A Black Eye for Self-Publishing

You may have heard by now about the Kindle book, The Pedophile’s Guide to Love and Pleasure, that was posted on Amazon, greeted with mass outrage, and subsequently removed by Amazon. My first thought hearing this was: Damn, self-publishing doesn’t need this.  Though with self-publishing, this kind of thing is inevitable, as self-publishers can post anything and everything they want, this doesn’t help the stigma that self-publishers are putting out the worst writing available.  There is no argument against this: of all the published work out in the world, self-published writing likely comprises the worst of it.

That said, the instant call to boycott Amazon doesn’t make sense – any more than you should boycott Twitter for offensive tweets or Blogger for offensive blogs, of which there are probably thousands.  The difference, however, is that Amazon is taking a cut of the profit – and so while this is self-publishing, Amazon is technically the publisher.  They are advocating what they place online.  But instantly calling for a boycott when a free posting service posts something offensive is really not understanding how these services work.  So long as Amazon takes appropriate action, the outrage is not necessarily founded.  Here are Amazon’s terms for content.

Please take a moment to familiarize yourself with some examples of prohibited content:

Pornography and hard-core material that depicts graphic sexual acts.

Offensive Material
What we deem offensive is probably about what you would expect. Amazon Digital Services, Inc. reserves the right to determine the appropriateness of Titles sold on our site.

Illegal Items
Titles sold through the Digital Text Platform Program must adhere to all applicable laws. Some Titles that may not be sold include any Titles which may lead to the production of an illegal item or illegal activity.

So this book clearly violates these terms.  I’m normally a great advocate of free speech, but I don’t entirely see this as a free speech argument.  The book is advocating illegal behavior, and I don’t entirely buy this contrarian take.

Are we, as intelligent adults, really suggesting that other less intelligent adults who have until now never so much as considered the idea of molesting a child are going to download a copy of ‘the Pedophile’s Guide to Love and Pleasure: a Child-lover’s Code of Conduct’ and think to themselves “by golly, this pedophile stuff sounds like fun – I think I’ll give it a try?”. Surely not. If we’re concerned that a book glamourising man-child love is going to bring about the downfall of society then we’d better demand the removal of Lolita too. At least Nabokov could spell.

The problem is that more and more books like this could make pedophilia seem normal.  And, yes, some people might see that as an invitation.  In this context, the Lolita argument doesn’t apply at all.  Why?  Because Lolita is a work of fiction.  Mein Kampf has necessary historical interest.  And while that book is full of vile anti-semitism, there’s a difference between this and a how-to manual for murdering people.  The only slippery slope I see with Amazon’s decision to nix this book is that there won’t be any more how-to books for pedophilia.  And, frankly, that’s fine.  Because pedophilia is the vilest thing imaginable.

You could make the argument that this sets a precedent where other how to books about illegal behavior could also be banned.  For instance, how to roll a joint.  Still, I don’t see the slippery slope. Because we’re talking about pedophilia, which has no value whatsoever, or a guy smoking a joint in his backyard.  These things are different.  You could make another argument – maybe a talented writer writes a fake “how to” book for pedophilia as an intellectual exercise into how the pedophile’s mind works.  That’s fine – we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.  What separates this book from a book like that is not just the provocative title, but that it’s plainly bad.  Some examples of “bad” aren’t entirely subjective.

Do I think that this book shouldn’t be published whatsoever?  No – there are companies like Loompanics that publish how to books about breaking into homes, how to capture a human, how to make illegal fireworks, etc. – all, by the way, sold by Amazon, where Amazon is taking a cut of the profit.  If a publisher is willing to take on the legal ramifications for publishing that kind of work, that’s their prerogative.  But Amazon itself isn’t a publisher with an overall mission – so it’s well within their right to remove a book that they find offensive, with or without outrage.  I hope this doesn’t lead to censorship of books that shouldn’t be censored.  But if it means removing a how to book about rape – frankly, I don’t have a lot of sympathy for the author.

  • I’m glad they finally pulled the book. Freedom of speech is a right guaranteed to individuals, not conglomerates. I don’t want books encouraging child molestation, I don’t want books encouraging suicide bombers, and I don’t want books telling how to poison the city reservoir, make methamphetamine, or yell obscenities at the funerals of fallen soldiers. Amazon should never allowed the book. Smashwords should not allow the book. It will make a perfect chapbook for pervs.

  • Freedom of speech applies to governmental attempts to regulate the expression of views — usually those unpopular with a majority of the citizenry. Amazon isn’t a branch of any government, federal, state, or local. It wisely chose, on its own, not to sell the book in question.

    I suppose it’s possible to fault Amazon for initially making the book available for sale. That would depend upon how far up the chain the book went before the necessary approval was given.

    But I don’t think this episode is a black eye for self-publishing. I think it shows why self-publishing is the future. Somebody publishes, practically for free in many cases, something hateful or beautiful. The public reacts. The many, many people in charge of making it available respond. No part of any government — not even any part of the six-party New York cartel — has anything to do with the matter.

    • Really good point. The other argument against self-publishing is: how will I be able to sift through all the crap? Here’s the answer: readers and other press do it without the need for an editorial board or publisher.

  • The Pedophile book made it into the Top 100 at Amazon.com. Thank God I have a real job. I don’t want to write for money anymore, or hear about people who do. Give me the Indies, who proudly sell a little and try so hard, and if they move a hundred books, they buy a bottle of wine and share it with the few people who understand the effort.

  • This incident reminds me of ‘The Anarchist Cookbook’ controversy back in the 1970’s ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Anarchist_Cookbook ). In that case, it was a “traditional publisher” (Lyle Stuart) who “crossed the line” of what is and is not acceptable in the marketplace. ‘The Anarchist Cookbook’ contained recipes for making explosives and other illegal and dangerous items. This week’s bad seed is just as over-the-line as that one was, and the arguments pro and con are almost word for word of what they were back then.

    The subject matter is certainly horrifying, but you know, it seems that whenever I look at the new releases on Smashwords there’s a ‘Date Rape 10’ or an ‘Incest 17’ so I’m not terribly shocked, and I wouldn’t be surprised if this author genuinely thought that his book was a good idea, and maybe he wasn’t even doing it for the money.

    (I totally agree with Neil, though, in his comment above. Once you align your passion with money, it’s bound to get at least a little compromised, if only in your own heart)

  • Weird, but I was just looking at Tom’s site, after it dawned on me he gives his books away. Then when I checked email, I saw his comment. At Smashwords mainpage now, there are Sex By Numbers and Exposed, two stroke books if I ever saw them, and I find myself cringing to think I also have books for sale there. And these books will outsell mine. And neither will sell as many in one day as the Pedophile book. Blechhh! I’m going to write like all the readers are dead dead dead, and only the kids who want to know who I was will ever read my books. The malaise has won.

  • Why not just off ourselves based on the rationale that the authors of these books claim to be human.

    Get a grip, guys. These miscreants have nothing to do with you, nor you with them. And the readers who put them in the top 100 are people who are already out there cruising for those books, and not for yours. It’s the stuff of alternate universes, and that’s all it is.

  • Whew! Thanks for that, Eric. I felt myself slipping into darkness.
    How different thibngs look in the light of day.

  • Yeah, I can’t really see somebody on Amazon trying to decide between the pedophile book and anything I’d write.