I wrote an impassioned, indignant blog post Wednesday about The Pedophile’s Guide to Love and Pleasure being sold on Amazon.com. If you’ve been living under a rock for the last few days and have no idea what I’m talking about, google “Amazon pedophile book.” The book was later removed, thanks to thousands, or hundreds of thousands, of voices just like mine. Voices small and loud, belonging to moms, dads, aunts, uncles, friends and more. This one book was taken off the digital shelves of the bookselling giant, by all of those voices.
At first, Amazon.com defended its actions by saying it carries objectionable material of all types, and feels that it is protecting and supporting First Amendment rights by carrying these titles. Frankly, I’m all for objectionable content. I feel that “objectionable” is a subjective term, much like the Supreme Court has deemed “pornography” to be. Books such as The Color Purple, the Harry Potter series, and To Kill a Mockingbird have been deemed, by someone’s subjective definition, to be objectionable, and I have well loved copies of all of those titles in my own library. In my blog post, I stated that there is a line between objectionable and harmful, and The Pedophile’s Guide to Love and Pleasure can be nothing but harmful.
I did not ask Amazon.com to censor the book. I do not believe in censorship of objectionable material. I believe in the First Amendment. If the author of this book, Phillip Greaves, can find a publisher who will choose to publish his book, then so be it. I instead begged Amazon.com, which recently spent $500 million dollars to increase its reach to families by purchasing Diapers.com, to not make a profit from the sale of this book. This book is not simply objectionable, it is harmful.
The problem, however, is far deeper than one book. Amazon carries many books that can be classified as harmful-which may also be a subjective term. Amazon carries books with titles such as Gang Rape Fantacies (sic), Pipe and Fire Bomb Designs (designed to be a manual for police officers; such books are generally not publicly available in places where one cannot qualify their credentials to own such a book), Forced Sex Digest, and The Anarchist’s Cookbook. These books support crimes against women and terrorism. I’m sure there are thousands of such titles. @CecilyK, one of the earlier social media users to denounce Amazon.com for carrying Mr. Greaves’ book, has been inundated with requests by others with book titles they would like to see her work towards removing from Amazon.com, causing her to tweet “I am not Queen of the Book police.” Cecily wrote a lovely piece clarifying her stance on the book and talking about the ensuing firestorm.
The issue remains that Amazon.com continues to carry hundreds, if not thousands of titles that could be considered harmful. Books that celebrate rape, murder, human trafficking, and even pedophilia. Even if one wanted to be considered “Queen of the Book police” it would take a lifetime to find these titles, mobilize people to be pissed off enough to act, and force Amazon.com, or any other bookseller, to remove the titles. Such action would, inevitably, lead to lawsuits, forcing the Supreme Court to define “harmful” with regards to written content.
So what’s the answer? Quite simply, I don’t know. While I’m exhilarated by the knowledge that thousands of social media mavens forced the hand of a retail giant (and proud to have been a part of it), I don’t know how to fix the larger issue. Frankly, it’s a small step from having “Book Police” to remove harmful content, to seeing wide and far book banning, and that’s simply not something I’m willing to accept. Part of the answer lies in having retailers more carefully choose the products they choose to make a profit off of. Mr. Greaves’ book has sold, at last update, 72 copies, which represents a tiny drop in the bucket of profit, to Amazon.com. However, they do nothing to earn that profit. It’s a purely passive income. They set up a link on their site (which, I’m guessing, is a purely automated process) and hosted the content, image, and comments. The book, available only for download, took up no shelf space, and required no manpower or shipping charges in its delivery. I can see where it would be difficult for any retailer, even one as big as Amazon.com, to pass up the opportunity for such passive income. However, the time has come for making those hard choices.
Another hard choice is where we, as consumers, choose to do business. In the grand scheme of things, I believe that calling for a boycott of Amazon.com would be fruitless. The company owns three other booksellers, as well as Zappos.com, Fabric.com, Shopbop.com, and such sites as IMDB.com and Woot. It has online partnerships with Target, Mothercare, Lacoste and AOL. Simply put, Amazon.com’s reach is too big. Anyone who does not live in or near a major metropolis is probably fairly dependent on Amazon.com’s plethora of sites if they want to shop somewhere other than Walmart. For a boycott to hurt Amazon.com, we would have to boycott all of their partner sites; with the current state of the economy, this is simply not possible for many consumers.
I hope I can make the right choices.
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