The latest Amazon flap

>> Thursday, November 11, 2010

The book world is abuzz this morning with word that Amazon is (or was) selling a book for the Kindle called "The Pedophile's Guide to Love and Pleasure," which purported, according to its author, to be "an attempt to make pedophile situations safer for those juveniles ... by establishing certain rules for these adults to follow."

Cue Internet firestorm.

Amazon has already taken down the listing for the book, but some are arguing that it's a case of freedom of speech versus censorship. But is it? The thing we must remember--and that Amazon must remember--is that they are not obligated in any way to carry every book ever produced. Brick and mortar stores have been making decisions like this for ages--you'd never find such a book in any respectable independent bookstore, or any chain for that matter. Because brick and mortar stores *can't* carry every book every produced, and they are already used to deciding which books they will carry and which are inappropriate or unsellable in their stores.

Amazon, in theory, can sell every book ever written. And they've prided themselves on that, trumpeting the fact that any and every book, no matter how niche, has a place there. It's the long tail business model, and the Internet has allowed them to be successful at it.

But there is such a thing as being a responsible retail outlet, and Amazon is learning that. Many people think Apple goes the completely WRONG way on this. They have a very aggressive screening process for books available on their apps, going so far as to prevent a graphic novel adaptation of James Joyce's Ulysses from being sold, for example, because it contains a scene of a naked man jumping into the water.

To be fair, Amazon is on the proverbial "slippery slope" here. Once they decide to remove this book (as I think they should), why shouldn't they remove other books people believe to be pornographic or dangerous? How will they decide?

Part of the firestorm arose when television media began taking the standard "we don't remove books just because you don't like them" automatic a-mail response people were getting when they complained and crowed that Amazon was an insensitive media giant. Of course, the higher ups don't review every challenge--can you *image* the number of challenges Amazon must get every day?--but very quickly the protests made it up the chain, and now it's being dealt with by someone other than the customer service phone rep earning ten dollars an hour.

And what about the first amendment here? The fact is, the author of this work has a right to produce it under the First Amendment, but Amazon is NOT obligated to carry it. Businesses may make their own decisions, and the decision here, once they become away of what the book is, should be not to sell it.

I have this argument with our local paper all the time. They print the most hateful, unfounded letters to the editor, and when I complain to the publisher (whom I know personally; it's a small town) he argues that it's the letter authors' first amendment right to free speech. I agree with him that these lunatics are entitled to their opinion, and it's their right to go down on the street corner and scream their polemics to whoever will listen, but I disagree that he is obligated to print it. He's *choosing* to print those letters, which is why I no longer subscribe.

And all this is yet another good reason (if you didn't have enough already) to shop your local indie bookstore instead!


Jess of All Trades November 11, 2010 at 8:51 PM  

Since I haven't read the book I can't say Much, but I would say responsibility begins when one is discussing a federal crime. I would say that a book supporting any form of illegal activity probably should not be earning someone royalties.

But that's just one gal's opinion.

Alan Gratz November 12, 2010 at 12:56 AM  

That's an interesting way of looking at it. Wendi and I were talking tonight about The Anarchist's Cookbook. Do you keep a book like that off shelves because it could be used by a terrorist? Or are we pulling a 1984/Thoughtcrime thing, and arresting people for *thinking* about things that are crimes?

I'm asking because it's a difficult thing, not because I feel like I have the answer. But Wendi brought up the same point as you--when it discusses how to commit a federal crime, maybe that's a line we just don't want to cross.

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