Explicit eBooks Prompt Scandal in UK

Dennis Faas's picture

An ebook firm has suspended sales of all self-published books in the United Kingdom, regardless of their content. It follows a media scandal over titles involving explicit material.

The scandal began when a national newspaper ran a front-page story accusing a major retail chain, WH Smith, of carrying particularly illicit material.

The headline of the story turned out to be something of an exaggeration. The material wasn't being sold in stores, but was available online. It also turned out to involve the content of books rather than images or movies.

eBooks Unappetizing But Not Illegal

The titles in question were self-published ebooks, meaning the writers had submitted them directly to the ebook firms without undergoing a review process.

The storylines of the books involved actions which would be illegal if they were carried out in the real world, though British law doesn't currently prohibit the depiction of such actions in literature.

WH Smith was not alone in carrying the titles: many online eBookstores sell such material, including Amazon. Some experts believe the newspaper focused on the store to produce a more shocking headline.

In response to the furor, Amazon has begun cracking down on such titles, saying they breach its rules on content standards. That's upset some authors who believe the guidelines aren't clear.

These same authors argue that Amazon shouldn't refuse to carry any books labeled appropriately and not made available to children.

WH Smith has taken its entire ebook store offline while it decides how to respond to the move. It will first need to decide if and how it can vet titles for content.

Then it will likely tighten up its filtering process to make sure visitors it knows to be underage cannot see listings for mature content. (Source: whsmith.co.uk)

Self-Published Titles All Taken Down

The ebooks listed and sold on the WH Smith site are provided and "delivered" by Kobo, the Canadian firm that also manufactures e-reader devices. The latter has responded to the controversy by pulling all books that have not gone through a professional publisher.

Kobo says it doesn't see this as censorship, but rather as a way to "protect the reputation of self-publishing." It says it will vet all existing titles and set up enhanced filtering to make sure it doesn't list future titles that deal with illegal and explicit activity.

Finally, Kobo says it plans to restore inoffensive self-published ebook titles in around one week's time. (Source: bbc.co.uk)

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