pedoA disturbing story erupted in the blogosphere yesterday. For a while, Amazon was selling a self-published Kindle e-book entitled The Pedophile’s Guide to Love and Pleasure: A Child-Lover’s Code of Conduct, that seems to be pretty much exactly what it sounds like. The author, 47-year-old Philip Greaves, claimed not actually to be a pedophile himself, but wrote from his own pre-teen and teen experiences after having been involuntarily hospitalized for manic depression.

Before the book drew widespread attention, Greaves said he had sold one copy (link probably NSFW). But after enraged commentary hit social networks and blogs, it sold enough copies to reach #80 on Amazon’s top 100 books list before Amazon finally pulled it.

Oddly, only hours before yanking the book, Amazon strongly defended selling it, even though Amazon’s own policies prohibit content that includes “offensive material” or that “may lead to the production of an illegal item or illegal activity.”

Amazon believes it is censorship not to sell certain books simply because we or others believe their message is objectionable. Amazon does not support or promote hatred or criminal acts, however, we do support the right of every individual to make their own purchasing decisions.

Apparently thousands of people proclaiming an intent to boycott Amazon over this title, followed by attention from the non-Internet media such as Dr. Phil, were sufficient to cause Amazon to change its mind. Still, I find it more than a little strange that Amazon should have been so quick to defend the right to sell a pedophilia guide when, 18 months ago, it drew widespread “Amazonfail” derision for stripping sales rankings from gay and lesbian books. Hypocritical much, Amazon?

Paul Carr takes a thoughtful look at the controversy surrounding the book and the meaning behind Amazon’s decision to pull it—not a moral decision or even censorship, but a “rational economic decision” based on the likelihood of a boycott.

But what the ban most certainly is not is an anti-pedophile victory of any meaningful kind, any more than YouTube’s decision (under pressure, in part, from the British government) to remove hate speech by Anwar al Awlaki was a particularly meaningful triumph in the war against terror. In fact, if either ban has achieved anything (and it probably hasn’t) it’s simply to drive another vile little man further underground, to join the thousands of other vile little men (and the occasional vile little woman) who ooze far below the surface of the Internet, in private chat rooms and IRC channels and password protected forums. Philip R Greaves’ fetid little fantasies haven’t been destroyed, but rather will now be added to the countless other sick fictions and how-tos – not to mention the far more troubling, and illegal, images and videos of actual criminal acts – that lie in the darkest corners of the web, away from the glare of public derision.

I have little doubt that pedophilia has its own sick subculture sites where people afflicted with pedophilia discuss their common interests. Neither this book being offered for sale, nor it being pulled from Amazon, are likely to change that, and I find it unlikely that many of the people who frequent that kind of site would want to call attention (or leave a paper trail) to themselves by buying this book. (For one thing, they probably know what’s in it already.)

All the same, this kind of book is absolutely disgusting, and I find it hard to argue in favor of making that kind of content available even from a slippery-slope, “then they came for me” perspective. All the same, there are other books casting pedophilia in a positive light that Amazon continues to sell: Firefly by Piers Anthony, for just one example.

As Dianna Dilworth at eBookNewser and Devin Coldewey at TechCrunch observe, this issue points to a dilemma that Amazon and other e-book self-publishing sites will be running into more and more as years go by: the question of how to censor, or at least filter, self-published titles. Amazon seemed to be having trouble straddling the line between “censoring” a controversial book and filtering out offensive material yesterday—boldly declaiming against removing it one moment and then quietly doing just that the next.

I suspect that, early on, some lower-echelon PR flak decided that, in absence of orders to the contrary, the safest thing to do was toe the party line and send out a standard boilerplate “hell no, we won’t censor” response that I imagine they keep handy for complaints about any controversial book. It’s easy to follow orders blindly, because you don’t have to think for yourself—and some corporate structures actually punish initiative in the lower ranks. Then, a couple of hours later, someone higher up took a good look at was actually going on, and sanity prevailed.

It reminds me a little of Amazon’s oddly passive-aggressive “surrender notice” to Macmillan’s agency pricing back in January—that was buried on a Kindle user forum, a week before Amazon actually got around to restating new sales of Macmillan titles. In both cases Amazon produced a strange little statement that seemed to bear little actual relationship to what happened next.

I wonder whether this incident will be quickly forgotten, or whether the issues it stirs up will have repercussions down the road? I would not be surprised to see it lead to more stringent policies concerning what types of books Amazon will and will not publish in the future.


  1. Their defense for selling the title, on anti-censorship grounds, seems especially baffling after they’ve been caught more than once trying to forbid people from mentioning “” in CreateSpace books about publishing. They’ll bother people who are not abusing a trademark, but defend people who advocate abusing children?

  2. At least if this sick, perverted garbage is “underground” on the Internet, it’s no longer on Amazon, which has no filters and no parental controls.

    This book is NOT like any other “unpopular” book. There are plenty of objectionable books on Amazon that they haven’t pulled. This one goes beyond human decency, any kind of moral values, and potentially could lead to a crime.

    Amazon should have never allowed it for sale and was much too slow in removing it. As a private business, they do have the right to sell any legal product they want to, as their customers have the right not to purchase a product or, indeed, to boycott and protest. But in the name of good business and setting some sort of moral line for their business, they should be careful about crossing the line.

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