Opinionated Opinions

I would just like to take a moment to weigh in on the Amazon/Kobo kerfuffle. I didn’t jump into the debate from the start because I wanted to take some time and really figure out where I stood. I also wanted to get all the information before I jumped to an angry “how dare those corporate dogs tell me what I can read, publish, or view on Amazon.com!?!” Because, I’ll be honest, that was my first, gut reaction. But several days in and having read the arguments for both sides, I think I know what my calm, rational thoughts are. Forgive me if I get a bit rambly. It happens sometimes.

In case you haven’t heard, several large eBook retailers are starting to (or threatening to, in some cases) pull ALL self-published titles, regardless of content. This comes from an article posted on a somewhat well-known news blogging site based in the UK listing a handful of books with what could be seen as objectionable themes. Things like Daddy/Daughter fetishes or kidnap and rape fantasies were the primary targets.

While I understand why these things could be HUGE triggers for many people, I also know that there are people who find them to be erotic and who enjoy reading & writing them. My personal opinion on this part of the issue is “to each their own.” If I don’t like the content of a book, I don’t have to read it and neither do you. I know that some of the material I write can be triggering and bother some people. I label my work, trying to make certain that the people who don’t want to read about two dudes getting busy won’t be lured in by the tempting promise of shifters and vampires. I want people to know what they are getting into, because I have been fooled by a book cover or blurb or genre classification into thinking I was getting one thing and ending up with another.

I personally wouldn’t argue about my work being put behind an adults only partition. That seems reasonable to me. But pulling every last self & indie published title on a site because a small handful of authors are using keywords that might bring their naughty books up in a search next to children’s books is a bit extreme.

Thus far, the pulling of self-published titles SEEMS to only be affecting the sites & authors in the UK (at least, I haven’t heard anything about books being pulled on any US sites, though it was brought to my attention a couple of US authors were pulled from UK sites.) It is my understanding that there are very different laws in place in the UK than in the US about what pornography is and how it can be distributed, which might be the key factor in this whole debacle. I can’t really comment too much on this as I live in the US and do not have a clear understanding about current laws in the UK. I have only found one blog that commented on this and they said even less than I did.

With the backlash from the public, they’re going to have to do something reasonable. They can’t pull books with the justification of “objectionable adult material” and still sell XXX DVDs, vibrators, and bondage equipment (all of which contain graphic descriptions, images & customer reviews just like the books and can be easily searched by anyone).

The smartest thing to do would be to implement some kind of age verification, which should have been in place long before now. Lots of websites have them, why shouldn’t a large retailer like Amazon or Kobo? The only inconvenience of this would be that in order to see items that are mature themed, a customer would have to sign in and check a box stating they wanted to see it. Most of us have had to opt in or out of adult material on just about every website we frequent. Even Google searches have this option. It’s the internet and we know that there are things out there that might offend us. And the porn industry have long been using credit cards as a way to verify age. Amazon must surely be capable of a similar process.

Punishing the authors for a failing on the part of the website owners is hardly fair and simply not good business. Those authors will take their work elsewhere and Amazon, Kobo & whoever else is participating in this witch hunt will be out a pretty significant chunk of sales. Something like 45% of all fiction books published in 2011 & 2012 were indie or self-published (according to an article on publishersweekly.com). That’s a huge bite of the market to just lose because of ONE article about ten or twenty titles, which could have been dealt with based on customer complaints.

One would assume if they were still for sale on the website, no one had complained. To the best of my knowledge, no one has reported the dino-porn that is for sale on Amazon.com (where cave women are raped/seduced/mated with by prehistoric lizards. Oh yes, it exists, but that is another blog post all together!) And there are a great number of titles that include incest, rape, bestiality, or some combination of all three (Game of Thrones, anyone?) that are published by traditional publishers that don’t seem to be in danger of being pulled. I can make a list of the titles that, based on these guidelines, should be pulled from online retailers.

The end result of all this thinking and pondering and researching has left me thinking that this is an attack on self & indie published authors. Whether it was planned or a convenient opening, I’ll leave that to the conspiracy theorists. What I’m seeing is the end results. In a world where every title already has to fight for its life, the hard working, dedicated people who make indie publishing happen are being vilified as pornographers, anarchists, and other such unflattering rabble-rousing words. Traditional publishers are being portrayed as power & money hungry faceless corporations. There are battle lines being drawn where they don’t need to be.

There is room in the Kindles of the world for both kinds of published work. The truth is, most readers don’t know the difference between traditionally published works and self-published ones until they are told that it matters. The readers I have talked to just want a good story, an eye-catching cover, and reasonable prices. These are things they can get from both sides of the publishing battle. They don’t need to be pushed one way or the other by what usually amounts to skewed generalizations.

From where I’m sitting, it seems that traditional publishers are running scared and throwing stones wherever they can. They can’t help but see the growing number of authors who don’t need or want them as threats. The best cover artists, editors, formatting teams, PR people, and everyone else who makes a successful book are now freelancers. The world where traditional publishing ruled and anyone who wanted to do it themselves had to face the shame of their work being called “vanity publishing” or worse, is coming to an end. They fear extinction. I will try and resist the urge to compare them to the scaly “romantic” leads of the aforementioned dino-porn, desperately searching for a busty blonde who’s been living in a cave and doesn’t know there are better options.

But, don’t think that means that self & indie publishers are guiltless. Just like any group, there are bad apples. People who don’t respect the hard work it takes to publish a book. People who don’t seem to understand that the reason traditional publishing turned out so many great works over the years is because they had a system in place that worked. They hired editors, marketing experts, and the like, in order to make the books the best they could be and sell as many as possible. In the same way that a small handful of callous, greedy individuals in the traditional publishing industry have given them a bad name, a handful of self/indie published authors have done the same for us. There are stereotypes in place that will take many more years to shake about indie authors refusing to have their work edited, using crappy homemade covers, and being hipster d-bags.

This is one of those issues where both sides need to man up, swallow their pride, and come to a reasonable solution. Throwing insults, pitching fits, or ignoring reality aren’t going to help anyone.

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