If Self-Publishing is the new Wild Wild West, Who’s the Sheriff?

17 October 2013

Chris McCrudden on Publishing:

“I want to talk about self-publishing. In particular the self-published pornography that found its way on WH Smith’s website via the retailer’s partnership with Kobo, which was spotted by The Mail on Sunday and has since led to a virulent press and social media campaign against ‘vile trade’.”

***

“For me this episode highlights a fundamental tension within the eBook selling industry which is all about why being a platform is different to being a retailer. The success of platforms like Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing and Kobo’s Writing Life are quality neutral at the point of entry. They exist to scoop up a critical mass of content because they believe consumers want to deal with the platform with the biggest inventory.”

Read the rest here:  If Self-Publishing is the new Wild Wild West, Who’s the Sheriff?

Julia Barrett

Amazon, Big Publishing, Books in General, Bookstores, Disruptive Innovation, Ebooks, Indie Bookstores, Kindle, Kobo, Legal Stuff, Nook, Self-Publishing, Self-Publishing Strategies, Self-Publishing Warnings, The Business of Writing ,

97 Comments to “If Self-Publishing is the new Wild Wild West, Who’s the Sheriff?”

  1. Ricochet Rabbit?

    • Will you people please stop making me laugh? ;-)

      Actually, please continue to bring on the laughs. I can really use it!

  2. Bad analogy.

    People need laws and law enforcement because if left alone they can, and unfortunately will, do real, lasting damage to others.

    Publishing an ebook hurts no one. Either it’s good and people read it and enjoy it or it’s crap and no one likes it and it falls down the ranks into deserved obscurity.

    • Clearly, that’s not true. Pornography does have an impact on people, which is how this scandal got started. If words and stories have any power at all, then saying that ebooks are harmless is like saying: “sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” Which is clearly false.

      • I don’t think that’s clear at all. The scandal was started by a pearl-clutching article posted on a link-bait gossip/”news” rag. It was the journalistic equivalent of trolling, and, sadly, it worked.

        Honestly, I’ve seen people argue that watching other people have sex is terrible and creates a wildly misogynist and patriarchal situation, but Twilight and 50 Shades have done way more damage in that respect.

        • I look forward to you backing that last statement up with a few facts. As it stands, I remain thoroughly unconvinced.

          • That Twilight and 50 Shades are more inherently misogynistic? I can’t, obviously, because that would require that watching other people have sex is terrible and creates damage in the first place. I’ve seen arguments and claims that pornography is bad, mind you, just I don’t think anything in the way of facts. Joe made a pretty bold but non-evidenced claim that “pornography does have an impact on people, which is how this scandal got started.” It’s demonstrably not how the scandal got started (what started the scandal was the original pearl-clutching article I mentioned [THE FILTH! THE CHILDREN! WHO WILL THINK OF THE CHILDREN?!1 SINCE AMAZON WON'T I SUPPOSE I MUST ACT AS MORAL POLICE!]), and for the first half of the claim to be valid, Joe would have to define pornography and demonstrate its impact on people.

        • There’s a lot more to pornography–especially pornography with rape and incense themes–than “watching other people have sex.” Whether or not you feel it’s harmful, I think that parents have a right to treat it as harmful and take appropriate steps to safeguard their children.

          And really, do you honestly believe that our words have no power? That stories cannot change lives, for good or for ill? Whatever your opinion on the specifics of this scandal, it strikes me as simply ludicrous to say that “publishing an ebook hurts no one.”

          • Whether or not you feel it’s harmful

            I don’t.

            I think that parents have a right to treat it as such

            Okay, I guess. I mean, I have no problem with parents who don’t want their children exposed to pornography, sure. I’m not sure it harms children. But we’d have to define what harm means and how it might do so.

            and take appropriate steps to safeguard their children.

            Sure. Amazon even enabled a safe-feature on Kindles, so that when parents hand the tablets to their kids, certain features are disabled, didn’t they? And I think it’s fine to take appropriate steps to safeguard their children if that’s parents’ prerogatives, but if those steps include function that renders that material completely unavailable at all, I think those steps are no longer appropriate. Whatever steps parents take to ensure content is no longer available to their children must not make that content unavailable to readers in general.

            do you honestly believe that our words have no power

            Never said that. Depends what you mean by “power.” “That stories cannot change lives, for good or for ill” . . . sounds a little vague, to be candid. As an act in and of itself, I’d argue publishing an ebook (and by that I mean pushing the button that uploads a PRC/Mobi to Kindle, for example) is about as harmful as loading a bullet into a gun–i.e., not in itself harmful. Does it then have the potential to have an effect on someone, like, perhaps, ruin or brighten someone’s day? Sure. It might make someone happy or sad, for sure. Change someone’s life–best case, perhaps. I’m sure many alcoholics would credit their Big Book as playing some role in saving their lives for the better, just as I’m sure many people of a religious nature seek salvation in the pages of a Bible (or other religious text).

          • Then don’t talk about “the impact of pornography,” talk about “the impact of rape and incest porn.” It’s still a silly argument, as has been demonstrated, but you won’t look like quite such a frothing prude.

          • Pornography leads to one thing only: masturbation.

          • Whether or not you are taking safeguards to control your child does change the fact that I AM NOT YOUR CHILD. So, please stop trying to parent me. Thanks!

      • Mostly the impact pornography has on people is making people who don’t like pornography get very irrational. I personally view that as a feature, not a bug, but on the other hand their irrationality has impacts on me,, like keeping me from reading books I want to read, so I must concede that we have to deal with the impact of pornography.

        • If you’re going to make this issue out to be about the stupidity of the people who take offense at pornography, you’re only proving the OP’s original point, which is that the self-published authors of these stories are treating readers with contempt.

          • I try not to treat readers with contempt: readers pay for a lot of very cool toys that I want.

            However, people who take offense at pornography aren’t my readers. (Quite a lot of them aren’t readers at all, unless you count… no, not going there.) I still don’t treat them with contempt. Incomprehension, maybe, but not contempt.

            People who take offense at pornography and use FTCFUD to cause trouble for people who aren’t bothering them, or to blame people who write and publish erotica for their lack of parenting skill… those people I treat with contempt. Not planning on stopping, either.

          • I don’t write erotica, but those who do are just writing what people want to read. The people treating readers with contempt are the ones saying those readers shouldn’t be allowed to read it, because they don’t like it.

            I’d note that there seems to be a fair amount of evidence that wackos are less likely to commit sex crimes if they have ready access to porn. Japan, for example, has crazy porn, but very low crime rates. Those claiming porn causes sex crimes mostly seem to rely on the claims of people like Ted Bundy, who was a psychopath who would have said anything to keep himself out of the electric chair.

            I’d also add that I do write horror, and SF with human/alien/genetic hybrid relationships, so I’m probably not far down the list if the censors get erotica banned.

            • An acquaintance of mine was murdered by the man he had molested as a child. When I cleaned out the house, there were closets full of child porn. Adult porn, too.

              • And millions of consumers of porn never harm anyone. Give me a scientifically valid study proving a causal relationship between consumption of porn, especially text only, and actual incidents of violence.

            • The contempt is for readers as a class, not a specific group of readers, and it comes into play when erotica/pornography writers use various marketing tricks to boost their “visibility” or “discoverability.” Frankly, I think the OP makes some very good points about bad actors and the new self-publishing culture.

              • See, this is a much better point. I’m pretty sure that misleadingly labeling books, whether through titles or keywords, violates TOS.

                That’s a way bigger problem than explicit content.

                However, it’s also a problem not restricted to independent authors.

                There’s a big difference between cracking down on metadata abuse and segregating “self-published” authors.

              • I am completely for the idea of clearly marking adult materials, and I think that anybody who deliberately miscategorizes them to make them “more discoverable” should be severely sanctioned by the publisher/distributor.

                That being said, if they *are* clearly marked and properly categorized, and parents can’t bother to keep their kids out of them, that’s their problem, same as if I build a fence around my swimmming pool and the little buggers dig a tunnel under it and drown ’cause mom and dad couldn’t be bothered to keep track of ‘em.

      • As I understand it, the recent problem was with keywords on a retail site leading to both children’s books and porn. This was then a retailer problem, they didn’t have porn sufficiently cut off from children’s content, and would presumably apply to traditionally published porn as well as self published porn. Therefore it is NOT about self publishing. It’s a totally different issue.

        Aside from issues of how retailers chose to make such content accessible in their stores and any accidental exposure to children that might result from their methods, publishing porn doesn’t directly harm anyone. Those who buy it and read it are making a choice to do so. If we accept your premise that porn is inherently harmful, then it is self inflicted harm.

        For what it’s worth, on a moral level I am against porn personally. But I am also for the freedom of self expression that publishing it on the open market (clearly categorized and removed from children) fulfills. If people want to write it, that’s their choice. If people want to read it, that’s their choice as long as everyone involved is a fully rational consenting adult.

        • I am also a believer in freedom of expression and other 1st amendment rights, but I’ve seen pornography addictions tear apart homes and marriages, including members of my extended family, and I’m not so naive as to believe that pornography consumption is harmless. Whether or not you believe that it is, I hope we can all agree that we have a right to believe that it is, and to shield ourselves and our families from it, without imposing on the rights of consenting adults to do as they will in their own private spheres.

  3. I dunno, but I know he’s dead. Somebody shot ‘im.

    Now where’s ‘is damn yella-bellied deputy?

  4. I’m sorry … an “author feedback” program, complete with incentives for good behavior and penalties for bad, will somehow solve whatever self_pub “problems” we have?

    No, that system wouldn’t get abused at all.

    • Here’s a step toward treating authors with respect, as if they were self-sufficient, intelligent, capable adults…not.

  5. I agree – why does self publishing need incentives or whatever? Smashwords has a simple filter to turn off the adult stuff, so why couldn’t WH Smith & Kobo do the same?

  6. I believe 50 SHADES was picked up by a traditional publisher who knew full well what was in the book.

  7. Sheriff? We don’t need no stinkin’ sheriff.

    Dan

  8. Well, I wish someone would shove some porn photos into my books. I need the publicity.

  9. Oh god, not eBay! eBay is a horrible model. I used to have a nice little eBay biz, then the powers that be decided to clean up the “Wild West” atmosphere and it all went to hell. The more rules there are, the more there are to break and the more difficult they are to enforce. The worst offender was eBay itself. For instance, its “crackdown” on counterfeit goods. That made life miserable for folks trying to sell junk they found in the attic, while at the same time a blind eye was turned to China who have factories producing designer knock-offs and brand-new genuine antiques. You know, because China was a market eBay really wanted.

    Attempting to control peoples’ behavior is futile. The best one can do is say, “This is what I will tolerate, and that I won’t.” Then be firm and make no exceptions. If Kobo or WH Smith don’t want to sell dirty books, fine, don’t. It’s their business. But expect the producers of goods to police themselves? Expect indies to police each other? Yeah, okay, I’ll just send emails to every writer who offends ME. Mmm’kay. If everybody does that… Yeah, that’ll work out great.

    • LOL Jaye. Even on a relatively tame blog like this one, we can’t always stay out of each others’ hair. I’m imagining us all emailing each other with messages to stay in line… XD

  10. I keep seeing references to Fifty Shades as being porn. Now everyone has their reference point for where that line on what constitutes porn is; mine is pretty much consenting adults. Fifty Shades is erotica light, in my opinion. Some light spanking is about as hardcore as it gets. What WHS appears to have been objecting to were ebooks with incest, bestiality and other acts that exceed my line of consenting adults. Let’s be really clear on this.

    • Which is a perfectly good argument for either their removing those books or insisting that Kobo remove those books. The entire over reaction or demanding that someone come in and police their content for them is absurd.

      • I’ve seen several commenters on this site discuss the subjective nature of quality.

        Porn is that way. You say yourself “everyone has [his or her] reference point where that line on what constitutes porn is,” then note yours. Problem: other people may not share yours. You may be offended by content that crosses your personal line, but other people may be offended by your attempt to create a moral restriction for them (if you attempt to do so). What if WHS had objected to what you call “erotica light”?

        As has been brought up elsewhere, “ebooks with incest, bestiality, and other acts” is a category that includes series like Game of Thrones (although, admittedly Game of Thrones incest occurs between consenting adults).

        • Pornography/erotica is significantly different from other forms of subjective literary qualities, in that it directly evokes a physiological response. Horror is similar in that it evokes a similar type of response, but other genres or types of literature do not. This makes any discussion about pornography significantly different than discussions about subjective literary quality.

    • Yes, but my erotica short story series, Naughty Mom, has been removed from all the sites and it’s more erotica light than 50 Shades. It’s monogamous erotica – between a husband and wife married 15 years. But because it’s got the word “mom” in the title, I’m sure it’s suspect.
      *sigh* My Imp series is off too, and it’s very light on the sexual content. Ah well.

  11. My objection to Twilight is the whole abstinence issue. Hymen worship is about as patriarchal as you can get. Sorry guys, but with the invention of tampons, many hymens were sacrificed to technology.

    • Don’t forget the creepy, stalker, emotionally abusive boyfriend! Who is, by the way, what, hundreds of years old and wants a girlfriend only barely of age of consent?

    • 1. Twilight novels are not hardly good examples of abstinence, although it was refreshing for a book to admit that sometimes girls are pushing behavior that guys are resisting.

      2. Are you really going to claim that anything beyond “have sex with anything that moves, and if it doesn’t move, masturbate with it” is hymen worship? Seriously?

      3. Sex is an adult activity with adult consequences — far more than drinking alcohol, smoking, voting, or driving a motor vehicle. Sex and its consequences change lives, create lives, give incentives for better and worse lives, and kill people.

      If you can’t make a legal contract or understand the consequences of your actions on other people, you’ve got no business having sex.

  12. Well, how lovely.

    I’m not surprised that someone is trying to ‘corral’ those upstart self-publishing folks. Someone needs to monitor them and make sure they’re not out of line.

    And label them. Very important to label self-publishing books so the reader can tell them from traditional publishing. I love how he implies that traditionally published books would automatically get a pass, and not need a label.

    And if this discourages people from going indie, well, that’s just a nice side-benefit.

    This is an attempt to put a substitute for the old gate-keeping system. The under-lying hostility toward indie authors permeates this article.

    The big question would be if Amazon would do this. I seriously doubt they would – the amount of legwork this would take would be enormous. Also, there are economic concerns here – it could decrease the sales of some books, which would affect the bottom line.

    So, if Amazon doesn’t do this, and I would bet money it would not touch this with a 10 foot pole, other booksellers would be crazy to. Because then authors could simply choose to opt out. Those booksellers would lose business and possibly miss out on bestsellers. They would also not be popular in indie social media. This is the type of thing that can get indies to band together against an arbitrary and discriminatory system. Because how could the review system described possibly be fair and impartial?

    I also wonder who this guy is? His blog (?) gives very little information about him, but I assume he is tied into traditional publishing.

  13. This article tries to make it the self-publisher’s fault that all those inappropriate books were shown beside kid’s books in the WH Smith storefront.

    Nope. It’s on the retailer, imo. Yes, some self-publishers try to game the system, but this sounds like more than just a couple titles slipping through. I’d say WH Smith’s website search function/categorization was severely flawed.

    If retailers want to carry a “wide selection” of titles, then they need to figure out how to keep some of it behind the counter or on the high shelves. It’s not the authors’ fault that they write stuff there’s a market for, and that the retailer accepts their product.

    • The situation is not un-analogous to W.H. Smith’s taking everything in their store, from “Clifford the Big Red Dog” to “Fifty Shades,” dumping it in a big pile, and then acting surprised when the occasional large-red-dog-seeking-child finds poop-finger stories and their parents get upset.

      • I’d posit WH Smith is probably not sophisticated enough to provide that functionality. My wager is that they wanted an ebook store and were happy to just hang up a branded portal supplied by Kobo, like Borders did with Amazon (was it?) a few years ago.

        • Yes, it was Borders/Amazon. :)

          And if WHSmith is a pass-through portal to Kobo, that kindasorta gets WH Smith off the hook, although only to the extent nobody at WH Smith said, “Hey, have you guys separated kid’s books and erotica, like we do in our stores?” Which seems like a no-brainer.

          But Kobo is more than capable of doing it, they just chose not to.

          • I’m pretty sure they are just a pass-through portal. Or that their “store” was “powered by Kobo,” in the same way as my website is “powered by WordPress” (and without WordPress wouldn’t exist as such. I mean yeah I could put stuff there, but I think you get what I mean). And I thought that’s what their reaction pretty much was–“The books are on Kobo, so we’re disabling our store completely while Kobo attempts to solve the problem. We’re a bookstore, after all; we leave all those digital solutions to other people DON’T BUY A KINDLE!!11!”

            And Kobo chose not to because $$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$.

        • Er… “that functionality” could be as basic as a checkbox on each book to say whether or not it contains adult content… and then to filter that all out if the search results indicate a younger reader. It’s a very minor thing in terms of website architecture.

  14. The sheriffs are usually the problem, not the solution.

    • Speaking as somebody who just stopped using one of his favorite websites because the Fun Police finally got the site owner to listen to their nonsense, I can say that in more than thirty years of interacting electronically I have yet to see any forum which was notably improved by the appointment of a Committee of Vigilance. Now already they are wondering why all the cool people left just because they instituted some “common sense” rules that treat everyone who signs in as a potential predator. (No, seriously. That’s the first line of the new rules. I mean that literally.)

    • Indeed, there’s nothing to worry about here. There are always people who want to be the new sheriff.

      If this is the age of “Here Comes Everybody” – then “everybody” needs to take responsibility. And isn’t it odd how often profit — ridiculously defined solely as dollars — seems to trump everything?

  15. If there will be some policing/filtering of book content to prevent the perverts for opening their trench coats in the kindergarten then all books, including Trad Pubs, should be subjected to it. Creating a different section for Indie Pubs is building another gate. And if this becomes an issue where Trad Pubs will be successful in segregating the Indie Pubs to the back of the bus, there are alternatives. As an Indie Author my job is to be creative. Imagine if some of us here on PV would form a cooperative publishing entity called United Writers LCC. This limited partnership will be a Trad Publisher, wouldn’t it? Something to keep in mind if the need arises, my fellow “good” authors.

  16. Wow! Just tuned in. Interesting discussion. Play nice in the indie sandbox, kiddies. I’m enjoying the juxtaposition of Clifford and Fifty Shades…

  17. “If Self-Publishing is the new Wild Wild West, Who’s the Sheriff?”

    There is no sheriff. That’s why it’s the “Wild West.” And since there’s no sheriff, a group of “concerned citizens” will try to form a “committee” to “solve this terrible problem.” The result: a vigilante group — which is nothing more than a semi-organized mob, foaming at the mouth with fervid anger and righteous indignation.

    In this case, the “concerned citizens” are: 1) a yellow-press “newspaper” looking to increase readership, 2) trad pubs looking to gain an advantage over self-pubbed writers, & 3) self-appointed moral guardians seeking to censor “immoral” media and restrict what others can read.

    Welcome to the wonderful world of the new gatekeepers.

  18. I find it amusing that every single online discussion of this issue that I have read quickly devolves into a discussion about pornography. This is not about pornography/erotica. It’s about who gets to determine what’s on the bookshelf, either digital or physical. WH Smith of course can sell any book they want, or not, as they please. Ditto Kobo. I won’t really be worried about a wholesale purge unless and until Amazon starts yanking self published works, and I don’t see that happening any time soon. Kobo may have had contractual obligations (they are partnered with WHS), but I don’t know that Amazon answers to anyone but Jeff Bezos.

    Today, the headlines are about “porn”, however you define it. Next month, they may be yanking books advocating terrorism, or whatever. The bottom line, the overall effect, the INTENT of all this pearl-clutching, is to get rid of self-published books. It won’t work in the long run, because booksellers need books to sell, and cutting the inventory stream will backfire on them.

    • Bingo. We should be supporting authors of legal erotica, regardless of whether we read it or write it.

      Because, otherwise, we’ll be next.

      And, despite what someone said above, from what I’ve read on the subject I don’t believe there were any stories on the WH Smith site that were obviously illegal in the UK.

      • I disagree. We should support readers just as much as we support writers, if not more. And if readers don’t want to be inadvertently exposed to pornography, even legal pornography, when they’re looking for something else, then we should support them in developing a space in the ebook world that is free from those things. I’m all for having a space for erotica/pornography too (the legal kind, at least), but I don’t think there’s anything wrong with walling it off from those of us who don’t want anything to do with it.

        The problem with making this an all-or-nothing sort of fight is that it generates a lot of collateral damage, no matter which side is winning. When ebooks are policed too strongly, we have a situation like the one that’s going on now with Kobo taking down all the self-published books. When they aren’t policed enough, readers don’t feel like they have a safe place to look for ebooks, which makes them more likely to reread an old favorite or go to the library, rather than seeking out something new.

    • I won’t really be worried about a wholesale purge unless and until Amazon starts yanking self published works,

      They did, actually. I’ve heard of several people who received emails from Amazon regarding content and subsequently had said content removed.

      And great point. People clutch their pearls over all kinds of things. And they’re totally allowed to, for sure!

      But pearl clutching should not lead to censorship.

    • You’re basically making the same argument that southerners make about the US Civil War, which is that the war was about States Rights and the role of the Federal Government, not slavery. Which has some degree of truth–the war was certainly about that too–but you can’t deny that slavery didn’t characterize and shape both the war itself and the course the country has taken since.

      Pornography and access to pornography is a major issue in the ebook world, just like it has been with VHS, DVD, the internet, and pretty much every other revolution in media. And unless we address that issue, and come to some sort of resolution on it, we’ll always waffle between those who want to lock down control of ebook distribution and those who want to enable the bad actors and hold readers in contempt.

      • So, forever, then, because this is a moral question, and morals are not susceptible to logical resolution. You cannot reason someone out of a position that they did not reason themselves into.

      • Just so we can be clear, what do you see as the “issue”?

        • The issue, as stated by the OP, is the “serious conversation that e-reading platforms, their retail partners and authors are NOT having about what it means to be a good actor in this industry,” and the “fundamental tension within the eBook selling industry” between the desire of publishers to indiscriminately publish and distribute erotica/pornography, and the need that readers have identified for a separate space for adult content.

          • Pornography and access to pornography is a major issue in the ebook world

            I meant that issue.

            “fundamental tension within the eBook selling industry” between the desire of publishers to indiscriminately publish and distribute erotica/pornography, and the need that readers have identified for a separate space for adult content.

            First, I don’t see that as a need all readers have stated. Second, levying the criticism against “self-publishers” as the OP, the pearl-clutching articles, and the article linked to in the OP do is disengenuous at best.

            Dramatic irony: segregating an “adult” or “explicit” section would likely only immediately create a place where everyone would suddenly want to go. Kind of like banning a book makes its popularity shoot way up.

            • How many readers need to speak out before you take these concerns seriously? Fifty percent? Eighty percent? Do they have to form an organization analogous to the PTC for ebooks in order to be heard, or for writers such as yourself to acknowledge that pornography is not universally popular? This is precisely the sort of “contempt for readers” that I believe the OP was talking about.

              • You know, I’m finding your incessant attempt to control what other people put in their heads extremely offensive. Here’s a point: YOU don’t get to waive my rights. Period.

                M

              • Good Lord. I never said pornography is universally popular.

                I’m sure it offends a lot of people. Seems like you are someone pornography offends, and you find it harmful.

                And that’s fine. Stop looking at it.

                Look! Problem solved!

                You have a right to your beliefs, but your beliefs should not impact others’ experience.

                • Good Lord. I never said pornography is universally popular.

                  Dramatic irony: segregating an “adult” or “explicit” section would likely only immediately create a place where everyone would suddenly want to go. Kind of like banning a book makes its popularity shoot way up.

                  Sorry, I should have known better than to take you at your word.

                  • If you seriously interpreted my comment on dramatic irony as “pr0n = universally popular!” I see there is between us a disconnect that is more than simply ideological. I’ve said several times you bring up a valid point that what needs to have happened (and what didn’t) is greater emphasis on and enforcement of TOS and categorizations–along with a crackdown on those deliberately miscategorizing books in an effort to get the listed in categories where they shouldn’t be.

                    And I have no contempt for readers. I love readers. I’m a reader, first. Always have been, always will be. I’m unconcerned about my browsing experience, but then, I read widely and have broad interests, and my sensibilities aren’t delicate. I think most readers enjoy their browsing experiences. I think Bezos & co in general work hard to ensure that. It’s just funny that, below, AR mentions being “forced” to view something . . . I mean, I browse lots of lists all the time, and I haven’t found myself forced to view anything. I don’t think I’ve seen actually explicit covers, and I really fail to understand how difficult it is simply not to click on one.

                    Anyway, I think we’re at an impasse. I was glib earlier about offense; I hadn’t meant any.

                    Happy reading.

              • I agree with you, Joe.

                It’s not a question whether or not pornography should or shouldn’t be sold. It’s a question of should people who have no interest in pornography/erotica be forced to view it when they are searching for books.

                I have no problem with the legality of pornography, but that doesn’t mean it should be forced upon those who do not (or are not old enough) to view it.

                Joe is not saying “Ban all porn!”

                What he is saying is that there is a responsibility to the consumer. They are an important, and perhaps most important, cog in the machine.

                When e-Books first came out, and the indie revolution began. Very few writers worried about the consumer experience and just cheered each other on for being indie.

                Horrible cover–“It’s okay, we’re indie!”

                Bad writing–“It’s okay, we’re indie!”

                Poor formatting–“No problem, we’re indie!”

                But times change. Now, unprofessionalism is frowned upon by many indies and not greeted with the previous pat-on-the-back.

                This erotica issue is very similar. You can’t accept any old behavior just because its the Wild, Wild, West. You must respect the will of the consumer.

                It doesn’t matter who raised the subject, or what you think of the blog that started all of this. The fact is, a lot of people probably had issues with so much porn popping up on their searches and the blog only blew up a long smoldering fire. You won’t win many friends by telling them their opinion is wrong and they’re idiots.

                You can ignore the consumer if you want, but that’s a dangerous way to do business.

                • Thanks to all you guys for proving my point: using “pornography” as the wedge immediately derails the discussion into swamps of irrelevancy. THE CONTENT IS NOT REALLY THE ISSUE, GUYS. It’s the delivery platform that’s coming under attack, not the content. If it were not so, then Kobo would have yanked ALL books with incest/rape content, starting with the Bible. Kobo (and Amazon) are not doing that, which means they are targeting the delivery platform for this material (indie books) and not the content.

                  In the writing business, this is called “lying through your teeth”.

                • Sorry, but I call bullshit on the “It’s okay–we’re indie!” idea. Can you cite such an instance? Because I don’t think I’ve seen any writer ever say “Meh, I don’t need a good cover or to write well. I’m self-publishing! That’s enough to be awesome!”

                  Nobody’s forcing anything on anyone. No content was pushed to customers. Nothing was sent directly.

                  It does seem that there were titles that were miscategorized. And yes, that is a problem, and what should have occurred is that those titles should have been addressed accordingly and on an individual basis, and should continue to be dealt with as such.

                  What that means is that “ZOMG indie filth over here and corprit radness over here” is inappropriate. Sure, if WH wants to shut down its portal, fine. And if Kobo wanted to close its own ebook shop, fine, as well. But to categorically shut down “self-publishing” because some authors–and bear in mind it’s not at all certain that only independent authors engaged in misleading miscategorization–is ridiculous.

                  You must respect the will of the consumer.

                  From data I’ve seen, these titles sell exceedingly well, so, sorry, but your will of the consumer has already spoken, and consumers gobble up the titles in question in quantity. If they didn’t, authors wouldn’t continue to publish such titles in quantity. So yes, let’s respect the will of the consumer and keep all these titles active and available (even while enforcing correct categorization, yes. Like I said, great, put the books in the “mature” section; that’s fine, because that means all the consumers will know where to go).

                  • I shudder to think what the world would look like if the “will of the consumer” became a justification for the tyranny of the majority (or in this case, the outspoken minority more likely).

                    I was publishing in 2011, and I remember a very strong rah-rah indie sentiment throughout the publishing world. If you don’t believe me, I have a recording of a panel at the 2011 worldcon in which an audience member basically told John Picacio to go f*** himself for trying to debunk the pro-indie argument that traditional publishers don’t do hardly any marketing for their mid-listers. If that’s not enough, run over to KBoards and dredge up some of the earliest threads in the Writer’s Cafe. A.R. Williams’s characterization of that time period is quite correct.

                    • I’ve been publishing since 2007. I founded Exciting Press in late 2011. Maybe I’ve just found it easy to ignore authors who are not professional in both demeanor in approach, but I guess I’ve been lucky that way. The Penns, Konraths, Eislers, Friedmans et al. have never pushed an agenda that indie authors should be held to any lesser a standard than authors with corporations are. But then, I guess they are the cream of the crop in terms of indie publishing.

                      I’m not familiar with the sentiment you’re talking about, but is it possible it was a reaction to posts like this one, which wrongheadedly take a stance against indie authors solely because they’re not with corporations, which, as has been pointed out, is what it basically comes down to?

                      Dude, you’re on the tyranny side. The tyrants are the ones who want to censure and censor and segregate. Next thing we’ll see is “Hey, let’s make the self-publishing section separate but equal!”

                      Which, honestly, sadly, is about where it seems the anti-indie sentiment falls, lately.

                    • Everyone always wants to be the victim. Everyone always wants to play the “censorship” card.

                      You’ve done nothing but mock, belittle, or mischaracterize my arguments on this whole thread. I’m not saying that we need to eliminate pornography completely from the marketplace. I’ve repeatedly stated that I’m quite fine with setting apart a dedicated space for that sort of thing. What I have been saying is that the central point of this article–the need to respect consumers who don’t want to be exposed to things that they consider beyond the pale–is a valid point, and needs to be addressed.

                      I’m not upset about any contempt you may have towards me. I’m upset about the contempt you clearly have toward readers whose values you do not share, and the blase manner in which you dismiss their very legitimate concerns.

                    • Why do they get a special filter and I do not?

                  • It doesn’t matter what should happen, what matters is what did happen. If you get caught speeding and get a ticket, it does little good to point at all the other cars zipping along faster than you and go “But they’re speeding worse than me, officer!”

                    The officer will just nod and go “But I caught you.”

                    You got caught! To argue that the system is unfair is one argument and a legitimate one. To argue that anything under the sun is fair is quite another.

                    Indies must hold themselves to a higher standard.

                    You can’t sell the Playboys, the Penthouse, and the Hustlers, right alongside the children’s coloring books. So please don’t scream about censorship when that’s what some authors are trying to do and people move to stop it.

                    And this is what has been happening. People trying to figure out how to get around the system so that they can make more money. Integrity starts with the self.

                    One method raised is for these sites to have an adult filter like Smashwords. I agree with this.

                    But when people try to game the system, that too will fail. And the Playboys, the Penthouses, and the Hustlers will proliferate right next to the children’s coloring books once more.

                    Integrity starts with the self. Don’t speed, and then you can make a better and more honest criticism of how officers catch offenders.

                    “Separate, but equal” took a very long time to be reached, and then overcome. Improvements happen in incremental steps–not all at once.

  19. I’ve never heard of sex killing people. Now acts of agression during sex, yes, but these are not sex in the way I understand sexual congress. People can choose to disagree with me about teaching abstinence only, but in Texas, where I live, since we implemented that in our schools, we raised our teen pregnancies to the highest rate in the nation.

    I qualified my line for what I consider pornography. Yours may be different, but why should yours impinge on mine? I can’t read what’s been banned so my rights are infringed on. You can choose not to read what you define as porn without any infringement on your rights. Adult reading matter should be blocked from children. That’s the only censorship I endorse.

  20. All else aside, shouldn’t parents/guardians/custodians/wardens of children or other legally-immature individuals be looking to see what their children/wards/dependents are buying or reading on-line, including previewing unfamiliar titles to make sure that “Suzie’s New Rope Trick” is part of a series about a circus gymnast and not a novella about a bondage domme? I realize some authors mis-game the system by not labeling (Amazon)erotica or books for mature readers as such, but it’s the parents/guardians/custodians/wardens who need to be filtering the books, not the retailers. Retailers should provide labels, just like they do on the shelves, but otherwise caveat emptor. If the pearl-clutchers don’t care for something that is otherwise legal and is properly tagged, then they should go read a different book. IMHO.

    • “It was believed afterward that TXRed was a lunatic, because there was no sense in what they said. “

    • Again and again and again: this is not really about pornography. That’s the excuse the publishers/distributors are using. If it wasn’t porn, it would be something else. They are pulling INDIE books, and leaving erotica/porn published through Big Publishing on the shelves.

      As long as we permit ourselves to be distracted by the shiny “porn” argument, we will continue to be clueless, powerless, and off the shelves.

      • Truth. All that really needed to be mentioned was “self-publishing” and it was pretty clear what the pearl clutching was about.

        I’m waiting for Game of Thrones to go. I wonder if we should start a petition for Amazon to pull it.

        And the Bible, of course, but there are way more reasons for that choice.

      • If this really is a conspiracy against self-published writers, it’s probably not going to last very long, simply because of market forces and the winds of technological change. Rather, it’s the lack of pornography filters on the part of the retailers that’s the issue, and self-publishers are the scapegoats. Even if you redeem the scapegoat and place blame where it belongs–on the retailers who were either too clumsy, too lazy, too stupid, or some combination of the three–the original problem of how to filter pornography still remains.

      • @ Sarah – +1000.

        Excellent point, and I completely agree. I think they picked porn because it is such a hot button topic, it completely covers up their real intent – to try to control self-publishing. They can distract everyone with heated arguments about porn, while they try to impose gate-keeping on self-publishing, and hope people will be too intensely involved in arguments to notice.

        You are right on target!

  21. Geez.

    So can we all agree that porn, whatever its values and dangers, is legal and its writers have a right to publish it wherever it’s accepted?

    Can we agree that publisher/retailers have a right to accept or deny it?

    Can we agree that it’s in the best interest of children and shoppers in general that porn be filtered out of certain kinds of searches, and that there be a user option to hide it from searches entirely?

    I haven’t seen anyone disagree about these points yet. This isn’t a moral debate, except somehow it is, and both sides are trying to get the other to back away from their beliefs. This ain’t the place, folks.

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