Readers rally to protest online censorship of erotic books

Online booksellers like Amazon and Kobo have begun banning self-published titles featuring themes like incest and bestiality. But now, some readers complain, other erotic titles are disappearing as well.

Booksellers such as Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Kobo are removing erotic titles with themes such as incest from their online stores.

As Monitor correspondent Husna Haq wrote earlier this week, a protest ensued when it was discovered that online booksellers such as Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Kobo were selling self-published titles that included themes of incest, bestiality, and rape.

In response, the booksellers began removing such titles from their sites. Kobo went a step further, taking down every book that was self-published on their UK site, while British seller WH Smith took down its entire site while it searched for all the problematic books.

Some readers objected at the time, agreeing with On the Media writer PJ Vogt who argued that, “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.”

But now more readers are adding their protests, charging that some online booksellers are removing too much erotic fiction from their sites – including titles that do not  fall under the categories considerable objectionable. A petition at Change.org titled “Amazon, Barnes and Noble, KOBO: Leave our self-published and/or Indie authors alone” is addressed to Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos and claims that taking down the erotic titles that aren’t harmful, by the petition writers’ definition, is a violation of freedom of speech.

The petition notes that the petition creator and its signers do not endorse fiction featuring bestiality, incest, pedophilia, “or other things of such an ‘extreme’ nature.” (Not named specifically in that petition is the theme of rape, which was included in online booksellers’ crackdown, although that could be considered to be implied by the term “extreme nature” in the petition.)

“There is a LARGE amount of people who read this genre as a way to escape their reality,” the petition creator, named only as MIstress Renee, wrote. “We are all consenting adults, you need to own a credit card to be able to purchase said books, so why all of a sudden start 'cracking down' on cont[r]olling such. Why is okay to sell 'adult products' on said websites but not FICTIONAL reads. What happened to freedom of speech?! LEAVE OUR EROTICA ALONE!!”

The petition currently has almost 14,000 signatures.

Signer Tori Turner wrote, “We're all adults, you didn't stop it when 50 Shades was huge because it was making loads of money, so why stop other authors of this genre?”

User Jinni James agreed, writing, “The whole point of creating programs like Amazon's KDP and Nook Press is so Indie authors can publish their own work and now you want to take that away? Why start it in the first place?... As an erotica author myself I say leave well enough alone and if people don't want to read it then they don't have to purchase it.” 

Meanwhile, a Kobo spokesperson told Publishers Weekly, “We are additionally taking steps to ensure that compliance to our policies – and international law – is met by all authors and publishers. Content that does comply will be made available online as soon as possible. In fact, we are already returning titles to the Kobo catalogue and expect the large majority will be available by end of week. Additional titles requiring further examination will be reviewed over the next week. Those that meet our content policy, will also be returned to the store.”

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