Kobo and Amazon’s War Against Indies

It’s no secret that the publishing world is changing. With self-published darlings like self-publishing-word-cloudAmanda Hocking, Jamie McGuire and Colleen Hoover branching out from the indie world to best seller’s lists, the industry had to sit up and take notice.

In fact, recently, in a “round table” interview with The Hollywood Report, super agent Robert Gottlieb (Trident Media) commented that many of the younger agents at Trident are searching the Indie and self published best seller’s lists for new talent.

EL James, author of the 50 Shades of Grey series quite famously propelled herself from fanfic (Twilight), to indie published author, to a New York Times bestseller…on a series that is about bondage and submission and many levels of erotica.

So if the popularity of the indie author and the “type” of novels that are immensely popular (erotica) and many of these books are making money for sites like Amazon and Kobo, then why are they seemingly biting the hands that feed them?

A few days ago, CNN reported on Amazon UK’s attempts at censoring books that they deem unsuitable for all readers, stating that, “abuse-themed e-books” would be removed “from its Kindle Store after a report highlighted titles depicting rape, incest and bestiality. ”

Kobo followed suit and by late Monday afternoon they had purportedly started taking down titles with prejudice toward self published authors in particular.

An email from the Director, of Kobo Writing Life, Mark Lefebvre, surfaced online stating:

To our Kobo Writing Life and self-publishing partners:

As you may be aware, there has been a significant amount of negative media attention in the UK regarding offensive material that became available across a number of eBook platforms. Kobo was included in the reports from media and we are taking immediate action to resolve an issue that is the direct result of a select few authors and publishers violating Kobo’s content policies.

In order to address the situation Kobo is taking the following steps:
1. We are removing titles in question from the Kobo platform.

2. We are quarantining and reviewing titles to ensure that compliance to our policies is met by all authors and publishers. We will ensure that content meeting the policy is made available online as soon as possible.

3. We are reviewing our policies and procedures to implement safeguards that will ensure this situation does not happen in the future.

We are working hard to get back to business as usual, as quickly as possible. We appreciate your patience and understanding in this matter.

Our goal at Kobo is not to censor material; we support freedom of expression. Further, we want to protect the reputation of self-publishing as a whole. You have our promise that we will do all we can to ensure the exceptions that have caused this current situation will not have a lasting effect on what is an exciting new channel that connects Readers to a wealth of books.


Mark Lefebvre
Director, Kobo Writing Life

Though Lefebvre doesn’t wish to “censor” his clients’ books, both his site and Amazon are doing just that. The CNN article cited “rape, incest and bestiality” as red flags Amazon UK would be taking off of their shelves. But since erotica and certainly scifi and fantasy are bestsellers for the site, wouldn’t, by these standards, books about vampires (Twilight, Anita Blake) and werewolves (bestiality) and incest (Game of Thrones) be off limits as well?

It’s a certainty that some regulations need to be set in motion, but how is this abrupt withdrawal of some of the more “heated” novels not censorship? It personally reminds me of the Senate hearings back in the 80’s when the likes of John Denver and Dee Snyder banded together to oppose the censorship of music.

And if these sites are banning “inappropriate” novels, (and I’m certainly not supporting or even speaking of the disgusting books Amazon’s KDP allowed to be published a couple of years ago, but rather erotic and genre specific novels), then will they refrain from selling sex toys and “men’s” magazines like Hustler?

The sticking point is that both Kobo and Amazon are corporations with guidelines not regulated by any public law. They can sell whatever they like. But when did it become up to the company to decide what the consumer can buy? And why are indie and self published authors being specifically targeted?

More importantly, where will the “too inappropriate” lines be drawn and who will decide what that line is in the first place?

What are your thoughts, LitStackers? Tells us your opinion on this hot button topic in the comments below.


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