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And yes, there is a problem with pornography in the digital world of ebooks. Not only do we not know, for sure, exactly what it is, the filters applied by the major retailers of ebooks don't seem to be very effective at blocking it. At least not for the readers in the United Kingdom.

A major story broke in the UK last week led by revelations in the online magazine "The Kernel." (Warning: this is clearly a British tabloid - looks like and reads like a tabloid paper.) Titled An Epidemic of Filth, it laid out the charges against online retailers like Amazon and Kobo of selling pornography in digital format.

How Amazon, Barnes & Noble, WHSmith, Waterstones and Foyles profit from breathtakingly obscene amateur paperbacks, e-books and audiobooks about rape, incest, bestiality and child abuse.
The pornography was graphic and explicit, involving rape, incest and bestiality. You can click over to the article for a fuller description, including copies of the book covers.

The books were being self-published through the same process that has brought us novels of merit, like the Wool trilogy that I wrote about a few weeks ago. The digital revolution brought women access to what is euphemistically termed "women's erotica" as discussed in my diary on the 50 Shades trilogy. I celebrated the freedom that digital device gave us in selecting whatever reading matter we chose. It seemed to be one area in which we retained the right to choose.

But of course, life is never that simple.

According to the BBC, Barnes & Noble is in the process of removing the offending content and has issued a statement that includes the following:

"When there are violations to the content policy that are brought to our attention, either through our internal process or from a customer or external source, we have a rapid response team in place to appropriately categorise or remove the content in accordance with our policy," it said.
In the same BBC article, Waterstones and Foyles, two large UK booksellers, have both stated that they have not carried any of the books discussed in the article. Both of these retailers are concerned about some of their other titles and are working with the major data supplier, Nielson, to insure that the titles are acceptable, recognizing that this is an "industry-wide issue."

Meanwhile WH Smith, another large UK retailer, is closing its entire website until all of the books have been reviewed and/or removed. They rely, as do so many independent booksellers in the US, on Kobo to provide digital readers and content. According to a statement from Kobo:

"Kobo is working quickly to review its catalogue and remove the content, authors and publishers in question. We are also evaluating new procedures to help ensure that this type of content will not become available on Kobo's site, or those of our partners in the future."
- International Business Times
Amazon's self publishing website policies (requires subscription):
We don't accept pornography or offensive depictions of graphic sexual acts.

Offensive Content
What we deem offensive is probably about what you would expect.

Amazon has not issued a statement addressing the problem but it is moving to review its self-published titles to insure that they are in compliance with the company's policies.

Of course, with thousands of ebooks published every month, insuring that canny authors of pornography are excluded from the providers' websites is more difficult than it may first appear. As Laura Hazard at GIGAOM points out, preventing these books from appearing in the stream through the use of filters and titles is not highly effective:

Authors have also stayed ahead of ebook retailers’ filters simply by changing their books’ titles and descriptions. One ebook, for instance, was originally titled In Too Deep with My Daughter. By Tuesday, the ebook’s author — “Kelsey Charisma” — had changed its title simply to In Too Deep and added a note in the book’s description to “Be aware of the title, cover and/or description change. Please see inside book for former title.” It remains for sale on Amazon’s UK website.
Even worse, authors are using metadata to describe incest pornography as "children's books."

Currently the battle is being fought over the books sold in the UK, but it is unlikely that it will continue to be ignored here in the states. Once they finish shutting down the government and plunging the nation's financial future into the depths of economic hell, the forces on the right will probably be able to turn their full attention to this latest infringement of a basic constitutional right.

As soon as they figure out a right that involves churches, flags or guns. The free expression of ideas is only one they respect when it includes the well known fact that "God hates fags" (WBC) or "Obama is the antchrist." (Not my misspelling, it appeared in a photo on Facebook yesterday, probably posted by a moran waiting for spellcheck to kick in.)

I find the novels involved to be personally offensive and would not bother to look past the titles before rejecting them. But I don't know that the rest of the world should be bound by my preferences. Or by yours or those of the Westboro Baptist Church. I am not familiar with the laws on pornography in the UK, but those here in the United States are still not as clear as booksellers need them to be if they are expected to censor what we read.

Granted, pornography may have no place on the bookshelves of your local independent bookstore, where children are hopefully present, but there should be adult literature available in digital format. Somewhere. After all, as a woman, I have now been finally recognized as a potential target for erotica and would like to be able to see if I like it before it is shut down.

I think the biggest problem we have with pornographic ebooks is that there are some who still insist on knowing what it is we are reading. But I am a bleeding heart, left wing liberal who hates the thought of the damage done by censorship more than I hate the damage done by its object.

Readers & Book Lovers Series Schedule

DAY TIME (EST/EDT) Series Name Editor(s)
SUN 6:00 PM Young Reader's Pavilion The Book Bear
2:00 PM What's on Your E-Reader? Caedy
2:00 PM Bibliophile's Wish List Caedy
Sun 9:30 PM SciFi/Fantasy Book Club quarkstomper
Bi-Monthly Sun Midnight Reading Ramblings don mikulecky
alternate Mondays
2:00 PM Political Books Susan from 29
Mon 8:00 PM Monday Murder Mystery michelewln, Susan from 29
Mon 11:00 PM My Favorite Books/Authors edrie, MichiganChet
TUES 5:00 PM Indigo Kalliope: Poems from the Left bigjacbigjacbigjac
alternate Tuesdays 8:00 AM LGBT Literature Texdude50, Dave in Northridge
alternate Tuesdays 8:00 AM All Things Bookstore Dave in Northridge
Tue 8:00 PM Contemporary Fiction Views bookgirl
WED 7:30 AM WAYR? plf515
Wed 2:00 PM e-books Susan from 29
Wed 8:00 PM Bookflurries Bookchat cfk
THU 8:00 PM Write On! SensibleShoes
Thu (first each month) 11:00 AM Monthly Bookpost AdmiralNaismith
alternate Thursdays 11:00 PM Audiobooks Club SoCaliana
FRI 8:00 AM Books That Changed My Life Diana in NoVa
Fri 8:00 PM Books Go Boom! Brecht; first one each month by ArkDem14
Fri 10:00 PM Slightly Foxed -- But Still Desirable shortfinals
SAT (fourth each month) 11:00 AM Windy City Bookworm Chitown Kev
Sat 12:00 PM You Can't Read That! Paul's Book Reviews pwoodford
Sat 9:00 PM Books So Bad They're Good Ellid

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