Banning Indie Books

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A media attack on erotica quickly spun out of control, shutting down book stores and wiping some indie authors off the face of the internet.

Homepage Sub, News  •  Oct 15, 2013

 

by Michelle Fox

It’s been a wild ride in indie publishing the last few days. A media attack on erotica quickly spun out of control, shutting down book stores and wiping some indie authors off the face of the internet. Below, we recount the sequence of events wreaking havoc across the publishing industry.

How the Book Banning Started

On Wednesday October 9th, an article in UK ‘news publication’ Kernel Mag  triggered a widespread banning and blocking of self-pubbed books. Action was taken across multiple booksellers, and, while the initial focus was on erotica, the problem soon spread to other genres.

Authors quickly discovered that the Kernel Mag piece misrepresented several individual authors, as well as the erotica genre as a whole. However, it was too late to stop other media outlets from spreading the misinformation, which caused Amazon, Kobo and WH Smith (who carries Kobo’s catalog of books) to react without a full understanding of the situation.

Internet Marketers Use Erotica as a Cash Machine

The first flaw in Kernel Mag’s anti-porn campaign? The article portrayed the problem as (mostly self-pubbed) erotica and then featured books published primarily by internet marketers, not authors. Authors can easily spot these ‘marketeers’ because they study the erotica book listings in the course of their market research, an expertise that no media outlet has developed.

Internet marketers routinely outsource story production to third world countries and are known to publish hundreds of stories at a time. The quality is low, the covers are in-your-face graphic and the titles are keyword stuffed to the point that even Google gags on all the search terms. It’s not an issue of genre, but a business model used by some marketers to extract profit with no concern for quality.

This isn’t the first time internet marketers have caused problems for booksellers and indie authors. Before they hit erotica, they slammed the non-fiction category. In 2011, Amazon struck back by deleting the mass produced non-fiction. Now that erotica is under attack, the profiteers will either move on to another genre or become more savvy about how to stay under the radar.

Media Accuses Legitimate Authors of Illegal ‘Fiction’

Other indie books originally targeted by Kernel Mag, ones written by actual authors, were wrongfully accused of bestiality and rape. Two examples:

Dog Gone It by Chelsea Fox was singled out because of a dog on the book cover, not because ‘journalists’ read the content to verify their assumptions. When asked for a quote, Miss Fox said, “This is crazy. There is barely any sex at all in Dog Gone It. It’s amazing how they’re trying to destroy and control what we read or write. Pretty scary if you ask me.”

One of Tawny Black’s books was cited as “rape porn” by Kernel Mag. Miss Black spoke with Indiereader exclusively, and said of the situation, “Imagine my surprise, as the woman in the story is of legal age and participated in consensual relations with three men she is not related to in any way. To single out this story was not only irresponsible journalism, it amounts to libel since it is in no way “rape porn”.”

Clearly, the Kernel did not fact check the titles they publicly defamed, but that did not prevent Amazon from banning all the books in question. Apparently, Amazon doesn’t fact check either.

Amazon Ramps Up Book Banning, Authors Scramble to Respond

Amazon didn’t stop with the Kernel Mag’s list of books, either. They went on to ban other indie books, almost without logic. One author’s book was banned because the cover was deemed offensive. Where did they get the cover? From Amazon.com’s own graphic design program, which is made available to authors free of charge and consists of images that Amazon selects and supplies.

Multiple self-pubbed authors had books blocked because of the word ‘virgin’ in the blurb or title. Books that were unblocked on appeal were immediately blocked again. Covers featuring only faces were deemed to be offensive and blocked. Fully clothed people on covers, alone, not touching anyone, were blocked. Author Alexx Andria resorted to creating ‘brown paper wrapping’ covers for her books, which were eventually reinstated.

Other Booksellers Shut Down, Books Removed in All Genres

UK news outlet BBC then picked up Kernel Mag’s rallying cry. They called out Amazon’s failure to filter content as well as examined some of the potential legal ramifications of not properly shielding the public from erotica. British law is such that Amazon’s lack of an adult filter may cause them legal problems in the future.

By Sunday October 13th, bookseller WH Smith, also in the UK, shut down their website, leaving up a notice that they would return once all “self-published” books had been removed from their site. This action was criticized by econsultancy.com, which took WH Smith to task for not anticipating the problem. Adult Filters and search engine coding can eliminate any shock factor of books available for sale. However, to date, the only online book retailer in the world with a functioning adult filter is Smashwords.com.

The chain reaction continued to Kobo, who supplies WH Smith with ebooks. On Monday morning (October 14th) Kobo began wiping indie published books off their website. Not just erotica, but all indie ebooks, including David Gaughan, who is well known for his how-to guides Let’s Get Visible and Let’s Get Digital.

The UK Legal Climate Facilitates Book Banning

It’s important to note that this latest round of self-pubbed book banning (there have been two previous large scale attempts to control fiction in the past three years) stems from the United Kingdom, which has some very controversial anti-porn and criminal laws up for vote. Police now have expanded powers to arrest anyone suspected of the potential of being a sex offender–no crime necessary.

The government also plans to block access to what they deem pornographic material from ever reaching individual internet connections. Essentially, the UK’s current paranoia about the evils of sex is traveling across the pond and forcing US and Canadian companies to conform to their agenda without any due process.

Some Books Remain Despite Questionable Content

Meanwhile, traditionally published fiction continues to be freely available without constraint or criticism. Consider these books:

Fifty Shades of Grey, which has titillated audiences worldwide with the submission of the virginal Anastasia to the dominant Christian Grey.

Tampa, a novel that covers, in explicit detail, sexual relations between a teacher and their minor student.

Flowers in the Attic, the incest classic, which was recently re-launched and categorized as Romance on Amazon.com.

Lolita which celebrates an older man’s sexual interest in a young girl.

The Virgin Suicides also flourishes across bookseller platforms despite using the word “virgin”, the same word that causes indie authors to have books blocked and removed from sale.

The intent is not to cause any bookseller to ban the books listed above, but rather to illustrate the double standard and hypocrisy at play when it comes to indies. While it’s easy to say graphic covers and salacious descriptions or titles should be banned, it’s impossible to explain why books such as Chelsea Fox’s Dog Gone It are run off bookseller sites. There is no incest, taboo, or in-your-face erotic content. Also, when did the word virgin and the topics of incest and BDSM become the sole provenance of traditional publishing?

Further, Amazon.com still sells a wide variety of sex toys with no inhibitions. It seems, the only thing they won’t sell are books that the media–particularly British media–tells them not to.

Where Things Stand Now

Kobo sent an email out to indie authors on Monday night explaining they were quarantining and going through content on their website. They stated, “Our goal at Kobo is not to censor material; we support freedom of expression. Further, we want to protect the reputation of self-publishing as a whole. You have our promise that we will do all we can to ensure the exceptions that have caused this current situation will not have a lasting effect on what is an exciting new channel that connects Readers to a wealth of books.”

Some authors report their books have been reinstated, but many are still unable to find their work for sale on Kobo. The “I Read Fantasy” Facebook page tracked fantasy authors whose accounts were suspended most of the day Monday and urged readers to contact Kobo to encourage them to reinstate those accounts.

WH Smith’s website remains closed for business with no information as to when they may reopen.

Amazon continues to erratically ban self-pubbed books, put them back up for sale only to ban them again, and generally act without any coherence.

By late Monday afternoon, Change.org had a petition up urging Amazon, Barnes and Noble and Kobo to stop removing erotica. Over 7000 readers signed within hours.

Selena Kitt, owner of Excessica Publishing (which published Miss Fox’s book), and renowned erotica writer with over a million books sold said, “I’d just like to point out that erotica writers aren’t perverts. What we are writing is fantasy. Words, not actions. This is fiction, folks. It doesn’t hurt anyone. And the “but it might make someone DO those horrible things!” argument has been debunked again and again.

Books about serial killers don’t make people become serial killers. Books about rapists don’t make people become rapists. Books about incest (or pseudo-incest) don’t make people go have sex with family members. In fact, research shows that most people who do read incest erotica don’t, in fact, fantasize about actual family members. If you don’t like it, don’t read it. But telling other people they can’t write or read it crosses the line of personal and intellectual freedom. And that’s not okay.”

This is a fast moving story, with news breaking almost hourly, and this article represents what we know as of 7pm EST on October 14th 2013.

Important Note: Kernel Mag has changed the books on their site and their website no longer reflects the content published on 10/9/13. Some of the books originally targeted are still showing on the Daily Mail site.

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A former preacher’s kid (which is code for ‘wild child’) Michelle Fox enjoys exploring the erotic in her fiction. Fantasy also carries a special place in her heart and she likes to blend the best of both genres in her work.

Most of Fox’s books have been Top 100 bestsellers in the erotica, romance and fantasy categories and she was once #1 in Germany (right up there with David Hasslehoff–it’s like six degrees of Baywatch).  Readers can find her on Facebook.

31 Responses to “Banning Indie Books”

  1. avatar Zirconia Publishing, Inc. says:

    This is a great article that sums up a definite problem with the industry. Folks, if you don’t think that this can’t happen to you, think again. Erotica is the lowest hanging fruit simply because no one will defend it, but if you make a living by writing and don’t want to submit to traditional publishing, you should be up in arms about this.

    • avatar J.P. Grider says:

      I am up in arms. I don’t even write erotica and my book was pulled – they told me my cover was in violation of their guidelines. A Young-Adult book with absolutely no sex in it at all. It was put back on late last night, but I received no explanation as to why it was taken off. I am so afraid it will be taken off again. Or maybe my other books are next on the list. They’ve made me sick to my stomach over this.

      Thanks for listening. :)

  2. avatar Kitty Fine says:

    Thanks, Michelle. This is a great summary and article about the ludicrous events that have unfolded these last few days. It’s downright negligent of these parties to falsely accuse and block self-published authors without even a little due diligence. I’m appalled that retailers have such a weak knee-jerk reaction to self-proclaimed “journalists” who don’t even check their facts. They must not believe in their own business models if they allow small blogs and tabloids to panic them and run their business decisions for them. And it seems they think very little of readers and indie authors if they think they should dictate what’s acceptable for people to read and write.

    ZP, I agree and think that if you’re a writer and/or a reader, you should protest to Amazon and Kobo/WHSmith about this. Your favorite genre or book may be next on their hit list, deemed “unacceptable” in their eyes.

  3. I think authors who were listed in this witch hunt and lied on should sue those who lied about their work. Maybe this will make people think twice before they defame somebody’s name and character.

    • avatar Hugh Howey says:

      Agreed. They should be sued, and the lawsuit should be covered by as many indies as possible so pretend journalists understand the ramifications of their shoddy work. This entire kerfuffle was unnecessary. It has not only cost authors money in sales, it has cost retailers a lot of time and headache. All over practically nothing.

  4. avatar Brenna Lyons says:

    Only one thing I have to disagree on. ARe/OmniLit also has a functional system in place. They ask, when a book is put on sale, if the cover is sexually suggestive, if the book contains offensive materials (which specifically includes non-con/dubious consent, abuse/violence, and other content), and their category system is MUCH more complex than Amazon or Kobo uses and has separate sections for general fiction, general non-fiction, romance, erotic romance, and erotica titles. If a book has a racy cover, clicks any of the content advisories, or is erotica, it is automatically shielded from view, unless the customer is signed into a verified account.

  5. avatar Brenna Lyons says:

    Oh, and ARe/OmniLit DOES have content that is not allowed, including bestiality and incest, but they state their content concerns up front and attempt to apply them evenly (as I’ve seen it), just as BookStrand does. Amazon, by comparison, does not do this and uses the amorphous “offensive” terminology, which allows their reps to play favorites in how they apply it to any given book, publisher, author…

    • Good point, Brenna. I did consider mentioning ARe as their system is much more sophisticated than Amazon’s, Kobo’s or BN’s, however, I decided it was more of an advanced categorization system as opposed to a true filter.

      Still, it was good to have your comment to add to the conversation.

      M

  6. Thanks for this info. Very scary, when we’re all barreling along, happily learning how to work with this brave new world of indie publishing. My soon-to-be-released novel has a few (tasteful!) sex scenes in it. Now I’m nervous. Maybe I’ll hold on to it until this mess gets sorted out.

    • Don’t hold back on publishing. My book has a few risqué moments in it, but it has yet to be banned from Smashwords or Amazon. Go with Smashwords first, and then try Amazon once the dust settles.

  7. avatar Janis Susan May says:

    It’s not only erotica books they’re pulling. I have uploaded through Draft2Digital and every one of D2D’s books has been pulled. Mine are sweet, traditional Regency romance and Gothic mystery, with inoffensive covers and nothing more titillating than a sweet kiss. In my opinon, this is nothing more than an attack on self-publishing.

  8. avatar J.P. Grider says:

    These last few days have been an emotional roller coaster for me because of Amazon pulling these books. My Young-Adult book was pulled based on its cover. They gave me no explanation. So was it because it had a young blonde girl with her bare arm showing that made them pull it? Or was it because it had the word ‘touch’ in it that made them pull it? I wish I knew. They’ve since put it back with the explanation, “we’re sorry for the inconvenience of this temporary restriction.” I still don’t know why, and I’m afraid it will happen again. It’s horrible for everyone involved…including the readers.

  9. avatar Asia Aguirre says:

    Thank you for the insightful article. I’m quite new to the erotica world and was surprised last week when my first dive into self-published erotica was immediately blocked by Amazon. However, I wrote a very kind email and explained the virtues and value of the story, tidied up the description and made some minor adjustments. By nightfall, the story was published. I was surprised, but thankful that Amazon gave me a chance to communicate with them and decided to let the ebook go live. Thank you again for the article.

  10. What a complete farce. The vendors have chosen a cowardly and lazy response, instead of standing by their business partners: indie authors.

    It’s important that we all work to ensure this type of knee-jerk ban doesn’t happen again.

    For our part, my company IndieBookLauncher is making a public promise to defend the right of indie authors to free speech, and we are giving a clear outline of how we plan to do that: by working to help authors succeed, regardless of their reputation, personal or political views, commercial potential, genre or subject matter, or any other characteristic.

    You can read the policy here and we welcome your comments:

    http://www.indiebooklauncher.com/policy-freespeech.php

    Here’s hoping the authors affected by this have their books restored as soon as possible.

    Let’s also pressure vendors to be more accountable by demanding they improve their search and categorization features, instead of using mass-bans as a substitute. What has happened over the last few days is not good enough.

  11. Thanks so much for this.

    Three days later and most of our books are still down on the Kobo store — including a WWII memoir and a children’s picture book. What’s been put back up? Two romance novels, one of which is actually a bit racy. Go figure.

    And most of our erotica books are still up — because we initially distributed them to Kobo through Smashwords.

    We’re furious.

  12. many thanks for a clear relation of what’s going on. I’ve used your link on my blog to try and explain what’s going on with my readers.

  13. avatar Mike Cooley says:

    I’ve seen the same thing as Janis Susan May. I have no erotica titles, but all of my books (distributed to Kobo from Draft2Digital) were pulled from Kobo, and remain that way.

  14. Smashwords obscenity rant
    I tried to point out to another “author” on here the nuances of this issue, of obscenity and censorship but it is so much easier and more satisfying to just puff up about principles and “freedom” and ignore the possibility that disseminating lubricious material about what are basically criminal acts may have a deleterious effect on other people. Don’t like it? Don’t read it. Okay! It’s just that simple! I was wondering if the CEO of PayPal ever experienced in his life or the lives of loved ones a rape, incest, pedophilia, or bestiality, He doesn’t like it? Okay! Just that simple to ban financial transactions for such books. He had the authority to do so. When I pasted a story I wrote about my personal experiences with some of these subjects I was told that they have nothing to do with the issue at hand and I should get help dealing with my “issues.”
    I see.
    Writers of erotic “art” are able to be impartial about the matter but people who have been on the receiving end of somebody’s lugubrious fairy tales in real life; well that’s not valid. And they need help because they can’t understand the difference between fiction and fact. Yes, I understand the difference, having lived it. How about this for a slippery slope? People with a predilection towards rape and other pathological sexual behaviors are encouraged in their behavior by consuming “harmless” fiction written for erotic pleasure and feel somehow legitimized to act it out. But wait, they were going to do it anyway, bedsides I’m selling books. Do you not think the explosion of Internet porn has not adversely affected the sexuality of real men and women? I’m not taking a moral posture, but perhaps an ethical one. Just don’t lie. Don’t lie that it is harmless.

    Don’t tell me it doesn’t cut both ways. I know it’s much easier to see the world as black or white. All or nothing. ALL censorship is bad. I could live without THE PROTOCOLS OF THE ELDERS OF ZION being disseminated and many people have thought that material to be factual. Did it hurt people? Is that the price of freedom? So that people can write about erotic rape? After all people are buying it. Doesn’t that justify it? I never sold drugs in my life, but it wasn’t until I had stopped using them for a long time that I realized that I was part of a death industry.
    Here’s the deal; it worked out okay, this time, but it is by no means resolved as an issue. This is not new and this will not go away. I can Google Jew and conjure up all kinds of the most viscous hate material. I can do it on YouTube. I don’t do it anymore. I have high blood pressure. Are hate literature and hate videos dangerous? I think so. This is not a simple issue. That’s the price of freedom? Or is that license? Where do we draw the line? It’s a complex issue and I am disheartened to see such a knee jerk reaction from most of these writers. You can call this a rant, but it’s free speech, am I right?

    Addendum: Much of this eroticism isn’t even outré or daring or artistic, or stretching the boundaries of human experience. It is not profound in anyway. Most of it is a camouflage for bad writing.
    ‎…and relativism used as a guideline for human behavior is a facile and specious argument because it is an argument that validates itself by juxtaposition to the lowest common denominator in human experience. In other words, don’t cry to me about the Sturm und Drang in the fucking bible.
    …or if any of you have the talent to elevate the worst aspects of the human condition and make it transcendent, THEN, maybe then, you will have a solid platform to stand on rather than breast beating posturing about your “rights.” Fire away, I don’t give a shit. You write what you write and I’ve had my say right here.

  15. avatar Willi Morris says:

    Wow. Here I was all pumped about my first NaNoWriMo and this happens. I am so sorry all of you have had to go through this. What a scary time for indie publishers and authors.

  16. avatar Paul Clayton says:

    I am a bit paranoid, and I was wondering if anyone else has any suspicions about the involvement of the so-called ‘tradition Publishing’ biz in this mess? Also, part of the problem is the fact that Amazon and other sellers have a gazillion titles in their virtual shelves, and a hundred or so human employees. So, everything must be automated, all checking, etc. Bottom line, it’s inexcusable. I agree with the folks that say, sue. Yes, sue the pants off them. And, union, self-published authors need a union and solidarity with each other. If tomorrow the big A said they were dumping all their non-traditionally published titles, there is absolutely nothing we could do about it. Sad to be so powerless.

  17. avatar Erica Pike says:

    Christ. Thanks for summing it up so nicely.

  18. avatar Shawna Fields says:

    Indie books, indie music and indie movies will ALWAYS find a way to survive and be seen. It’s just a shame that these major sites are cutting out erotic self-published authors titles. I was reading a similar article https://www.slixa.com/under-cover/461-amazon-puts-the-kibosh-on-self-published about how this website censorship trend is really making it hard (no pun intended) for erotic authors to get their titles off (no pun intended again) the ground. Seriously, when can adults enjoy eroticism without it always feeling like we need to go to dark back ally’s of even website’s now to find it?

  19. […] so the perfect storm developed. The Kernel posted their click-bait, Kobo capitulated, and distributors everywhere started to ban erotica. Again. Still. More. […]

  20. […] so the perfect storm developed. The Kernel posted their click-bait, Kobo capitulated, and distributors everywhere started to ban erotica. Again. Still. More. […]

  21. […] about the recent attack on erotic romance.  A good summary of the situation is described here: http://indiereader.com/2013/10/banning-books/.  Its a long story involving the UK, anti-pornography laws, a witch hunt and the pornocalypse; but […]

  22. […] out of the market, arbitrarily, if it is reported on the whim of any fundamentalist. In fact, that’s what happenedto a number of indie authors that were accused by the British magazine The Kernel of promoting […]

  23. […] the fall of 2013 (thereabout) there were a plethora of books yanked by Amazon. Some were put back up, some were […]

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