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For the Second Time in 6 Months, Whitcoulls Shut Down the eBook Section of Their Website

Here’s a whitcoulls-logo1[1]surprising bit of news.

Whitcoulls, Kobo’s leading retail partner in New Zealand, has shut down the ebook section of their website. There’s been no announcement from either Kobo or Whitcoulls, but a check of Google cache Twitter has indicated that this section has been down since at least Friday, 14 March, and it could possibly have been disabled as far back as Wednesday of last week.

Whitcoulls has been a partner to Kobo ever since Kobo launched in late 2009, so I was more than a little surprised when I was told today that Whitcoulls appeared to be walking away from a 4 year old partnership. No explanation has been given, but the warning message which replaced the ebook listings does not inspire confidence that the ebooks will be returning:

goodereader ripped off the digital reader

Please note that there is no mention of a temporary issue; instead the message uses fairly definitive language and says that Whitcoulls "can no longer display the Kobo eBook catalogue". This has lead some, including my source (Thanks, Mick!), to speculate that the ebooks have been permanently removed, but it might be too early to say that for sure.

The last time that Whitcoulls disabled the ebook section of their website was in October 2013, during that whole media frenzy concerning self-published erotica titles. As you might recall, that affair initially started with UK tabloids wringing their hands at the thought of erotica showing up on bookstore websites, with the UK bookseller WHSmith taking the extreme response of shutting down their entire website. The ruckus then spread to other parts of the globe as Kobo yanked indie titles left and right.

Whitcoulls responded to the media frenzy by shutting down their ebookstore. They temporarily replaced it with a message that explained that the ebooks would return shortly. This time around, on the other hand, the message is much more definite and I think we can guess why.

One of the outcomes of the media frenzy last October was the decision on the part of Kobo to filter out certain types of content, mainly the less desirable categories of erotica. I suspect that Kobo was not doing a good enough job in keeping the undesirable content from showing up on the Whitcoulls website, leading Whitcoulls to simply remove the ebooks entirely.

Yes, this is pure speculation, but can you offer a better explanation?

I cannot at this time. Kobo and Whitcoulls have both been contacted on this story, but neither has replied at this time with an explanation or other details.

Should they respond I will update this post.

Thanks, Mick!

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LS March 17, 2014 um 6:55 pm

Great, not again! I’m tired of erotica getting the blame, ebook websites really need a filter to keep the adult titles out of kid sections so strange stuff like this doesn’t happen. Adult filter on/off seems like a much better solution than shutting down the whole store, or even Kobo’s censoring of their erotica section.

Ebook Bargains UK March 19, 2014 um 7:54 am

Adult filters are NOT the solution.

It’s not an issue of "erotica" but rather porn. Hard-core porn. Smashwords is fast becoming an ebook porn store and some of this stuff is filtering through to Kobo (and other retailers) despite Kobo’s presumably best efforts to stop it.

Smashwords has an adult filter, but turn that on and you block all adult titles like thrillers, horror, etc, and of course all erotica, no matter how innocuous.

Turn it off and you get thrust in your face (all new titles published at Smashwords appear automatically on the homepage whether you want to see it or not) the sort of material that we doubt most authors would want their titles alongside, and we can say categorically would be unacceptable in a store like B&N, Waterstone’s or indeed Whitcoulls.

This is not about erotica. This is about porn titles like… Well, the titles alone, let alone the graphic blurbs, are too strong to repeat here.

What follows are links to a just a handful of many thousands of titles we feel have no place in any general ebook store, including Smashwords. And yes, some of these titles have filtered through to Kobo partner stores.

Be warned, clicking on these legitimate links (below) to the Smashwords site will take you to ebook titles and descriptions many will find offensive. In the case of the latter two, involving sex with dogs, horses and goats, these titles would be illegal in the UK.

This is the kind of stuff that caused W H smith to turn their back on indies, and to be honest, who can blame them?

Mark Coker has a policy against bestiality titles, but our last search showed over 500 titles in the Smashwords store. As to the legal porn titles, Mark Coker seems to think the adult filter is all that is needed.

We disagree. We somehow don’t think Paypal would be too impressed either. Nor would Smashwords current and future partner stores. On several occasions we’ve seen titles like these, with the tell-tale "published by Smashwords" statement, on Kobo sites.

Smashwords partner stores need to be able to trust Smashwords to maintain basic standards. A self-policed adult filter is simply not good enough.

A reminder, the following links are legitimate links to Smashwords, but are not pleasant.

L March 20, 2014 um 11:16 pm

I clicked on the above links.

The first three books listed above involve a graphic sexual relationship between two people above the age of consent who are not blood related. Although not my cup of tea, all the relationships in question are technically legal, even if the titles of the books are tasteless.

Although I winced at the next two bestiality titles, it wasn’t long ago that the morality police (ex: Paypal) were trying to tell me that sex between humans and shapeshifters/mythical creatures should be considered bestiality. Pathetic arguments like that have greatly desensitized me to the entire topic. Also, if I remember correctly from the Paypal fiasco, fictional depictions of bestiality are technically legal in North America. I can’t comment on why Smashwords has them up for sale when they said they would not sell books of that topic, you would have to ask them.

As to the adult filter bocking mystery & horror novels: If you are taking the adult filters off to buy the latest serial killer mystery or horror novel, how is graphic violence any better than graphic sex? How is a 10 page description of a serial killer victim being raped & tortured to death any better than a 10 page description of a pervy older guy having consensual legal sex with his babysitter? I would find both horrific, disturbing and distasteful in real life, but fiction is fiction.

As for Paypal, they already had this discussion. They said their new policy "will focus on potentially illegal and obscene IMAGES of rape, bestiality or incest. E-books that are solely text will not fall under this policy. However, books with child pornography themes will still be banned from PayPal payment processing." So, none of the titles above should concern Paypal at all, unless they are picture books.

In my reading experience the term "hard core porn" cannot really be applied to books. I have read romance novels with longer more graphic & descriptive sex in them, than some so called "porn" stories. Traditional book stores carry these extremely descriptive romance/erotica stories proudly on their shelves, a lot of the time they are found in the best seller section. The only difference between good erotica & porn seems to be better & more emotional writing, salesmanship and better taste in covers & titles.

I lost a great deal of respect for Kobo after they pulled books because of the WH Smith fiasco. I found Kobo’s "There are some books we won’t sell" stance hypocritical. They purged their indie section and got rid of some erotica, but continued to make money off of traditional authors like V.C. Andrews, the Marquis de Sade, and Vladimir Nabokov who write the exact same topics.

As an adult with the filters turned off you have the choice to buy the books, or not buy the books. Why should the "adventurous" readers have to limit their reading choices because some buyers are offended? True, the titles should only appear in an adult section of the book store, however if you don’t like it, don’t buy it.

Kobo Loses NZ Partner Whitcoulls, Restores Self-Published eBooks to UK Partner WH Smith – The Digital Reader November 23, 2014 um 5:35 pm

[…] Whitcoulls is no longer a partner.  That retailer stopped carrying Kobo ebooks on its website in March of this year, and at some point in the past 8 months ended its relationship with Kobo. Whitcoulls […]

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