Book Burning in the Digital Age

A crusade is reignited and a new witch hunt has begun. As the past has always indicated to us, yet again it’s the weak who shall suffer and the strong who proper, regardless of the intents of the morally indignatious.

If you’re not aware, the media, abetted by a violent thriller writer, has taken up the torch of harassing Amazon into cracking down upon “lewd” content. This time, however, Amazon is quite serious about it. They’ve taken to completely deleting erotic content with the precision of a busted, makeshift hatchet.

Undoubtedly there will be a lot of other writers such as myself who’ll take to their blogs and interviews to tell of the hypocrisy, the rational incongruity of using an author who writes shameless violence to take on the villainous smut writers. To speak of the larger philosophical issues.

Instead, I’m going to speak a bit on the practical repercussions of such a move, how it affects real people, both readers and writers, and not just of the filthy erotica in question. Because it does affect real people. This moral crusade, like ones of the past, will hurt actual, flesh and blood humans who have harmed nobody, and done nothing objectively wrong.

Michelle and myself are part of numerous author networks, we write across numerous genres because that’s the sort of people we are. Our minds never sit still, we go from fantasy to erotica, from romance to historical thriller, we write fiction and non-fiction alike. We even do reviews, and I take guilty pleasure in coming up with excuses to write songs and poems to insert into our many stories.

Thus far — though it is still just begun — we have only had a few books suffer from the crude hatchet of moral justice, likely due to our great divergence of interests. So the financial loss we’ll take to our living will be moderate compared to most authors. However, we know writers who will face serious hardships because of this. People who will struggle to make ends meat for their families because someone feigned a fainting spell over the existence of naughty words on the internet. People who will see their dreams of being a professional author dashed because others can simply not tolerate that there exists a harmless choice in the world that they would not have taken: to buy a clearly marketed work of writing centered around sexuality.

Don’t be fooled here, nobody is being misled about the content of these books, after all. The reason why they are being targeted is that their content is brazenly presented to the pérouser of naughty literature. It’s not about duplicitous authors tricking people into buying content that offends their sensibilities. It’s not about deception (or seducing young people into reading illicit content).

But it will be. Thanks to this modern era witch hunt.

If you think that vulgar daddy-daughter stories will disappear by this campaign, then you don’t understand how a human being works even on the  most basic, bold font, underlined manner. How a purely moral scare such as this has no clear boundaries, so there will always be borderline content to hide among. Afterall, even through the Dark Ages of western civilization, before printing presses allowed easy distribution of materials, and the church in Rome controlled all, some naughty monks would compile dirty collections in the eternal human tradition under a thin veneer of respectability.

The content will persist, but it’ll become harder for interested parties to find, and easier for the unwitting to stumble upon it. The scandalous covers proclaiming the sexual nature of the book, the baudy titles informing you of the exact nature of the insidious tale within, will vanish. The rest will persist, perhaps in diminished form, but it will be scattershot. Harder to strike its intended audience, but landing in the laps of many others interested in more tepid affairs.

Even if Amazon were able and willing to regulate their massive, overwhelming catalogue of books, it still won’t disappear. Why? Because as I started out saying, this witch hunt, like all the others before it, will only target the weak and vulnerable.

This time it’s the independent author. The indies. Those authors who bucked the control of the big publishers, who broke with centuries of tradition of writing being a thing for the rich and privileged with a connection (or the cash) to open publisher doors.

If you think for one moment the ‘respectable’ publishing houses will be forbade the selling of dirty words, think again. They always have done it, ‘bodice rippers’ are nothing new, they’ve been around for longer than we’ve had bodices! The big publishers have contracts and deals with  Amazon and other store fronts, they have power and influence. They have professional marketers and they will become masters of deceiving readers and painting their works with a thin veneer of respectability so that they can sell their daddy-daughter rape stories to the suspecting and unsuspecting alike, and the same crusaders who are crushing the livelihoods of authors now will be helpless to stop it.

Most importantly, they have a lucrative market with an audience that will exist for as long as humans do. Regardless of shifting attitudes. Of moral outrage.

The crusaders part will be done by then, of course. They’ll have concentrated money and power back into the hands of the Old Guard. The price-fixing publishers who want your money, not a lend of your mind like so many budding authors.

So to the crusaders, enjoy your little victory. It’s hollow and meaningless, sure. You succeeded in doing little more than bloodying the nose of the school kid half your age, and sending him home from school, but his uncle is still there, and he’s teaching one of your classes no doubt.

To the petty “respectable” authors who look to the erotic indies and see them make a livelihood with envious eyes, don’t pat yourself on the back too hard. Thanks to your vigorous support those lost incomes will go from sheltering families to lining corporate coffers.

And for us all? We all lose, because when the largest book vendor in the world (controlling the vast majourity of sales to be had) censors creativity, the ripples will be felt. Authors will still their metaphorical pen with worries that their words will cross a line, that weeks, months or years of diligent effort will be lost on a technicality. Sacrificed on the altar of shifting public morality that deems some fictional words about breasts or penises for conscious, discerning adults to be obscene.

11 Comments on Book Burning in the Digital Age

  1. ” It’s not about duplicitous authors tricking people into buying content that offends their sensibilities. It’s not about deception (or seducing young people into reading illicit content).” THIS! Authors aren’t going to stop writing smut, nor will readers stop reading it, it’ll just go semi-underground where the chances of an ‘innocent’ stumbling upon it will be increased TENFOLD. If they’d just left it as it was — What You See Is What You Get — those who wanted to avoid it can easily do so, those who want to read it can also easily do so. This is just the equivalent of a chastity belt with a rusty lock. So pointless and very harmful to ordinary writers!

    • Precisely. The only endgame for this kind of censorship is more inconvenience for readers, both those who want the content and don’t.

      Like most instances of moral outrage, the results are self-defeating.

  2. They got me about 4 am this morning with a vague email referencing an even vaguer content guidelines. I’ve posted the email and guidelines in my blog http://beaujohnson.us/?p=197 as well as links to some other posts on this, including this one. In the end it’s their business, they can do what they want. They may be the largest but they aren’t the only game in town

    • Well unless things change, I know I personally couldn’t make a living off of writing without Amazon, and I suspect the same is true for most other indie authors. They make up 70% of our sales, and anecdotally I know that to be about the same for other authors we’re involved with.

      I sincerely hope Amazon gets knocked down a few pegs and the sea of vendors to sell our books upon becomes more of an open and even playing field, because as is Amazon has a stranglehold on the market. A lot of careers will hinge on the whims of that company, on whether they wish to ban certain books, or even whether they care to up their fee.

  3. Brenda Wheeler // October 13, 2013 at 7:17 pm // Reply

    This totally sucks for the readers too, that only have access to the Kindle App for reading. I’m lucky to have an iPad and love Smashwords, I buy there often and it looks like I’ll be buying there now more than often! I’m gonna share your post cause this is beyond ridiculous! I truly enjoy y’all’s writing J.E. & M. Keep and hope this banning is lifted from Amazon. In the meantime, Smashwords here I come!

    • Thanks a lot! : )

      Though I like the convenience of having my library connected to a single account, Amazon’s history of bluntly pulling purchased books off of selection is rather offputting. It’s the kind of thing that makes me like to shop elsewhere for that reason alone.

      In the meantime though, most of our sales come from there so I’m glad the bulk of our work is untouched! Crossing my fingers.

    • I buy most of my books on Amazon and read on my Kindle or in my Cloud Reader.
      I also have the Kindle APP on my PC and buy books on Smashwords and other sites E.G. Blushing Books or Pink Flamingo.
      The second category goes into my ‘downloads’ folder where I open it with the APP.
      Indie writers are going to have to, if they don’t already, promote themselves more than they do:
      1) Have a website and/or join with other writers in blogging.
      2) Write a newsletter. Be reachable by email/tweet.
      3) Join Goodreads.

      • I think this will also reduce the amount of writers and variety. There comes a point where eventually only the really dedicated will keep jumping through these hoops.

        I personally love connecting with our fans, just because I genuinely enjoy talking with people, especially about our passions. And it just so happens our writing is a passion!

  4. The first thought I had when my wife started reading this out was “Let’s see if they deleted this…NOPE!” you can still get about 30 different versions of “Mein Kampf” on Amazon, Kobo and Barnes & Noble. Well that’s just fucking precious.

    http://store.kobobooks.com/Search/Query?Query=%22Mein%20Kampf%22

    http://www.amazon.ca/s/ref=nb_sb_noss_2?url=search-alias%3Daps&field-keywords=mein%20kamph

    http://www.barnesandnoble.com/s/mein-kampf?store=allproducts&keyword=mein+kampf

    Excuse me, I have some angry emails to write…

    • But it’s a classic!

      See, the thing is, it’s all about the wrapping paper. Joshua and I were in the store today and saw a ‘personal massager’ and he said that’s what Amazon wants. I knew it was a vibrator. He knew it was a vibrator. But calling it a ‘personal massager’ is so much less crass.

      So there won’t be any more virgins, there will be innocent people. There won’t be any more rapes, there will be uncertain desires. There won’t be any more incest, there will be close relationships.

      Dress it up and you can get away with anything, just don’t tell readers what it really is.

      • LOL – True, true it IS a classic. It’s just a maddening double standard, I don’t deal well with those. I subscribe the George Carlin perspective on standards “One will do just fine”.

        But you’re dead on, it’s all in how you market it I guess. We’ve become so used to being bullshitted at every turn that we don’t know how to cope when something presents itself honestly.

        I don’t suppose they’ll be pull Game of Thrones off the shelves anytime soon either, more than enough incest, rape and violence in there to keep things rolling. “Oh but that’s okay because it’s in a ‘fantasy’ setting with dragons and magic…AND it’s making all this money!”, which is the hook isn’t it?…

        Sorry, I’m ranting again – I sent a more coherent one off to Kobo as they seemed to be the most egregious offender. That was cathartic, not that I expect any form of satisfactory response from them but the venting helped temper the outrage.

        With the packaging (circling back around) I guess it’s about what is technically correct. The best kind of correct. Technically, it IS a “personal massager” as that’s what it was originally designed to be…it just so happens that it’s an awesome vibrator as well (and likely sells more for that purpose than anything else). They can still feel “good and clean” about their image, while taking our money for it even though they know the real reason why it’s selling. No one’s giving them grief about it so why rock the boat?

        …I’m gonna stop before I ramble into a comment that’s longer than your post 🙂

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