The editors of the British website the Kernel bought a copy of the e-book "Naughty Daughter Abducted ... (taboo daddy daughter erotica)" on Amazon, and did not like what they saw.
"The book is a sick rape fantasy with language and details too graphic for a family-friendly publication to reproduce," they wrote in a story about pornographic e-books being sold by the online retailer. In its heated report ("How Amazon Cashes in on Kindle Filth"), the Kernel found hundreds of e-books that include scenarios of rape, incest and "forced sex" with young girls -- findings that have led to an outcry in Britain.
Here in the United States, the 1st Amendment protects some such works as free speech. And some books that contain explicit content are known to be literary masterpieces -- "Lolita" by Vladimir Nabakov, for example -- as well as bestsellers, such as John Irving's "Hotel New Hampshire."
The e-books that are the target of the Kernel's criticism do not have lofty literary goals. They are much closer to E.L. James' "Fifty Shades of Grey," the titillating bestselling erotic trilogy.
Amazon has removed some offending titles from its site, but some that remain are questionable, such as "Taken by the Vikings (rough erotic menage romance)," "Forced to Fit (taboo sex stories)" and "Submissive's Folly: Seduced and Ravaged." Often, the books feature an innocent young woman who has just turned 18.
Amazon's policy toward pornography in its self-published e-books is vague -- "We don't accept pornography or offensive depictions of graphic sexual acts" -- and seems to lack enforcement. As Laura Hazard Owen at GigaOm writes: "Spend two minutes searching the Kindle Store for porn and you'll realize that's a total joke."
It's not just lax policing. Some authors use clever ways to miscategorize their books in ways that bypass Amazon's automatic safeguards while putting them in front of potential buyers (allegedly, one book about incest was categorized as a children's book). Some set up quickie "publishing houses" to acquire the International Standard Book Numbers necessary for sales.
One author's method is to write book descriptions that employ non-letters to disguise illicit material. "It's Timmy's 18th birthday and his gorgeous older s*ster Rachel, whom he's lusted after for years, brings him to a party," begins one; another features a "nubile ni*ce" whom her uncle finds to be "living breathing j@ilbait material."
Kobo, which has a large share of the British e-book market, was so daunted by the multiple ways pornographic e-books had made it into its online store that it pulled all self-published e-books -- even those without any clear sexual content -- from its website. Kobo announced Tuesday that it hoped to return compliant self-published e-books to the store within a week.
The British bookseller W.H. Smith, which uses Kobo as its e-book vendor, went even further and shut down its entire website over the issue. All that remains of its website is a statement that reads: "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."
Meanwhile, Amazon has removed some offending titles from its website, but the project appears to be piecemeal. The company remains the primary target of the campaign at the Kernel, which has included a list of "the most disgusting amateur sex fiction shorts available at Amazon" among its criticisms. Amazon isn't sharing its corrective procedures. The company did not reply to the L.A. Times' request for comment.
And one writer doesn't think Amazon should be making any corrective procedures. "If your default position is to support free speech, these are the kinds of titles that make you wince. It's a lot easier to defend 'Huckleberry Finn' than 'Taking My Drunk Daughter ... ,' " writes PJ Vogt for On the Media. Admitting that these books are "worse than pornography," Vogt argues that erotic fiction is fantasy, and it doesn't lead to action. While "these are leagues worse than pornography. These are books that are written to give you, the reader, pleasure while you imagine someone raping a child," he writes. "Amazon should ignore Kernel and leave them up."
Carolyn Kellogg: Join me on