Sunday, October 27, 2013

The Kobo kerfuffle: my take.

Things are calming down in the IndieAuthorLand again, so maybe now I can talk about the most recent dust-up between indies and their sales platform providers without anybody lashing out at me.

It all started about three weeks ago, give or take a day, when an online magazine in the UK published a list of pornographic novels available for sale on Amazon. The mag followed up with a couple more articles that indicated other retailers were selling this smut, too. (I won't post a link to the magazine; I'm not interested in promoting this stuff.) Then the BBC ran with the story. In the ensuing backlash, a few retailers went overboard. WH Smith, a stationers' in the UK, shut down its entire website and promised not to reopen until all of its ebook titles were inspected and the offensive material was removed. WH Smith gets its ebook titles from Kobo; while Kobo runs its own self-publishing platform, Kobo Writing Life, it receives a large percentage of the self-published books in its catalog from Smashwords and Draft2Digital.

As a result of WH Smith's action, Kobo blocked access by UK customers to all of its self-published materials and initiated a review of all of its titles.  Those titles are coming back online now.

Amazon, too, pulled down a number of its potentially offensive titles. Apparently, some authors have had quite a fight on their hands while trying to get their work reinstated for sale there.

The whole thing generated a fair amount of heat but not a lot of light. In retrospect, it appears the online magazine made some unfair assumptions about the offensive material; for one thing, IndieReader says, many of the offensive titles weren't indie books at all:
The article portrayed the problem as (mostly self-pubbed) erotica and then featured books published primarily by internet marketers, not authors. Authors can easily spot these 'marketeers' because they study the erotica book listings in the course of their market research.... Internet marketers routinely outsource story production to third world countries and are known to publish hundreds of stories at a time. The quality is low, the covers are in-your-face graphic and the titles are keyword stuffed to the point that even Google gags on all the search terms. It's not an issue of genre, but a business model used by some marketers to extract profit with no concern for quality.
In addition, some of the books targeted by the article that are, in fact, self-pubbed aren't smutty at all.

A bigger issue is the difference in regulation of pornography among the US, Canada, and the UK. The US has an almost-anything-goes attitude toward porn, while UK lacks the kind of First Amendment protection that the US has, and the government there has plans to crack down on material it deems objectionable and keep it from being distributed to computers in the UK at all.

Still another issue, as I understand it, is that Kobo doesn't offer the same kind of tagging system that Amazon does. (Smashwords, for one, allows authors to tag their work to aid customers using the search function -- but Kobo doesn't put those tags in their listings.) And some authors of erotica reportedly misuse the tagging system, to the point where kids looking for books about, say, Daddy or babysitters can come across porn in their search results.

Of course, indies have complained about all being tarred by the same brush -- while books like 50 Shades of Gray never got pulled. Indies also had plenty of complaints about their First Amendment rights being violated, along with the requisite hair-pulling and clothing-rending about how this is the beginning of the end for us and will give (pick an online retailer) the excuse it's been looking for to quit carrying books by any indie author. (Never mind that Amazon, Kobo, and B&N all have their own self-publishing platforms -- so it ought to occur to anyone who takes two seconds to think about it that they aren't going to bail on indie books.)

I neither read nor write erotica, and I have no intent to ever start. However, I support people's right to publish anything they please, no matter how offensive. That said, though, erotica authors have to realize from the outset that they run the risk of their work never being carried by a major retailer. Just because the First Amendment allows you to say anything you want, it doesn't mean you ought to -- nor does it force a company to carry your work. Especially if that company is in a different country that has different anti-porn laws. If you want to make sure Amazon or somebody doesn't purge your work in the next round of oh-my-Gawd-no-porn-allowed!! insanity, tone it down.

And can we please take off the hair shirt already? Amazon, Kobo, and B&N have too much invested in their indie publishing platforms to discontinue them any time soon. No, indie publishing is here to stay.

But it would behoove Kobo, I think, to work on instituting tags for search terms. And it would help everybody if every indie author tagged their work honestly.

***
Thanks to the few, the proud, who picked up copies of Fissured last week during its free days. This week, Tapped will be available for free starting Wednesday.

Also, in case you missed it, my Indies Unlimited pal Melissa Bowersock interviewed me on her blog this week. And I think I forgot to mention (bad author!) that another IU pal, Lois Lewandowski, let me play on her blog a couple of weeks back -- and even let me post a recipe for chocolate mint meringue cookies (gluten free and stupid easy! Even I can make them!). Enjoy!

***

This moment of news-like blogginess has been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell.

The first flaw in Kernel Mag’s anti-porn campaign? The article portrayed the problem as (mostly self-pubbed) erotica and then featured books published primarily by internet marketers, not authors. Authors can easily spot these ‘marketeers’ because they study the erotica book listings in the course of their market research, an expertise that no media outlet has developed.
Internet marketers routinely outsource story production to third world countries and are known to publish hundreds of stories at a time. The quality is low, the covers are in-your-face graphic and the titles are keyword stuffed to the point that even Google gags on all the search terms. It’s not an issue of genre, but a business model used by some marketers to extract profit with no concern for quality.
- See more at: http://indiereader.com/2013/10/banning-books/#sthash.hA8AQkxm.dpuf
The first flaw in Kernel Mag’s anti-porn campaign? The article portrayed the problem as (mostly self-pubbed) erotica and then featured books published primarily by internet marketers, not authors. Authors can easily spot these ‘marketeers’ because they study the erotica book listings in the course of their market research, an expertise that no media outlet has developed.
Internet marketers routinely outsource story production to third world countries and are known to publish hundreds of stories at a time. The quality is low, the covers are in-your-face graphic and the titles are keyword stuffed to the point that even Google gags on all the search terms. It’s not an issue of genre, but a business model used by some marketers to extract profit with no concern for quality.
- See more at: http://indiereader.com/2013/10/banning-books/#sthash.hA8AQkxm.dpuf
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