Censorship or a Publishing Industry Posturing

Banned Couple

There is a bunch of crazy going on in the publishing world as of late.  If you haven’t seen the headlines that outline the issue, here are the basis: Some online booksellers are removing certain titles from their websites, all of the books are self-published and most of them have an erotic theme. These sites are claiming that the titles violate their publishing policies. However, the real question, to those of us who love and support Indie authors is … Why are only self-published  titles being targeted? While I don’t have a solid answer, I have done some research, which should allow you all to form your own opinion.

This all started when it was discovered that books were being sold that contained material many considered pornographic. So the hoopla is focused on the Obscene Publications Act, which is a law enacted before 1970 in England meant to protect what some called “literary morality”. You can find details of these archaic laws all over the internet. I think the base of the argument is in the details though … what constitutes “literary morality”?   Is pornography in violation of this idea, what exactly is pornography and how does one determine what falls under its realm? Well here is one legal definition, Pornography: The representation in books, magazines, photographs, films, and other media of scenes of sexual behavior that are erotic or lewd and are designed to arouse sexual interest.

So, if these regulations that apparently delegate what is or isn’t deemed morally fit, then WHY are they targeting only self-published works? As a writer who has also read A LOT of books, many of them with sexual content, including the hugely popular 50 Shades of Grey, I find the whole thing suspect. Now, I’m not trying to pick-on 50 Shades BUT it is the ideal work to examine under the current circumstances because 50 Shades of Grey was self-published and after it’s rise to popularity it was picked up by one of the BIG publishing houses.  I think those of us who have read 50 Shades of Grey know that although the description of “literary” in regards to this work can be called into question, it falls into the category of “pornography” without issue.  Here’s the thing though, I looked this morning and 50 Shades of Grey is still available for purchase on all major retailers that offer eBooks, but would it be if it didn’t have the protection of it’s publishing house?

I’ve chatted with a few indie authors and all of them agree that following the publication policies of a particular site is important; none of them understand WHY only self-published works are in question.  Author of Sovereign and fellow Gliterary Girl E.R. Arroyo said

 “I think these ebook retailers are overreacting. To delete droves of self-published fiction on complaint regarding a small few is unprofessional and irresponsible. To fairly address the supposed problem, retailers need not delete all or large amounts of Indie ebooks, but actually investigate and only remove content when they feel their terms have actually been violated. Whether or not their terms are fair is not for me to say. But don’t throw the baby out with the bath water.”

This just enforces the question: Why self-published and why only some titles?

Author Karpov Kinrade discovered yesterday without notification to them, that a select few of their titles had been removed from certain sites.  Kinrade openly discussed the issue with her fans on her twitter page yesterday stating

“But this isn’t just about us. There’s a much bigger question posed here about what liberties we’re willing to lose in the guise of ‘protecting’ us from inappropriate content and material. Already schools are banning books for reasons that make no sense to us. Now we’re looking at books being banned from retail outlets because of the subject matter/title.”

So what do you all think? Is the real issue censorship? Or is it something bigger?

The world of books and therefore publishing has changed rapidly.  No longer does an author have to slave hours over sending out query letters, nor do they have to try to find and agent and all the other hard work that was required of aspiring authors. Now, with a bit of money, a story in their heads, and internet access anyone can be called an author because they can sell their work online.  They can self-publish.  I know many people agree that there are self-published works out there that could use a round of editing (or five) but regardless, this about content.  Does the content matter? Should it? Are these retailers catering to the whims of big publishing houses whose business model is rapidly becoming dated?

Author of the best-selling Winged series, L.M. Pruitt had this to say

 “However, I really think this smacks more of elitism than true censorship. The only books being pulled are self-published, despite the fact that such “questionable” material no doubt exists in traditional publishing. For distributors to only be concerned with self-published material shows that, despite the progress made in erasing the stigma of self-publishing there is still a sense that the only books worthy of being published are those coming from a publisher, books that have passed the gate-keepers, so to speak.” 

So what is the answer to this current publishing dilemma?  Maybe the answer lies in finding the truth behind the question because as Author Stacey Rourke writes

“From what I have read about this new change, the works being removed involve abuse against children, rape, incest, and bestiality. What we have to keep in mind is that these distributors are businesses that are putting their name and reputation behind each work published through them. They have to make the decision as to what they want their brand associated with. There is freedom of speech and freedom of press, and they are not telling anyone they can’t write and publish such works. They are merely stating they will not be a media outlet for such things. There are other venues for those that are affected by this change. Hopefully this is as far as far as the new policies will go, but time will tell.”

I think most of us will agree that child abuse, rape, incest, and bestiality are unpleasant topics and for now that is the explanation.  They’re removing titles to “review” them for content.  I am with Author Rourke in hoping that that this is where it stops but regardless this still begs the question … Why is this only applying to indie authors?

Sara Benedict

Sara lives in upstate New York with her husband, two children and the best dog in the world. She is a literary polygamist, who reads everything from Augusten Burroughs to JK Rowling to Zadie Smith and most everything in-between. True to her New York upbringing she enjoys works that are fast-paced but well thought-out. She has an (borderline unhealthy) obsession with all things having relevance to witches, vampires and the 16th century in Britian. She holds BA degrees in English and History and has been beta-reading for aspiring authors for the last two years. Sara loves finding new authors and sharing their work with others. 


  3 comments for “Censorship or a Publishing Industry Posturing

  1. October 16, 2013 at 6:36 am

    Great quote from Stacey Rourke, very well put! Good points Sara.

  2. October 16, 2013 at 12:46 pm

    Interestingly enough, Anne Rice’s The Claiming of Sleeping Beauty erotica has almost all of the things that they are banning. Sleeping Beauty is 15 and is raped by the prince while asleep, then made his sex slave. There are themes of erotic pedophilia and a lot of other hot topics, but it is still published everywhere. Our books, The Seduced Series, has sexual content but none of the banned or prohibited things now under question, yet that whole series, and a contemporary literary romance we wrote, was pulled because ALL the books that were self-published and uploaded through Draft2Digital were pulled from Kobo, without warning or consideration about whether those titles violate anything at all in the TOC.

    So this might be more about discrimination than censorship.

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