Our response to Kobo's decisions

If you do nothing wrong, you have nothing to fear

I always held that this was one of the scariest phrases ever uttered. People use it to justify everything that really we should see as being at least a little dodgy.

My reaction to hearing that phrase is generally ‘yeah, right’ – and never more so than this week, though from a different angle than I had anticipated.

This week, Kobo suspended all UK trading of ebooks after hardcore porn was found listed for sale alongside children’s titles on the WH Smith site. In this article on The Guardian website, Kobo was quoted as saying, "When this issue arose in the UK, we felt it necessary first, to immediately remove the titles highlighted, and second, to comprehensively review all self-published titles in our catalogue to ensure that everything on the Kobo store meets our content policy."

The internet has, of course, exploded about freedom of speech and censorship – and rightly so. There has been a petition launched which, at the time of my writing this, has 14,126 signatures. I would highly recommend checking out this blog post by Dalia Daudelin which covers a lot of the issues.

We have been affected by this, along with a whole lot – if not most – other indie authors. This is the point at which I come back to my original comment – because The Dreamwalker is about as far from ‘erotica’ as we can get. Hell, whilst the book is aimed firmly at young adults, our youngest reader is 10 years old and the book has been firmly and wholeheartedly approved by his mother. The nearest it gets to ‘sex’ is a light kiss, and there may be three, possibly four mild swearwords in it. Nothing in the summary, on the cover, or in the text itself suggests that it could be mistaken for anything even slightly ‘dodgy’.

We have done nothing wrong, and yet we have been tarred by the same brush as those other indie authors who published hard-core porn, simply because we chose the same method of publishing. Because it seems that it is the ‘self-publishing’ that is being targeted here, rather than the ‘porn’ aspect – given that traditionally published porn is still available for sale on Kobo.

Regardless of the result of this episode, the loss of trust is inevitable. Kobo dealt with this entire matter very poorly. From what I can see this is technical issue, and as such the blame lies squarely with kobo. Kobo is a technology firm first and foremost. They make e-book readers and the software that handles reading and publishing e-books. With all this technical expertise could they not have invested time and resources in ensuring a comprehensive tagging and indexing system was put in place? Could books not be automatically scanned for keywords of an overtly sexual nature and then be raised for human review?

We have thought long and hard about our reaction to this. What would be appropriate and what we feel is the right thing to do. As a result we have taken the decision that we are pulling our book from Kobo and will not publish through them in the future. Anyone who wants to buy our book for their Kobo, we would suggest that you do so from Smashwords.

We doubt very much that the loss of a single title from an entire online store will make much of a financial impact on Kobo, yet we cannot let this pass without taking action. The treatment of indie authors has been unwarranted and unfair. We have no wish to associate with an organisation which would treat authors in this way. We are hopeful that, regardless of the financial impact of our decision, this move – and those of other indie authors who may come to a similar decision – will be noted by Kobo and other ebook outlets.

We hope that this kind of thing will never happen again.

We hope you understand and support this decision.