Silencing the Indie Authors

If you are a self-published author I’m quite sure by now you’ll have read about or, or been affected by the current drama surrounding WH Smith and Kobo in the UK. WH Smith’s on-line bookshop has been unavailable for the past two days and Kobo has pulled, seemingly indiscriminately, self-published books, with all genres being affected.

The initial hullabaloo appears to have started from spy novelist Jeremy Duns and this report from The Kernel. The Mail on Sunday jumped on the bandwagon. Why am I not surprised? Before we carry on, I’m not about to show pictures of the offending titles. Yes, I admit, the more graphic ones do turn my stomach. However the Mail is delighted to show you in intimate detail every offending title.

However, the kneejerk reaction of the ebookstores is to pull all indie books, rather than have safe-guards in place to prevent kids buying the adult titles.

WH Smith has this page on its website.

A statement from WHSmith:

“Last week we were made aware that a number of unacceptable titles were appearing on our website through the Kobo website that has an automated feed to ours. This is an industry wide issue impacting retailers that sell self published eBooks due to the explosion of self publishing, which in the main is good as it gives new authors the opportunity to get their content published. However we are disgusted by these particular titles, find this unacceptable and we in no way whatsoever condone them.

It is our policy not to feature titles like those highlighted and we have processes in place to screen them out. We offer over one million titles through our eBooks partner Kobo, many of which are self-published titles. Due to the massive amount of self publishing a number of these titles have got through the screening process.

We are taking immediate steps to have them all removed. While we are doing this we have decided to take our website off-line to best protect our customers and the public.

Our website will become live again once all self published eBooks have been removed and we are totally sure that there are no offending titles available. When our website goes back online it will not display any self published material until we are completely confident that inappropriate books can never be shown again.” (bolding is mine)

Now Kobo appears to have got in on the act, removing self-published authors indiscriminately. Ironically a certain S&M bestseller from last year is still for sale.

DigitalBookWorld has this statement from Kobo.

“Kobo has reviewed its catalogue and removed the content, authors and publishers in question. We are also evaluating new procedures to help ensure that this type of content will not become available on Kobo’s site, or those of our partners in the future. This unfortunate situation is the result of a select group of publishers and authors violating the self-publishing policies of our platform. These titles have been removed and we will address the individuals in question directly. Our goal is not to negatively impact the freedom of expression and the work of the amazing self-published community that has been created at We thank those who have brought this issue to our attention and will provide an update on further steps we are taking by Tuesday, October 15 at 10 a.m. EST” (again bolding is mine)

Okay, I have several questions arising from these statements.

  • who determines unsuitable content? A random novelist, the ebook store or the Daily Mail?
  • why are you affecting the livelihoods of ALL indie authors?
  • erotica is mainly written by women, for women. Is the mention of sex more horrific than graphic violence? I can hear ‘Think of the children’ now.
  • why is it acceptable to sell these books via the big publishers, yet unacceptable via self-publishing?

If self-pubbed books are now making up twenty per cent of the books market, and growing, this knee-jerk reaction from some of the ebookstores is going to have a profound effect on their sales. These stores represent a small portion of UK sales, with Amazon unsurprisingly dominating the market. Can they afford to lose the goodwill of their readers and authors alike?

I’m an author. I have a vested interest in this drama as I rely on the royalties on my books to survive. To find myself subject to the over-blown outrage of daily newspapers infuriates me. I write romance and books with sex. I want adults reading my books. Sex sells, who knew? The Daily Mail does…

Do I like the content of these extreme books? No. Would I buy them. Definitely not. Do I think they have a right to be sold. Yes, I do. Would I want my kids reading them. No, definitely not. But adults do have right to choose whether to buy these books. There is a market for them, and bookshops have been benefiting from that market. It’s time WH Smith and Kobo developed some balls. Who are they selling to? The general public or a small section that approve what is ‘nice’.

Agree or disagree? What are your thoughts?

Sue Brown

Sue can be found at her website,; her blog,; Twitter,; and her Facebook,