Tag Archives: censorship

Monday Morning Mash-up

Well, it was an interesting Sunday, in the proverbial sense of the word.  When I posted yesterday morning, I had every intention of spending the day writing and watching football with friends.  Well, I accomplished the latter. Friends came over to watch — gasp — the Cowboys beat the Giants.  That was the high point in the day, sandwiched between news of how my almost 91 year old cousin did in surgery (partial hip replacement) and news that my son had been involved in an auto accident.  Both are okay, but it did sort of take the focus off of more mundane things like football and writing.

But it’s back to work today.  Let’s start with an article by Julie Bosman that appeared yesterday.  This will be the first holiday season when e-readers will be available in such retailers as Walmart, Target and Best Buy.  More importantly, they’ll be available at prices likely to entice purchases as gifts.  As noted in the article:

“This is the tipping-point season for e-readers, there’s no question,” said Peter Hildick-Smith, president of the Codex Group, a book market research company. “A lot more books are going to be sold in e-book format. It also means that a lot fewer people are going to be shopping in bookstores.”

If things go as forecast, according to the article, there could be as many as 103 e-readers in circulation by the end of the year.  To which I have only one thing to say:  COOL!  Especially the part of the article where the president and CEO of Simon & Schuster, Carolyn Reidy, says she expects e-book sales to “shoot up” on Christmas day.

To revisit a couple of topics from last week, Judith Griggs of Cooks Source Magazine has apologized again for using material from an author without permission.  In an interview, Griggs has pledged to be more vigilant about copyright.  It may be too little, too late to save the small magazine.  The internet uproar over what happened has cost the magazine advertisers, something no publication can afford to lose.  However, so much of this could have been avoided had Griggs either not used the article without permission or had simply issued an apology when requested.  Instead, her defensive stance may have cost her more than just a few advertisers if, as alleged, she did take articles from such big name sources as Food Network.  You can find more about this here.  Many thanks to Chris Meadows and TeleRead.com for keeping up with this situation.

Next up is the continuing saga of the book supposedly promoting pedophilia over at Amazon.  That slippery slope we discussed last week keeps getting more and more slippery.  Amazon has found itself in a no-win situation.  If they had left the book up, they would have been crucified for promoting a truly heinous crime.  By taking it down, they get crucified in some fora for censorship.  Then there are the cries that they didn’t act quickly enough — read that as immediately.  And, as predicted, they are now being hit with more demands from other groups to take down yet more books.  PETA has sent emails to Jeff Bezos demanding the removal of books about dog fighting, etc.  People on the different kindle and amazon boards are posting links to books they want taken down because these books are objectionable.  Barnes & Noble is now adding a disclaimer to book published through its PubIt program telling readers to report any objectionable material.

Then there is this article from PC World.  Entitled “5 Things to Learn from Amazon’s Latest PR Disaster”, it starts out by talking about how Amazon has backpedaled from an earlier stance about the book.  Yes, there is some backpedaling, no doubt about it.  The problem arose because Amazon responded too quickly, imo.  They issued their no censorship statement before reviewing the title in question.  Had they waited — and, yes, it would have been difficult to do so because of all the cries of outrage going viral across the internet — they could have issued a statement saying they were pulling the book due to a violation of their terms of service.  Instead, they jumped the gun in a knee-jerk reaction and it’s come back to bite them.

The one thing I will agree with in the article is that this has potentially tarnished the reputation of legitimate e-books.  I say potentially — a qualifier the author of the article does not use — because I do think most readers are more forgiving than the author is giving them credit for.  Otherwise, the first time someone read something they didn’t like, they’d quit reading — e-book or not.  Most people know there are books out there they aren’t going to agree with or enjoy.  They simply refuse to buy the book.  This is a storm that will blow over.

The real culprit when it comes to tarnishing the reputation of legitimate e-books is poor editing and proofreading.  Go to almost any e-book related forum and look at the number of instances where e-books are being criticized because of poor proofreading.  It doesn’t matter if the e-book comes from an established publishing house or a new e-press or the author himself.  OCR errors, overlooked spelling and punctuation errors, formatting errors are all driving readers up a wall.  This is what will hurt us the most in the long run

Overall, however, I think the author of the article has it right.  Unfortunately, I don’t have an easy or quick answer to keep this from happening again.  If it does, I just hope that the protests go straight to Amazon or whomever and they don’t go viral again.  If they do, I’m afraid we will see more and more restrictions being put on the DTP-type platforms, making it all but impossible for small presses and authors to publish through them.  And that will be a loss for everyone.

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And the Mob Mentality Continues

Sigh.  I’d planned on not posting anything else today.  It’s Friday.  I’m not feeling great and I really thought things would die down once Amazon removed the book that caused all the uproar.  Boy was I wrong.  If you were to go to the first page of the kindle discussion board at Amazon right now, you’d find no less than five different threads talking about the book.  Two are claiming the book is about to be put back up for sale.  Why?  Because in an interview the author said he was “confident” it would be back on Amazon before long.  Nothing else.  A couple of threads are simply extension of the threads that have been up for the last 24 – 48 hours.

And then there’s the thread that lists other books the thread’s author thinks are worse than the original book.  Apparently this person went on a search through the books offered on Amazon looking for things that are so bad they should be taken down.  He even, oh so helpfully, adds links to the offending books.  Needless to say, the mob mentality is continuing despite one poster’s assertion that it is dying down.  Heck, there’s even a thread noting that the witch hunt has begun.

This isn’t limited to the Amazon boards either.  If you go to some of the nook boards, or other boards dedicated to e-books, you’ll find the same thing.  Why, because a lot of posters are active on more than one forum.  So, the topic is being hashed and rehashed over and over again.

What worries me is the fact that, even though there are people warning them that all they are doing is giving free publicity to these books they disapprove of, these people continue to shout at the top of their lungs, metaphorically speaking, about how offensive and evil these books are.  They spend time searching out books that probably, until they brought attention to them, had very few sales.  Worse, they don’t seem to recognize the slippery slope they’ve started down.

Where do we draw the line?  If we demand a site like Amazon or B&N or any other remove a book for “offending matter” and that site agrees, it makes it so much easier to make the demand the next time.  Today they take down a book supposedly promoting pedophilia.  I say supposedly because I haven’t read it.  I didn’t click on the link that folks posted.  So I can’t say for sure what it is about.  Frankly, the title of the book was enough to keep me from looking at it.

So, what is to prevent a group of people from protesting, for example, paranormal romances as “porn”?  Oh, don’t laugh.  There are those out there who think that is exactly what they are.  These books have lots of sex.  They have magic or unnatural creatures in them.  They have sex outside of marriage and, often, outside of species.  After all, vampires aren’t human — at least not any longer.  Nor are werewolves or elves or ghosts.

Okay, I’m using this very much tongue in cheek but  hope you get my meaning.  It is very easy to find books that someone isn’t going to approve of.  Do we want to find ourselves in a position where book burnings, even metaphorical ones, are common place?

The way I look at it, once Amazon was notified of the book, they had the responsibility to determine if it violated their terms of service.  It did, if it said what it is alleged to have said.  Amazon was then in the position to take the book down.  No harm and no foul.

I’ll even allow how going through their catalog to see if there are books that are objectionable is something anyone can do.  They can then email Amazon and voice their objections.  But to start rallying the troops for boycotts and demanding books be taken down isn’t something I can support.  Maybe I read too many reports and saw too many interviews of people demanding the Harry Potter books be taken off of shelves because they promoted devil worship and witchcraft.  Then, when asked, the person being interviewed would have to reluctantly admit they hadn’t read the book.  But they’d heard about it.  So it had to be true and, therefore, the book was bad.

The way to battle books like this is to do our homework and see first if they are promoting what we’ve been told they do.  If true, then we should privately contact the distributor or publisher or store where it is being sold and give them the facts.  Show how the book violates their terms of service.  (In Amazon’s case, anyone can find the terms of service for the DTP program).  Then wait.  Give them a reasonable period of time to investigate the issue and act.  Only if they don’t respond should we then consider starting the calls for boycotts, etc., for the simple reason that once the call goes out, we are now giving the offending material publicity it hadn’t had before.  Remember the old saying that there’s no such thing as bad PR.

There was one commenter on this topic who brought up a very interesting alternative.  He noted that every time we order a book from Amazon or Barnes and Noble or any online store, they have not only what we ordered but our names, addresses, etc.  That means there is a list available for law enforcement to subpoena should a book be found to promote illegal activities.  Think about that.  Not only would those honestly wanting to learn how to commit the act and get away with it be tagged, but so would all those who downloaded samples of the book or who bought it based solely on the curiosity factor because of the calls for boycotts and more.

I will close simply by repeating what I said in an earlier post.  We need to think about the consequences, intended and unintended, that are arising from this call for action.  Are we willing to live with these consequences, especially the unintended ones?


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When Outrage & Good Intentions Backfire

Wednesday brought about another firestorm online.  So far, it’s been confined to a few blogs, facebook posts and is running rampant on the Amazon kindle boards.  At issue is whether or not Amazon should refuse to sell a book that has been listed by an author through its DTP platform.  (For those of you not familiar with the DTP platform, it is the platform that allows small publishers like NRP an self-published authors to put their e-books out on Amazon.  Barnes & Noble has a similar platform called PubIt.)

I’m not going to link to the book in question because I don’t want to give it any more promotion than it already has.  Let’s just say that this book discusses one of the most despised crimes there is.  The author says he wrote it to protect our children.  But it is also reported that he has said as well that he wrote it to help those engaging in this illegal activity avoid capture and prosecution.

Needless to say, it didn’t take long for the uproar to begin.  People are demanding Amazon take the book down and refuse to sell it.  The problem is that all their demands have done is increase curiosity in the book and, last I looked, it was now in the top 100 e-books on sale by Amazon.  Can you say major fail?

I want to make it perfectly clear that I would prefer this book and all like it never saw the light of day.  But they do — unfortunately, in my opinion.  So it becomes my right not to look at them and not to buy them.   I understand the outrage these readers feel.  But I could have told you when I saw the first protest earlier today what the outcome would be.  Whether or not Amazon pulled the book, before that happened many more copies would be sold and samples would be downloaded than would have been had there been no outcry.

As a writer and an editor, I also have concerns about Amazon pulling the book.  Unless the book violates their terms of service, to pull it would smack of censorship.  Once you start down that slippery slope, it’s hard to stop.  What becomes the criteria to pull a book that doesn’t violate the TOS?  Two demands from the buying public?  Three?  A dozen?

Think of it this way.  When the Harry Potter books came out, the hue and cry in some communities about how they glorified “witchcraft” and were anti-Christian filled the news.  Parents wanted the books pulled from library shelves.  Should those same protesters have had the ability to demand the book not be sold?

There’s one more thing to remember.  Amazon isn’t the publisher of this book.  It is the distributor.  To put e-books on their site through the DTP platform, you have to agree to their terms of service.  Part of the TOS includes language to the effect that the e-book doesn’t contain defamatory material or material that violates the laws of any jurisdiction.  So, I fully expect the folks at Amazon to pull the book once they’ve had a chance to review it because, if it does instruct perps on how to avoid capture and prosecution, it’s going to violate someone’s laws.

Do I understand the outrage at learning such a book had been published?  Absolutely.  But this time the crowd mentality — one person noted the title and posted his protest and everyone climbed on the bandwagon — did exactly what they didn’t want to happen.  It gave the book publicity and more sales than it probably ever would have otherwise.

There is no easy answer to this situation.  Unfortunately, it is also something I’m afraid we’ll see more and more of.  That’s what comes when technology makes it easy for someone to publish a book or story or article without having to go through a publishing house, no matter what the size of that house.  The best answer I can come up with right now is to exercise your right not to read a book that offends you and not to discuss it if you think that discussion will lead to more sales and publicity for the book.

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