Elizabeth Black lives on the Massachusetts coast with her husband, son, and four cats. You may find her on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/elizabethablack and on her web site at http://elizabethablack.blogspot.com.
Censorship of erotic
fiction is rearing its ugly head again. Early in October, 2013, Kobo removed some
(but not all) erotic titles from its catalogue. The books targeted were either
self-published or published by small, indie presses.
How did this latest
firestorm start? A tech site called The Kernel discovered “daddy porn”
as if it were something new. The Kernel uncovered these books by searching for
terms like “Daddy” on the book distributor’s web sites, and it
discovered what it called a “tsunami of filth”. Titles like “Raped
By Daddy” and “Taking My Drunk Daughter” were being published
and sold by many distributors such as Kobo, Amazon, and Barnes and Noble.
Cassandre Dayne has been directly affected by this latest censorship as has
many writers. She has plenty to say about it. “There
was an issue recently involving a complaint made in the UK about some highly
questionable books that were supposedly on a site. The genres include books
that we call in the industry ‘daddy porn’.” She said. “This includes
levels of incest, bestiality and others, which are strictly prohibited by the
majority of publishers. The bulk of these were supposedly written by
independent authors who self-published. This directly affected KOBO, a
relatively new distribution site and all books by self published authors, small
publishing houses and the middle man type companies like Draft 2 Digital, a
firm designed to help small pubs and self publishers distribute with one click
to several leading distributers, to do a knee jerk reaction. They yanked every
single title without regard to whether or not they were even in the erotic
So, the theory goes
if a child searched for the term “Daddy” on Kobo, that child would
find daddy porn books. When the BBC and The Kernel pointed out these keyword
search problems and the books those searches uncovered, most notably WHSmith in
the UK and Kobo took immediate action. They removed every single erotic book
from their catalogues – even books that did not violate the terms of service
agreement and were clearly meant for adults.
Erotic content isn’t
only under fire. So are book covers, according to Dayne. “Amazon did much the same thing using self published and
what they considered risque covers to yanks books without question, forethought
or in my opinion common sense. Amazon is using a keyword computer generated
random search. Really? Are we truly turning into the moral majority?”
Dayne said. “Of course all of my books provided by Draft 2 Digital as well
as the small publisher Bitten Press were removed. Trust me, I have no
questionable material. Am I furious? You bet. While these big box folks
certainly can sell what they would like, they need to understand this is a
clear form of censorship.”
Curious, I ran a
search and discovered what I suspected to be true was true after all, and my
discovery reinforced Dayne’s statements. Not all erotic books are created equal
in the eyes of censors. The following books remain available for purchase at
Kobo and WHSmith:
50 Shades of Grey
(the entire series)
The Story Of O
The Autobiography Of
Why are these works
of erotica available yet best-selling modern books outside 50 Shades of Grey have been given the scorched earth treatment? I
believe there are several reasons. One, books like 50 Shades of Grey are cash cows. It would be foolish to eliminate
them from the catalogues. However, that doesn’t make much sense since erotic
fiction (esp. erotic romance) is a top moneymaker in the book world. These
censored books make lots of money for their authors and the distributors. Two,
these books may be considered classics that are in no way allegedly sullied by
the likes of bondage and ménage stories written by more modern and independent
authors. Three, those books are published by the likes of Pocketbook and Simon
and Schuster – behemoths who can’t be bullied or ignored like indie publishers
and self-published writers. These major publishers have armies of lawyers small
press pubs and indie writers can only dream of having. It may be matter of
picking on the smaller kids who have less ability to defend themselves.
Granted, daddy porn
and similar books have some serious problems. The acts described are illegal
and should not be encouraged. The problem is that in removing these books, erotica
that does not violate any guidelines has been caught up in the frenzy. Even the
search terms have resulted in problems like books found with the search term
“breast” that were removed for being titillating also removed books
about breast cancer, something that is not titillating in the least. The same
happened when searching for the term “rape” – books about surviving
rape were yanked along with the books glorifying the act. In its zeal to clean
up the bookshelves, these distributors threw the baby out with the bathwater.
Another problem lies in the nature of the removal itself. Just because a book
is deemed offensive to some is no reason to yank it. If you do, you’re getting
into slippery slope territory. Who decides what’s offensive and what isn’t? Who
decides what books are worthy of being read and others aren’t? It’s not a good
idea to make Fahrenheit 451 a true,
modern horror story.
The Kernel also
acted as if this is an entirely new phenomenon when nothing could be further
from the truth. The last time online book sellers and indie writers were
censored was back in February, 2012. According to Selena Kitt in an article she
wrote at the time, “First, Amazon started banning books from their site.
They backed down on their anti-censorship stance and removed the Ped0phile
Guide. Then they went after books that contained incest, bestiality and rape.
After the dust settled, it was clear that, while biological incest was a no-no,
Amazon would, however, allow sex between of-age adults who were related to one
another in a non-biological manner–step-relations or adopted relations.
Suddenly the top 100 in the Erotica category on Amazon exploded with
“pseudo-incest” titles. And the covers were far more revealing than anything
the category had previously carried.” Those explicit titles like
“Daddy Licks My Pussy” become commonplace. As Kitt said, the fine
line between the erotic and porn had blurred even further.
At first, the
distributors were targeting books depicting illegal acts but that later
devolved to books depicting acts that were merely “morally
objectionable”. Pseudo-incest (relations between stepparent – stepchild,
unrelated adopted siblings, look-alikes who could be mistaken for twins, etc.),
while morally objectionable, was not illegal. Kitt pointed out Woody Allen as a
case in point. She also wondered why books about serial killers had not been
targeted. No, it was only erotic books, not books depicting gory and vividly
described torture murders.
I was one of the
writers caught up in that mess. So was Cassandre Dayne. At the time, Paypal had
complained about the daddy porn books that permeated the distributors.
Bookstrand and AllRomanceEbooks removed these books as well as numerous other
erotic books that didn’t meet that criteria. One of my publishers, New Dawning
Bookfair, saw its entire catalogue eliminated overnight. One of my short
stories, an erotic short version of Puss In Boots entitled Purr, had been eliminated at Bookstrand and AllRomance. While my
publisher dealt with the problem I took advantage of it by loudly stating my
book had been banned, but it was still available at Amazon for those who wanted
to read it. My book sales soared. Sadly, I lost money from sales I would have
made from Bookstrand and AllRomance that I will never get back. Purr is now available at Bookstrand and
AllRomance as it should have always been. Once the uproar settled down, erotic
books were once again published on all these sites and eventually the daddy
porn books found their way back into circulation on them. Today, however, you
will still find no small press or self-published erotic books on WHSmith.
also saw books reinstated, but she will never recoup the lost revenues. “The
piece entitled Enslaved, written by
my pseudo DH Black, was subsequently reinstated but it took a couple of
months.” Dayne said. “I’m a little extra sensitive to the concept of
censorship. In addition, When will this procedure stop? Who is to say that
horror books depicting extreme violence or even inspirational books won’t be
next? How do they determine the monies lost to authors who scrape by at best?
There must be some intelligence behind this process. Put your thinking cap on
big boys cause this isn’t working.”
hypocritical of distributors such as Amazon and Kobo to criticize the
publication and creation of erotic books when it has clearly benefited greatly
from their sales. Amazon, Kobo, Smashwords, Barnes and Noble, Bookstrand,
AllRomance, and other distributors make scads of money from these books.
Amazon, for instance, makes huge revenues from
these books that are often written by self-published authors. To single
them out once or twice per year to get a great big spanking is the height of
If you’d like to
protest this latest round of censorship, go to change.org and sign this
Barnes and Noble, KOBO: Drop the clause of removing Erotica and self-published
Indie authors. Writers need to protect themselves any way they can, be it
by signing petitions, banding together to form censorship protesting networks
before books are censored (again), and writing to local and national media.