Censorship, or Unfair Business Practices?
Let me begin by apologizing to readers who may buy their books through Kobo. I did offer some of my titles through your preferred platform, but that’s no longer possible.
It all started in the UK with an online retailer called WH Smith. Apparently, according the the Daily Mail, if one typed in certain search terms, children’s books would appear alongside some really vile porn. This may or may not be true– I haven’t researched it. The upshot is, WH Smith completely shut down their website in response. There was more fallout: yesterday, Kobo removed all self- and indie-published titles from their store.
I learned about this after receiving an email from Draft2Digital, the partner I use for uploading my books to Barnes&Noble, iTunes and Kobo. Adding insult to injury, Kobo hadn’t even bothered to inform Draft2Digital of this move– D2D was left to find out on their own. Now that’s how business should be done!
My books aren’t porn, they aren’t erotica, they don’t even have sex scenes in them. But sure enough, gone they are from Kobo’s store. Many writers are calling this censorship, which it is. Others think it’s red meat thrown to Big Pub. The folks in Big Pub are probably jumping up and down, giving each other high-fives. Finally, someone put those rif-raffy indies in their places! Now they don’t have to worry about competition from lower-priced indie books offering readers what they might actually want to read. Now they can go back to telling readers what to read! The free market is only for chumps, you know.
Personally, I don’ t think either censorship or restraint of trade is the true motivation here. I think it’s even worse than that. It’s scared corporate executives taking the easiest possible out: zero tolerance.
Zero tolerance is easy. No one has to actually think. No one has to actually make a decision or a judgment call that s/he later has to support or defend. Just say, “We won’t allow this under any circumstances,” and no matter how nonsensical, no matter how absurd, no matter how over-the-top the reaction to the infraction, you can just say, “Well, I’m only following the rules.” Only in this case, rather than making an actual rule of what is and is not acceptable, retail outlets are dumping anyone who shares a single characteristic of the offenders: self-publishers. Never mind 50 Shades of Grey. That’s okay. Can’t go offending the big boys. And can’t risk alienating millions of fans!
Since indies are nothing more than a bunch of individuals and small businesses, it’s easy to write them off. The only problem with this model? A whole lot of individuals and small groups can add up to big numbers. In the case of indie publishing, that number is growing year by year. So Kobo, et al, is likely cutting off a significant source of revenue. They may not believe they are, but the numbers will tell in short order.
Oh, they might eventually reinstate non-offending titles, but it’s never a good idea to anger your content providers. They might not come back. And if you don’t have content to sell… Well, folks, you don’t have a business anymore.