Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Mrs Grudy, Book selling and me

Yes, Mrs. Grudy is alive and well. It is all well and good to make a little joke at her expense. But the issues raised are really no laughing matter.

As I mentioned yesterday, we put a great deal of time and energy into creating a family friendly site. We did a fair amount of research.

Did you know that if you go to Amazon (for an example) and look for an erotica section – you won’t find one. But if you type “erotica” into the search bar you come up with 8,813 titles in 29 categories from the expected (GLBT, Romance, Scifi/fantasy or Art/photography) to the really unexpected like cooking or outdoors/nature. There is plenty of erotica sold, it’s just not clearly marked.

As a book buyer I have, personally, have had the experience of stumbling into erotic material by accident. And I have to tell you, it is something of a shock to be looking for a history title about ancient Egypt and unto stumble upon Egyptian Erotica.

Now, as a parent, it is really important to me, that children and young adults do not have that same experience. And I believe that parents should have a modicum of control over what their children are exposed to.

So, we made a very conscious decision to clearly segregate the material for “mature adults” into an erotic section. At eBooks About you will find many of the same titles sold elsewhere under other seemingly innocuous sections, clearly labeled and separated into an erotica section. We also created a “gateway page” that can easily be blocked by parental controls. I do not want some kid to find erotica in categories like Teens, Biographies or Graphic Novels.

In doing this we have created a situation which makes it hard to actually sell books because these same self-appointed guardians of morality have deemed that they will not clear credit cards for any site that has items clearly marked as adult. I am left with an choice -- I can do what my competitors do, or I can stick with my guns and do what I believe is morally and ethically responsible.

But there is another more lingering concern for me : my fear that those same self appointed guardians of morality are creating a disingenuous and pernicious form of censorship and a corollary and very underhanded attack on civil liberties.

As an American citizen, I was raised with a reverence for the principles of the First Amendment. Freedom of speech and press are among my most sacred ideals. The idea that a commercial clearing operation can determine what I am allowed to sell or that someone is allowed to buy makes me really uncomfortable. And the surreptitious way it is done make me downright scared.

Censorship of this kind creates an environment everyone loses: the publisher, the distributor, the reader and the entrepreneurial bookseller.

"Yes Mrs Grundy is alive and well and managing several large commercial credit clearing operations. Her health and well being is not something I fear but the surreptitious way she pursues her agenda troubles me greatly.

It is important to be aware of our responsibilities to children . And I believe we should build ecommerce sites where access by the young can be limited. That is a clear agenda for us at eBooks About and the geniuses who have limited our credit clearing choices have made our task harder. They appear to be trying not only to save our young from erotic material but instead to limit everyone's access to that category of literature.

In trying and failing they have harmed the young in this society. Through their attempts to control what consenting adults can read they have reduced the market's capacity to control access, not increased it.

Thus it always has been, the busybodies overreach and ALL of us pay a price that is ultimately a lot higher than it needs to be. If only our morality monitors could simply leave the rest of us to our own generally moral responses to life the world would be a better place. We could all be living together in a community with responsibly drawn boundaries. Instead the largest booksellers hide their erotica in other categories and Mrs. Grundy wails on about the general immorality of our society. How convenient for her!

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