walkitout (walkitout) wrote,

Kinky Erotica and Online Bookselling

Once upon a time, I worked at an online bookseller. Along with some other online booksellers, they've been in the news a bit lately as they've been pulling items from their catalog due to the content. Cue Outrage.

But then let's stop and think about this for just a moment.

Back when I was responsible for catalog (and, nominally, search, but I discouraged efforts to actually make me do anything about search, because the search mechanism we had was nuts and I didn't have the capacity to deal with replacing it, which is what needed to happen. Ultimately, we got someone to oversee making that happen. Yay.), I remember having these great conversations with an extremely nice young man with the last name Beaver (the first name made this even funnier, but I am going to attempt to maintain some anonymity) (and his job before he came to us was at an online porn shop) and my boss (improbably, Mr. Beaver and my boss shared the same initials: D.B.). We'd be hashing out Issues with the catalog and/or search that had arisen and whether or not there was anything obvious that could be done to address them or at least mitigate them -- or just make us look like We Tried, It's Not Our Fault.

One of the issues we discussed was bestiality. The primary concern involved the spelling of the word. Many people searched on bestiality, but they spelled it beastiality, and some catalog information was also incorrectly spelled. We had an earlier issue with authors who had two word last names, non-hyphenated. They didn't like the way their names displayed and/or were sorted -- but lots of their fans complained if the last word wasn't treated as the last name. So we just listed those authors both ways and Suffered under everyone's complaints -- at least everyone could be _found_ and that's what we wanted: for customers to be able to buy what they wanted.

At least up to a point.

The bestiality/beastiality thing was a bit of a problem. Did we want to help people with their mis-spelled searches in this case? Should we be removing things with the keyword bestiality from the catalog? I was opposed to the idea of removing the keyword but leaving the item in the catalog. I think if the cataloger feels bestiality should be applied to the book as a subject keyword, the customer should know that, even if it is a spoiler (I believe in spoilers, so maybe not totally neutral here). I think we settled for correcting all spelling and not helping people find bestiality if they couldn't spell it. Our little moment of elitism. For the record, one of the D.B.s couldn't reliably spell it, either -- and my boss blushed really red throughout the whole conversation. (FWIW, one of my arguments in favor of leaving in things that had bestiality and/or incest involved the presence of both of these in the Bible. Not like we were going to remove _that_, amirite?)

So with this as my background, I have been reading about some Outrage among customers who discover incest and/or bestiality ebooks in the kindle store. This led to retail stores removing things from the catalog, thus leading to Outrage among people who kind of aren't happy with online booksellers in general (disproportionate success on the part of one company, its resistance to adopting ePub as a format, etc.). It may have been the case that some of these items attempted to get into the catalog by misrepresenting themselves. Possibly as Children's Books. You can see how that might really become a serious issue, given some of our laws.

I'm a big defender of the rights of sexual minorities, and I think a whole lot of people get worked up about kinks that just aren't a big deal. And reading books about something is really, really, really different than doing something. But you know, big online booksellers do not actually have to carry everything. And it might be better all around if they did not carry erotica with strong incest and/or bestiality themes. _Especially_ if the creators of these stories are gaming the keywords. I've been on the side of spelling things correctly, and identifying your item up front, for a long time now.

Want to read some Outrage? Enjoy!


ETA: Outrage that precipitated backlash Outrage:

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