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Self-published porn leads WH Smith to come offline

WH Smith yesterday took down its website in reaction to the weekend discovery that it was amongst a number of digital retailers – also including Amazon and Barnes & Noble – selling William Faulkner novels self-published pornography featuring depictions of incest, rape and bestiality. Instead of the usual shopfront, visitors to the Smith site were greeted by a holding page featuring a statement from the business saying ‘a number of unacceptable titles were appearing on our website through the Kobo website that has an automated feed to ours’. WH Smith, of course, takes both its e-book hardware and software from the Canadian e-reader manufacturers, including its massive library of titles, which in this case appears to have passed to the Smith site without any vetting along the way.

The Smith statement continued: ‘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.’

Blame for these titles making their way through the company’s screening process was laid at the feet of ‘the massive amount of self publishing’. The website, it said, would be offline until all the titles were gone, ‘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.’

Amazon and Barnes & Noble took similar steps, with Amazon confirming it had removed the titles cited by the initial report and Barnes & Noble saying ‘When there are violations to the content policy that are brought to our attention, either through our internal process or from a customer or external source, we have a rapid response team in place to appropriately categorize or remove the content in accordance with our policy.’ If a minor blip for major retailers, this could yet stand to be a more lasting setback for self-publishing being taken seriously as a viable means of electronic distribution.

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Chris Ward

Chris Ward

Chris Ward writes and says things about books and music and films and what have you, even when no one is reading or listening.
He was chief hack and music editor of webzine Brazen from 2006 to 2010, and hosted Left of the Dial on Subcity Radio from 2008 to 2011.
He can be heard semi-regularly on the podcast of Scottish cultural blog Scots Whay Hae ('20th best website in Scotland!' - The List), and in 2011 founded Seen Your Video, a film and music podcast and blog based in Glasgow. He has a Masters degree in Scottish Literature from the University of Glasgow that will never have any practical application. You are on a hiding to nothing if you follow him on Twitter expecting any kind of hot publishing scoop.

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