Self-Publishing Honeymoon Over!
Apparently the self-publishing honeymoon is over! At Publishing SOLO, I make it my concern to report the good, the bad, and the ugly of the self publishing industry. I want our readers and authors-in -the-making thoroughly educated when they decide to self-publish. Today I am reporting the ugly side of self publishing…censorship.
The beauty of self-publishing is the ability to skip the manuscript submission process with the resulting rejection letters. This allows for the ability to publish works quickly without the nit-picky screening of major publishing houses. Many publishing houses have turned down best-selling books time and time again; which makes one wonder if they know how to select a good book. (See Top 10 Most Rejected Bestselling Authors).
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Digital Book World day before yesterday, published a comprehensive article by Richard Stephenson on the subject of censorship in self-publishing. See what Richard has to say about the ugly dark side of self publishing:
It all seemed so sweet; anybody can get their book published on Kobo or Amazon without having to endure a zillion rejections from picky publishers, and what’s more they can pocket the lion’s share of the sale. What could be more liberating? But like everything on the net, there is always a dark side. As Amazon and Barnes & Noble scramble to remove titles listed by the technology news site The Kernel, the books and magazine retailer W H Smiths in the UK has shut down their entire website to block access and their notice states they will not be displaying any self-published books when it returns until they can be entirely satisfied with the content. So what are the implications of this sudden turn of events and why has it suddenly arisen?
This is a tough moment for online retailers of content because by removing books from sale they clearly admit that this content is unsuitable or breaks laws. Unlike the agency model pioneered by Apple and shot down by the US Justice department, the sales contract lies between the consumer and the seller and therefore there is a real prospect that retailers have liability, but this is for a lawyer to argue.
Questions will be asked again about what controls existed to prevent these books getting into their catalogue. Designing sites with a freedom to publish comes with a responsibility to design in as many safeguards as possible. However, it is simply not practicable for every self-published text to be read before publication without massively slowing down growth and adding to cost. Events suggest that the balance has gone awry and moreover it may not be so simple to fix.
Age verification is very difficult to police and particularly on large aggregator sites such as Amazon or Kobo with millions of books available in all genres. These identified poisonous writings can turn up in search results made by children and are not secured behind a gated area as they have not been identified by the systems as harmful. This is site architecture and safeguards and not a simple patch, and so it seems that W H Smith saw the only responsible option was to shut down.
No sane person wants to act as a censor to free speech so are we now expecting Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo and others to become censors and judge what is acceptable? These are international sites that cross cultural, legal and religious borders where sensitivities are all different. Of course publishers conducted this work before books reached the retailers, but there is no one to do this with self-publishers, and we now see the result. (See More)
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