WHSmith, the UK stationery and book chain at the eye of the ebook porn storm-in-a-teacup, has reopened its customer website for business, as the British media continue to stick in their spoons and stir up the mess. However, WHSmith is still not offering direct sales of ebooks, referring customers instead to its ebook partner Kobo, which in a concurrent article in the UK Daily Telegraph entitled – with due moderation and restraint – “Kobo porn scandal: the end of self-publishing?”, “promised to clean up its act. ”
“Search and browse to find an eBook at WHSmith.co.uk and we will pass you over to Kobo to complete your purchase,” reads the WHSmith website. And the Telegraph quotes at length from “an exclusive interview” with Kobo’s chief executive Mike Serbinis, where, among other things, he states that Kobo is “increasing the role that we expect our publishers and our partners to play.”
Criticism of Kobo’s response to the initial allegations has been one of the major planks of the ebook community’s reaction to the affair, but Serbinis did at least state that: “The principle we start with is avoiding censorship, and to be able to deliver a catalogue that fulfils this policy. ”
Meanwhile, reports in the UK’s The Bookseller and elsewhere indicate that some sections at least of the British publishing and bookselling industry are still lining up behind the initial scandal-mongering gutter press exposes. Quoted in The Bookseller, Tim Godfray, CEO of the Booksellers Association, said: “Our members recognise they have a responsibility to families and consumers. Moderating titles has become increasingly important with the rise of the self-publishing phenomenon.” The BA is reportedly considering a joint initiative with other industry bodies to keep “explicit self-published e-books” off mainstream websites.
Why self-published ebooks are being singled out in this manner escapes me, except to indicate that even in the eyes of some book trade professionals, self-publishing and explicit content are now yoked together. Would explicit literature from established or even independent publishers be more acceptable? Worryingly, The Bookseller‘s report finished by saying that: “Despite being named in the MoS report, Waterstones does not sell self-published titles” – a further symptom of this guilt by association.
When I asked the Alliance of Independent Authors (ALLi) for their view of WHSmith and Kobo’s initial reaction, they responded as follows. “It was not a proportionate response. We too were surprised. From our point of view, the most ‘vulnerable group’ here is the writers whose reputations and incomes are affected by having ALL their books removed from the stores,” an ALLi spokesperson said. “We would like to see as extensive and eclectic a range of books as possible in all stores, that is compatible with the law. But a shop can choose what it decides to stock… It’s not really a freedom of expression issue unless banned by law. ALLi encourages online etailers to dialogue with author-publishers, the creative wellspring of their business.”