Just as e-books mean anyone with an internet connection has the world's biggest library to hand, they also mean anyone with a word processor can be an author. Some of the big e-book outlets have self-publishing programs that circumvent the traditional channels, so you can simply share your story and let readers judge you, instead of banking on a publishing house giving you a shot. A great idea in theory, but as some e-book retailers are discovering, not without its faults. As the BBC reports, e-book vendors including Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo and others are scrambling to remove certain kinds of erotica (twisted stuff featuring abuse, rape, etc.) from their stores. Several recent articles by The Kernel highlighted the availability of such material, and questioned the ethics of retailers profiting from it. Another issue brought to public attention is how the content had been indexed -- it was easily discoverable using seemingly harmless search criteria.
While Amazon and B&N are said to be removing titles deemed inappropriate from their sites, Kobo has temporarily closed its e-book store while it scours the virtual shelves and attempts to "protect the reputation of self-publishing." As you'd expect, all the merchants mentioned have guidelines prohibiting the publication of offensive texts (call it public interest censorship), and yet have launched reactionary measures following recent reports. With self-publishing programs in their infancy, it appears approval systems aren't yet developed enough to automatically flag content that breaches those policies. Despite this rather major hiccup, we're sure many would agree that self-publishing is a sound concept -- there are just a few kinks in the execution department that need ironing out. In light of this controversy, perhaps it's time for e-book stores to start acting a bit more like real publishers.