Now Barnes & Noble, Kobo and the UK’s WH Smith are pulling erotica featuring rape, incest and bestiality.
A statement from WHSmith:
Last week we were made aware that a number of unacceptable titles were appearing on our website through the Kobo website that has an automated feed to ours. This is an industry wide issue impacting retailers that sell self published eBooks due to the explosion of self publishing, which in the main is good as it gives new authors the opportunity to get their content published. However we are disgusted by these particular titles, find this unacceptable and we in no way whatsoever condone them.
It is our policy not to feature titles like those highlighted and we have processes in place to screen them out. We offer over one million titles through our eBooks partner Kobo, many of which are self-published titles. Due to the massive amount of self publishing a number of these titles have got through the screening process.
We are taking immediate steps to have them all removed. While we are doing this we have decided to take our website off-line to best protect our customers and the public. Our website will become live again once all self published eBooks have been removed and we are totally sure that there are no offending titles available. When our website goes back online it will not display any self published material until we are completely confident that inappropriate books can never be shown again.
We sincerely apologise for any offence caused.
In the mean time if you have any questions for our customer support team you can contact then here (email@example.com).
These types of knee-jerk reaction policies all ready appear to be unfairly affecting authors with little controversial content. Nobody should be punishing all self-published authors for a few’s supposedly objectionable material.
Just self-published ebooks, you say?
Rather short-sighted of them. If you’re going to get picky about what you sell, why not go all the way?
Off the top of my head, I can think of a few best-selling authors who use bestiality, rape and incest:
- Anne Rice’s recently re-released Sleeping Beauty trilogy. Lots of explicit rape in that.
- Laurell K. Hamilton’s Anita Blake series definitely covers explicit bestiality (and lots of it), rape, statutory rape – and I’m not sure about incest.
- Cassandra Clare’s The Mortal Instruments series heavily relies upon non-explicit incest between the two main characters to keep readers intrigued.
And then there’s:
- On the Island – 16-year-old boy developing a relationship with a 30-year-old female teacher.
- Boy Toy – 12-year-old boy is molested by his female history teacher.
I explicitly highlighted the gender of the main characters to show you that had the dynamic been that of Lolita – an older man preying on an underage girl – as I doubt it would be published and go on to sell thousands of copies, because today it’s perceived to be almost common and expected for men to prey on young girls. All men fear being labelled paedophiles these days.
If this policy was based on quality control, rather than title-wording and subject matter, and assessed on things like grammar, then I could see the sense of it, because certain self-published authors do not properly edit their work and give the rest of them a bad name. Behaviour by a similarly small number self-pubbed authors has also turned the publishing and reviewer community off. They do not this extra bad publicity.
Why aren’t these traditionally published titles being targeted?
Is this a witch hunt? Are self-publishing authors seriously eating into the profit of the Big Six’s publishing houses? And if they are, shouldn’t they be looking at themselves and asking what they could do to make their authors’ works more attractive before they condemn the unaffiliated and unsupported, and therefore vulnerable, self-published community. After all, when you point at someone else, three fingers are pointing right back at you.
The message is clear: if it’s traditionally published, then it’s not offensive.
Plenty of people have been offended by the works mentioned above by Anne Rice and Laurell K. Hamilton.
Only Waterstones appears to address print books: ‘Waterstones was concerned about some print titles and was investigating those’. 99% of those are trad-pubbed because it’s so expensive to print self-published works, so I can only assume they weren’t discriminating, and were in fact, looking at all the books they sell.
Supply and demand
If there’s a market for something, someone will cater to it and profit from it. It’s all about supply and demand.
And just because a retailer says they’re “disgusted” by the topics raised in the products they sell, doesn’t mean their customers are. Said customers may actually be offended by Smith’s disgust and could potentially stop buying from Smiths as a result.
People read rape, incest, and bestiality for all sorts of reasons. All that matters is that these topics exist in the real world and consequently will show up in fiction.
You may ask, what’s sexy about rape?
Time and time again I’ve seen this question asked. It’s not about the crime of rape. No one wants to be raped. We can all agree it’s a horrific crime. Rape in erotica is ‘rape fantasy’.
A rape fantasy, by definition, isn’t really about actual rape, because we’re in control of our fantasies. As for women who like being sexually submissive, or are into hard-core S&M, or just like the occasional spanking, that’s cool. Yep, even women who are very powerful and in control in real life–still not surprised. [source]
Power exchange does not equal rape, or even the performance or seeming of rape. The crux of every BDSM interaction is consent. This may mean that it appears one partner has given up consent, and may behave/vocalize as if they have, but in the end it is always the submissive who is in control of the situation, and this makes it profoundly different from assault of any kind. [source]
Those quotes are from feminists. And I agree with them. And I can guess the devoted fans of Fifty Shades of Grey would agree with them, too.
It’s difficult to defend bestiality and incest in the same way as rape and abuse, but many would never ever consider having sex with an animal whether mythical, extinct or otherwise, or seducing a (sometimes blood) relative, but some of us are curious enough to find out how this would work. I know I was, going into the explicitly incestuous young adult novel Forbidden by Tabitha Suzuma. Opinions were changed by that one, encouraging empathy for how that kind of situation could conceivably arise in certain circumstances.
Then why remove this source of revenue?
Fear of media exposure and the social pressure of public disapproval is what’s motivating these retailers to make the rash decision to censor what they sell. None of them want to be known as the only retailer to not care about serious controversial, taboo and illegal subjects easily accessible to children. They don’t want to lose the custom of the supposedly conservative majority. Profit is everything and anything that threatens it, wherever possible, must be eliminated.
How many children have credit cards? No, wait. I should be asking: how many children are unmonitored on the internet? How many use mummy’s iPad and accidentally (or not) downloaded or bought something without parental permission? Parents to an extent are responsible for their child’s action, not retailers. Everyone at some point has entered an innocuous word or phrase into Google which has returned pornographic images and websites, so why are we shocked to find that inputting ‘daddy‘ into these ebook retailers’ websites returns erotic books as well as those for children?
Self-published authors don’t have the deep pockets of big publishing houses to hire expensive lawyers or put monetary pressure on them to change their minds – threatening to pull their entire catalogue of published works from sale at a particular retailer, for instance. They make for easy targets to exploit and sacrifice.
In an ideal world, only illegal works should ever be pulled, e.g. copyright violations (plagiarism), and those that explicitly incite crime: guides on how to have sex with a sheep, rape a child, seduce your mother, etc. I suppose you could argue the act of writing about it could incite someone to commit such acts, but you can say that about murder in mysteries and thrillers. Fictional crime is one of the most popular genres and no one is complaining about the violence in those novels, are they?