Kobo Refutes Alleged Censorship and Clarifies Their Stance

A couple of weeks ago I wrote Is Censorship Contagious? commenting on the removal of the thousands of self-published titles from sale at Kobo (along with several other major retailers) with little notice given to their authors. Well, it now appears Kobo’s Chief Content Officer Michael Tamblyn has elaborated on the situation by emailing the following statement to those affected:

A Kobo Writing Life Update

I’d like to give our authors a quick update on Kobo Writing Life in the UK and elsewhere.

As you may be aware, in the face of some fairly intense media scrutiny, we launched a major review of the books we offer for sale to make sure they comply with our content policy on offensive material. We cast a wide net across our catalogue that included genres and books coming from self-published authors, aggregators, and publishers, and we quarantined many of these while we conducted the review which made them unavailable in the UK during that time. The review had to happen fast, and we didn’t enjoy it, but with our esteemed 300-year-old retail partner on the front page of major newspapers and some content clearly in violation of our posted standards, we needed to move quickly. Almost everyone on the Kobo Content Team, spread across a dozen countries and time zones, was involved at one point or another. The urgency was driven by our desire to make sure we were running a store that met our own expectations and equally by the need to get our authors back up and available for sale again in the UK as fast as possible.

The good news is that the vast majority of self-published Kobo Writing Life titles are once again available on Kobo.com in the UK, with most authors experiencing a gap of only a few days before their books were once again in the catalogue. As well, we have been working closely with our self-publishing aggregation partners. Most of their titles are once again available in the UK or will be in the coming hours. If your book is still unavailable and you think it shouldn’t be, send a message to writinglife@kobo.com and the team will get on it.

For those few titles that remain unavailable, some feel that we chose a path of censorship. All I can say is that if your dream is to publish “barely legal” erotica or exploitative rape fantasies, distribution is probably going to be a struggle for you. We aren’t saying you can’t write them. But we don’t feel compelled to sell them. And yes, many titles live in a grey zone with far more shades than the fifty that sold so well in the past year, but that is what makes this all so challenging and so interesting. Many of our readers have no problem with an erotic title in their library next to their romance, literary fiction, investing or high-energy physics books. And we are here for the readers, so erotica stays, a small but interesting part of a multi-million-title catalogue, in all of its grey-shaded glory. My thanks go out to Mark Lefebvre and the whole Kobo Writing Life team and to all of our authors who have been so supportive and understanding in the past two weeks. We will continue to work on reviewing processes and author education about what we can take and what we can’t. It will never be perfect, but our belief continues to be that if we focus on readers and growing our business around them, we will get it right much more often than not.

Sincerely yours,
Michael Tamblyn
Chief Content Officer

On the face of it, this statement is fair and far more diplomatic than ‘300-year-old retail partner’ WH Smith’s ‘disgust‘. Retailers have every right to decide what they will and will not sell, although it’ll remain to be seen where exactly they’ll draw the line; how clear and explicit their guidelines concerning what is and isn’t allowed, which according to Tamblyn is ‘“barely legal” erotica or exploitative rape fantasies’, however those are defined by the retailer.

*Thank you to Sarah for emailing me about this update.


4 thoughts on “Kobo Refutes Alleged Censorship and Clarifies Their Stance

  1. What’s funny is that they only censor ebooks by independent authors. Rape, incest, etc, is perfectly fine if a publishing house is selling it.
    Pretty hypocritical double standard, isn’t it?


    1. Very true. If self-published authors had some sort of group organisation to represent them, they would’ve been able to fight back on the grounds of unfair discrimination. Kobo & co. took advantage of this fact.


  2. The problem with allowing corporate interests to dictate what can and cannot get distributed is that they then are de facto censors. There’s a long history of publishers blocking books the company owners don’t like. Usually when there is outside influence it is the puritans threatening boycotts. Lovers of freedom need to be willing to take a similar stand and hurt these companies in the pocket.


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