Monthly Archives: October 2014

Beware The Future Revisited – It’s MUCH Closer Than You Think. And It Might Just Kill You.

Go Global In 2014

Back when we posted on the Internet of Things and what it meant for indie authors there was understandable concern about the direction we are heading. (LINK)

Some of you were unconvinced that retailers would be able to gain so much knowledge about our personal lives from a device in our hands.

Surely they only knew what info we gave them when we signed up?  And surely that was more than enough?

Enter Sensiya, a company dedicated to letting retailers and advertisers know your every personal detail, courtesy of your smartphone.

Sensiya is dedicated to “real-life behavior tracking”.

What does it mean? It means that Sensiya-partnered retailers will be more powerful than Santa.

Santa knows when you are sleeping. He knows when you’re awake.

So does Sensiya. They also know whether you’re out jogging, driving, on a train or bus, standing up or sitting down. They know if you are male or female and how old you are.

Sensiya claim to have “a 90 percent accuracy on gender and age.” (LINK)

From nothing more than your smartphone.

Not from the telco you signed up, with or the retailer you bought the phone from. From the smartphone itself.

Says Sensiya:

Our mobile phone holds significant amounts of data about us like who we are, what apps we use, and how we use them. This data is like a digital fingerprint of each person’s unique personality. Through our technology, Sensiya seeks to enable developers to create individual and personal experiences and allow users to get the content, information, and UI that truly reflects who they are.”

And by monitoring what you use the smartphone for – buying, downloading, news viewing, texting, etc – they can pretty accurately determine your marital status and your income level, and of course they’ll know where you live, when you leave the house, how long for…

No, we’re not making this up. In Sensiya’s own words:

We know whether you’re at home, when you wake up, when you go to sleep. This is physical context, and when you combine them, you create something that’s personal and engaging.”

Sensiya is not alone. Adtile is doing much the same, utilising GPS, gyroscopes, motion compressors, accelerometers, and a compass to sense body functions.

And yeah, at some stage they’ll even know when you’re taking a dump.

No, this isn’t science fiction. This is science reality. It’s happening right now, and you can be sure this is just the tip of the iceberg.

If you’re thinking, get rid of the smartphone, think again.

The Internet of Things will enable devices all around you to make these same calculations and they will engage with each other. “Talk to each other” in the technical jargon designed to make it all seem less scary.

Your smartfridge will tell companies like Sensiya when you last had a salad and how much milk you get through. Your smartcoffee-machine will tell them how often you drink coffee and what brand.

Your smart-TV will tell them which programmes you watch live and which you record and watch later. And at what time and with how many people. And how you reacted to them.

Did you laugh or cry when that poor kitten got run over? They’ll know if you’re an animal lover or not. Did you salivate when the chocolate commercial was on? Expect ton of ads on your mobile in the morning.

They will know which ebooks you bought, which you read, and what page you are on. They will know if you read pastel pink romance or hard core erotica, driller-killer gore-fests or cozy mysteries.

And they’ll know at which point your heart raced or the adrenalin kicked in or even… yes, even at which point you may have got sexually aroused.

Which will in turn be used for crime prevention. Google recently was in the headlines for handing over information about a paedophile downloading child porn.

But where does it end? Are you a lone male watching far too many kids programmes with young girls in? Expect a knock at the door.

Downloading bestiality ebooks from Smashwords? How long before some animal rights group pays your home a visit in the middle of the night…

How long before some vigilante group has YOU in its sights because of some perceived slight?

And that’s just the Internet of Things. Beyond the Internet of Things awaits the Internet of Everything.

No, this is all true. The Internet of Everything is not some futuristic dystopian fantasy.

It’s happening right now.

Just this week Europol, Europe’s cyber-policing organization, warned that the Internet of Everything could lead to the world’s first on-line murder.

No, not in some distant decade when we’ll all be long dead anyway.

By the end of this year.  (LINK)

And if not this year, then next year. It WILL happen.

For crime thriller writers it’s a whole new world of opportunity.

But of course any of this data, and any of these means to harm, will be available to government agencies to abuse for their own ends, and for tech-minded individuals to abuse just as much as criminal gangs.

George Orwell got the date wrong. Never mind 1984. Try 2014.

And don’t even think about what it will be like by 2084…

The Internet of Everything is at once the most exciting, and the most scary, development in the history of mankind.

If this excites you, join the club. We can’t wait to see what happens next.

But if this doesn’t also scare the shit out of you, you aren’t human.

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Is Amazon About To Put All KDP Titles Into Kindle Unlimited?

Go Global In 2014

Increasing reports are coming in that indie authors who are not in KDP Select and happily selling on other retail platforms, are seeing KU borrows in their dashboard. On further investigation they have found their product pages carrying the KU logo and KU download button for those same titles.

Then the KU logo has vanished (but the borrows are still showing).

A glitch? Some think so.

But a strange glitch to occur in the first place, unless…

Is Amazon advance-testing for all KDP titles to be pulled into Kindle Unlimited, whether we agree or not?

We’ve speculated on this before here (LINK), and now the evidence appears to be mounting that this is part of Kindle Czar Russ Grandinetti’s master plan.

If you are thinking Amazon wouldn’t do such a thing without our permission, think again.

Take a look at this report from The Bookseller (LINK) where numerous mid-sized trad publishers are protesting, and even considering legal action, against Amazon.

Why? Because Amazon asked them is they wanted to be part of Kindle Unlimited and they answered with a resounding “No.” So Amazon just went ahead and did it anyway.

The sop to the publishers is that they are getting paid full whack for a borrow.

Indies of course are much further down the food chain, so we just get a share of the pot, and as we’ve explained before, this is nothing more than stealth royalty cut. (LINK)

A $4.99 sale on Amazon nets the author $3.50. A borrow of that same book net the author around $2 (exact amount variable). A massive cut. Which is why of course Grandinetti – the most dangerous man in publishing right now – brought in the All-Stars jackpot payments to keep the top indies on board. Yes they lose money by supporting KU, but Amazon then hands them wads of cash to compensate for the losses.

For normal indies like you and I? Exactly. A royalty cut by any other name…

As per earlier articles (linked above), Kindle Unlimited is ahead of rivals Oyster and Scribd in the numbers game. KU fields some 700,000 titles, against around 500,000 each from the others. But as we now see, many of those 700,000 titles are there without the permission of the publishers.

Safe to say all 500,000 of the Scribd and Oyster titles are there voluntarily.

Both Oyster and Scribd have Big 5 titles on board. Simon & Schuster and HarperCollins have both provided back-list to Oyster and Scribd, and more recently HarperCollins stuck in its newly acquired stock of Harlequin back-list titles. (LINK)

As Scribd and Oyster narrow the gap between KU and themselves with the number of titles available, so KU’s appeal diminishes. But if Amazon could suddenly push the KU volume over the million mark…

That would be a big selling point for readers, and perhaps more importantly right now a big news story for the media.

Those of you who saw our post on the Greenpeace assault on Amazon will also know that in the space of one month three of Amazon’s top execs have handed in their notice. You’ll also know that Amazon is about to announce its worst ever financial results, and is facing growing unrest from investors, as well as unrest in the Boardroom. (LINK)

The Q3 results (and equally troubling Q4 guidance) are due towards the end of this month. What normally happens is that Amazon rushes out a spate of news-friendly initiatives (KU itself was launched just ahead of the very bad Q2 report) for lazy journalist to recycle without looking too closely.

The launch of Kindle Germany and Kindle France at the Frankfurt Book Fair, with a simultaneous announcement that KU will now have over one million titles in, would be a great way of grabbing the headlines. And it looks as if Amazon have been doing some beta testing with non-Select titles to make sure everything is in place.

Given Amazon have rode roughshod over the wishes of the mid-sized publishers there seems little hope the wishes of us indies will be considered.

The sop to us will be that we won’t have to be exclusive. Yes, we’ll be in KU and get the potential borrows and the potential share of the pot, but we will still be able to stay on other platforms.

Of course that means the existing KU indies will be put at a disadvantage, so the downside will be that we won’t benefit from the KU perks. All-Star pay-outs, for example, will be Select only. And safe to say there will be less obvious penalties, like enhanced visibility from Select titles while the rest of us just watch our royalties go down as we collect pot payments instead of the full whack like the trad publishers.

But hey, no-one ever said Amazon was a level playing field.

Will it happen? Who can say, but no-one should rule out the possibility, and given the mounting evidence, it seems more and more likely.

If not sooner, then later. But sooner is looking like a strong contender right now.

 

Ebook Bargains UK.

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Smashwords OverDrive Saga Updated – It’s Looking More Promising By The Day.

Go Global In 2014It’s only a couple of days since we carried the news that Smashwords titles had finally been liberated from the Self-Published Ghetto (a section of OverDrive accessible only by librarians) and were finally appearing in the public OverDrive catalogue. (LINK)

Since then another 2,000 Smashwords titles have materialized in the public catalogue and we are optimistic, if by no means yet certain, that all the Smashwords titles will eventually filter through.

Eventually being a key word here.

Smashwords sent some 200,000 (now 215,000) titles to OverDrive, but as we reported back in July, many were not even reaching the indie ghetto, let alone the public OverDrive store. (LINK)

It transpires many of those 200,000 titles still have yet to reach OverDrive.

The Digital Reader expanded on the story and Mark Coker stepped in to explain that while 215,000 titles have been sent, OverDrive have so far only ingested 132,000 of them, so some 80,000 Smashwords titles have yet to reach OverDrive at all, let alone the public catalogue. (LINK)

Interestingly Coker says,

“OverDrive’s website is designed to be public-facing for patrons of a particular library, but not public facing for a view into their entire catalog. This means you can’t easily determine which books are in their catalog.”

This is at variance with what I see, which is the full OverDrive catalogue with an option then to search whether a given title is available in a particular library. The logic being if OverDrive have it then any OverDrive partner library can order it.

Coker makes clear the indie ghetto is not going anywhere any time soon:

“OverDrive tells me they’ve received positive feedback from libraries regarding the segregation. This means the “ghetto” is unlikely to be abolished any time soon unless libraries (OverDrive’s customers) voice their opposition to it. Our position, which we have shared on numerous occasions with our friends at OverDrive, is that such segregation is a disservice to libraries and their patrons, not to mention it’s insulting to the indie authors and publishers we represent.”

Coker concluded,

“Despite the delays and segregation, I remain excited about the OverDrive relationship, and I’m optimistic it will become an increasingly important channel for Smashwords authors and publishers in the years ahead.”

We concur entirely.

The Smashwords-OverDrive partnership may have got off to a bad start, and yes, all Smashwords erotica titles are still excluded. See the EBUK post on Smashwords’ dark side to understand why. (LINK)

But for those that have had titles sent to OverDrive it looks increasingly likely – not guaranteed yet, but likely – that you will all, eventually, get a chance to be discovered by OverDrive-partner library users.

What should you do now?

First, keep an eye on the OverDrive catalogue. (LINK)

Check back every week and see if maybe some of your titles have been pulled through.

If they have, do a spontaneous happy dance (best not to check on your smartphone while in the supermarket queue). and break open the champagne (best to pay for it first if still in said supermarket). And then promote!

How?

Mark Coker has some suggestions on the Smashwords site for partnering with your local library. (LINK)

Most importantly, simply let people know your ebooks are available from libraries, and make sure the OverDrive links to the titles are on your website.

Include the OverDrive links in tweets and FB promotions, etc.

Then get in touch with your local libraries and let them know your ebooks are available.

Most local libraries love to promote local authors. For indies that’s been a hard sell with many librarians not too keen on the idea of self-publishing. But when your books are there alongside the big names in the OverDrive public catalogue that changes everything.

Make the most of it.

Above all, promote the very fact that libraries have ebooks available. Far too many readers are still unaware of this.

These past few years suggestions that indies target libraries have been largely met with derision. Libraries, like book stores, were all dinosaurs and all going to close. Only a handful of libraries sold digital, the story went, so why bother.

Perceptions began to change when OverDrive reported its 2013 stats – OverDrive libraries had seen 100 million digital downloads in 2013.

We’ve no idea what the 2014 number will be but safe to say it will be much, much higher.

What’s important to understand is that, at risk of stating the obvious, library users use libraries. They may also buy from book stores, but every borrow they make from a library is a sale not made by a bookstore.

No, there’s no guarantee anyone will borrow your book from the library. But there is an absolute 100% guarantee they will not if you are not there.

Print borrows account for substantial portions of print book revenue for trad-pubbed authors and publishers. The same goes for ebook borrows.

Trad pub has been raking it in while we looked on enviously, or more likely looked the other way.

Which was fair enough. Then.

Until now it’s not been easy for indies to gain access to this lucrative income steam.

Going direct to OverDrive is not a simple process and the only other easy route – Ebook Partnership – involves upfront costs. That said, Ebook Partnership also get you into the OverDrive retail stores like Waterstone’s and kalahari which the Smashwords deal does not.

But be in no doubt that, if all goes well and the Smashwords indie titles now being delivered eventually feed through to the OverDrive public catalogue, then this is a major breakthrough for Smashwords, and major opportunity for Smashwords authors to reach new readers.

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Greenpeace Declares War On Amazon. Uses Amazon-Approved Review Trolling To Make Their Point. Third Amazon Exec Jump Ship In A Month.

Go Global In 2014

We’ve pretty much all been at the wrong end of trolls who abuse the review system to leave a negative for a book because they have some grudge against the author or the subject matter or whatever. But trying getting Amazon to remove them…

And we’ve pretty much all had perfectly sound 5-Star reviews removed by Amazon because some automated-system has decided they didn’t meet the guidelines.

Amazon makes clear no-one needs to have bought, used or even seen a product in order to leave a review. Unfair on the seller? Tough.

This week saw the Amazon Fire phone, already struggling with a mediocre 3-star review average, get over 1000 additional 1-Star reviews as Greenpeace supporters took full advantage of Amazon’s review policies.

Greenpeace are protesting at the fact that Amazon is one of the dirtiest company’s in the tech world.

No, nothing to do with erotica. No-one can compete with Smashwords on that front. We mean environmental pollution.

It’s easy to get carried away with the idea that e-commerce and the internet is some sort of pollutant-free green paradise, but the reality is that all these on-line systems handling and storing enormous amounts of data need an equally enormous amount of energy to keep them all going.

Greenpeace have long since been pushing for tech companies to be more environmentally friendly. Some have responded positively. Some just look the other way.

And while Apple, Google and Facebook all now use renewable energy to fuel their systems – Apple’s iCloud is run on 100% renewable energy – Amazon takes the cheapest route – good old fashioned fossil fuel burning.

For two reasons.

First, that Amazon just doesn’t seem to care. Consider: Environmental-friendliness would be a fantastic selling point for ebooks and encouraging readers to desert paper. How many millions of trees would be saved if we all went digital with our books, newspapers and magazines? But the concept seems never to have occurred to Amazon.

Second, costs. Amazon is already deeply in debt and struggling pretty much across the board. The company is just weeks away from issuing the worst financial report in the company’s history. The ONLY area in which Amazon had been making serious money had been AWS – the Amazon cloud.

But with Google and Microsoft both slashing prices and forcing Amazon to follow suit (now there’s one of the great conundrums of our time – if Amazon is always the cheapest, why does it need to price match?) there’s no spare money for important things like investment in our children’s future.

So next time some troll lands a spate of 1-Stars on your ebook, thank your lucky stars you haven’t upset Greenpeace.

 ~

 Meanwhile, at risk of getting slammed again for being anti-Amazon for reporting news the Amazon-affiliate blogs prefer to overlook, it’s worth noting that yet another top Amazon exec’ is jumping ship. the third in a month.

Back in early September Amazon’s Chief Financial Officer Thomas Szkutak – the poor soul obliged to deliver the bad news about Amazon’s financial mire – stated he would be leaving the company next year. No reason to make that announcement so soon except to get the news out before the Q3 results are formally made public.

As Reuters bluntly put it: “Amazon CFO to step down next year amid investor discontent.” (LINK)

barely had the ink dried on that news that Amazon’s Vice President of Music and Video, Bill Carr, decided he had had enough too.

In what most observers agree is a clear indication of discontent in the Boardroom, Amazon said on Carr’s behalf that he was leaving “to spend more time with his family” and that he “has nothing else to add”. (LINK)

Now it emerges Jon Fine, Amazon’s Director of Author & Publisher Relations is also jumping ship. (LINK)

To lose one top man is a tragic loss to the company.

To lose two in as many weeks just as the going gets tough stretches the definition of coincidence to its limits.

To lose three in the space of a single month… The month before Amazon is set to report, on its own guidance, a loss of over half a billion dollars for a single quarter…

Hopes that the Fire phone sales would mean Q4 would be better were dashed long before Greenpeace added to its woes.

Hopes that the new range of Kindles would help have also been dashed. Sales are so far looking at best unimpressive.

And the latest tablet figures out this week show that Amazon is commanding just 3% of the tablet market three years after the first Kindle was announced.

None of this is good news for investors as the Q3 announcement and Q4 guidance looms.

And now Google has turned up the heat.

Amazon’s cloud service has for several years been the key driving factor in Amazon’s bubble growth. No profits. Just revenue. But it looks good.

Then Google and Microsoft started slashing their prices. Amazon had no choice but to follow suit. And its revenue plummeted, along with its share value, currently almost $100 down on its January high.

Now, in what looks like deliberate timing to maximize Amazon’s discomfort (and why not – Amazon deliberately forked Google’s Android system so the Fire phone cannot use Google apps or access the Google Play store) Google has just this week slashed prices again, ahead of Amazon’s Q3 announcement.

Amazon has no choice but to price-match. It will lose more market share to Google if it doesn’t. It will lose millions more it cannot afford if it does.

Amazon will choose the latter path, because it has already painted itself into a corner.

Just like it has with Prime, offering fast, free delivery on items it can no longer afford to deliver fast and free. So much so that Amazon now offers to PAY Prime members to accept slower and cheaper shipping options.

Which of course is precisely why Amazon is trying to force down trad pub ebook prices. Not because Amazon wants to give consumers a great deal, but because sending out heavy hardbacks for free eats into its margins.

If Amazon can force the price of front-list ebooks down then fewer people will buy front-list hardbacks. It costs Amazon sweet FA to send the ebook. They lose money on every hardback they have to store, package and deliver.

There’s a growing consensus among the money market commentators now that Amazon is structurally unable to ever be a profitable company. That it’s a bubble in the process of deflating.

No-one is suggesting Amazon will fail. But few believe it can carry on like it has been.

Some even speculate whether Bezos will still be in charge next year. An unlikely scenario, true, but bear in mind Steve Jobs was famously fired from Apple way back.

But Amazon is facing increasing competition while losing market share pretty much everywhere

Alibaba’s arrival on the scene makes Amazon’s position all the more problematic. With the IPO last month, Alibaba went from some obscure company in China to a an America player with a market valuation almost $100 billion bigger than Amazon’s. And over $20bn in surplus cash, while Amazon is having to borrow.

We’ve speculated here before that Alibaba could well bid for Nook when it comes up for grabs in the New Year, and now there is increasing speculation that Alibaba could buy eBay, once the Paypal spin-off is done.

Either or both would be great news for authors.

eBay already has a great little book arm in Half, and has been actively toying with an ebook venture. Alibaba’s cash would be the perfect supplement to make it happen.

Both would be major setbacks to Amazon’s aspirations at at time when it is already facing growing difficulties.

As above, Amazon isn’t in danger of going bankrupt. But no-one should be under any illusion all is rosy in the Amazon garden right now.

For indie authors the thumb-screws are already being tightened.

The ACX royalty cuts were just a harbinger of things to come. But Amazon learned its lesson then. Do it discreetly next time.

So now we have stealth royalty cuts through Kindle Unlimited while Amazon hands out All-Star cash payments to compensate the chosen few who stand to lose the most, to keep them on board.

But there may be more to come with Kindle Unlimited.

Desperate times call for desperate measures, and Bezos and Grandinetti have already shown how desperate they are by begging indie authors to write to Hachette because they couldn’t resolve a simply dispute on their own.

Bezos cannot afford to let Kindle Unlimited fail, but the Big 5 boycott holds.

Harlequin has just signed up exclusively with Scribd in a clear signal to Amazon that they will have nothing to do with KU. (LINK)

Simon & Schuster have just signed with the ebook subscription service Mofibo in Denmark and Sweden, while notably not signing with KU. (LINK)

Amazon is expected to launch Kindle Unlimited in Germany and France this month, but if so it will be a sorrowful affair with no Big 5 brands on board.

The only thing Kindle Unlimited has in its favour is volume of titles. Amazon is fielding 700,000 compared to around 500,000 each for Oyster and Scribd.

As more and more titles flood to other ebook subscription services, and pointedly do not sign up with Kindle Unlimited, that gap will narrow, and with it Amazon’s volume advantage will diminish.

A simple solution lies in the hands of Grandinetti and Bezos.

Expect all our indie KDP titles to be dragged into Kindle Unlimited soon, whether you want to be in or not.

And watch out for the next Amazon executive to jump ship. It appears to be contagious.

***

Just as we go to post this, reports are coming in that Booklinker.net is having problems with Amazon.

According to an email just being sent out by Booklinker, Amazon is withholding affiliate fees, causing them financial difficulties.

Hard to imagine this is in turn due to Amazon’s financial problems, but a  timely reminder that when anyone puts all their eggs in to one basket it is asking for problems.

What follows is the email being sent out by Booklinker. We reserve judgement on what lies behind it.

You may have noticed that BookLinker short-links are currently displaying brief rich-media advertisments before redirecting to your content.

This is because Amazon Associates are withholding affiliate income from us; effectively forcing us to display these ads in order to meet our ongoing costs.

Sales are unlikely to be affected, but if you would like to continue using our service *completely ad-free*, we are offering a new premium plan, costing 10 GBP per month.

Please respond to this email if you would like to upgrade to this plan, and we will respond with instructions.

Best regards

Richard @ BookLinker
www.booklinker.net

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Smashwords Titles Now Appearing In OverDrive Mainstream Ebook Catalogue.

Go Global In 2014More good news from Smashwords.

Back in July we ran a post about how, despite promises, indie ebooks being delivered to one of the world’s biggest digital library distributors, OverDrive, were not actually being made available to readers. (LINK)

This in follow-up to a story on The Digital Reader in June explaining how Smashwords titles were being shunted into an “indie ghetto”. (LINK)

As we noted in our July post, this wasn’t an anti-indie policy per se. Indies using other means to get into the OverDrive catalogue were readily available for readers to find on the main OverDrive site.

We are now hearing from Smashwords-delivered indies that SOME of their titles are appearing in the main OverDrive catalogue (LINK).

It’s not clear yet if this is the early stage of a full flood of indie titles and that OverDrive have opened the ghetto gates, or if these are hand-picked titles selected by Smashwords and that the rest of us are still consigned to the can.

At this time a search for Smashwords as publisher (which all Smashwords-delivered ebooks will carry even though Smashwords isn’t our publisher) shows about 4,000 titles in the OverDrive store.

Out of 200,000.

So, either a long way to go as the rest filter through, or this is special treatment for a select few. Time will tell.

Do go check out the OverDrive store and see if yours are available. Do write to Smashwords and ask why not if they aren’t.

NB: As per our last post on Smashwords erotica, if you are an erotica writer your titles weren’t invited to OverDrive in the first place. (LINK)

Thinking digital libraries not worth bothering with? OverDrive saw over 100 million digital downloads in 2013.

Digital libraries, like ebook subscription services, increasingly offer a far better deal for readers than ebook retail stores. The reason being when you buy from Amazon, Nook, Google Play, etc, you only buy a licence to read the book. The ebook is not yours to keep, lend or re-sell. So why pay full price when you can pay a token fee or read free at a digital library or pay a monthly fee and read as much as you like?

The only reasons are convenience and availability.

Savvy readers will be getting the best of both words by using subscription services and libraries and just using retail store for the few titles they can’t get any other way.

Savvy indies authors will be making sure they are available where the readers are.

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Censorship, Sensibilities And Responsibilities. Is Erotica An Endangered Species? The Dark Side Of Smashwords.

Go Global In 2014

NB This post contains references to, and links to, ebooks that some may find offensive.

If you are a children’s or YA author, how would you feel about having your ebooks on display next to titles that make no pretence to be anything other than hard core pornography?

Come to that, if you write in any other genre, including mainstream erotica, would you want your title on display alongside ebooks that contain graphic sexual references in their titles, and product descriptions that graphically describe “gangbangs”, “anal fisting”, sex between stepfathers and stepdaughters, sex with horses and dogs, etc?

Some would argue that since Fifty Shades of Gray erotica has become “mainstream” and is part of the literary furniture nowadays.

We’d agree. Whatever your thoughts on the content, the title, cover and product description of Fifty Shades is unlikely to give even the most prudish reader sleepless nights.

And while we wouldn’t want to see Fifty Shades alongside children’s books, if it did appear amongst them then, short of using the Look Inside feature and reading through, there’s little to disturb young and impressionable minds.

Let’s be clear. The issue here is not about censorship. It’s about sensibilities and responsibilities.

Something that Mark Coker and Smashwords seem to care little about.

Those of us who simply upload titles to Smashwords to get distribution on other stores may have no cause to look at the Smashwords site itself, or the Smashwords bookstore, but readers do. Not in great numbers, but it happens.

And here’s the thing: When we upload our titles to Amazon, Apple, Nook, Kobo et al we have an expectation that our children’s, YA and mainstream adult novels – be they cozy mysteries, techno-thrillers, romance, sci-fi, whatever – will be sold alongside similar material, and not alongside extreme and taboo erotica that use sexually explicit cover images and graphic titles and blurbs as their selling point.

Yes, there’s adult material on Amazon. Not to mention sex toys – you can get everything you need to replay the Fifty Shades drama, and a whole lot more, in the Amazon store. But it’s not on the home page. You need to deliberately seek it out to find it.

On Amazon and Apple you don’t have titles like “My Babysitter’s Virgin C**t” or “Teaching Our Teenage Daughter To F**k” thrust in your face on the home page, or titles glorifying nubile young girls pleasuring horses or dogs, or “gangbangs”, or “anal fisting”.

You do on Smashwords.

Sadly this is the dark side of Smashwords Mark Coker is happy to take money from while claiming to champion freedom of expression. And the reason OverDrive refused point blank to have any erotica titles from Smashwords at all, even though most indie erotica is quite innocuous, and even though OverDrive carry a ton of erotica titles in their catalogue.

If people want to read hard core porn and whatever (some of the bestiality stories on Smashwords would have us in the UK arrested if we were caught with them) that’s fine.

But there’s a place for everything, and the Smashwords public catalogue is NOT the place for titles like these. Have a separate adults-only section.

Be clear Mark Coker is fully aware these titles are on the site, and does not see a problem. So long as it’s technically legal, it’s okay. The adult filter is there, he says.

The problem is if you switch on the adult filter you block standard adult titles like horror or thrillers. Turn the adult filter off and when you go to the Smashwords home page and there’s every chance a graphic cover and very graphic titles and descriptions of young girls and horses or stepdaughters and stepfathers will have just been loaded to the store and be shoved in your face.

Everything uploaded to the store, before being subject to any checks by Smashwords for guideline compliance, is automatically visible and for sale. And as often as not your innocuous book for kindergarten children will be right alongside titles that should not be seen anywhere near books for young children.

See image below. This particular screenshot was chosen because the adult material in question is not too extreme. There are far more graphic titles and covers popping up alongside children’s books every day on the Smashwords homepage.

Smashwords screenshot

We’ve nothing against gay erotica.

In the right place.

But listed next to an innocuous children’s book on the Smashwords homepage is NOT the right place.

So let’s look at the censorship angle. Obvious we all support freedom of expression. Within reason. But there are few among us who will take that all the way. Including Smashwords.

Do you think it acceptable to publish material involving sex with children, or that incites race hatred or homophobia?

We don’t, and Mark Coker does not. These subjects are clearly banned, as per FAQs and guidelines on the Smashwords site.

Not that this stops titles of that ilk getting through.

Just this week there appeared on Smashwords a grossly offensive title called “Memoirs of a Pedophile”. Not some academic study of a troublesome social problem, but a vignette memoir clearly listed as erotica, with a picture of a pre-teen girl on the cover.

Smashwords guidelines are clear that stories involving underage sex are not permitted. This title has been removed.

But the Smashwords guidelines are generally enforced, when at all, with such lack of vigour that they are usually ignored.

Again, let’s be clear. We are not advocating censorship.

This is not an issue about freedom of expression. It’s about sensibilities and responsibilities.

Yes, lots of sites sell hardcore porn, but there are clear gateways you have to pass through to get to them, and they are clearly labeled as adults-only, usually with strict age-verification restrictions.

With Smashwords you simply open up the site in your browser and up come all the latest uploads to the store. If you’ve just uploaded your latest children’s story and someone has just uploaded a very graphic story about young blondes girls having sex with a stallion or two dogs, or some stepfather having sex with his stepdaughter, or some teachers “gang-banging” their students, that story will be right there on the time line with graphic cover, graphic title and graphic descriptions alongside your story for eight year olds.

Yes, you can turn on the adult filter – and exclude everything except nuns’ memoirs and papal biographies.

But two things: First, what’s to stop a child simply switching off the adult filter?

Absolutely nothing.

Apart from which, on Mark Coker’s own admission on the Smashwords site, the Adult Filter doesn’t work!

Not only is the Adult Filter completely open to a child switching it off (and why would any unsuspecting parent suppose Smashwords would be a place they wouldn’t want their children visiting in the first place?), but even when it’s on it doesn’t do the job.

From the Smashwords FAQ page: “Even if the Adult Filter is on, if you search for Adult content, you can find it.”

So that’s okay then. We wouldn’t want an Adult Filter that actually worked, would we… What would be the point?

Here’s the thing: If Mark Coker wants to sell this stuff, fine. If it’s legal and there’s demand, good luck to him. We are not dictating what people can read or what they can sell.

But put it in a separate section that our children cannot get into with a single click of an opt-in/opt-out button. Put this stuff in a separate section with strict age-verification and a clear label of content, so we can recommend Smashwords to friends and family in good conscience.

And bear in mind that indies are completely banned from one of the key UK ebook retail sites, WH Smith, precisely because material like this was getting through along with the mainstream ebooks they expected and wanted from Kobo. The same sort of material caused the closure of the ebook arm of the New Zealand store Whitcoulls.

Mark Coker is adamant none of those titles were from Smashwords. Maybe so. Kobo took the rap.

We all pay the price.

But it’s no wonder that OverDrive, which has a ton of erotica ebooks available, just said a blanket no to Smashwords erotica titles. It’s no wonder that many agents, many small publishers and many indie authors, simply will not consider listing in the Smashwords store.

No, this doesn’t make Mark Coker a bad man. It does call into question his business nous, and his respect for readers, for authors, and for distribution partners.

But let’s come back to the Adult Filter, which Mark Coker believes to be widely admired in the publishing industry, even though he admits it doesn’t actually work.

You see, having got as far as clicking the mouse to turn off the adult filter any child can then download samples offering a lot more graphic detail, always supposing the graphic detail in the titles and blurbs hasn’t scared them off.

But the blurbs and titles are bad enough. Because Coker chooses to ignore his own guidelines when it comes to allowing titles to be sold.

The guidelines are clear that stories about rape, incest and underage sex are not allowed.

Incest not allowed? Check out titles like “Daddy’s Little Slut” (pseudo-incest as its stepfather and stepdaughter). (LINK)

or “F*****g My Drunk Mommy” (LINK)

which asserts it is “pseudo-incest” in the sub-title but in the blurb makes no mention of stepsons and stepmothers. “When his Mom comes home drunk and passes out on the sofa, a horny eighteen year old boy, takes full advantage of her incapacitated state, and indulges a secret, long-held fantasy.”

Rape not allowed? Well, we can all point to mainstream fiction and films about rape and how the victims handle it. Jodie Foster in The Accused, for example. But these books and films don’t glorify rape.

Are Smashwords titles any different?

Check out “Raped At Comic-Con” which with categories like erotica and BDSM leaves little room for doubt that is it not a sensitive drama. (LINK)

Or “Raped By Teacher” – selected categories erotica and BDSM. (LINK) No pretence here that this is some sort of sensitive drama either. This simply glorifies the act.

Or how about “Raped… And I Loved It,” which is described on the product page as “extreme hardcore erotica” and could in no way be deemed to be anything but glorifying a criminal act.

This author has such other delights on offer as “I Want To Watch You Jerk Off In My Panties”, with a classic one-leg-over here/one-leg-over the cover that even if she is wearing the aforementioned panties is not what we would want our children seeing. Or our mothers, who by any definition are adults.

The second title may not fall foul of the Smashwords guidelines. The first most certainly does. But it’s still there.

Bestiality is not banned by Smashwords, so some authors take full advantage.

Take “Raped By The Dog Pack” for example, which the blurb tells us “contains contains rough, nonconsensual bestiality between a nubile high school girl and a pack of large dogs.” (LINK)

“Nonconsensual” is pretty much the textbook definition of rape. But apparently it is acceptable, and furthermore conforms to the guideline to “Keep book descriptions PG-13.”

The Smashwords guidelines also advise against “excessive profanity or sexually explicit language” in the product descriptions.

By any definition the wording “Kitty rode my cock gently for a couple of minutes as her tits swung a few inches from my face” must surely count as sexually explicit language. But there it is in the description of the sensitively titled “Lick My Clit”. (LINK)

This title has been on Smashwords since 2012, bringing in money for Coker despite clearly breaching the guidelines.

Then there’s no-go area # 5 from the Smashwords guidelines: “Book titles with profanity.”

By any sane definition titles like “My Babysitter’s Virgin C**t” (LINK)

or “Abraham Lincoln: Presidential F**k Machine” (LINK)

or “Teaching Our Teenage Daughter To F**k” (LINK)

breach these guidelines. But hey, they are selling and making money. Who cares?

Well, lots of people do. Just witness the headlines when titles very similar to these were found in the WH Smith ebook store.

WH Smith’s response, while throwing the baby out with the bathwater, was not advocating censorship. They were making a very clear statement about sensibilities and responsibilities.

Yes, these titles may be legal, but that doesn’t mean they are appropriate in a general store providing content aimed at very young children.

Yes, Amazon sells sex toys. (LINK) But it doesn’t put them alongside children’s ebooks on the home page.

No, Mark Coker, the Adult Filter is not adequate. Again, by Mark Coker’s own admission, “Even if the Adult Filter is on, if you search for Adult content, you can find it.”

We are not advocating censorship.

What we would like to see is sexually-explicit adult material clearly segregated from children’s book, YA titles, cozy mysteries, sensual romances, literary fiction, etc, etc.

Yes, that will raise issues about classification of some titles. Steamy romances and niche erotica may need careful scrutiny to decide where it goes.

But titles like “Daddy’s Little Ballerina Gets F****d” (LINK)

or “Seducing My Son (Keep It In The Family” (LINK)

leave little to argue about.

By all mean sell this stuff if you want to, Mark Coker. But don’t sell it alongside our YA and children’s books on the Smashwords home page.

You’re supposed to be flying the flag for the indie movement, not bringing it into disrepute.

In your own words, you believe erotica is “an endangered species”.

In comments over at The Passive Voice back in June  (LINK) you said,

 “I can tell you my sense is that erotica is an endangered species at retailers and libraries. My impression from conversations with other partners is that it’s seen as too high-risk to the brand and reputation of any store or library.”

You went on,

 “Bestiality doesn’t represent a violation of our ToS. I think a greater concern of retailers is incest, pseudo-incest and barely legal.”

This from the man who runs the store known in the trade as Smutwords, which delights in making available “incest, pseudo incest and barely legal.”

You couldn’t make it up.

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