We’re very pleased to announce that all Bookkake titles are now available in Apple’s iBooks for download to iPhone and iPad – just search the iBookstore for “Bookkake”. All editions are priced at £4.99 or local equivalents, half the price of the paper edition.
In addition, three of the five titles are available for the Kindle.
Bookkake: dedicated to spreading dirty books as far as technology allows. Enjoy.
There’s a lot of post-Amazonfail discussion on the blogs at the moment. We wrote up our own experiences here, but we’d like to do a bit of a debrief on this, and the recent Dubai Literature Festival controversy, to explain why this is important, and why it’s not over.
First of all, let’s get a couple of things clear: it wasn’t a troll and it wasn’t all a big glitch. The troll/user-tagging argument relies on the assumption that it was only LGBT (Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) books that were targetted: Bookkake’s own examples contradict this (and, contrary to many reports, there’s no facility on Amazon to flag up products you dislike, only other user comments). And Amazon’s “glitch” excuse does not in any way explain why LGBT books – all of them, books with no sexual content, books about parenting, marriage and advice for young people – got shunted into the ‘adult’, family-unfriendly reaches of the catalogue.
There’s a lot of back-tracking going on right now, with some interesting thoughts on the issue, mostly from webby, social media types. Among others, Meg Pickard, Head of Communities at Guardian Media Group, is concerned about this kind of internet-enabled hue and cry, and whether it’s doing more harm than good. Clay Shirky, new media commentator de nos jours, has a thoughtful – and apologetic – piece on why moral ourage may have been redirected, and why it’s so hard to turn around.
We understand these arguments, and we sympathise with them. We don’t endorse the mindless mob, and in our own reporting of the event, we tried to stick to our own experiences, and we kept our minds open. But now Amazon has had a chance to respond, it’s time to talk about what’s really the matter here, and we’ll start by going back a couple of months, to Dubai.
As regular readers will know, a comparable situation occurred back in February over the alleged “banning” of a book with gay content by the Dubai Literature Festival. There was a similar (if far smaller) outcry in the book world, with calls for a boycott—in which Bookkake participated, gathering contact details for attendees, soliciting statements from those involved, and collating information as the event unfolded. Margaret Atwood, no less, changed her plans to attend. Others reconsidered.
Some days later, it turned out that the book had not been banned, but simply not selected for the festival, and the director had written a rather naive letter to the publisher saying she didn’t think the book would sit well with “local sensibilities”. Well, OK then, said everyone, what a silly hoo-hah over nothing. Poor new festival director who got it in the neck. They even put together, at short notice, a special panel on censorship, with several prominent Middle Eastern writers, representatives from PEN, the international writers’ human rights organisation, and Atwood beamed in by satellite. Job done.
Well, sorry, but no. Here’s a thing: in the whole two-hour panel, which you can watch online, in its entirety, on Vimeo and on the festival’s website, nobody talks about homosexuality. (Andrey Kurkov – author of the excellent Death and the Penguin – says the word ‘homosexual’ around 82:50, as part of a throwaway remark with little relevance to the discussion. That’s it.) That bears repeating: in a two-hour panel on censorship, set up specifically in response to accusations of homophobia, not a single participant talks about homosexuality.
You don’t play these sort of games with literature, with peoples’ lives. The book in question is still not on sale in Dubai, and the local media can’t discuss it. The Dubai Literature Festival’s tagline was “There are places only books can take you.” If you’re gay in Dubai, the only place you’ll go is to prison, for up to ten years. This issue vanished from the debate, which became one of general censorship, rather than one of specific discrimination against lesbians and gays.
On the panel, in the video, Margaret Atwood, International PEN Vice-President, talked about how books can be a lifeline to those who read them (64:00). Rachel Billington, previous President Of English PEN, spoke of how authors’ self-censorship is often the greatest danger (71:35). Eugene Schoulgin, International Secretary of International PEN, said that “it is our responsibility as writers not to close our eyes to what is going on” (80:15). And yet: no one spoke of homosexuality.
Likewise, the issue at the heart of #amazonfail is not – should not be – whether Amazon’s recategorisation was accidental or not, but how LGBT books came to be classified as not suitable for “family” viewing. How Amazon attempted to place them in the category of things of which we shall not speak. There is an effort to recoup and reform the discussion going on right now, to make this an issue of social media, of its use – and misuse – to “victimise” Amazon. But Amazon started applying these filters two months ago, and when it was just the gays who complained, as recently as last week, Amazon did nothing. Homosexual speech is not heard; it is unimportant; it is recategorised; it is censored and banned and imprisoned.
It took the full weight of the social web hue and cry—yes, an ugly thing at times—to turn Amazon around. Which they have now done. But is it enough? No. If Amazon really want to rebuild their credibility, they need to tell us exactly what happened, how it happened, and promise that it won’t happen again. We won’t let you play these kinds of games with literature. We won’t let you weasel out of this debate; we won’t be sidetracked by the issues of social media, mob rule and poor reporting; we won’t just move on as the short-attention-span of internet outrage passes. We’re willing to give you a fair hearing, but you must speak so that we all can hear.
Image detail from 58/365: It’s Better This Way by Eternal Grom, used under Creative Commons.
Over the last weekend, a controversy has blown up around the online retailer Amazon’s apparent “restriction” of large numbers of books across its international sites, heavily weighted towards adult and LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender) content. We’re not sure exactly what’s going on – there are some suggestions that it could be a malicious action by third parties taking advantage of Amazon’s user-flagging systems – but you can get a good idea of the scope from this listing at LJ, this call by Ed Champion for a boycott, and Kassia Krozser’s excellent open letter to Amazon at Booksquare. The twittersphere has reacted with predictable and massive uproar.
For the record, Bookkake seems very much affected by what’s happening. We got a message last week from a friend pointing out that a simple Amazon.co.uk search for “bookkake”, which we linked to from our books page no longer returned any results, and we changed this to an advanced search for all books “published by Bookkake“, which did return our books.
On Sunday—yesterday—we performed a number of trial searches, and found that it was almost impossible to find any of our books through basic searches, with many totally unrelated items ranking higher in searches than the books we were quite obviously looking for, in much the way Kassia notes in her post.
Today—Monday—this seems to have changed. Our books are once again appearing as would be expected in normal searches, although they still don’t have any sales rank data attached, which they had previously. We’re not sure what’s going on, and it appears to still be in flux, but we don’t have much confidence in Amazon’s statement that it was all a “glitch”, and we’ll keep monitoring the situation for now.
What this highlights is the growing power of the new generation of massively pervasive retailers such as Amazon—and the search engines that support them—as well as the damage they can do if they choose to censor or de-list literature. On the flip side, the controversy it raised shows the power consumers have to fight back: if nothing else, we can be sure that corporations are more interested in making money than making policy, and the loudest political voice among their consumers will trump any moral outrage on the other side.
Update P.S.: I have to add this wonderful example of consumer power: within 24 hours, a successful googlebombing for the string “amazon rank“. Good job, Smart Bitches.
Image of a Yagua tribesman demonstrating the use of the blowgun, on one of the Amazonian islands near Iquito, Peru. Used under GNU license from Wikimedia Commons.