Kobo, WHSmith — I think online retailers know what they’re selling

I’ve been reading about Kobo and WHSmith and Amazon removing self-published hard-core pornography (also referred to as ‘erotica’ by those who fudge issues in the hopes of making their arguments more credible) from their web sites. In the process, they have removed the works of many self-published authors who have never published anything remotely pornographic.

This has pissed off many authors, which seems perfectly justified to me, but a few issues that seem important are getting lost in the outcry.

I laud any publisher/online store wanting to rid their shelves of books that are essentially hate-crimes (against women and children, mainly, but anyone could be a victim) or wanting to put hard-core pornography on a part of their web site that can only be reached by adults.

What I am critical of is the way it’s been carried out. Online retailers have taken these steps because they have just “learned” what kind of materials they were selling? I don’t believe it.

Every writer knows that titles should illustrate to readers what a book is about. It’s an important marketing technique. That’s why so many mysteries have ‘murder’ and ‘death’ in the title. Self-help books often have the word ‘you’ in the title.

Pornographers know a lot about marketing too.

A few weeks ago, I found out that Smashwords.com has an ‘adult’ filter. How did I find out?

I accidentally shut it off when I clicked on something else, and when I logged on later, the first book to appear had ‘incest’ and ‘anal’…in the title. That’s how you market hard-core hate-crime pornography.

So Kobo and WHSmith, whose exclusive business is selling books, didn’t ever notice that a growing proportion of them have these kinds of titles?  I don’t believe it.

A much more believable scenario to me is that they knew what they were selling. People in their organization have probably been saying for some time that if they didn’t deal with the issue it would come back to bite them in the bum.

But it wasn’t until there was a convergence of events that the decision-makers took steps.

They had choices.

They could have long ago developed policies and software that would reject some works as unacceptable, place others beyond the reach of children and keep a sharp lookout for those trying to get past these filters. They wouldn’t have caught everything but they would have been seen to be doing the responsible thing in the interests of protecting children.

Instead, they removed all self-published works and showed themselves completely out of touch with their customers and the current developments in writing and publishing.

A word about the ‘convergence of events’ I mentioned above – England’s Prime Minister David Cameron has launched an offensive against online porn; Jimmy Savile’s decades-long career of sexual assaults against people in hospitals and care homes generates news reports periodically that the situation is worse than anyone thought; there are recurring reports of professionals and others such as the police with responsibility for caring for children who failed to do their job.

These are all recent reports in the British news.

There are many more examples in the news of the dangers children face from paedophiles and abusers and others who allow them to continue to operate. These might help to explain why some online retailers finally agreed to notice what’s for sale in their bookstores.

I also object to the use of the word ‘erotica’ for these materials.

To quote Encyclopedia Britannica:  “The word erotica typically applies to works in which the sexual element is regarded as part of the larger aesthetic aspect. It is usually distinguished from pornography … which is usually understood to have sexual arousal as its main purpose.”

Materials with incest and rape in the titles, or stories about degrading women or children, are not erotica. They’re hard-core pornography and I object to anyone using the two words interchangeably.

I’m far more anxious about our failure to protect children than I am about losing my ‘freedom of expression’ or my ‘privacy’ – most of us gave that away through the Internet years ago, often for no better reason than to win a couple of movie tickets.

Allowing actions that incite adults to degrade and abuse others, especially children, is inexcusable. There is no justification for it.

We should salute and support efforts to expose and eliminate those who make money from abuse or incitement to abuse.

Retailers need to develop a backbone and a sense of responsibility. If you can’t justify what you’re selling to your children, you’ve no business selling it at all. If you behave responsibly from the get-go, you won’t make the kind of balls-up of the situation that you are caught up in now.

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