The Great Erotica Ebook Purge

Oct 23, 2013 | The Publishing Industry

kobo ebook retailerSo here’s the deal, for all of you authors who are wondering what’s going on. Yes, all two of you.

The Kernel wrote an editorial about how – SHOCK, HORROR – there is porn on the internet. More specifically, there’s porn on Amazon and Kobo, in the form of ebooks. I am truly surprised! And indeed astonished! (Spoiler: no I’m not.) Why did they do this? Because it’s a great way to get traffic and clicks.

What, you think they actually care? Nah, don’t be silly.

Anyway, they ran with this for a bit to get more sweet tasty traffic, and served up some more link bait in the form of how high street book retailers do it too on their sites, thunderous demands for Amazon et al to filter their content, and other such articles.

The Daily Mail in the UK noticed this and decided that this was their kind of inane, sensationalist garbage, and also ran with it, thus starting a giant moral panic among people who view the internet as a weird, dysfunctional enemy of tradition and good family values. (Which it is, but let’s not get into that right now.)

This precipitated an appropriately sized shitstorm in the key of ‘won’t somebody think of the children?!’ WHSmith, a major offline retailer in the UK, seems to have caught the brunt of it, with Kobo catching most of the online flak, and Amazon and Barnes and Noble picking up a few jabs along the way.

At that point, everyone and their dog started running around like headless chickens and the collective PR teams of these companies had to do damage control. WHSmith were caught between a rock and a hard place, seeing as they get their online ebook listings from Kobo. They took their whole site down. Kobo pulled all the self-published titles from their stores, thus screwing over umpteen authors who are ostensibly not involved in this and whose books are not X-rated.

Amazon just pulled the titles in question.

If you think this is a good thing, because it’s protecting the kids etc etc, consider this: books like Lolita, Fifty Shades of Grey, and other books from traditional publishers with questionable material were left untouched, because those bring in too much money. The Daily Mail still has a topless model in their paper on Page 3.

The word you’re looking for here is ‘hypocrite’.

So Where Do Fetish Erotica Ebooks come from?

I’m not going to stoop to calling the books in question ‘filth’ or whatever. They’re fetish stories. Yes, I kid you not, themes of incest and rape are actual fetishes, even if they seem like bloody awful ones. Their origin lies in fanfiction, and believe me when I say that the people who are shocked by the stuff in these articles would have a coronary the size of Texas if they encountered the dark, subversive, and infinitely varied currentsĀ  of adult fanfiction. And who is writing them, you may ask? Who could produce such immoral narratives? The answer to that, dear readers, is women. Better than 90% of fanfiction authors are female. These sprang from the twisted, unfettered heart of the female libido, set loose in the marketplace by the success of Fifty Shades of Grey.

This was likely inevitable, when you think about it. When Fifty Shades took off, plenty of people wanted to get in on it, and many fanfiction authors took it as a chance to break out into actual monetary reward for their work. As it turns out, writing porn for women is hilariously profitable! So someone had to notice at some point that there were lots of writers selling lots of porn to a female audience (who, might I say, are ridiculously underserved by the mainstream porn market), with no sign of it being a problem to anyone, and of course that kind of thing can’t be allowed.

What happens at Amazon, Kobo, B&N now?

Now we got ourselves a problem. Up to this point, the big websites have been an even playing field between the self-published authors and the traditional publishers. That’s no longer the case. They’ve shown that they’re willing to throw all self-published authors under a bus in order to protect their name, but they wouldn’t dare do it to the major publishing houses. The other half of the issue is that these services arbitrarily decided what’s acceptable and what isn’t, and that kind of crap isn’t going to fly very far in business. The uncertainty means that self-pubbed authors can’t trust them.

Time for another revolution?

My money is on another service specifically for erotica coming out of this, if Amazon et al refuse to carry the weirder fetish stuff, kind of like how Youtube started throwing porn off their site, and it all pooled into places like RedTube. Another possibility is that offline retailers who want to sell ebooks will use a whitelist of acceptable content in order to avoid this kind of controversy, thus making themselves even more irrelevant because everyone will shop at Amazon for the greater range of titles, and adding to the continued bleating from handwringers about how Jeff Bezos is destroying reading as we know it.

Watch Amazon above all else. How they react will determine how this will all play out. Just don’t be fooled – this is a moral panic, largely manufactured, by cynical link bait artists.

Read more of this:

David Gaughran weighs in

Kobo’s email response to all this to authors in the Writing Life program, which actually got me laughing because it’s so obviously, desperately full of spin

Adult ebook readers start a petition to stop their preferred books being removed from ebook retailers

The CEO of Kobo says that they support freedom of expression, fails to add ‘just not on’