11 November 2010

edit: In the time it took me to write and post this, Amazon took the book down. So, I basically offer my opinion here good reason at all...

No, I won't be boycotting Amazon.

The Internet practically exploded yesterday over news that Amazon is selling a heinous-sounding book titled “The Pedophile's Guide To Love and Pleasure: A Child-Lover's Code Of Conduct.” I say heinous-sounding because I haven't read it and I'm not going to; I would assume that, based on the title, it's a piece of crap and not worth the effort to browse even the front matter, but I'm not going to bother.

I'm not even going to link to its Amazon page. Who the hell wants that in their search history?

If the book is as the title suggests—and that is a giant if—the writer is a sick fuck and I sure as hell don't want him lurking around my playground, but.


He had every right to write the book. Hitler had every right to write Mein Kampf. William Powell had every right to write The Anarchists Cookbook. There's a ton of crap out there, and people have the right to write it all.

You have the right to not read any of it.

Now, I take issue with Amazon saying to not sell it would be censorship, but my issue is more with the idea that they're using the wrong word there. If they edited the shit out of it before putting it out there, that would be closer to censorship. If Uncle Sam steps in and forces the book from sale, that would be closer to censorship. Amazon not selling it would simply be an exercise of a business decision. As a business, Amazon doesn't have to support a writer's right to free speech, and no, they don't have to sell the book.

But they're going to sell it, and based up their precedents, they should.

Look, it's a Kindle book, submitted through their DTP platform. It's 100% self-published. The way the Kindle-author publishing relationship works is that they provide a platform, anyone who has written something they want to sell can upload it, and Amazon will sell it on their behalf—as long as it is not illegal material—for a hefty cut of the list price. There is no human sitting there reading every book uploaded to the DTP (though you can bet the book in question has now been reviewed; that it's still for sale suggests no illegal content.) It's a place where independent writers can get their work into the hands of the public, where they can try to sell and begin to create professional reputations. Some of them get noticed and generate enough sales to be picked up by either Amazon Encore or a major publisher. Most sell a book here or there, and are happy enough with it.

But the model is that anyone can sell a book there. Anyone. A book can be wonderfully written and worthy of a Pulitzer; a book can be complete garbage worthy of ridicule, but the great thing about the independent writer's relationship with Amazon is that everyone has an equal chance. Good or bad. Worthy or not.

If Amazon has to start making the decision about what's worthy or not, then what do we lose? Gay fiction? There are a whole lot of uptight right wingers out there who might think that we need to lose the LBGT fiction for sale. Some of it is freaking good, but should we lose that because it offends someone else? What about Christian fiction? Most of the Christian fiction I've read is horribly written; if that offends someone else, should it be eliminated? Because, really, I've wanted to shoot myself after reading some of it. How about vampire porn? The undead getting it on with the living? Well, that's offensive, let's get rid of that. There's a book on Amazon about becoming a pimp. No one should become a pimp or even know how, so strike that off the for-sale list.

Let's ban the books that the HBO series Dexter was based upon. Serial killers are amoral and don't belong out there with the good folks.

And hey, there's this series about some kid wizard and we can't have our kids reading or learning about magic, because even though it probably doesn't exist that's just wrong...let's get rid of Harry Potter.

Laughable? There are people who wanted that banned, you know.

People who never read a single word in any of JK Rowling's books.

And once we've started in on the books, what else? Amazon sells condoms. Do we get those banned because kids might order them and =gasp= use them while having sex? You can get sex toys through Amazon. I bet you can buy whips and chains and cases of whipped cream; who knows what perverted people can do with those, so it's best to not make them available.

It's a slippery slope; start with one thing, and others lose traction and follow.

I believe in freedom of speech for everyone. Not just for the people saying things I agree with, but especially for the people who say things I think are creepy and stupid. Those idiots from the Westboro Baptist Church that walk around carrying signs claiming God hates gays? That soldiers die because God hates the USA? I find that horribly offensive, but that's their right.

If it's not criminal—yelling FIRE in a theater; kiddie porn; etc.—then let it be.

Walk away from it.

Talk about it, but don't try to ban it.

Don't ignore it, but don't give overblown publicity to it. Because, folks, this is a book that would have died quickly without the uproar; the author is only getting the attention because everyone is making such an issue of it.

Attention leads to sales. Remember the movie “Porky's?” It was a horrible movie about kids looking to get laid; we were living in Utah when it was released, and it was destined to be in and out of the theater in about a week...until people started protesting it. The more people screamed about it—Oh my God it's a movie about SEX--the more curious other people became. And so ticket sales skyrocketed, and it stayed in the theater for weeks.

Remember when Sonia Johnson chained herself to the gates of a Mormon temple because the church came out against the Equal Rights Amendment? The church did little about that, and for good reason. The more she screamed about it, the more people investigated the church and its credo. The LDS church gained quite a few members from that.

The heinous-sounding book that would have languished as data bits on a server somewhere might now find an audience. It might now find a sales base. At the very least, it's giving the author the attention he probably shouldn't get.

And that, my friends, is probably opposite of what the first people calling for a boycott intended, but it is a likely result.

Amazon is not, and should not be, the moral arbiter for the world. And in the end, a boycott on Amazon not only draws attention to the person who wrote that book, but hurts the other independent writers who have only Amazon as their sales base.

Amazon won't be hurt by a boycott; those indie writers, though, they run the highest risk of being hurt. They're the ones who get trampled in the stampede to condemn an entire company for what one person chose to write about. Not the guy who wrote the book that upset the world, not the company standing behind its policies of open publishing, just the little guys.

So no, I will not boycott Amazon over this. I embrace freedom of speech, even for sick twisted minds... and hey, I also enjoy the idea that if it turns out that book is a how-to guide, then it does become something illegal, and anyone buying it becomes fodder for the judicial system.We should teach them how to bend over and pick up the soap now, so that they're not ill prepared.


Angel and Kirby said...

I agree totally! If I find the title offensive, I don't buy it. Besides just because that is the title, who knows what the content id? Each person has freedom and right to write or read any darn thing they want. I do not want the government or some book seller to regulate it! Last month, my granddaughter had to read a book from the 'banned' book list and write a report as to why she thought it was banned. .

Christie Critters said...

Well said, Thumper. Many years ago, my Dad kept a box of "Catcher in the Rye" in his office so that every time a student (or parent) removed it from High School Library circulation, he could put another copy right back on the shelf. He was alway quite proud of that little battle which he eventually won.

Geekwif said...

This may be my favorite of all the posts I've read on your blog. Fantastic. Thank you for saying it so well. I hope people who read it will take it as food for thought.

Cheysuli and gemini said...

I found this concept really really scary. I worked in libraries for many years and access to information (or any book) is deeply ingrained. While the material is offensive (remember Madonna's SEX book? I saw more of it outside the library being boycotted than inside the building and it was quickly forgotten), if it's not illegal under the standards set out by Amazon's state (which I believe is Washington) then there's no reason not to sell it and to not sell it, potentially violates the contract that they entered into with author.

Lemon Stand said...

Wow! Great post! And I sooooo agree! (although I would suggest the soap smells heavily of feminine perfume to help 'acclimatize' the inmate to his new status in life... just sayin')

Chrissie said...

Yep, I'm agreein', too. Oh, this one's pretty high on the ICK-factor scale, but sometimes I think boycotts do more harm than good for the "boycott-ers" (not a real word). In their hearts, I think the folks so adamantly against the sale of this book on Amazon are more against the book's presence than it's sale. They're concerned about the possible fallout-that some whackjob buys this book and uses it as a permission slip/how-to manual in his/her activities and some small person gets hurt. But, like you said, screaming about the book has actually attracted more attention to it than it warranted as a work of writing, hence, higher sales.


hairball manager said...

From my thoughts to your page! The freedom to say dumb, stupid and even ugly stuff is sacred to me as well. You just said it a lot better than I could have.
As usual it is the rush to "correct" a small wrong that creates a huge problem. Just leave it alone and it will go away. "Correct" it and a lot of people get hurt and the Constitution gets rewritten without a convention!

AFSS said...

Very well said.