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Kobo Responds to Complaints About Deletion of Self-Pub Titles

Kobokobo writing life has finally shared a partial explanation for why they removed self-published titles from their ebookstore. It may have taken them well over 48 hours to respond, and their explanation leaves many questions unanswered, but at least we now have something solid to go on:

To our Kobo Writing Life and self-publishing partners:

As you may be aware, there has been a significant amount of negative media attention in the UK regarding offensive material that became available across a number of eBook platforms. Kobo was included in the reports from media and we are taking immediate action to resolve an issue that is the direct result of a select few authors and publishers violating Kobo’s content policies.

In order to address the situation Kobo is taking the following steps:

1.       We are removing titles in question from the Kobo platform.

2.       We are quarantining and reviewing titles to ensure that compliance to our policies is met by all authors and publishers. We will ensure that content meeting the policy is made available online as soon as possible.

3.       We are reviewing our policies and procedures to implement safeguards that will ensure this situation does not happen in the future.

We are working hard to get back to business as usual, as quickly as possible. We appreciate your patience and understanding in this matter.

Our goal at Kobo is not to censor material; we support freedom of expression. Further, we want to protect the reputation of self-publishing as a whole. You have our promise that we will do all we can to ensure the exceptions that have caused this current situation will not have a lasting effect on what is an exciting new channel that connects Readers to a wealth of books.

That’s a very nice response, but unfortunately it also misleading. This email would have you believe that they only removed erotica and that is simply not true. As I reported earlier today, Kobo also removed numerous other titles from other genres. They have yet to explain why they did this or even tell authors that the titles had been removed.

I don’t suppose we will ever receive a complete explanation, but at least with this email we have good reason to believe that Kobo will restore the ebooks they erroneously removed.


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Kobo Now Removing All(?) Self-Published Titles From Their UK eBookstore – The Digital Reader October 14, 2013 um 11:16 pm

[…] Kobo has sent out an email to KWL authors with a partial explanation. They do not explain the removal of the Smashwords titles […]

Brenna Lyons October 15, 2013 um 6:51 am

The whole thing is stupidity…this and the Amazon problems we have as well. For every complaint they have about indie-published or self-published titles, I can point out conglomerate books with the same content, but there’s no big push to stop those from selling. Being self-published does NOT necessarily make a book bad or even suspect. A fair number of self-published titles are put out by seasoned authors, and many of those are actually re-releases of books that have been through a publisher before. Rights return and, rather than seeking another publisher, the authors choose to re-release in self-publishing. I’ve done it with a handful of my own titles, though most go back to a second publisher instead.

Moreover, it floors me that ARe/OmniLit have a setup that does several things: identifies erotic romance and erotica content by way of genre-typing, identifies common problem contents in books by way of a warning system (abuse topics, dubious/non-consent, etc.), AND identifies books with over the top covers. Those books cannot be viewed in the store unless the customer is signed into a verified account (so no browsing kids see those titles on the fly). Why does this floor me? Because a company that is "supposedly" advanced like Kobo is…or Amazon for that matter…or Smashwords AND that sells a full range of books from children’s to erotic hasn’t figured out how to separate their books as effectively as ARe/OmniLit has.

Kobo también elimina eBooks autopublicados con contenido inapropiado October 15, 2013 um 4:27 am

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David Gaughran October 15, 2013 um 6:21 am

Kobo may restore the titles, but WH Smith may not. Their statement said they were closing their ebookstore until all self-published titles were removed. The madness has spread to New Zealand, where Kobo’s local partner Whitcoulls has taken the same measures:

Even if my titles and all the other self-pub titles are restored promptly, I have lost a huge amount of respect for Kobo. This was a crazy over-reaction to a tabloid famous for it’s clickbait antics. Personally, I’ve learned two things. 1. Never buy a Kobo reader. 2. Don’t bother trying to build up the Kobo side of my business.

fjtorres October 15, 2013 um 7:18 am

Being nasty-minded, I have to wonder just how big a part of their business ebooks in general and indie books in particular constitute. This kind of dismissal suggests that in weighing PR value vs cold cash, the cash was too easily dismissed.
In the UK, Amazon is supposed to command about 80 percent of ebook sales with the rest competed by Sony, Apple, Google, and the local generics. That suggests that WH Smith’s indie revenue (if their deal is like the one Kobo offers their ABA partners in the US) is miniscule and thus easily dismissed, no?
I’m thinking that even 25% (indie revenue) of 6% (commission) of maybe 5% of the UK ebook business (£300m?) barely registers compared to the tradpub pbook revenue. It might not even justify the cost of weeding out the "objectionable" titles. Economically speaking, going all-BPH might actually make sense, given their business model.
As for ripples, the fallout will spread, I fear. The Tolino partners will bear watching.

David Gaughran October 15, 2013 um 7:24 am

It probably is miniscule. I think Kobo recently said that indies had grabbed about 10% of unit sales globally. I would naturally assume that number is lower on partner sites than on the Kobo site itself, and that, of course, the share of revenue would be a good deal lower than the share of unit sales.

That puts Kobo well behind Nook (where indies have about 25% of unit sales) and Amazon (where I estimate it at 35%+).

Kobo pretty much were going all BPH anyway. Since the store redesign, it’s quite clear that corporate policy is to give all visibility over to co-op (which is exclusively sold to large publishers) instead of the more organic meritocracy on somewhere like Amazon. The new store is like walking into a bookshop which is exclusively comprised of front tables. Or, in other words, a doubling down of the failed web strategy of B&N.

fjtorres October 15, 2013 um 9:09 am

Their business model of partnering with local B&M retailers exposes them to a lot of traditionalist pressure to start with and once you factor in the lower unit prices of indie titles and the shared commissions there is bound to be a large bias against indies among their partners.
One thing we learned from the conspiracy trial is that Amazon’s commitment to indies is strategic–a large healthy indie sector is indispensable to their efforts to fight BPH collusion–and not just a me-too PR checklist item.

Amazon’s official policy of marginalizing erotica may be heavy-handed but at least there is no chance of them marginalizing, much less dropping, indie titles moving forward. I’m thinking Kobo is most likely going to fork their ebookstore catalog, keeping indies away from their co-branded websites.
Unless the internet petitions make them rethink.
Which I doubt.
(This is the perfect time for them to setup a quid pro quo with the traditionalists.)

Einar October 15, 2013 um 7:59 am

2. We are quarantining and reviewing titles to ensure that compliance to our policies is met by all authors and publishers. We will ensure that content meeting the policy is made available online as soon as possible.

That is why all books are gone, not only erotica. Quarantining.

Pornografie bei Kobo und Amazon: Brauchen wir eine Vorzensur? » Debatte » October 15, 2013 um 8:12 am

[…] ebenfalls großflächig Titel aus dem Programm genommen. Erst gut 48 Stunden nach der Löschaktion meldete sich der Leiter des Selfpublishing-Arms „Kobo Writing Life“, Mark Lefebvre, bei den Autoren der Plattform: „Wir haben unverzüglich […]

Orna Ross (@OrnaRoss) October 15, 2013 um 10:15 am

The category to "quarantine" (if you must) is erotica/pornography, whether trade or self-published, not books by self-published authors.

kurt October 15, 2013 um 12:31 pm

who gets to decide what is offensive?

Nate Hoffelder October 15, 2013 um 1:21 pm

Those who make the biggest spectacle.

David October 16, 2013 um 11:55 am

Those who are deciding what to stock on their shelves.

Michael McBride October 15, 2013 um 4:16 pm

"Our goal at Kobo is not to censor material"

Isn’t this the exact solution all the online retailers are implementing? Talk about a knee-jerk reaction. And have they read any grocery store checkout-line soft-porn romance novels lately? Jeez! Kids today need only Google any number of female body parts and be instantly rewarded with a wealth of "visual" pornography. Why does anyone worry about erotic books? At least they’d be reading.

Greg Strandberg October 15, 2013 um 11:16 pm

It’s kind of funny, too, because I’m pretty sure Kobo was just doing a BIG marketing push. I mean, was I the only one getting a lot extra Kobo emails lately?

I wonder if they called Amazon and asked for advice. People have been complaining how Amazon’s been handling 'risky' titles lately, but obviously they go about it in a much better way than Kobo.

Still, I imagine a lot of people are going to be hurt by this, and the damage could go on for months. Even if they get those books back up there you know their policies and procedures will be different. This will probably go for category rankings and other things that previously contributed to author sales. Real bummer!

Kobo's Purge of Self-Pub eBooks has Spread to New Zealand, Australia – The Digital Reader October 16, 2013 um 9:29 am

[…] promised yesterday that they would eventually restore most of the titles they purged, but they have not explained why […]

M T McGuire October 16, 2013 um 9:31 am

"We are quarantining and reviewing titles to ensure that compliance to our policies is met by all authors and publishers. We will ensure that content meeting the policy is made available online as soon as possible."

There is no qualifier in front of the word 'titles' here which suggests they can, and will, review any they see fit. Presumably, going forward, they’d have an adult section, there being a huge demand for such books and it being where the money lies… apparently… I wouldn’t know my books have all gone but I write sci-fi.

Em Taylor October 16, 2013 um 12:21 pm

Despite their over-reaction and bad handling of the whole affair, they still have not dealt with the problem that caused this. It was caused by them not having a filtering system in place so that you could do a "clean" search. Most other outlets and search engines have this inbuilt.

At 3pm today I put "School of Venus" into a search on the UK Kobo site and still got a mix of kids and erotica books showing. When I did the same on Smashwords, with their default filter on, I got only books that I would be willing to let my kids leaf through in a books store.

This is gross negligence on the part of kobo.

Here were my results

Greg Strandberg October 16, 2013 um 2:22 pm

Well, how much longer does Kobo have then? If they don’t even have the policies and procedures in place to stop this, well, that’s incompetence.

Japan, Canada, those Australia and NZ markets…I just don’t see those countries' use of this device justifying it’s continued existence. It’ll be bought out in 18 months and rolled into an existing company’s product line, 3 years later it’ll be discontinued entirely.

Patrick October 16, 2013 um 11:08 pm

It will remain a steady seller as an eBook reader. The store, however…who knows? I still think the Kobo is the default ereader but that’s because its open source, I can buy my books from everywhere and read them on it, with the help of some DRM stripping tech.

Nate Hoffelder October 19, 2013 um 5:15 pm

You can’t use a Kobo device without registering it first, so I do not think they count as open source.

fjtorres October 19, 2013 um 6:31 pm

To qualify as an open *source* reader Kobo would have to publish the source code of their firmware. And since chunks of it are licensed from Adobe, they can’t.
Open source readers exist but they are hacker projects, not commercial ventures.
Being interoperable with generic Adobe ebookstores does not make a reader in any way particularly open.
(Lock-in to Adobe is no different than Lock-in to Apple or Amazon. )

Nate Hoffelder October 19, 2013 um 10:24 pm

I was under the impression that he meant open as in "reads Epub purchased from other ebookstores". I would give Kobo credit for that if not for their ridiculous registration requirements.

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