W H Smith in offensive e-books row

W H Smith in offensive e-books row

Kobo has said pornographic e-book material appeared alongside children’s literature on the W H Smith website as a result of “a select group of publishers and authors violating the self-publishing policies of our platform".

Explicit content was found to appear alongside children’s stories when a search for "daddy" was typed into the W H Smith website search engine for e-books, in a story broken by the Mail on Sunday yesterday (13th October).

W H Smith has taken its website offline while the e-books are being removed, to “best protect our customers and the public”. The retailer said: “This is an industry-wide issue impacting retailers that sell self-published e-books due to the explosion of self publishing.”

This morning, Kobo - which provides e-books to WHS - issued a statement saying it was “working quickly to review its catalogue and remove the content, authors and publishers in question”. The company added: “We are also evaluating new procedures to help ensure that this type of content will not become available on Kobo's site, or those of our partners in the future. This unfortunate situation is the result of a select group of publishers and authors violating the self-publishing policies of our platform. These titles will be removed and we will address the individuals in question directly.” Kobo will provide an update on further steps it is taking by 10am tomorrow (15th October), it said.

A holding message on the W H Smith website said the retailer “sincerely apologised for any offence caused” by the explicit e-book content appearing alongside children’s books.

It said: “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 e-books 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 them.”

The retailer added that the vast number of self-published e-book titles available meant “a number of these titles have got through the screening process".

There is currently no indication of when the W H Smith website would go live again. “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,” the retailer said.  

Amazon, Waterstones and Barnes & Noble were also been said by the Mail on Sunday to be stocking pornographic titles. However, this has been denied by the retailers, with Waterstones pointing out that it does not sell self-published e-book titles online. The retailer added it took its central database feed from Nielsen. “None of the e-books mentioned in current reporting are now or ever have been available in Waterstones shops or listed on the Waterstones website," said a spokesperson. 

Meanwhile Amazon told the Mail on Sunday that specific offending titles listed on the WHS website were not available on Amazon.co.uk. The Bookseller has asked them for a further comment and is awaiting a response.

John Whittingdale, chairman of the Commons Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee, said it was “unacceptable” to see sick books on sale online.

He added: “It’s disgusting that W H Smith, one of the most respected retailers, sells hardcore porn alongside children’s books. Retailers have a responsibility to families and it is unacceptable that anyone could access this material within a click of a mouse.”