Sunday, October 27, 2013

Freedom of expression and self-publishing: The Mail's manufactured crisis and dinosaur porn

I nearly missed this story last week: Kobo, the e-book reader manufacturer and publisher, went through an exercise of weeding out “offensive” books and removing them from its catalog. Of course, “offensive” means books about some forms of sex. Apparently, books that glorify stock market manipulation or various forms of fraud against the middle class, or books that use religion to justify oppression of women, for example, are okay.

It seems to have started with an “investigation” by the UK newspaper The Mail into WHSmith’s website. On October 11, The Mail Online reported:
Typing the word ‘daddy’ into the search box, for instance, brings up disturbing fictional accounts of bondage and sexual humiliation, as well as collections of bedtime stories for youngsters.
After The Mail on Sunday alerted WHSmith to the appalling content freely available on its website, executives took the unprecedented decision to take the whole site offline while the explicit ebooks were removed from sale.

‘We will tighten our processes to ensure that this error can never happen again and sincerely apologise to our customers for any offence caused,’ the company said in a statement.
The Mail on Sunday investigation found that pornographic ebooks – the majority of which are self-published by their authors – are also available through Amazon, Waterstones and Barnes & Noble.

By Sunday, October 13, WHSmith’s website was down as executives and staff went through the catalog to remove offending titles. The crisis then spilled over to Kobo, which has a partnership deal with WHSmith to supply e-books. According to the much more credible and professional newspaper, the Telegraph, Kobo shut down its UK website by October 17 while its people went through its catalog, as well, and reviewed its self-publishing system to ensure that authors comply with its policies.

Erotic book lovers, meanwhile, sent a petition to online book sellers demand they “LEAVE OUR EROTICA ALONE!”

Executives from both Kobo and WHSmith stated that they’re concerned about books that glorify rape, incest and bestiality, among other subjects.

I’m sure you’ll all be relieved to learn that all my books have passed muster on, including my unabashed erotic novel, One Shade ofRed.

One series of books is apparently not available on Kobo anymore: Christie Sims’ dinosaur erotica books, like Taken by the T-Rex and Mounted by the Gryphon. I have no way of telling whether those books ever were available on Kobo, but they are available on Amazon, and iBooks.
Image source: The Mary Sue 

Kobo still sells erotica, including “tentacle erotica” titles like Taken by Tentacles and Tentacle Alien’s Breeding Pet. Apparently, sex with dinosaurs is too disgusting for Kobo and WHSmith’s executives, but sex with aliens with tentacles is okay.

The power of the written word

This was a crisis manufactured by the Mail newspaper. Apparently, they have reporters with nothing better to do than to surf the Internet for sources of porn that can be embarrassed. Then, they can find people to make self-righteous condemnations of pornography.

John Whittingdale, chairman of the Commons Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee said: ‘It is disgusting that WHSmith, one of the country’s most respected retailers, is selling hardcore pornography alongside children’s books.
Why does the Mail toy with evoking the forces of censorship and repression of freedom of expression? Because it sells newspapers.

No matter how Kobo and WHSmith try to discriminate between “legitimate” literature and that which is offensive according to standards, however widely they may be accepted, removing books is censoring some content.

And the Mail depends on the premise of freedom of expression for its existence.

Thankfully, this crisis has sunk back into the swamp without causing much interest anywhere.

I’m just pleased to have found something as ludicrously funny as the idea of dinosaur erotica. I don’t intend to read any, but you have to admit, it has to be the most ridiculous idea in fiction.


  1. My books are on sale with Draft2digital. I've received many emails from them in the last week explaining this very subject and how they are trying to reverse the decision by Kobo for removing novels even though they are not erotica of any kind. I believe they had achieved this. Such a mass expulsion of novels seems a little excessive but hopefully they'll see sense in the end.

  2. The whole thing is laughable and ridiculous. But then, everything the Daily Mail writes is laughable and ridiculous in my experience. All of my books vanished from Kobo (through Smashwords) overnight, even though there isn't anything remotely related to Dinosaur and/or tentacle erotica. They're starting to reappear now, but it's all been a ridiculous moral panic...

  3. I assume they figured that by framing it as a moral hazard the could say "Did you know dinosaur erotica is a thing?" And allow people to gawk without feeling like they're endorsing it.