all self published books, what an ass! [LINK REMOVED – see below comment]

    1. Hi Debbie – I removed the link from your post, because I don’t want to give that idiot traffic or Google juice. If anyone wants to see the article in question you can google “WHSmith Boycotts Self-Published Authors goodereader” and it’s the top result. Be warned, it’s completely idiotic.

      The guy who wrote that regularly trolls self-pubbers and I’m not going to bother responding.

      1. No problem, I fully understand. That is why I wanted your opinion because I often come across this guy and his slamming of authors and I am wondering why nobody can seem to calm down his stupidity. He truly sounds like a moron, I was wondering if you had encountered his crap before so now I know you have 🙂 P,S. almost done reading “Let’s Get Visible”, totally awesome, info packed book, a must read for all Indies! Good on you!

  9. Simplest thing would be to make it like Google or YouTube – no adult content can be searched without changing a certain setting.

  10. ALL SELF PUBLISHED EROTICA is now suspect, and a target for removal worldwide, regardless of whether or not it touches on taboo subject matter like incest or bestiality (that’s what the scare was all about to begin with).

    Well, if online booksellers are afraid of selling smut, and the issue is erotic content, which is what Kobo and WH Smith targeted by removing ALL SELF-PUBLISHED erotic content, then why does WH Smith have all these books available from major publishers:

    WH Smith still carries….

    There’s not a single self-published title left in their website to compete with any of the hundreds of erotic fiction novels available from major publishing companies. That’s quite a convenient boon to major publishers whose erotic fiction market was being steadily eroded away by a large number of popular self-published titles. I imagine major publishing houses are very pleased to have all their competition removed, and just in time for the holiday internet book buying craze valued in HUNDREDS OF MILLIONS OF DOLLARS.

    There’s nothing remotely suspicious about that, is there?

    And Kobo claims, “We want to protect the reputation of self-publishing as a whole.” The company moved lightning fast to accomodate WH Smith’s demands for self-published erotica removal. ALL OF KOBO’S SELF-PUBLISHED EROTICA HAS BEEN REMOVED FROM THEIR UK WEBSITE. It seems the only thing they have “protected” is their retail relationship with WH Smith.

    One might start to wonder what resources might lie behind this Machiavellian movement to scour the shelves of self-published erotica. Logically, to analyze a situation like this, you would look at who stands to benefit most from this act. Follow the money trail.

    Though I may seem to imply people have a right to publish erotic content, that right doesn’t exist. But can online booksellers legally ban one group of people from publishing erotic content, while allowing another group?

    I am no lawyer, but my eyes see discrimination, widespread discrimination.


    You can sit around and quote laws and whip out legal dictionaries and whatever. None of that changes the plain truth that self-published erotica is being discriminated against, and this is probably only the beginning. Will other retailers follow suit?

    Is this a form of discrimination that can be sued for? Probably not.

    But it should be.

    Is this a form of discrimination against one’s rights? Not exactly, no.

    But its still discrimination.

    I have blogged on this subject yesterday:

    1. That’s a great comment with some very good points.

      Also, it’s not just erotic fiction under this ban. All self-published fiction has been removed from WH Smith in ebook and paperback formats. That includes innocent children’s fiction, mystery, thrillers romance… Every single self-published book has been removed under the guise of self-published authors all being being ‘criminals’.

      I wonder if they removed Beatrix Potter’s books. She was self-published, right? Or Horace Walpole? He was a self-published author too. Or does it only apply to self-published authors who are still profiting from their books?

      1. All of my ebooks have been removed from Kobo, only 2 of which were erotica. One was a travel book with no sex whatsoever. I had one book out via a publisher which was still there last week, but it too has now been removed. They are removing most self-published work, the erotica angle was just an excuse.

  11. Reblogged this on Writing: A Conversation Without Interruptions and commented:
    I don’t usually reblog a lot of articles. I like to write my own content. But today, particularly with ‘Vicki & Lara’ releasing on Sunday, I just can’t help myself.

    Join the debate, people. Tell me what you think.

  12. This is getting embarrassing. To the point that I don’t even like admitting that I’m a self-published author anymore.
    No, not the Daily Mail story, not the pulling of the books, not the idea that the big 6 are involved… the ranting on here. The fellow self-published authors that jump on the band-wagon and try to turn it into something that it isn’t.
    So many people here seem to miss the point… it isn’t that they sell light erotic fiction or slightly sexual romantics… I quote the first line of the story here: “WHSmith was last night accused of profiting from the sale of vile books glorifying violent pornography, rape, incest and bestiality.”

    My kids aren’t old enough to be browsing online yet but it’s fooling to think they won’t end up doing so and finding their way into all sorts of smut (even if I do put filters in place). I’m a web developer in my day job and can assure you that kids are smart enough to get around the average security suite. But what I certainly don’t want is for them to be offered up material with violent porn, rape, incest or beastiality from what should be a trusted resource.

    I think that the culling of all the books until they can find a way to determine what is OK is fine. If it makes all self-published authors look dodgy for a week or two, so be it. But we are a resilient lot and should just get on.
    And let’s stop wasting our time and energy bitching about the trads or the big 6. They are on their way out anyway so let’s watch them pull out all the stops (or a few of them) as they go. Smile, laugh, and get over it.

    As an aside, what we should be complaining about, discussing here, is the shoddy way in which the bookstores have integrated their Kobo stock and just accepting everything that Kobo produces and adding it to their catalogues on faith. That was the mistake. Those stores have made a massive failure at that time. Now, they are just putting band-aids on the wounds that created through their own laziness and penny-pinching greed.
    More power to Amazon for dealing with this the right way.

    1. I disagree with you on that. Why pull all the books from their store? I can, in a two second search on Google, find software that will tell me the contents of an ebook file in keyword definitions or full content, I can get it to check instantly if it has a virus in it, and I can even check it for duplication (plagurism).

      I’m a web developer and an expert in SEO. Hell, I’ve been making sites rank first in Google for over 12 years now, so I’m pretty well-versed in algorithms and in what kind of spam software they could have used to blacklist or flag up any offending books before they appeared on their site. And although I don’t practice it, I’m pretty well-versed in anti-marketing techniques too. It comes with the territory.

      Okay, ebooks are new. Maybe WH Smith made a mistake in their security software. They didn’t pay for a decent system, probably cut some corners along the way. At the end of the day, there will always be criminals on the internet, and massive corporations have a responsibility to protect their own websites from abusive content.

      But rather than use a relatively standard security software nowadays, WH Smith decided it was wiser to remove every book in existence from their store instead. So, are they immensely naive and paying an idiot to maintain their website security, are the immensely cheap and not paying anyone to maintain their website security, or did they just remove every indie book (I say book as paperbacks got taken down too) because they had an ulterior motive?

      WH Smith only added indie books this year. Maybe they were aiming for a larger profit margin than they got, and this was a good excuse to drop the indies when it didn’t pay off? Who knows? Although the most popular theory is that the 52 billion in indie ebook sales last year caused the big six to call in their favours with media and bookseller giants to try and stem the flow of indie books. It’s certainly possible. They did it before. The bookmen of old were ousted out by massive corportations pre-big six, and the past does repeat itself.

      The point that WH Smith are missing is that by removing my innocent little indie books (none of which contain any sexual content at all), they are also removing my 1.6m fans from their customer base as they won’t be shopping there anymore. Oh well. Their loss.

      And not to miss the point here. But do your children have credit cards? Because if the only issue is a child reading a preview, then why not just take down all the previews on indie books for now until they found a solution? They took down all indie books, so they won’t sell, but how can a child buy a book on the internet in the first place? Surely, in that argument, only the previews were dangerous?

      I think that’s the problem with this whole thing. It jumps out as creating drama over nothing when you look at the facts. No kids could buy any of those books in any store. The books were fiction, so no crime was committed. The books (although vile) did not deserve front page news over actual crimes like rape or murder. It’s a big noise about a tiny issue. And the noise is blaming ALL indie authors for it, who by a massive majority did nothing wrong.

      That is the media spin on it. The wording alone in the BBC report is blatantly blaming vile, nasty porn on ALL self-published authors. Not the book stores, not the culprits, but on all of us! That’s mud slinging on an epic level, and anti-marketing at it’s very skankiest.

      Although, I am more ticked off with the BBC than WH SMith here. The insinuations against all indie authors are the only thing that is vile and obscene here, imo.

  13. As an avid reader of many different types of genre’s I have recently become a supporter and reader of indie authors. Yes, I DO read erotica as well, I find it fun, enjoyable on many levels, and in part escapism from my day to day grind in life.
    I do own a Kindle Fire and have loved it, to me it is heaven having a virtual library at the tips of my fingers.
    I have heard that some people have claimed that books of questionable content have been removed from their eReader which made me curious as I do have several of these “questionable” titles.
    None of them, I repeat none of them have been removed form my device. Now whether there is a difference in that I purchased my books thorough AmazonUS, that is possible.
    Maybe it is AmazonUK that has done this?
    Or maybe I have just been lucky and they have not caught up to me as of yet.

    Has this been a knee-jerk reaction, yes indeed it most certainly has. That being said though I would not want my children having access to these books. Since they are a good part of what sells it would be prudent if they were to set up an Adult Only section for people both publishing and buying these books.

  14. Where is the parental control factor in all this? WHS sells mens’ girlie mags, mainstream publishers are publishing highly erotic content within Historical novels/biographies, many of which end up in schools as literary masterpieces and thus used for educational purposes. Why are children allowed to purchase novels etc., on-line? How do they acquire credit/banker cards? This whole drama is nowt but the big six (publishers) putting pressure on retail outlets to rid the world of self-published books. The big six are in panic mode, sales falling off, middle stream authors have been dropped in their droves (subsequently those authors now self-publishing), and none of this is really about pornographic elements within books, if it was one hell of a load of mainstream novels would be biting the dust, too. This is a war against the self-published author!

    1. And now the penny drops… I have a feeling your exactly right, Francine. I suspect they targeted erotica first as it would be fairly easy to have a lot of public support on this one. Money, money, money…

    2. I have been suspecting this and commented regarding it previously above. It wouldn’t surprise me if those who are entrenched in the traditional publishing paradigm were just waiting for something to happen that they could use to hang their war on.

    3. I think this is the main issue. It’s an anti-marketing campaign to try and stop the indie growth. You know what would work better for the big six? Paying their authors decent money for their work, just an idea…

      A couple of years ago I complained to Amazon about their forums because I didn’t think they were safe for children to use. (They can be a wee bit vicious). Amazon got back to me and told me that ‘No children can use the forums, write reviews or buy books on Amazon, as to do so they’d need a credit card.’ — Well, aren’t all online bookstores exactly the same in that respect?

      As we all know, to own a credit card you need to be 18+. So unless these kids are using their parent’s card and parents are handing their kids cards without checking what they purchase with them, I can’t see how children can read erotic fiction.

      Also, on a side note. I was reading Jackie Collins when I was 12 because the woman I was a babysitter for lent me her books to read. They should probably ban babysitting too in that case, although I don’t think reading sexual content at 12 did much to harm me. I managed to maintain my virginity until I was past the legal age for a credit card. (TMI) lol.

    4. I hate to think about it that way, but you’re probably right. Looking at the massive rise in the sale of erotic works is deceptive, because it’s always been there. Always. The fact that we can see it now is just because people are taking notice of it. FINALLY.
      The Avenue Q song ‘The Internet Is For Porn’ is, for me, a smart (and accurate) example of what draws people in. And of what sells. And it sickens me that these big retailers have been happily sweeping in the money from sales (with appalling royalties to the authors) and then act like this.
      The double standard makes me sick.

  15. There’s a school of thought here, that says shouldn’t parents be putting parental controls on their computers, so that their children do not stumble across this type of material? You can sensor every single erotic book in circulation, but if you do not have parental controls on your computer then children will be watching porn, talking about sex in online chatrooms… the list goes on.

    As far as companies like Amazon go, children will still be able to see a plethora of sex toys, pornographic movies for sale etc. so I’m not sure where this is leading.

    Put everything slightly risqué with a +18 tag and let parents set their filters accordingly. Common sense may prevail… and then again, it may not.

  16. Reblogged this on Christina Mandara and commented:
    Knee-jerk reactions across the board, it seems. I’m curious. Erotic books are probably one of the most popular genres of books and yet, here are major bookstores culling what must be a very large money-making machine for them, in little more than seconds.

    I suspect they’ll come up with a sensible answer to the problem soon, but for now, the world is going squeaky clean – so I’d buy your naughty books sooner, rather than later!

  17. I blogged about this with similar feelings about it. The comments from the BBC and the WH Smith holding page were broad, sweeping statements about all ‘self-published authors’. They did not target the people who uploaded criminal content. They just generalised it to mean all indies were criminals. I’d like to see a retraction of the term ‘self-published’ and see it replaced with ‘internet criminals’ because it struck me as an accusation against all authors, which I am appalled by.

    The BBC report basically insinuates that all authors are criminals and should be banned, oh and it’s all Amazon’s fault (Of course it is. Amazon is the verbal punchbag for everything wrong in the universe, after all). That’s the message that most people will see on this subject, and the large UK retailers are backing that by putting on sitewide bans for self-published authors.

    I can’t help but feel that there is a spin on reality here that serves to tar all indie author’s names. Is it because ebook sales for the indies topped traditional publishing sales last year? Probably, but it does seem to be an organised mud slinging to kill off innocent indie books, or at least, it seems that way to me.

    Some facts about the internet that the BBC forgot to mention:
    Internet crime has existed since the inception of the internet. The first industries to try ecommerce were pornography and organised crime. The internet itself was a bad place back in the day until Google cleaned it up with their nifty algorithm.

    I’m not surprised some sick/criminal types have jumped into publishing by posting up any old tripe for money. The most popular search terms are sex related (No really, I work in online marketing. I look at what people really search for online every day. The word sick does not cover it.)

    So by putting out a book full of vile or taboo subjects, the internet criminal is guaranteeing themselves a huge chunk of profit because there is no competition for the keyword ‘shagging donkeys with a screwdriver’, but probably thousands of people looking for it (I made that particular keyword up by the way). Even if they wrote their book in crayon and just spammed the same sentence over and over, they’d probably take home a tidy profit. So are they self-published authors? NO! They’re spammers, internet criminals and con men!

    E-book techonology is relatively new and under-developed. Of course criminals will abuse any chinks in its armour. It’s the internet. Businesses ‘should’ know that leaving gaping holes in their website security is going to attract criminals to them.

    These books that everyone is in outrage over were not written by self-published authors. They were written by internet criminals. It looks as if the BBC can’t tell the difference, so they’re either very naive or it’s an organised anti-marketing campaign against indie authors. At which point, wait while I get my warpaint on and start roaring ‘Freedom!’

  18. One of my friends had two of her indie-publisher-published titles removed, so no, it’s not limited to self-published.

    I still don’t understand why the vendors don’t include a simple check box at upload: Is this adult content? If the box is checked, an oviously labeled “safe search” option would never return that particular title if the viewer has it enabled.

    Like you said, sounds like a lot of artificial outrage, and you’d think Amazon would quit knee-jerking considering how badly it’s gone for them PR-wise in the past.

  19. David,
    If you look at the problem, it was a technical problem on the part of Kobo and/or WH Smith. A system design or implementation failure is what shows you porn from a search for “daddy.” However, I (and you, I think) have a problem with what they SAY the problem is. They’re couching the whole thing as a big moral outrage and are promising to crusade against that filthy smut. Knee-jerk reaction indeed!

    1. There’s a pretty easy fix for that. We faced the same problem at Google when I was working there with regard to advertisers of adult products using ambiguous keywords (like “wand” or “rabbit”) that children could be using. The solution was simple: restrict those keywords to advertisers of non-adult products only.

      Kobo’s problem is that there search sucks, and has sucked for a long time. This is the result of that under-investment. I doubt WH Smith’s systems were much better.

      1. David, this was an awesome post/article and I thoroughly enjoyed the engaging comments. – PMC

    1. FSOG is currently trad published by Random House but with that aside, it’s only logical that Kobo is putting the effort in returning the indie best sellers to the stores as soon as possible. I noticed that a lot of the big sellers in erotic romance have their titles back when I checked the UK site this evening.

  20. We conducted a random search of various titles uploaded by our Members via the Smashwords platform and found all of their titles – 23 authors checked – were still listed on Kobo so we’re not quite sure how books were culled. It’s distressing to learn that authors have been affected in such a way, but we’re optimistic that Kobo will reinstate the titles caught up in the ‘baby-with-the-bath-water’ crises shortly.

    1. You’d have to be using a UK IP address in order to verify that the books are on the site. If you are using any other IP address, even when you load the GB site, the titles will come up in searches. Someone above pointed it out and I was able to confirm that with our titles. When using the UK IP, the titles do not come up in searches. With that said, Kobo has mentioned that the their inventory is being manually reviewed and returned to the UK site as fast as possible.

  21. Just remember Lady Chatterley’s Lover – “an unexpurgated edition could not be published openly in the United Kingdom until 1960.” I think that violent content is much more harmful to children than sexual content. Did they pull all the violent crime novels? How about all the books extolling war? I wonder what sort of reviewers the corporate Kobo will hire?

    1. I’m not sure a distinction should be made between sexual or violent content. Maybe “appropriate” content is what should be used and all sorts of content considered.

  22. ‘How do you come to a consensus about what’s objectionable and what isn’t?’

    Consensus is the absence of leadership.

    Kobo made their choice. I shall make mine.

  23. I’m just wondering HOW Kobo are going to decide what books are ‘safe’ to put back. What keywords would ensure the ‘unsuitable’ material is removed as many words in the English language can be used in many ways. A while ago I was looking on the Kobo store and found some books I would consider unsuitable for children when I was looking for some picture books for children. I quietly told Kobo and I think they sorted it. I wonder if The Daily Mail ever reviewed Fifty Shades?

  24. But how many people didn’t tag their books properly? How much control do authors even have? I checked a box for adult content when I self-pubbed with Bookbaby, but when I search retailers, I’ve never once seen any indication of adult content on their sites. That’s the real problem, and it concerns me as an author and as a parent. It should be simple to filter with data that, in many cases, they already have.

    1. Agreed. I’m not sure we can trust the world of authors to accurately apply metadata to their titles without some double-check anyway. I know it’s easier to just pass data through but it seems like there should be some sort of double-check, either automated or old-school.

  25. I don’t think it was the Daily Mail article that got the ball rolling. It was Kernel Mag’s article which was published on October 9th, 2013. The Daily Mail article appeared on October 12th, 2013.

    It does seem like a knee-jerk response but if all authors had clearly indicated sexual content in the description, things may not have gone so far. The root of the problem stems from a handful (if not more) authors who labelled their books as general fiction, or as children’s books hoping to receive a larger piece of the pie (to make more money). A few rotten apples have spoilt it for others.

    Removing the books from these sites isn’t censorship. It is a temporary inconvenience to weed out the bad apples. It happens in any business. This is also a lesson for self-publishers to read the terms of these companies before publishing with them as well as learning to be self-reliant and building a fan base so people will buy directly from their websites.

    If Tesco stops selling my favourite brand of biscuits, it isn’t because the company hates me or wants me to go on a diet. It’s a business decision they are entitled to make. It may piss me off, but it is their playing field. Not mine. I’ll just have to find a new brand of biscuits or another store.

    1. Yep, but the Kernel doesn’t have the footprint to make this kind of splash. They actually worked directly with the Daily Mail on their Sunday story to bring it to a wider audience. If the story had just stayed on the Kernel, I doubt this crazy knee-jerk reaction would have happened.

      1. Interesting! I did not know that. Here in the US, Kobo is perceived as Amazon’s / Apple’s cheaper cousin. 🙂

      2. Yes. Kobo is a player in the global marketplace. That’s why I leave my books on there even though to date they haven’t done well. Lotsa people speak English even in Furrin Lands. Some of ’em may want some dirty books! Besides, if it weren’t for Kobo I wouldn’t have bragging rights to say I’d sold smut in Selangor. I had to go look up where Selangor even exactly *was.*

  26. Thanks David. Hadn’t known the contagion had spread as far as Whitcoulls in New Zealand (we’re just waking up here this morning). It’ll be interesting to see how the media spin this.

  27. Excellent post – I agree with almost all of it. (well, all of it actually)
    I feel indignant that my rather cosy mysteries have been swept up with the rest, especially as the nearest I even come to bad language is for a 1950s character to say ‘Damn and blast’ a lot! Of course retailers can choose what to sell, but they have to face the fact that if they don’t sell it then the way is open for someone else to profit from it. So I think if WHS and Kobo persist in being so lazy about categorising ebooks then their reward will be to go out of business.
    As with book quality, readers will have to be more careful about the books they select too. And I do think adults in a household have some responsibility for watching what their kids are looking at online. I think our ISP even offers some sort of adult filter if you want one.

  28. Regarding the ability to filter content, they could achieve that by having a way for authors to flag the titles as adult content and coupling that with a default search that would exclude those titles unless the user was logged to the system and his/her account (age) had been verified through the addition of a credit card.
    The issue would still come down to the authors flagging their own work and if they didn’t, such works could be flagged manually by support personnel. Several infractions could lead to removal.
    I’m curious to see what will happen down the road and how “The Great Culling” will affect the relationship between distributors and indie publishers in the near future.

  29. My ebooks – not a whiff of erotica between them – have been culled at the Kobo store that *I* can see in the UK, along with an American friend’s titles. But she can see them all on the Kobo store she sees in the USA.

  30. Great post David, and it has me questioning if Daily Mail has any societal value whatsoever.

    The reactions by Kobo et al had me envisioning “Under The Dome” scenery… Kobo is the “Big Jim” reacting to tabloid headlines, just to provide the appearance they are in control.

    They don’t seem to be, to me.

  31. It’s interesting that there’s no mention of Apple in this. It takes a lot longer to get approved for their store if you distribute through Smashwords, and I assume that’s because an actual human being reviews each title.

    I’m also horrified that my sex-free YA novella was booted out by WHSmith and Kobo, but I can also see their side of things. They need to be able to review what they sell, and a keyword search is obviously not good enough. I think we’re a long way away from having computers that can accurately understand text, or even tell the difference between a bruised face or something like a shadow on a cover. So unless these companies pony up for staff to check all their stock, I can’t see them jumping to add self-published works. Although this is ridiculous in the case of the most popular self-publishers and hybrid authors, who may have very many reviews and satisfied readers already.

  32. Or perhaps the better solution is simply not to return items from the Adult category in searches unless an “safe search filter” is turned OFF. That’s what Google’s image search does. Failing that, just go with the age of the account-owner.

    1. Kobo doesn’t *have* an Adult flag. They have a Romance flag, but if somebody publishes sci-fi erotica and decides to flag it Sci-Fi, it’s no different from a Heinlein Juvenile as far as the search engine is concerned.

  33. I am a self published author and have been doing book signings and selling my books through Whsmith since March of this year. I have been selling large volumes of my books regularly; sometimes up to 80 in a day and have made great relationships with the store managers but the head office still refuse to put my ISBN on their system. I think their reaction to this report reflects the narrow minded attitude of WHSmith and Kobo; one of the great bonuses of Ebooks is it gives unknown authors the opportunity to sell their work to readers and the chance to be discovered. This appeals to readers to looking for original and exciting new authors. This is obviously a threat to this large retailer who are so ridiculously loyal to the giant publishers that they are turning their back on a revolution in publishing and as a result I feel they are going to be left behind eventually. Move with the times Smiths and Kobo or you will lose customers!

  34. If you get right down to it, it was silly that online bookstores didn’t think of filtering adult content AGES ago when they first started up. What, they didn’t care if kiddies were pulling up Marquis de Sade? Erotic literature is hardly new, and it’s hardly limited to self-published titles. I would think any smart retailer would look at ALL their inventory and sequester it appropriately.

    1. Smashwords, iTunes, and Barnes and Noble all have adult content flags that self-publishers can use. (I assume iTunes does: I know they have a flag and it gets set correctly when a book redistributes there from SW. It seems logical they’d have one for direct publishing.) Some of them thought of it and some didn’t. In hindsight it does seem rather glaringly obvious.

      1. Agreed. I think most sites filter this way. It seems that Kobo, for whatever reason, just wasn’t up to snuff technology-wise. That’s probably all it boils down to. Not sure if they handled it right. But that’s probably the real issue (to my way of thinking).

  35. I have published six books through smashwords, 2 of which were erotica (consensual, of age sex between the paticipants) but all of my books are missing from Kobo, except for one which is via a publisher, not self-published. Any books I publish on smashwords that are of an adult nature, I label them as such, so you can only see then on the site if the adult filter is off. Why can’t other retailers do the same so people who want to find adult books can and those that can’t won’t have to see them? Banning everything doesn’t seem the answer. Adults should be free to choose what to read (and on the other side of the coin, retailers can decide whether or not to stock particular titles) but at least let them be consistent. Don’t remove all self-published erotica and leave things like 50 Shades of Grey, Lolita etc. still on the site. I think this is an excuse to keep self-published authors out of the shops. We can’t afford great lawyers like some of the big publishers can. It would be interesting to know if any trad. published erotica has been removed in the cull, anyone know?

    1. No, it’s SP titles only. I’m on a self-pub Yahoo loop with quite a few hybrid authors and their SP titles are gone but trad ones are unaffected. Some are reporting that their SP titles are still up. It’s hit or miss, with no rhyme or reason. And it’s mostly Kobo. Amazon seems to be handling it differently. I have a paranormal erotica anthology up but it’s labeled correctly with accurate metadata and has a clear adult content warning on it. The third story does have a scene that pushes boundaries that makes me surprised that Amazon left it alone. But again, it was an important aspect to the character development and it did not pertain anything with underage participants. I draw certain lines even when writing erotica. There are some fetishes that I won’t touch. The point is for it to be a turn on and if I’m not turned on, I don’t write it 😉 And I do have standards. I am a mom. I would be mortified if my child came across something inappropriate online but then again I would have an open discussion with my child. I don’t load my kids up with tech anyway. They’re outside the vast majority of the time. What little TV I do allow is old school Sesame Street and Mister Rogers. You know… Slower paced stuff that isn’t going to cause seizures or ADD. I think their are better ways that everyone could be dealing with the issue. Authors that inaccurately tag their metadata should have their accounts suspended and subsequent actions should mean termination. Kobo needs an adult filter and frankly I think that should be with retailers as well as distributors. And parents need to talk to their kids. Predators are a very real thing and if they aren’t being supervised online and run into questionable erotica, imagine what else could happen. Just saying.

    2. So perhaps we have someone somewhere who has an issue with the rise of the independent author and was looking for an excuse, any excuse, to torpedo said rise? I suppose it’s possible, especially among the traditional publishing elite.

  36. I’m of the opinion that any business can reject or accept what they want. These are businesses, not government, and the owners, CEOs, etc. of these companies have every right to determine what their businesses will and will not sell. I remember a similar debacle happening with Smashwords a year or so ago. Everyone was crying censorship then.

    Too many authors feel entitled to do whatever they want, wherever they want. That’s what their web site is for. Once they take their works to third parties, like Amazon or Kobo, they are at the mercy of that companies policies and whims.

    You’re a nobody. Get over it.

    1. The argument isn’t about censorship. It’s about a knee-jerk reaction to tabloid sensationalism driving business decisions unfavorable to independent writers & publishers. If Fifty Shades of Grey suddenly disappeared, Random House would most definitely make a fuss. I don’t find it unreasonable for any bookseller to react to decisions that negatively impact their livelihood, regardless of size.

    2. I also agree it’s not really about censorship. When an independent author or a small publisher chooses to use Smashwords as a distributor, they are entering into an agreement with Smashwords to do certain things. One of the things that Smashwords claims to do is to distribute to Kobo. The assumption (I believe correctly so) is that Smashwords has an agreement with Kobo. Pulling all Smashwords books effectively nullifies that agreement (at least temporarily) with Smashwords and therefore with the author and/or small publisher. Granted, Smashwords doesn’t charge for its services, so there isn’t really a monetary refund owed. But nevertheless, you have parties here who have a certain expectation that now isn’t being met and it’s by no fault of MOST of the independent authors and/or small publishers involved. It is truly a case of one bad apple ruining the whole apple cart.

  37. As far as Smashwords is concerned, I personally think they are mostly clean. They have enabled a way for the author/publisher to state whether the books are adult-only, and enable filter on that criteria.

    I guess (but may be wrong) that the metadata is forwarded to the retailers. If retailers fail to provide the same filtering capability, it’s their problem.

    Granted, publishers can cheat and fail to mark adult-only books as such. And for that, I’d recommend some additional checks/filters from retailers AND distributors..

    1. You are correct. Smashwords defaults to safe search and it must be deliberately turned off by the consumer before they see adult-flagged books. They pass the flag along: iTunes, for instance, has an adult flag Erotica category, and Smashwords books redistributed to ITunes are appropriately shelved. Kobo, however, doesn’t have a flag, so it discards the information and there is no way to filter adult content in searches.

      1. So based on this information, Kobo sorta made their own bed. So, it seems reasonable (and sort of a catch-up step) that Kobo clean it up. And since it seems to have been a huge pile to clean up, they just decided to pull the plug and clean it up backstage. I don’t have a problem with that.

  38. “…when all retailers move in lockstep in response to a panic manufactured by a tabloid famous for clickbaiting, then that acts as a form of quasi-censorship.


    …we need to be very careful before we take the step of banning certain kinds of books because we personally find the contents objectionable.

    Because where do you draw the line? How do you come to a consensus about what’s objectionable and what isn’t?”

    -Yes that.

    I tried to explain these two points on a self-pub loop but they didn’t get my censorship argument because obviously businesses can decide what they stock. But that’s not addressing the larger issue here. You put it far more eloquently than I could.

    Or a system similar to this: although I’m not sure if I agree fully with the ideas, there are some pretty good points.

  39. The second most important rule in a “free” society, after the freedom of public speech, is the right of the marketplace to set its own standards and limits. Each commercial venture always retains the right to not see and not purchase some items as well as not serve some customers. David, your use of “Click-Bait” to describe this teapot tempest is spot on. The market will, over time, revise itself as necessary with little outside interference. I recall a few years back, Amazon actually published (through CreateSpace) and marketed a book )written by an avowed member of NAMBLA) which was a guide to seducing young boys. There was a huge outcry, but it didn’t sell many copies before it was removed. The point being that every bookseller needs to come to terms with exactly who its market really is and not try to overreach and get a 100% market share. It’s just not worth the bruises and stumbles.

  40. An excellent, balanced response for which many thanks. The way UK politicians, and now commercial enterprises seem to be instantly responsive to the worst tabloid excesses is one of the most worrying aspects of all this.

  41. When I got the e-mail from Kobo yesterday I was tempted to comment, but then I figured you would write a post and I could just comment on that, so here goes.

    I don’t blame the stores for removing the content en-mass. The problem is, they weren’t ever reviewing the content before publishing it. They just took whatever SmashWords (through Kobo) or others threw at them (made available) and sold them on… making a nice profit for no work whatsoever.

    Everyone in self-publishing knows that SmashWords is rife with pornographic crap that never saw an editor and was written appallingly. That is the same reason I chose to scrap SmashWords only weeks into publishing with them. So when the stores were alerted to the content on their shelves being full of rape, incest and more – the only logical choice was to remove the lot until they can do what they should have done in the first place and review the content.
    None of these stores would have stocked these books in paperback form on their shelves without reviewing them first. This move is, essentially, just playing catch up.

    Frankly, I think Kobo have done the right thing. If they have any sense, they will exclude SmashWords completely until things have been sorted out there too. My suggestion is that Coker set up a partner site for all adult content and let SmashWords just host the rest, Then, the stores could be more assured in reselling SmashWords content without causing problems for themselves.

    Once again, Amazon comes off looking more professional for dealing with this quickly, quietly, and selectively whilst also making a public announcement about the issue to media when asked. Kobo was late to the ball and look somewhat like a pumpkin. Sad to say because the director at Writing Life, Mark, is a nice chap.

    1. Greg,
      I have not been to SmashWords in awhile, but they used to have the option to filter out the ‘adult’ content when you arrived at their site. Maybe they still do.
      In fairness to them, how to handle erotica in this new world of publishing is not an easy thing.

      I honestly don’t know how sites should handle erotica and taking no responsibility for the content in your store and how it is displayed was wrong of Kobo from the start. No one wants ten year olds to end up with erotica as an option to one click or ‘look inside’.

      I think Kobo should have arrived at their solution by the way of just common sense and I’m sure people have probably complained to them over the years (the same way they complained to Amazon who actually acted on the complaints), but it took a tabloid to shake them up.

      However, my biggest complaint with the Kobo approach was they didn’t pull any of the erotica that the established publishers put out as David pointed out. If they were really worried about erotica at least a bare minimum search for the titles by the larger publishers should have netted them a few hundred titles to cull along with the self-published books. Some of those books which are clearly erotica weren’t even required to put their books under that category because there is this image that if it comes from a larger publisher it must be edited by a god and washed in gold and vetted while harps played in the background and…and…and… so the ‘porn’ factor must be of a much higher quality – right?

      I will say it will be interesting to know how the general public will react now that their indie authors have been pulled. I bet some of them might be surprised that they were reading ‘indie’. I bet most won’t care if it was indie or not, but will just wonder where their favorite author went.

      I’m sure this will be drowned out by those who praise the ‘much more refined’ Kobo (she snorts).

    2. I think this was badly handled by everyone involved, but I definitely wouldn’t call Amazon the more professional. They pulled the books from sale. They also pulled the books from the Kindle libraries of those who already bought the books AND have not, to date, refunded any monies or contacted those consumers regarding what happened nor what will happen.

      Luckily my digital bookstore, Sony, hasn’t pulled anything. They seemingly have this idea that adults have the right to make their own decisions on what they will and will not read. And that children shouldn’t be searching for books at an online booksite when they can see the dirty pictures and words easily on the television, in films, or at their local brick and mortar bookstores. I don’t know how many times I had to either shoo children out of our erotica section or remove adult books hidden in the children’s section of the bookstore I worked at back in the day.

  42. My author group just had this discussion yesterday. And, yes it was a knee jerk reaction to someone’s report. Thank you for providing more details on this subject. I’m passing it on.

  43. Reblogged this on Real Writers Write and commented:
    This is why authors should be careful when doing business with companies, especially as it pertains to self-publishing. On the other hand, it is also unfair the the legitimate self-published authors on this site that they should lose potential sales because of this infraction.

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