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Kobo: There Are Some Books We Won’t Sell

Kobokobo itunes ios logo is still trying to make up for their purge of self-published ebooks a couple weeks ago, and on Friday Michael Tamblyn sent out an email to Kobo Writing Life authors.

As you probably recall, "news" broke a couple weeks that Amazon, B&N, and Kobo (Google somehow managed to escape scrutiny) were selling adult content, including thinly disguised rape and incest erotica (and some not so thinly disguised).

Amazon and B&N responded by purging their erotica titles based on keyword searches (including babysitter, teen, and other innocuous words), while Kobo chose to remove titles with wild abandon, extending their purge far beyond the erotica section to include even nonfiction titles like David Guaghran’s guides for indie authors as well as all 7800 titles distributed by Draft2Digital and quite a few titles distributed via Smashwords.

Kobo is still feeling the afte affects of their over response, and the following email  was sent out on Friday. In the email Michael Tamblyn explains that, when it comes to certain types of erotica, authors are more than welcome to write them but Kobo doesn’t "feel compelled to sell them":

As you may be aware, in the face of some fairly intense media scrutiny, we launched a major review of the books we offer for sale to make sure they comply with our content policy on offensive material. We cast a wide net across our catalogue that included genres and books coming from self-published authors, aggregators, and publishers, and we quarantined many of these while we conducted the review which made them unavailable in the UK during that time. The review had to happen fast, and we didn’t enjoy it, but with our esteemed 300-year-old retail partner on the front page of major newspapers and some content clearly in violation of our posted standards, we needed to move quickly. Almost everyone on the Kobo Content Team, spread across a dozen countries and time zones, was involved at one point or another. The urgency was driven by our desire to make sure we were running a store that met our own expectations and equally by the need to get our authors back up and available for sale again in the UK as fast as possible.

The good news is that the vast majority of self-published Kobo Writing Life titles are once again available on in the UK, with most authors experiencing a gap of only a few days before their books were once again in the catalogue. As well, we have been working closely with our self-publishing aggregation partners. Most of their titles are once again available in the UK or will be in the coming hours. If your book is still unavailable and you think it shouldn’t be, send a message to [email protected] and the team will get on it.

For those few titles that remain unavailable, some feel that we chose a path of censorship. All I can say is that if your dream is to publish “barely legal” erotica or exploitative rape fantasies, distribution is probably going to be a struggle for you. We aren’t saying you can’t write them. But we don’t feel compelled to sell them. And yes, many titles live in a grey zone with far more shades than the fifty that sold so well in the past year, but that is what makes this all so challenging and so interesting. Many of our readers have no problem with an erotic title in their library next to their romance, literary fiction, investing or high-energy physics books. And we are here for the readers, so erotica stays, a small but interesting part of a multi-million-title catalogue, in all of its grey-shaded glory. My thanks go out to Mark Lefebvre and the whole Kobo Writing Life team and to all of our authors who have been so supportive and understanding in the past two weeks. We will continue to work on reviewing processes and author education about what we can take and what we can’t. It will never be perfect, but our belief continues to be that if we focus on readers and growing our business around them, we will get it right much more often than not.




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SteveH October 28, 2013 um 12:33 pm

Kobo: " to all of our authors who have been so supportive"
WTF are they smoking?? They yank all our non-erotica/non-fiction titles for THREE days plus (i.e. lost revenues) AND then don’t even say "Sorry, we may have over-reacted". Lame.

Jason October 28, 2013 um 12:39 pm

I suppose reading is healthy even if it is smut.

Ralph Hummel October 28, 2013 um 1:36 pm

The Pitfalls of self-publishing show up here. As far as I am concerned there are two coins to the story.
1. Any self-published title relies on accurate reporting of content when submitted to a retail site. Now we all know that some authors may not report 100% correctly about their content. With the sheer mass of self-published titles it is just not feasible for the retailers to screen (i.e. read) every self-pub in order to ascertain that the titles are in conformity with their respective rules.
2. Not self-pubbed titels usually go through a chain of people, not the least the editor and marketing people that are "trusted" professionals to report accurately on content to vendors. Of course they are a barrier to publication.

I just wonder if this whole issue would not have happened if some (i.e minority) of self-pub authors had respected the different vendor sites policies prior to uploading titles for sale. But then again, there is maybe money a little easier to be made with writing and self-pubbing than going down the "traditional" route. So I guess it is human if said self-pubbers "turn a blind eye" to rules that would stand in their way of publication glory.

My 2 cents

LS October 30, 2013 um 11:33 pm

Many traditionally published bestselling books break Kobo’s content rules, but Kobo has no concerns over selling them & making a tidy profit. Kobo’s never mentioned violent content rules alone would take out all of their mystery & thriller inventory. Blaming Kobo’s hypocracy in this matter on the self publishers ignoring policy is unrealistic, since the big publishers ignore policy all the time. Kobo is quite happy to sell Marquis de Sade, Lolita & V.C. Andrews for instance.

The entire library of Changling Press books are now banned from Kobo, and Changeling Press already have their own publishing guidelines that prevent the content that Kobo is pulling. So why are they now banned from selling on Kobo?

None of this fiasco makes any sense to me, so I think I’ll just go shop elsewhere for now.

Ana October 28, 2013 um 7:33 pm

As some have reported, the main problem isn’t the erotic/pornographic book titles, the problem is the lame filters bookstores (beginning with kobo) have implemented in their searches, and they have just realized…
Searching from your PC in kobo bookstore is not great, but at least it’s kind of accurate (more or less). But I own a kobo mini, and using the reader to search a title was a complete nightmare, for example, using the complete author name Name + Surname (Rosa Montero) was received with a search using only the name, and erotic titles appeared within the first two pages of my search, and no book of the author of my search. I have a Spanish account configured in the kobo mini, but the books that appeared where mainly in english, I suppose from the USA store. THAT is the real problem, not the number of erotic titles in self-published books.

Jedrek October 29, 2013 um 8:24 am

It is a shame that they "chose a path of censorship". Why all the erotica books have not been moved to "Erotica" catalog? Why removing them all? If they are going to censor erotica they probably will censor other titles, too like: racist books (in Kobo opinion), politically incorrect books…? I like erotica and if Kobo is not going to sell them I will not buy any ebooks from them anymore. There are many uncensored and more reader-friendly bookstores. Bye Kobo!

SteveH October 29, 2013 um 1:34 pm

Yes, search results quality AND inadvertant 'adult' titles appearing in search results is an issue for all the online stores, even the best – Amazon.
I’ve often searched for kids books with very generic terms and gotten tons of smutty books in results that make no sense at all. The solution is really simple, just implement a database flag for all erotica/adult-oriented titles that can be switched off by default for family/underage users. Google has this already, called "SafeSearch". Just like video rental stores that used to place adult titles behind a curtained-off area.
Let anyone publish it, but just segregate it to an area where my kids won’t see them when they search for a Dr. Seuss book ok!

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Silvana July 7, 2022 um 9:57 am

I understand removing the books in question. The way our world is moving we are not given any option of our own, we are told how to think, how to speak and now we are told on what to read. Give me a break. Reading helps me with all the bullshit we are seeing everyday in and around the world. Now you want to change that too. when is this going to end!! Enough is Enough

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