BA decides against industry initiative on offensive e-books

BA decides against industry initiative on offensive e-books

The Booksellers Association has decided not to create an industry initiative around pornographic e-books in the wake of last month’s e-book scandal, placing the onus for tackling the problem back on e-book aggregators.

Last month several e-book retail sites including Kobo, Amazon and Nook were found to be selling self-published titles containing explicit and offensive material such as incest and bestiality, with the BA saying it would “urgently” consider whether an industry initiative could be devised to prevent the furore occurring again.

W H Smith’s website was closed down for four days during the process while its e-book fulfillment partner Kobo filtered offensive e-book content from the site.

Following a BA Council meeting, Sydney Davies, BA head of trade and industry, said: “The BA Council has considered whether there is any way an industry initiative might be devised to vet content in self-published titles for pornographic material. The council concluded that this is primarily an issue for e-book aggregators. The BA therefore suggests that booksellers who sell e-books should consider contacting their e-book supplier to ask that they take steps to ensure that booksellers are not unknowingly making available content from their platforms which violates their content policy.

"In addition, the bookseller should have an opportunity to direct the supplier to filter out any titles that they would not personally wish to sell to the public.”

The National Book Tokens e-book site The Indie e-Book Shop, a sister business of the BA, has reviewed its range of e-book titles as a result of last month’s exposé by a national newspaper and decided that “as a result a small number of titles have been removed”, Davies said.

He added that the BA had been satisfied by the action Kobo had taken to remove explicit content, review its policies and procedures and introduce safeguards to “do everything possible to ensure that this situation does not happen in the future".

Kobo has published a new content policy, making it clear that pornography, paedophilia, incest, bestiality, child pornography and hateful or violent content are not self-published onto its Writing Life authors platform.

Last month, a spokesperson for Kobo told The Bookseller the company wanted to “protect the reputation of self-publishing as a whole".

Robert Sharp, head of campaigns and communications at English PEN, also warned companies should be mindful of protecting the freedom of expression when finalising their policies. “We need to remember that great literature is very often ‘offensive’, and that alone should never be the trigger for suppressing books.

"If the Kobo/W H Smith collaboration had existed in the mid-20th century, then Lady Chatterley’s Lover or Lolita would have caused similar presentational offence. Fifty Shades of Grey was originally a self-published novel, so it's only by luck of recent history that E L James’ books were not removed from sale in a similar manner,” he said.