Is Censorship Contagious?

As Goodreads were deleting shelves and reviews, as I mentioned earlier this month, Amazon removed hundreds of erotica titles from sale under these guidelines.

Now Barnes & Noble, Kobo and the UK’s WH Smith are pulling erotica featuring rape, incest and bestiality.

Here’s WH Smith statement which appears when you visit their webpage.

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 (

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.

Elitist bullshit.

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?


14 thoughts on “Is Censorship Contagious?

  1. I have really mixed feelings about this. On the one hand, I generally agree with you. On the other hand, I prosecute people who rape children, and I have encountered more than one defendant whose computer was full of pornographic images of children (which are clearly illegal to possess) as well as written depictions of acts of rape and abuse of children. I have encountered a number of child molestors who write thinly veiled fantasies/accounts of the crimes that they have perpetrated or intend to perpetrate against children, as well as memorializing their crimes through digital recordings.

    Freedom of speech has never been without limits. I understand all of the handwringing about the heavy handed execution of this whole thing, but, at the same time, the fact that there is a market for something does not mean that we should allow the sale of items to satisfy that market. There is a market (sadly) for videos of children being raped by animals.

    I also understand that there is a difference between what is, in essence, the videographic memoralization of a heinous crime (a crime scene photo/video, if you will) and a written, graphic and detailed fictional description of a heinous crime. Allowing the former in the marketplace will clearly lead to hands-on offending of actual children, as such videos/images cannot be created without the commision of a crime against a specific, actual child. However, removing the latter from the marketplace simply does not offend my sensibilities. I have not read Lolita, but I seriously doubt that there are graphic written depictions of the sexual acts occurring between Lolita and Humbert Humbert.

    Yes, murder is illegal and we do not criminalize books that depict, sometimes graphically, the act of murder. But, in my mind, there is a qualitative difference between the graphic depiction of a murder and the depiction of rape/sexual abuse of a child that is intended to be sexually arousing for the reader. Like Justice Potter Stewart, I can’t necessarily describe it, but I know it when I see it.


    1. Thanks for your comment, Christine. It really puts things in perspective.

      You said: “But, in my mind, there is a qualitative difference between the graphic depiction of a murder and the depiction of rape/sexual abuse of a child that is intended to be sexually arousing for the reader.”

      I agree. It frustrates me that Anne Rice’s Sleeping Beauty trilogy explicitly depicts the rape of a 15-year-old while she sleeps in the very first scene and is advertised as erotica (therefore it should be sexually arousing) and isn’t under review.

      And books like Living Dead Girl by Elizabeth Scott (which I’ve read) and the others I mentioned in the post, tread a fine line. It’s debatable as to whether they cross it or not. Legally speaking, I guess they don’t or they wouldn’t have been traditionally published. But Scott’s novel painted the picture so well that the very act of remembering it just now had me believing it contained very explicit rape against a child. Reading my review again tells me that It wasn’t, it was just very obvious what was happening.


    2. “the fact that there is a market for something does not mean that we should allow the sale of items to satisfy that market.”

      I agree with this as well. As I stated, I have no problem with illegal books being removed. I have to confess that I don’t know what qualifies a book as illegal other than copyright violation, libel and inciting crime.


    3. I am going to struggle with what I am about to try to explain, but I am going to try anyway. We live in a society where people’s basest instincts are constantly being legitimized. “Erotica” or written “pornography”(not images that require the participation of an actual child, but sexualized fictional fantasies) involving children, I believe, “romanticizes” child molestation. What that means, potentially, is that molesting children can be (isn’t always) legitimized in the minds of individuals who want it to be legitimized.

      I also know, based upon my conversations with sex offender therapists, that constant exposure to pornography in general, and to child pornography in particular, can literally change the arousal patterns of a normal human being. It can have an effect on the workings of the human brain, which causes certain individuals to require more deviant images/thoughts in order to obtain the same level of arousal.

      Because of my work, I have been subjected to the most horrifying images of children that you can even imagine, particularly images that are freely available on the internet from Eastern bloc/Asian countries, or images like the Vicky series – children being violently sexually assaulted, bound, tortured, and the like. I see these images because I must. But I cannot imagine why anyone, ever, would want to subject their brains to that kind of pollution. I am a different person than I was when I started doing this work, and not in a good way. In a cynical, sad way.

      If what this means is that certain fantasies remain unfulfilled by people who would seek to purchase certain types of written pornography – child abuse porn, rape porn, incest porn, well, in my mind, that is the price that we pay for a society where we continue to maintain that things like rape and child abuse and incest are absolutely, unequivocally wrong. Always. Because, while I am generally not a slippery slope-ist, there are many organizations that hew to the belief that their desire to molest children isn’t the problem. Society is the problem. Anyting that gives them cover is, in my mind, a problem and not a solution.


  2. Did they pull VC Andrews? Since, you know, 99% of her work involves incest (so far as I can tell, not having read all of them), and they were traditionally published.


    1. After a quick search it seems ‘Flowers in the Attic’ is no longer available as an ebook on Kobo and Amazon. I’m surprised.


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