Amazon’s Porn Dilemma

Meghan Neal outlines the latest controversy in the e-publishing world:

Kernel magazine published an exposé last week detailing the dark corner of Amazon’s Kindle store that features [self-published] adult novels about truly repulsive topics like incest rape, pedophilia, and sexual abuse. Understandably, an uproar ensued, and retailers scrambled to take down the offending titles. But some people are worried that retails are overreacting, or that the take-downs will set a dangerous precedent for squashing free speech. Yesterday, the British bookseller WH Smith went so far as to shut down its entire website in response to the article. The site is still down as of this writing – with a landing page and apology up in its place.

The exposé notes that Amazon already has “strict guidelines for amateur authors who wish to self-publish with the Kindle Direct Publishing service”:

“We don’t accept pornography or offensive depictions of graphic sexual acts,” say the guidelines. “What we deem offensive is probably about what you would expect.” But the authors of these works are setting up fake publishing houses for themselves, which can be as simple as paying $200 for a set of ISBN prefixes, bypassing such restrictions.

PJ Vogt wishes Amazon had kept the smut on the digital shelves:

We outlaw snuff films, child porn and, increasingly, revenge porn, because actual people are harmed during their production.

Erotic fiction concerns fake characters who don’t exist in real life. You could argue that entertainment that caters to people’s darkest fantasies makes them more likely to enact them, but the science wouldn’t support you.

As for the idea that these books are just in bad taste, well, absolutely. They’re the worst. But you won’t find these books unless you’re looking for them. They don’t show up in Amazon search results, you have to go directly to their link. They’re hidden away in the digital equivalent of the video store’s curtain-covered backroom.

Meanwhile, Laura Hazard Owen wonders what a cleaner e-book marketplace would look like:

If e-book retailers truly want no porn to be sold through their sites, they’ll have to spend much more time and money than they do now implementing both automatic and human filters. They’ll also have to clarify exactly what they mean by porn, and in doing so they’ll risk alienating many authors and readers. The book industry reaped massive profits from the bestselling erotic trilogy. If that’s okay, but other porn isn’t – if, for instance, child rape porn is unacceptable – retailers will have to be much more explicit in publicly declaring what is and isn’t acceptable.