From WHSmith.co.uk, which went offline...
Last week we were made aware that a number of unacceptable titles were
appearing on our website through the Kobo website that has an automated
feed to ours. This is an industry wide issue impacting retailers that
sell self published eBooks due to the explosion of self publishing,
which in the main is good as it gives new authors the opportunity to get
their content published. However we are disgusted by these particular
titles, find this unacceptable and we in no way whatsoever condone
It is our policy not to feature titles like those highlighted and we
have processes in place to screen them out. We offer over one million
titles through our eBooks partner Kobo, many of which are self-published
titles. Due to the massive amount of self publishing a number of these
titles have got through the screening process.
We are taking immediate steps to have them all removed. While we are
doing this we have decided to take our website off-line to best protect
our customers and the public. Our website will become live again once
all self published eBooks have been removed and we are totally sure that
there are no offending titles available. When our website goes back
online it will not display any self published material until we are
completely confident that inappropriate books can never be shown again.
We sincerely apologise for any offence caused.
A lot of authors were affected by this of course. Again, I wouldn't want to misrepresent anything so here are a couple of links that may interest you.
I'd also like to share a letter by a bestselling erotica AND romance author (and I do mean that this author ranks in BOTH categories).
I have been, in the past, close to delisting all of my books from Kobo, because it has just been issue after issue with your website. Today I have finally taken that step.
First it was the terrible search engine which only seems to list the same five authors in my genres. Sometimes, even when typing in the exact title of a book of mine, it would list another book before it.
Second, it was payment issues. From your ridiculously high $100 monthly threshold for payment, to your constantly late payments. Recently, there was an instance where every indie author in our community was paid late by you, and the excuse was the same. "Oh, there was one batch which got delayed but most went out on time." An obvious lie unless that particular batch contained the payments of every author in our community. In addition, bank details which have been fine for months have been needed to be repeatedly confirmed, sometimes input by your line employees because your own automated input system is so broken that it won't accept valid routing and SWIFT numbers.
I could go on about other issues having to do with the retailers you push to not changing prices when the price is changed on WritingLife, not pulling books when asked, and incorrectly formatting the descriptions that directly impact our sales negatively, but I'd prefer to focus on what Kobo is doing wrong. Don't mistake this for a pass, this is also a factor in this decision and your retailers are actively making your company look extremely unprofessional.
And now, due to a muckraking "journalist" who hasn't looked at books beyond their cover and title, you've banned the entire library of books of anyone who was publishing erotica. Many in my community have not published erotica, but had resorted to publishing through Draft2Digital to ensure that they would actually get paid for the books they sold, and their books are gone as well. All because of a vocal minority of Internet personalities who, honestly, don't have a clue.
I have delisted every book from WritingLife that I am not contractually obligated to continue to try to list on there. In the future, I will be specifically writing into contracts that I do not publish to Kobo. Kobo does not support independent publishers and I will not continue to support them. It will take a lot to undo the past sixteen months of ill will that your company has generated throughout the community of writers, and I will encourage my fellow writers to follow my lead. I wouldn't blame any of them for distributing everywhere that they can, every dollar counts to many of them. However, I will not be returning until a major effort is made to fix the major issues at your company.
I mentioned earlier that your other retailers have problems delisting titles that I have asked to be delisted before. Today is Monday, October 14, and if my books are not removed by Monday, October 21, I'll be sending DMCA notices to each of them stating that you are not authorized to distribute the books that I have delisted.
Thank you for your time and I hope that the next time I email you, it will be to congratulate you and your company for cleaning up your act.
- I keep thinking about Dexter. I mentioned this in a Yahoo loop for authors and I'd like to repeat it here. The first time I heard about this show, I just knew I wouldn't watch it - and I haven't. I don't think I ever will. I just know I won't be able to enjoy watching a show with a serial killer as the lead. BUT my friends watch it and I don't think they're going to be serial killers because of it. I don't judge them because of it. I think this is the same with erotica titles.
- There are individuals who deliberately miscategorize their content for various reasons (you can read Selena Kitt's blog entry about this). Their content should be removed. I wholeheartedly support that.
- Filters are the BIGGER issue here. These stores should invest serious resources in creating and implementing a no-fail system for filtering content to ensure that minors are NEVER EXPOSED TO INAPPROPRIATE CONTENT.
- Another author suggested the use of rating systems and I definitely agree.
- Lastly, I keep thinking about the word 'delicadeza'. I don't think there's a direct English translation for it, but it's a core value that we Filipinos really place a lot of importance in. You can use the Wikipedia link for definition, but basically it's doing the honorable, rightful, proper, and graceful thing - especially in situations where others are likely to be affected by your words or actions.
Yes, they have the right to remove content from their site whenever they want BUT it's not right that these sites are suddenly washing their hands off the very authors they earned money from (and not just a measly amount either!). You earned from these authors and now, just because of bad rap, you're giving them up just like that?!
Also, people's livelihoods are at stake here. Many of the people behind erotica titles are decent folks, good folks who just want to write and earn a living. Knowing this - knowing how many writers today are left reeling and frightened about their future - would it be so darn hard for Kobo and WHSmith to take the time to come up with an emergency response team to personally email the authors, let them know what's happening, and just be decent enough to APOLOGIZE about the INEFFECTIVENESS AND INACCURACY of their method for eliminating dubious content from their sites?
I know saying 'sorry' or saying 'I promise I'll fix this. We value your work.' won't fix things, but hearing this would mean a lot to authors. Also, it can be the stepping stone needed to have stores and authors working together to those maliciously gaming the system to increase their profits (never mind if it means exposing underaged readers to inappropriate content).
It's not too late for Kobo and WHSmith to show some delicadeza. And I really hope, for the sakes of readers and writers, that they do.