Thursday, November 11, 2010

Self-Pubbed Authors Banned from Kindle?

No, self-pubbed authors haven't been banned from Kindle. But if you're a self-pubbed author, that title just about gave you a coronary, didn't it? The reality is that it could happen, and it could happen sooner than you might think.

If you haven't heard the controversy about the self-published book The Ped0phile's Guide to Love and Pleasure (that link is no longer active on Amazon, by the way) by Phillip R, Greaves - where have you been? It went on sale, according to Amazon's book page, on October 28, 2010. On November 10, 2010, the link disappeared. Before Amazon pulled the book, they issued this statement:

"Amazon believes it is censorship not to sell certain books simply because we or others believe their message is objectionable. Amazon does not support or promote hatred or criminal acts, however, we do support the right of every individual to make their own purchasing decisions."

So much for that noble idea. The book went bye-bye.

Now, I'm not going to take a position on the heinous topic of the book or whether it should have been censored. (Or pulled for atrocious spelling alone - the description was in need of serious spellcheck). It's a moot point at this juncture. But what I am interested in is the possible problems for self-pubbed authors that this may cause.

I can see Amazon's legal having a heart attack at this point, telling them that THEY would be seen as the publisher and responsible for any backlash from this book if anyone sues. And someone just might. People were pretty angry about the whole thing - there were over 3000 comments (i.e. "reviews") on the book before it disappeared. And there is precedent for threatening to sue over books like this (see example below).

Remember that article in Slate a few months back about Amazon publishing "porn":

"The Kindle, however, pushes Amazon over the line from mere enabler of erotica to promoter and producer. Many of these e-titles are specifically being published by Amazon..."

Amazon is, essentially, a publisher now. And they're publishing not just erotica (which is fine as far as I'm concerned, obviously) but apparently, guides on how to be a pedophile.

What's even more interesting and indicative of a possible future ban on self-pubbed authors is that in 2002, Amazon had a similar problem with a title called Understanding Loved Boys and Boy Lovers by David L. Riegel, but this book is still available on Amazon - and it was published by SafeHaven Foundation Press. Presumably, the conservative group who threatened to sue over this book would have had to take it up with the publisher, not the retailer.

But in the case of Mr. Greaves books, Amazon is the publisher. As of this writing, his other four listings are still available for Kindle. For how long, I wonder?

I know I've been called an alarmist in the past, but hey, someone's gotta watch for forest fires, and where there's smoke...

I wouldn't be surprised if we heard in the future that Amazon will no longer be accepting self-pubbed works and publishers may have guidelines to prevent them from just incorporating as an LLC and publishing their own books (i.e. Fictionwise has had these requirements for years: each "publishers" must have for sale at least twenty-five non-public-domain works by ten different authors).

Of course, Amazon may decide to tighten their own gatekeeping process in accepting books for Kindle. That's a possible solution. (And another slippery slope). But if they decide to skip that process altogether, in order to avoid being seen as the only gatekeeper and responsible party, self-pubbed authors may find themselves out of a publisher.

-Selena Kitt


  1. Selena, I was shocked that Amazon used the word "censorship". When someone sells child porn and slaps it in between two covers and calls it a BOOK, it is still child porn and is illegal (not to mention the disgust). I hope this incident doesn't cloud the issue of all the other great books self-pubbed on the Kindle.

  2. Selena, I 100% agree with you! Amazon has opened a larger can of worms by not just ignoring this and letting it blow over. So what if a bunch of people decided to boycott Amazon over the decision? Most of them won't actually do it anyway. They'll just SAY they are, and then Buy from Amazon anyway because it's convenient.

    Amazon should have stuck to their guns.

    Of course, unless there was an official announcement from Amazon, it's also possible that the author contacted Amazon and asked them to remove the book. This might have been FAR more publicity than he was prepared to get.

    @Cherri, you can't know whether or not it falls under the definition of pornography unless you buy and read it. Pornography has VERY specific legal definitions. And unless it's blatant photography... it's probably unlikely that it's legally considered "child porn".

    Some people feel Lolita is child porn.

  3. Agree with @Zoe on all points. Amazon should have just ignored the whole mess and waited for it to blow over. I doubt the boycott would have done much harm to their bottom line. Most people who care about this sort of thing would talk a lot, but they'd still buy from the biggest retailer around, because most people are hypocrites. After all, Christmas shopping is almost upon us. (For the record, I don't care whether Amazon sells the book in question or not. I certainly wouldn't boycott them for this.)

    Amazon's decision (if it was theirs) to pull the book is in no way censorship (but I don't agree with @Cherri about why it's not censorship). It's not censorship because a business has the right to stock--or not--whatever items they choose to. Just because a bookseller chooses not to sell a particular book does not make it censorship any more than Macy's decision which brands of jeans to carry means they're discriminating against a certain manufacturer.

    I do agree that it's likely Amazon will stop allowing individual authors to publish books. And that will be a sad day for me.

  4. I agree with Barrie about not calling this censorship. If Amazon pulled the book and not the author doesn't mean he can't sell it out of the back of his car at his little "meetings" in dark alleys.

    If you want to start calling this censorship then the big publishing houses have been practicing censorship from the very beginning by accepting certain manuscripts and rejecting others. A company has a right to choose their products they are willing to offer.

    I, for one, am glad that the book has been removed. I would never have bought this book and might have talked about the downfall of society with friends/family because someone has the gall to post something like this and think it's okay. But, having said that, my reasons for worry about Amazon continuing to sell this would be my possible sales. I understand that not all of the people saying they were going to boycott would... but for some of us out there that sell on Amazon even one lost potential sale can make a big difference.

    Don't get me wrong. Censorship concerns are real and very, very important. It is a very slippery slope and one we need to defend. Even if it means defending something we find deplorable. I just don't feel that it is Amazon's OBLIGATION to allow ANYTHING on their site. I sincerely doubt they are going to start screening either. They will continue to let their patrons do that for them.

  5. I would be okay with Amazon pulling the book in question on the grounds that the spelling is atrocious alone. I mean, come on, people, we need to have SOME standards here and regardless of the content, the failure to bother even to use a spellchecker on one's manuscript should be a bar to publication.

    What I don't like is Amazon pulling the book because people complained about its content. Amazon sells a book that contains recipes for meth, ecstasy, and a number of other illegal drug cocktails. They sell several books that purport to teach the reader how to commit murder. And they sell The Anarchist Cookbook, a classic reference for bomb-builders. Actually DOING the things described in these books is just as illegal as committing child molestation, yet no one seems particularly up in arms over their availability on Amazon. It fascinates me that drug manufacture, murder, and terrorism don't seem to concern people much, but the second sex is involved, they go bat-shit crazy.

    Whether this decision on Amazon's part heralds a death-knell for self-publishing, I can't say nor would I hazard to guess. What I do think it heralds is the bully power of the Internet mob. And frankly, despite the objectionableness of this particular book, I can't see that as a good thing.

  6. @JC to me it is censorship. It's just censorship by a private company instead of a government. But anytime a large body decides to restrict access to content, it is, by definition, censorship.

    And no, I disagree that trad pubs practice "censorship" trad pubs financially invest. They are financial backers for a book and they do work to bring that book into the world. I'm also not suggestion that Amazon should somehow be "legally forced" to carry the book.

    I'm merely saying that when Amazon lets people put their work up on their site, then they start removing books based on public pressure, that is censorship.

       /ˈsɛnsər/ Show Spelled[sen-ser] Show IPA
    an official who examines books, plays, news reports, motion pictures, radio and television programs, letters, cablegrams, etc., for the purpose of suppressing parts deemed objectionable on moral, political, military, or other grounds.
    any person who supervises the manners or morality of others.
    an adverse critic; faultfinder.
    (in the ancient Roman republic) either of two officials who kept the register or census of the citizens, awarded public contracts, and supervised manners and morals.

  7. @Jackie Totally agree!! And definitely about the power of Internet bullies.

    If Amazon doesn't want to sell books like this... Fine. They need a policy that states: "Amazon does not allow nonfiction books about pedophilia."

    That's fine. Some stores don't carry books on birds or dolphins.

    But allowing content, and then removing it due to bullying tactics of people who are "morally right so their threats and bullying don't count as bad behavior" is not a good precedent.

    I also find it bizarre how no one cares about anything but this particular type of illegal activity.

    And... I find it weird that... someone supposedly had to review and approve this book for publication before it even got IN Kindle. So I'm kind of shocked it made it in the store to begin with.

  8. "someone supposedly had to review and approve this book for publication before it even got IN Kindle"

    What kind of gatekeepers does Amazon have? It makes you wonder, doesn't it?

  9. History has shown us that Amazon sometimes responds preemptively to consumer pressure, or pressure they think might come. Not that long ago they removed the sales ranks of erotica, particularly homosexual erotica (and most anything else with sex or homosexuality in it), probably out of fear of socially conservative groups. When they were confronted by other groups who supported the availability of erotic material, Amazon quickly backed off and claimed the whole thing was a mistake.

    I suspect that something similar has happened here. So long as the book in question has no illustrations, threats, etc., it cannot legally be banned in the United States. But by making it available for sale through their storefront, Amazon becomes the first target of anger about the book, and taking it down therefore constitutes a business decision on their part, since the potential profit from this book is probably far lower than the potential losses from a boycott. Since it is their storefront, this is their right.

    But Amazon, as a retailer, has to ask themselves what sort of material they are comfortable selling, just as any bookstore must do. Thus far, the rather large amount of erotic and outright pornographic material they sell hasn't caused a huge uproar, and they're making money on it, so they will probably leave it alone.

    And that's the line they have to find regarding content. Just trying to reduce the exposure of erotica blew up in their faces; now a handbook on pedophilia has blown up on the other side. Somewhere in the middle is that line, and since they are interested in profit first and foremost, this will govern where they choose to draw that line.

    Remember that one of Amazon's main strengths is the idea that at their site you can get pretty much anything that has been published. Do they want to lose this distinction?

  10. While being a true freedom of speech advocate I would have much trouble and reservations about not only having the discussed book in my Kindle but on a web site I(Amazon) am ultimately responsible for.

    Any book dealing with the subject that this book purportedly dealt with is not only disgusting but ultimately just written to enrage. Which it obviously has.

    Also Amazon has the freedom not to sell the product. Calling it censorship is only a ruse by those that wish to purchase such things, I would have to assume. And just because Amazon chose not to sell the item is not censorship, it's business practice.

    Only government entities can be a censor. The author is free to ply his wares elsewhere, Amazon is not the only seller of eBooks.

  11. Ouch. That's a real landmine for free speech. I think I fall on the side of 'no books banned - ever', even if it then means a few rotten eggs, like this one appears to be, are allowed to exist. I'm fine with any level of depravity in a fictional story, but this looks like a how-to guide for molesting children in your local neighbourhood. Ick!

  12. Just google "Ped0phile" on Amazon. There are lots of choices for pro-ped0phile books. Including one that apparently justifies it using the Torah? *scratching head*

    But all of those books are published by someone else. In other words, none of them are exclusive to Amazon Digital Services.

    This is going to set precedent, I'm afraid.

  13. @Selena I think that's a good point. Why are THOSE books still there?

  14. This isn't censorship, this is about legality and business sense. Porn isn't illegal, child porn is and it is a hugely emotive subject.

    I agree with what Amazon did. Self publishing on Amazon for everyone would be in danger if this book had been allowed to stay listed. Would you as authors want to be associated with a company that promoted (or appeared to allow the promotion of) child porn? The whole Amazon self-publishing model would have been tainted and, by extension, other methods of self-publishing would have been, too.

    I agree with Zoe and they should have an explicit policy about it but maybe they thought they could get by without one.

  15. My friend published his book on Kindle just a month ago, mentioned it on a few social media sites, went on hols and while he was away he have been pleasantly surprised with the sales and reviews – way to go !!

  16. Amazon just banned my book when I attempted to publish for Kindle. Here is the said 'pornographic' book in question:

    And my petition against censorship: