Tuesday, 15 October 2013

Illegal Sex in Fiction

In my last post on the subject of sex in fiction I hope I made my position clear. I've no interest myself but see no reason why readers who want access to erotic material should have a problem buying. For retailers the solution to avoiding offence to those who might find erotica offensive is simple and employed on sites such as Smashwords. A filter that has to be actively switched by the reader to access erotica. Mine is left in the default position, off, simply because it's not my market and I have no particular interest.

WH smith and Kobo could have instigated the same system easily. It isn't complicated. They did not do so.

Because some people who can string a sentence together see the ebook market as a quick hit get rich scheme and have less than scrupulous morals, material that is both offensive and in some countries illegal was deliberately placed to maximise exposure. Had WH Smith and Kobo paid enough attention to their own business – rather than grabbed the milk-cow and start pumping – then this would have been impossible. The material – forced sex, incest, bestiality, sex with minors, and so forth – appeared on the retailers sites. People complained – and that's no surprise, and I would have done exactly that had I be one to stumble across this kind of garbage. Not erotica, not tasteless for some, not okay for the reasonable individual, but flat out illegal.

WH Smith panicked. Instead of taking ownership of the problem – we messed up, our filters aren't up to the job, we weren't paying attention, we didn't care as long as we were making money and we were wrong – they shifted the blame, closed the site, pointed at the evil writers. I think the possibility that they did not realise that this kind of objectionable material existed so remote that it is not worthy of consideration. That no one thought of it is not implausible, however. Competence is a rare commodity and under-appreciated in every organization of ever been exposed to. The incompetent don't like it and good people get eased out the door. But that's another subject.

Kobo panicked also, because the mainstream media pointed to them as the source of the illegal material. Just as WH Smith tried to shift the blame to Kobo, Kobo decided to shift the blame to independent writers and remove ALL content not traditionally published from their site.

This is what Kobo are saying: "We want to protect the reputation of self-publishing as a whole," a spokeswoman said, adding that the problem was limited to a minority of publishers and authors who had violated content policies.

"While some may find our measures extreme, we are confident that we are taking the necessary measures to ensure the exceptions that have caused this current situation will not have a lasting effect on what is an exciting new channel that connects readers to a wealth of books."

Indeed, indeed. They use the word wealth with no sense of irony... had they and Smiths been paying attention to anything other than the money they were making then this issue would not have arisen. They are responsible for what they sell, just as every other retailer in any other business.

I'm going to swear mildly now, so any who might be offended can simply look away. What pisses me off is the contempt with which writers are held by the retailers. Kobo did not notify Draft2Digitial of the action they had taken – this from D2D: “We have discovered that over the weekend Kobo removed all books published through our account. While we have received no official word concerning this issue, we believe this is related to recent articles in the media concerning erotica titles available at WH Smith and Kobo’s storefronts.” Consequently Draft2Digital could not notify writers.

On a related subject, I personally sent two emails to those who distribute my work, namely draft2Digital and Smashwords. I find the responses illuminating. Draft2Digital responded promptly and have responded three times with updates on their communications with Kobo and the current situation. Smashwords (and yes, I keep all emails) have just responded with a link to my Kobo page (empty) and the shocking information that I have opted out of Kobo via Smashwords.... and they probably will wonder why I opted out of some channels until the end of time. There is just no telling some people because they aren't listening. The message from Draft2Digital is clear – we are on it, we are all over it, we will resolve it. The message from Smashwords is equally clear – we have no clue and could care less.

Monday, 14 October 2013

Legal Sex in Fiction

An article in a much disregarded online rag pointed the finger at Amazon just recently, picking out few titles which contained some naughty bits. Sex (gasps). You know about sex, right? Pretty much everyone does. It's instinct or something. Probably to do with reproducing the species. It's kind of a necessary prerequisite to you reading this so there's no pretending it doesn't happen.

Sex in it's basic form consists of “here, have some sperm,” and is achieved in many different ways depending on species. Personally, I like our way best – at least I assume I do, having so far had no inclination to try other methods. I like sex. Sorry of that bothers anyone but really not that sorry as I know that you almost certainly also like sex. It's something we can all pretty much agree on, right?

Well, no, or so it seems.

There are people who don't like other people reading about sex that they don't approve of. Filth, as they call it. Or, as it might be called, Personal choice sex. I'll come back to this in a minute.

Amazon has taken some action, presumably as a response, pulling titles and requesting changes (mostly to covers). Kobo has pulled a huge number of books – including all of mine (SF and Fantasy as you doubtless know, and containing no sex and little swearing) – and WH Smith have closed their site entirely. Yes, all books are withdrawn by WH Smith of the UK, thought their stores are still open and selling copies of, just for example, 50 Shades of Whatever, which is a book including sex and bondage – certainly objectionable to some, who lucky for them, don't have to read it because, guess what, no one can force you to read a book. You have to want to... you have to find a copy... open it.... continue reading after the first bit you find iffy. It's your call.

Let me just briefly mention that the erotica of a more lurid – what has been described as barely legal, meaning legal, meaning if you were actually doing it you wouldn't be breaking the law so reading about it is fine if you want – of a more lurid type takes a good deal of tracking down on the Amazon site.... unless you are a traditionally published author in which case graphic sex scenes involving a teacher and a minor is fine, of course. I won't name the book or author I have in mind but you won't have any trouble finding it if you are interested. There are others. The fairly well know (so I don't mind the negative plug) Flowers in the Attic is an incest story between two underage characters and features sexual violence. But that's fine, just fine, our trashy porn good, your trashy porn bad – I mean it's listed under Mystery & suspense, Literature & Fiction, Genre Fiction/Sagas... not tucked away in a dusty behind-the-curtain backroom corner.

Here's a link to a site were the kind of material we are actually talking about is discussed, mostly by writers, so that you can begin to get a handle on the subject matter in question. There are also links to some erotica if you want to read some... though you won't be able to buy at WH Smith at the moment, might not be able to buy at Kobo and possibly not Amazon, but this is the information age and you will be able to buy somewhere. Feel free.

I'm going to wrap this up with a couple of contextual comments. I myself don't read about or watch other people having sex for exactly the same reason I don't spend any time reading about watching other people eat. I don't need any help getting hungry and I don't find watching or reading about other people eating in any way satisfying. No judgements on anyone else in that, that's just the way my mind works.

If a site that sells books is going to block some (and I agree there should be some sane and reasonable limits) it should clearly have a reasonable and upfront policy that applies to all. A fellow writer had a book removed from Amazon for using the word virgin in the blurb, I'm told. So, you know, that's banned but many traditionally published books use the word virgin in their blurbs and that's fine. No it isn't fine, apart from just being ridiculous in and of itself. Hiding the true content, apparently the current new policy, by changing the covers and blurb is only going to lead to nasty shocks for readers getting something unexpected. Not a step forward, I think.

This is the information age. Nothing can be expunged, only unlooked for and maybe made more difficult to find. I would rather sexual violence not exist in the real world, and I'd prefer not to read about it in fiction – though it does crop up and I've never thrown a book across the room because of it, though I have chosen not to read a book because I didn't care for the subject matter or merely assumed I wouldn't. I do not want anyone making that choice for me, because five minutes down the line they will be making other choices for me – and I approve of the concept of freedom, both mine and yours....

...and the booksellers, but if you want to be sure of what you are selling and that it appears only in the appropriate category then look at it properly and employ IT people who know what their job is. I know that latter category is hard to find but if you want to hire one I can supply you with a CV for probably the best currently unhired SBA around. No problem.

Okay. I think I'm more or less done with this subject for now. Feel free to comment and/or ask questions. This isn't everything I think on the subject but it will have to do for now.