First WH Smith then all KOBO

First WH Smith then all KOBO

A couple of days ago I wrote about online retailers censoring self-published and indie books, referring to WH Smith / Kobo in the UK. Despite including this picture of the BBC news headline, “Kobo pulls self-published books after abuse row”, I didn’t really appreciate that there were two distinct (though overlapping) aspects to the scandal.

The first part, to do with censorship of erotica, I covered in my previous post. I personally don’t have a problem with restricting books that might be considered inappropriate (or ‘sick’ as one commenter defined them. Although I think these days sick means good, yes? I’m over thirty, I don’t know.)

The other element, that had passed me by, was the fact that Kobo blamed self-published authors for the whole affair. I caught up when I stumbled across the hashtag Kobogeddon on Twitter last night. UK-based author Rayne Hall started the hashtag to bring attention to Kobo’s hypocrisy and back-stabbing actions. Her blog posts on Goodreads here and here explain the full story, for anyone who doesn’t know the details.

#Kobogeddon on Twitter

#Kobogeddon on Twitter

In summary, a UK newspaper pointed out to WH Smith that they had featured books on rape and incest alongside children’s books (I think we can all agree that something had to be done. Perhaps put an 18+ filter on all books containing erotica?). In reaction WH Smith took down their ebook website and their provider, Kobo, took down all UK books. (Not just UK authors, I believe US authors were affected, although their books are still available in the US).

Fine. They had to do something. I’ve worked in PR, I get that. But they only took down self-published books (and ALL of them, not just erotica): any traditionally published erotica is still available for all to see.

That was five days ago. As of now my books are still not available on Kobo, although I understand that books published directly through Kobo are starting to reappear.  Any of you who have read Dragon Wraiths, or Baby Blues & Wedding Shoes, or any one of the Claire installments on this blog that I collate into free books, will know there is nothing racier than a non-explicit sex scene or the occasional snog. Hardly risqué, Kobo.

Yet when I type in “School of” (as suggested by a comment on Rayne Hall’s blog) I get this selection of books (picture below): notice the erotic books School of Spank and School of Discipline alongside the children’s book The Clumsies Make a Mess of the School.

Kobo search results for "School of"

Kobo search results for “School of”

When I look down the list of categories on the left hand side there isn’t even an erotica category listed (although if you click in the book they are labelled as erotica, so the tagging is there).

I have restrictions enabled on my iPad to stop the children coming across things they shouldn’t (including books). Shame it doesn’t seem to work on any of the online retail sites. Smashwords at least has an adult filter, although it seems not all authors are using it. Self-published authors do need to take some responsibility for correctly tagging their books.

But Kobo has got it all wrong. Indie and Self-Published authors are not the only problem. Even if authors are not correctly labelling their books as ‘adult’, it still only represents a proportion of all books. By taking down everything, with no explanation (unless authors are published directly with them) they haven’t just chucked the baby out with the bath water, they’ve thrown the cash cow over a cliff.

Like it or not, self-publishing is part of the future of the book industry and pissing off authors is a really bad idea. I don’t need Kobo. According to my Smashwords stats I haven’t had a single book downloaded from Kobo since the beginning (although I might be in trouble if Barnes and Noble decide they don’t want to publish my books). I have other routes to market. Do they?

Please spread the word, whether you’re in the UK or not. If possible, buy your ebooks from another source. Direct from Smashwords is best. Support your Indie authors! We thank you for it.

30 thoughts on ““Kobogeddon”

  1. After reading this post I wandered over to Amazon.ca (where the majority of e-books seem to be sold out of North America) and tried the “School of” search. It was actually pretty clean, except for one “High School of the Dead” bluray disc with a provocative cover, but since that’s an anime cartoon I can understand where the mistake would be made. Other than that it’s all kids stuff and actual school stuff, and I don’t see any option anywhere to look at erotica, so I don’t know if I’m relieved or confused as to where it all is.

    I agree though, that while things have to be properly organized so that kids don’t come across anything nasty, Kobo obviously went off the deep end with this one and that is not going to look good on them. There are plenty of other e-book publishing options out there, and I’d be willing to bet that a lot of previous Kobo authors are going to make the switch after this nonsense.

    Not that that takes all the blame off of the authors, of course. I’ve noticed when looking into sites like CreateSpace.com that one of the first things you have to do when creating your book is to choose the maturity level and explain your reasons for the level you chose (language, sexual relations, drug use, etc). If authors aren’t doing that part properly for whatever reason, then their books SHOULD be removed until they fix the issue.

  2. Spot on. If you buy something to sell on without actually looking at it it’s YOUR fault if it doesn’t comply with your own standards. Indeed nobody in any other industry would stock a product without sampling it first.

    It is pretty amazing that any site selling books doesn’t have an 18 filter. It should. And yes, I think they will need to get their house in order, going forward.



  3. Nice sum up. This whole fiasco is definitely incentive for self-publishers to get their book through as many channels as possible and not stick to just one. One of my books got taken down (and I’m American), but it’s available at four other places. Not to mention, I’m trying to save up to get some of my books into POD format so that I can start trying to get them into libraries and bookstores. The more ways people can get my book, the less likely things like this are going to affect me. Hopefully.

    • Absolutely. That’s why I love Smashwords – one formatted book pushed out to a dozen places and formats. I also have kindle and createspace, too, and I guess at a push I could sell them from my blog, although I don’t think I’d shift many! Ironically I don’t think I’ve had a single download through Kobo.

      • I’m not sure if I’ve had a download through them or not, either.

        The biggest problem with selling from your blog is visibility. People don’t visit blogs to find books. They go to websites devoted to selling books, or to a bookstore. Unless you have a book that just happens to be found by someone who just happens to love it and just happened to be browsing something other than “free ebooks” when they stumbled on your site, well, yeah. ‘Nuff said. The chances are much higher of actually selling when you have a distributor. Still not great, but better, especially as you generate more content.

        Talking of which, I’d better get back to that. O_O (Darn Internet.)

      • Same here. That’s part of why I’ve backed off of blogging somewhat. Better to write and generate more stories. This means my blog has kind of turned into “news” instead of something a bit more helpful, but I’m okay with that.

  4. The thing is, this outcry, this fight is with all Indie Authors. Kobo cracked under such a small straw and now big publishers are running with this, trying to add another brick to Self-Publishing.

    KOBO should of pulled down the book and work to fix the “problem” but pulling down all books is going to far, its censorship at its worst.

    Thing is setback will come back to harm us, the moment Amazon, Bn or even Itunes change their guidelines it will be the end of Indie.

    This is why authors should look elsewhere, teach Kobo that backing censorship is not the way to go.

    • I don’t think it’s really censorship, in the Kobo’s case, but a lack of proper filtering. I agree, they should have taken down the traditionally published books too, as their problem wasn’t Indies so much as their methods of search and sales distribution. There are too many Indie authors making money for B&N, Amazon etc for them to stop accepting Indie publishers completely, but I think we might see some tightening of the rules.
      The more I think about it, though, the more I believe it’s only censorship if it becomes illegal to write and publish a certain type of book, and we’re a long way off that yet thankfully!

  5. The whole Smiths thing is a shambles. Of course there should have been some kind of search filter. That’s easy to see in hindsight. Kobo and Smiths had to take some kind of action to show customers they were taking action. Knee jerk ones are never sensible, but it’s what we have. They are caught between a rock and a hard place trying to get things fixed. My book of short stories is only available at Kobo, through their Writing Life. They’ve kept their WL people informed and my book was returmed for sale last Thursday. Ones via other portals are taking longer, as they no doubt are dealing with their own indies first. I’m not wound up about it, but that’s probably my therapy training. If it was my sole source of income, of course I’d want to make sure it wasn’t my only outlet, because outlets fail – no matter how big they are. Keep all options open, if writing is your only source of income. That’s only sensible.

    • As with most shambolic disasters I suspect much good may come of it. Indies are more aware of their different sales channels and choices – and the necessity of correctly labelling and tagging their books – and online retailers are more aware of the need for proper filtering. It’s too easy to publish with someone like Smashwords – who push their books out to Sony, B&N, Kobo, iBooks etc – for any self-published author to complain about lack of outlets for their books. Provided they meet the required standards, of course, and that’s good for everybody.

  6. I still worry that my books are listed on iBooks as ‘children’s’ They’re actually for teenagers. Some children will read them and be fine but others might be scared. There’s a punch up and a murder and a particularly nasty scary baddy. I haven’t categorised it as a kids book anywhere it’s just ended up there, presumably because apple doesn’t have a YA category or thinks YA is ‘children’s’

  7. Is that a metaphorical cliff or a fiscal one? Honestly, sounds like a bunch of idiots. Alienating self-published authors is extremely stupid.

    Thank you for letting us know this. I will be certain to avoid Kobo when I’m looking into publishing.

    Uploaded a short story yesterday, To Autumn and it got Freshly Pressed. I didn’t realize how much traffic it brings in, though I’m willing to bet it will be short-lived. It’s nice though, gets several people to see the things I’m writing about.

    I started on Dragon Wraiths, Haven’t had much time this week though, between my course, being freshly pressed, and hours and hours of shopping with my wife. Her shop-’til-you-drop experience is more like until you are comatose. Sometimes I hate the holidays for the shopping, but Christmas comes out nice.

    • Wow congrats on getting Freshly Pressed! I aspire to get there one day, although I can imagine it brings a lot of traffic. Even writing a post linked to a hashtag on Twitter generated a few extra comments and I’m still catching up!
      Don’t stress about Dragon Wraiths, I don’t want it to become a chore! You’re a busy boy.
      P.S. I’ll get hubbie to read your comment – I always tell him he’s a lucky boy that I do all my shopping on the ipad! 🙂

      • My wife has taken to more online shopping (and I am grateful!), but I’m talking about a woman who probably spends nearly a thousand dollar on Christmas yearly!

        I’m not worried about rushing through Dragon Wraiths, but I want to read it.

  8. Of course Kobo were right to delete all my 28 books. One of them contains the word “breast”.
    We couldn’t have such a book available to the public, could we? 🙂

    At the same time, Kobo promotes books like this. I mean, it’s important that children can view this book and read the synopsis, isn’t it? (Caution before following the link. It mayb be disturbing) http://store.kobobooks.com/en-US/ebook/philosophy-in-the-boudoir

    Rayne Hall

  9. Pingback: Et tu, Kobo? Anger and the Cost-benefit Analysis | C h a z z W r i t e s . c o m

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