A FEW weeks ago, Aphrodite Hunt’s* erotica books were climbing up the book charts. Some of her titles even made it to New York Times’ bestsellers list. Then, they disappeared.

Not from the charts, but from the online bookstores they were being sold from.

In the last few weeks of October, authors like Hunt found out that their books have been removed from stores such as Amazon, WH Smith and Kobo because of it contained “objectionable content”.
The drama began with a website: The Kernel, “How Amazon Cashes in on Kindle Filth” which published on Oct 9 an article on how porn is making e-publishers money.

This would have largely gone unnoticed – only because it was not exactly breaking news – if not for the fact that a few British media outlets picked up the story.

A few days later, Britain’s Daily Mail claimed that UK bookstore WH Smith profited from “the sale of vile books glorifying violent pornography, rape, incest and bestiality“.

Soon, British media outlets such as The Mirror and BBC began fretting about the same issue.

Perhaps in a bid to appease the publicity demons, British book retailer WH Smith shut down its e-book store on Oct 13. Digital distributors such as Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and Kobo followed suit, removing self-published erotica titles from their UK branches.

This is nothing new, really. In fact, the wholesale banning of erotica books is almost a yearly affair. In 2009, Amazon removed gay and lesbian themed books. In 2010 Amazon removed erotica that featured incest. In 2012, Paypal demanded that Smashwords remove titles which contain bestiality, rape and incest.

It’s easy to assume that the main issue revolving around this year’s “PornGate” is the easy propagation of what  founder and CEO of BookLamp.org and the Book Genome Project Aaron Stanton calls the “literary darknet of Independent Publishing.”

(See the article, The Literary Darknet of Independent Publishing. Interestingly, the article highlighted research findings that there are more erotica being self-published than traditionally published.)

But really, “literary darknet” stuff has been around way before Maquis de Sade decided to pen 120 Days of Sodom. It’s just easier to get them now.

As long as human beings are around, porn is here to stay.

The problem is subtler: While the e-book revolution has given people unprecedented freedom and avenues to write, distribute and obtain reading material, the reverse is also true. Materials, a huge number of them, can be deleted with a few taps of a keyboard.

Also, it highlighted class inequalities in the storytelling world.

Note that self-published titles are the only ones seemed affected in this purge (and the purges before).

Titles such as 50 Shades of Grey, which is most definitely erotica, is still on sale. So are violent movies such as I Spit on Your Grave, which featured the brutal rape of the protagonist in graphic detail.

Which raises an interesting question: Why are traditionally published materials given a free pass? Perhaps a clue lies in the deep pockets of traditional publishing companies…

And while non-erotica writers may think this has nothing to do with them, David Gaughran, who writes a popular blog about electronic publishing called Let’s Get Visible, believes they should be concerned.

“Kobo didn’t just pull erotica from sale, they pulled most self-published books from sale on Kobo UK and several partner sites, and those books still haven’t returned to sale on their partner sites in New Zealand (Whitcoulls), Australia (BookWorld) – and no timetable has been given for same. Most of these titles don’t have any erotic content whatsoever (including all of mine),” he said via e-mail.

Gaughran says that it seems clear that Kobo value relationships with retail partners above those with authors – at least self-published ones.

“I can’t imagine them deciding to pull Nabakov’s Lolita from sale, even though it contains explicit, erotic descriptions of underage sex. I also can’t imagine Kobo pulling all of Penguin Random House’s titles while they “quarantined” and “reviewed” them,” he said.

Gaughran said that there are established ways to handle adult content in the e-commerce world. The problem is sites like Kobo don’t use them, thus exposing people who shouldn’t be reading them (ie, children) to said titles.

“(Kobo) don’t have an adult filter. Their system doesn’t even have keywords. Their search is terrible. All of this combined into a giant systems fail by Kobo, who then blamed self-publishers for their own shortcomings,” said Gaughran.

Meanwhile, self-published titles are limping back to Kobo, Amazon and Barnes and Noble. Many self-published authors have found their sales wiped in the last few weeks.

Still, indie authors are a tough bunch.

I had a casual conversation with Hunt a few days ago and asked her what she’d do now that her titles have been removed.

“I just relisted them again,” she said, shrugging.

A few of her titles have since returned to the e-book distributing websites.

It goes to show while it is easy to delete ebooks from cyberspace, it’s just as easy for them to return.

Categories: Sex

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