The Future of the Ebook

British Bookstore Shuts Down to Scrub Self-Published Dad Porn from Site

”We are disgusted by these particular titles, find this unacceptable and we in no way whatsoever condone them."
(MIKE CLARKE/AFP/Getty Images)

(MIKE CLARKE/AFP/Getty Images)

Have you tried searching Amazon for anything other than a specific book lately? Don’t, because your results will be clogged with crap. Try finding a half-decent romance novel and it’ll become instantly clear why GoodReads has gotten so popular–keyword searches are full of poorly written pornography with hideous covers.

But the flood of poorly vetted self-published work poses much, much bigger problems for booksellers. Take, for instance, British bookseller W.H. Smith, which was recently found to be carrying titles like Daddy Rapes the Virgin Daughter in the Attic and Amber’s Rape By Her Parolee Father. A search for “daddy” would return eye-searing results, inspiring a shitstorm across the pond in the U.K.

The company has has temporarily shut down its website while its partner Kobo, which actually powers the company’s ebook sales, scrubs the site of self-published titles. The BBC says Kobo has also temporarily shut down its own U.K. site. “We are disgusted by these particular titles, find this unacceptable and we in no way whatsoever condone them,” says a note on the site.

It’s the result of this investigation by the Kernel, who “discovered ‘daddy’ fantasies sold by Amazon, Barnes & Noble and WHSmith that depict, in stomach-turning detail, violent rapes by men described for legal reasons as ‘not blood relations’ but referred to simply as ‘daddy’ within the text itself.”

“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,” W.H. Smith promises in its statement.

That’s a pretty big promise, though. For one thing, as PaidContent points out, authors of these books have plenty of metadata tricks up their sleeves to sneak them into stores. Short of hiring a small army of part-timers to speed-read every new addition, or shutting off self-publishing entirely, it’s hard to see how the screening process could get any better.

For another thing: What are you going to do when some church lady shows up wanting Lady Chatterley’s Lover gone for good? Who makes the call drawing the line between 50 Shades of Grey and some nameless, raunchy BDSM book?

But booksellers have gotten themselves into this mess. Once upon a time, they had to carefully curate their offerings to fit into limited real estate footprints. Even the biggest big-box store couldn’t offer everything. That made it easier to take a stand on free speech and artistic merit, because they’d actually chosen to stock a book. When Lawrence Ferlinghetti got hauled into court for Howl, it was because he’d chosen to publish and sell it.

Over the last 10 years, though, ebooks and self-publishing have allowed Amazon, Barnes and Noble and others to become oh-so-voguish platforms. And once you throw your doors open, you shouldn’t be surprised if visitors track mud in.

(h/t The Next Web)

Follow Kelly Faircloth on Twitter or via RSS. kfaircloth@observer.com