Erotica Readers & Writers Association Blog

Monday, October 28, 2013

Censorship - A Tsunami Of Filth

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.

Erotic author 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 category."

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)
Boccaccio's Decameron
The Story Of O
The Autobiography Of A Flea
Fanny Hill
Emmanuelle

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.

Dayne 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."

It's very 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 hypocrisy.

If you'd like to protest this latest round of censorship, go to change.org and sign this petition: Amazon, 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.






8 comments:

  1. While I am a strong activist against censorship, I believe some trash just shouldn't be allowed to be published. Isn't there enough male slated porn books out there that depict graphic violence against women and children? I think so. In fact, we're all nauseated with it. 50 Shades of Grey is so popular because it depicts what some would consider "sexual deviancy" in a way that doesn't portray rape or pedophilia like "porn" does. You are not describing erotica. Daddy porn articles are not erotica they are PORN. Porn is anti-female and contributes to a rape and pedophile crazed society. Just look at the correlation between sexual violence and media. You can't deny it's existence. Stop fighting for trash to be published and focus your efforts on supporting FEMALE and CHILDREN friendly initiatives. Otherwise you're exploiting your creativity to simply make a buck rather than using it for something that is purposeful and can add something beneficial to society. As a woman you should know that.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. "Porn is anti-female and contributes to a rape and pedophile crazed society. Just look at the correlation between sexual violence and media."

      There is no positive correlation between sexual violence and sexually explicit media. In fact, as explicit pornography has become more available, sexual violence has decreased.

      http://www.the-scientist.com/?articles.view/articleNo/28803/title/Porn--Good-for-us-/

      Delete
  2. You mean the rape and pedophile readers and writers. Awsome. The world isn't filled with enough trash. Give me a break pedophilia SHOULD be censored. IT IS NOT A VICTIM-LESS CRIME!!!!!!!!!! Stop perpetuating the myth that what you're doing isn't harmful because it IS. You're just pissed because you can't profit off the pain of others. Find a new career.

    ReplyDelete
  3. The world is full of enough stupid people, clearly. Thing is, all this 'incest porn' rubbish is badly-written nonsense that most people simply pass by - unless and until there's a big moral panic about it. If the writers or readers of rape/incest books commit actual assaults, they should be prosecuted for doing so, but if books depicting illegal acts are to be banned, then surely Ruth Rendell, Sara Paretsky and all other crime novelists should be marched off to the nick as well.

    ReplyDelete
  4. FICTION is not criminal - repeat that to yourself - FICTION isn't criminal. DeSade wrote about every possible kink - including rape and pedophilia, yet his works are widely distributed, Nabakov wrote pedophilia as well, yet Lolita is termed a classic. WORDS aren't crimes, if they were I'd say start with the serial killer novels, they're most likely to do damage. Censorship is a tricksy thing - any is too much, in my opinion, yet many believe they are 'holier than thou' and it should only apply to lesser works, to porn. Well, one person's porn is another's enjoyable kink and I, for one, don't think anyone but the reader should be making any decisions on what should or should not be allowed. Label them accurately, of course, that's just common sense for the writer and reader, it makes it easy to find what you like. But banning books - that is never ever the appropriate action to take! If it offends you, by all means don't read - but don't deny others the opportunity because one day your favorite category may also fall onto the chopping block.

    ReplyDelete
  5. This is an area where passions run high and issues, I think, often get blurred. No matter what one's opinions, I think a few things need to remain in focus:

    Point 1: When, where, and if erotic fiction describing illegal sexual acts is itself illegal, then obviously merchants have to comply with the law.

    Point 2: If a mega-retailer chooses to ban certain books that are *not* illegal, then it is engaging in corporate censorship. If the mega-company you own basically carries "everything" and controls a huge chunk of the market, and yet you want to selectively ban certain non-illegal books, then perhaps you should be in a different business. (Hey, there are non-illegal books *I* wouldn't want to sell, and that's one reason I'm not opening my own mega-store.) I do not think it can credibly be compared to curating a little mom-and-pop bookshop. With greater power comes greater responsibility: an Amazon can render a law-abiding author virtually invisible with its arbitrary bans, and I don't believe it should be the place of a disproportionately powerful commercial corporation to effectively silence lawful free expression.

    Point 3: Whatever one's opinions, it must be recognized that what's at issue with erotica is the fact that erotica, by its nature, is generally assumed to be celebrating the sexual acts it depicts--to be inviting the reader to vicariously share in these acts as positive experiences. So as long as a murder mystery is not ostensibly celebrating the crimes depicted, I think the comparison is a flawed one (regardless of whether one believes that any erotica should ever be banned).

    Point 4: Lolita is not generally considered to be erotica. Such fiction in which taboo sexual acts occur, but they are not perceived as being "celebrated" in the spirit of erotica, also makes for a faulty comparison, I think--whatever one's opinions.

    Point 5: The works of authors like De Sade are considered to be literary classics with significant cultural importance. Content that is "tolerated" in the works of important authors of past eras cannot realistically be taken as a measure of what the powers that be will routinely permit when it comes to low-profile contemporary authors. Some people might think that's unfair, while others might think historical context and author stature are valid considerations... but in any case, it would be naive for most authors to expect the same treatment that's given to a "classic."

    ReplyDelete
  6. Without engaging in a discussion on the merits or dangers of various flavors of porn, let me highlight Elizabeth's point that this censorship is not rational or even-handed. If E.L. James were to write a "daddy-porn" sequel, I'd bet my last dime that every bookstore on earth would still carry it.

    ReplyDelete
  7. What a mess. I agree with Elizabeth that big distributors that yank titles based on search terms are practising almost-random censorship, and that this is completely unjust.
    As a former member of a local Canadian film classification board (which had the power to ban films based on a vaguely-defined legal concept of "obscenity"), I think censorship boards all have the same problem.
    Big distributors respond to pressure to uphold "public standards of decency" by refusing to sell anything that has been singled out as offensive, but general perceptions of what is and is not "decent" often depend on what is legally available. I'm sure that in some cultures, a cover image of a woman's naked face would be controversial and therefore subject to being removed.
    And re classic texts, I'm glad that the ancient Greek play Lysistrata is available in several English translations, but I've had complaints from first-year university students that it is not appropriate as a text for study because it contains much discussion of sex -- or unsatisfied lust, to be more precise.
    I hope that signing anti-censorship petitions goes some way toward balancing the pressure.

    ReplyDelete

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.