Self-Publishing and Censorship: A Brief Discussion

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In case you haven’t noticed, censorship has become a big hot-button issue in the self-publishing world. First The Kernel, a tech tabloid in the UK, a tabloid in the UK, published an article slamming self-publishing platform Kobo and their British partner company, WH Smith, for allowing obscene materials to be produced and sold on their websites. Then The Daily Mail, an even bigger UK tabloid, then picked up the story from there with their own article on the subject. While both The Kernal and The Dailly Mail are widely regarded as being interested only in “clickbait,” or producing eye-catching and often controversial headlines that encourage people to read on so that the publication can make money from the incoming web traffic, the damage was still done.

To combat the negative press, Kobo went about scrubbing its self-published materials for anything that supposedly depicted offensive content which included incest, rape, and/or bestiality. WH Smith even shut down its entire website while searching for such content, and Amazon and Barnes and Noble are also said to be quietly removing offending works in the hopes that their previous presence on these sites would go forgotten. Of course, The Kernel, not to be outdone, recently also published an exposé linking Amazon to scores of self-published books that deny the Holocaust — even in countries where Holocaust denial is technically illegal.

The end result? According to writer David Gaughran, “it’s quite clear that most books removed [from WH Smith] don’t have any erotic content and are written by authors who haven’t published any erotic content.” Furthermore, “Kobo claim that removed titles which haven’t broken the rules, will be put back on sale ‘as soon as possible’ – but no timetable was given.” In other words, in Kobo’s zeal to remove what The Daily Mail and The Kernel had deemed offensive, they also did away with a lot of perfectly acceptable books for no reason.

So what can we take away from this? Regardless of your thoughts on the potential harm that overly prurient material might cause, it’s clear that many self-publishing platforms have yet to take a serious look at their guidelines for the content that gets published on their websites — which is concerning, to say the least. It also means that when you sign an agreement to publish your work on the Amazon Kindle publishing space, you also run the risk of having your work unexpectedly taken down at Amazon’s discretion, so you need to be absolutely certain that you’re willing to take that kind of risk and give up some of your rights as a creator in order to make publishing an easier process. Otherwise, you can always go the more difficult and time-consuming route of creating your own PDFs and physical book copies entirely by yourself — which many authors do, of course!

Do you know anyone who’s been affected by this recent crackdown, or do you have any questions or concerns about whether or not your book is safe from censorship? Let us know in the comments below!

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One thought on “Self-Publishing and Censorship: A Brief Discussion

  1. I self published my first book, The First Time in December 2012. The story deals with a young graduate, Becky who enters the world of prostitution as an escort in order to clear her debts. The story looks at the emotional effects of this decision on Becky and is not intended to be erotic. However given the current moral panic I do worry whether The First Time might be targetted and removed.

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