Or “Riding towards Kobogeddon.”
The Twitterverse is all aflutter with the latest screw-up from across the pond. Rayne Hall, the first horseman of the TradPubocalypse has been sounding the horns over W.H. Smith and Kobo’s recent dumping of every indie author from their shelves — virtual and otherwise. If you’re curious to get caught up quickly, the tag #kobogeddon should get you started. Or you could just keep reading.
So, what kicked off this kerfuffle? Apparently, the webmonkeys at W.H. Smith and Kobo are too busy playing around to code filters and search-check results. They could be relying on the ancient “show all keyword matches” method that ceased being effective sometime back in the mid-1990s. So, if you had a book that had the word “Daddy” in the title, their search engine would show it in the results page for any search involving that word.
Even if it was clear that the book in question was part of a genre called erotica.
So, chances are that someone’s kid found an erotica title while searching innocuous keywords. It happens. While I don’t write or read erotica myself, I know that it exists. I’ve known that it existed since I was a teenager. Used to be that it was treated a lot like porn magazines and movies and kept tucked safely away where kids couldn’t come across but those who wanted to get at it could do so. Stores generally wouldn’t sell erotica titles (though one could argue that the entire freaking romance genre is just “erotica acceptable to middle class housewives”) but, if you really wanted to find the stuff, a trip to your local adult bookstore would net you some results. You could also order it via mail. Advertisements in certain kinds of magazines told those who wanted to know where to go to get their fix.
So, a kid or something finds one of these rather disgusting books and their parents get their knickers all in a twist. Complaints are made, cries about the collapse of civilization because someone wrote erotica that would fit comfortably in Genesis (like, oh say, Lot’s daughters, perhaps?) and W.H. Smith pulls down their website. Okay, so far, so good. After all, if you come across a book that is offensive during a common keyword search, you should let the site owner know so that they can tweak their search engine results or their user-controlled search filtering/browsing preferences so that erotica is only found by people who honestly want to buy the stuff and not by kids or people who would like to pretend that the dark side of humanity doesn’t exist.
However, instead of, you know, filtering their site better and going over to ensure that keywords return better results and possibly kicking off authors who purposefully mis-tagged their books to get higher search results, W.H. Smith and Kobo kicked off every. indie. author. They didn’t just kick off erotica writers. They threw out authors who have never written a sex scene in any of their books. They kicked out children’s writers. They kicked out sci-fi writers. Fantasy. If you were indie, you were out. Meanwhile, erotica itself is thriving on both sites, just so long as it’s backed up by a publisher. So, you can still find all the disgusting erotica you want…but you can’t find any indie-published books of any genre.
That, to be charitable, was pretty freakin’ stupid.
Erotica exists. People buy it. They read it. Not too long ago, Fifty Shades of Gray was all over the place. You couldn’t take two steps without someone talking about that book. And it’s erotica in an almost pure form. Not my cup of tea but then, I’m not getting my knickers in a twist or my corset knotted over someone else wanting to read about Sub/Dom relationships. I am, however, most displeased at the thought that someone like Sarah Hoyt, Jonathan Broughton, or even David D. Levine would have had their works pulled down because some idiot thinks that all indie books are erotica.
Sure, the traditional publishers are probably clinking their champagne glasses together now, all celebratory at us upstart indies getting pulled because W.H. Smith and Kobo can’t be arsed to hire competent web developers. However, their victory will wind up being as short-lived as Valenti’s attempts to make VCRs illegal (“The VCR is to the movie industry as the Boston Strangler is to a woman alone at night.”) Indies aren’t going away and traditional publishers aren’t going to stop being dinosaurs. The “gatekeepers” have had control of the market for way too long. They let in crap like Twilight and Fifty Shades of Gray and shut out things like Harry Potter (seriously, J.K. had to go to twelve publishers before she found one willing to print her work. She’s made over a billion dollars now. Tell me again why I should take the big houses seriously?) Indies are telling stories and building worlds that people want to read about. We don’t all hew to the politically correct lines and some of us aren’t to the left of Stalin (go ahead, try to get an in with a sci-fi house if you’re not an authoritarian. Go on. I’ll wait). In the indie world, you really do sink or swim based on how good your story is and how hard you’re willing to work to get word out there. You don’t wind up in print-hell because your publisher decides to only do one print run and then, if it sells out in a week, won’t do another because, well, you forgot to bow and scrape properly while doing your daily rounds of arse-kissing.
I’m working to put together a list of authors who had their non-erotica works pulled from Kobo and W.H. Smith. If you like good literature and are sick of reading the same regurgitated crap that hits all the acceptable politically correct points but neglects to develop an actual, you know, plot, then consider buying from an indie.
And yeah, I’ll keep posting about how Kobogeddon is going. Earlier this evening it looked like they’d banned Rayne Hall’s account entirely because she’s stirring up trouble. Methinks someone’s never heard of the Streisand Effect.