Last Updated Nov 11, 2010 8:22 AM EST
Amazon has removed the book from sale on its Web site, but the discussion of censorship, free speech and the potential illegality of this guide still rages. Read on:
File this under: we only wish this was a joke. Amazon (AMZN) is selling an e-book titled The Pedophile's Guide to Love and Pleasure as a Kindle download for $4.79. The self-published title by one Philip R. Greaves II appears to defend the practice of having sex with children (although I haven't read the book). Yet Amazon's going to be the one on the defensive, as news of the e-book's availability has customers slinging virtual mud and vitriol at the bookseller for its laissez-faire attitude towards what it deems inappropriate texts.
Here's the book's description, as written by the author:
This is my attempt to make pedophile situations safer for those juveniles that find themselves involved in them, by establishing certian[sic] rules for these adults to follow. I hope to achieve this by appealing to the better nature of pedosexuals, with hope that their doing so will result in less hatred and perhaps liter[sic] sentences should they ever be caught.
Scroll down below this pastiche of spelling and usage errors and you'll find a rapidly growing number of negative reviews clamoring for Amazon to take this title out of circulation. But it probably won't. Why? Because thus far, Amazon's held fast to an open policy surrounding all manner of objectionable content.
Business Insider reports that the bookseller's peddling plenty of books from Holocaust deniers, which they say is illegal in many countries other than the United States. And Jezebel notes that nearly a decade ago, Amazon was under the gun for selling Understanding Loved Boys and Boylovers, by David L. Riegel.
At that time, Amazon issued this statement defending itself:
Our goal is to support freedom of expression and to provide customers with the broadest selection possible so they can find, discover, and buy any title they might be seeking.
Apparently, because the book didn't contain photos or illustrations it was exempt from laws criminalizing the distribution of child pornography. It is still available and continues to garner plenty of negative reviews.
As this new e-book doesn't contain pictures or illustrations, it's cleared the pornography hurdle. And Amazon issued this via email to one of the outraged customers:
As a retailer, our goal is to provide customers with the broadest selection possible so they can find, discover, and buy any item they might be seeking. That selection includes some items which many people may find objectionable. Therefore, the items offered on our website represent a wide spectrum of opinions on a variety of topics.
Let me assure you that Amazon.com does not support or promote hatred or criminal acts; we do support the right of every individual to make their own purchasing decisions.
Amazon.com believes it is censorship not to sell certain titles because we believe their message is objectionable. Therefore, we'll continue to make controversial works available in the United States and everywhere else, except where they're prohibited by law. We also allow readers, authors, and publishers to express their views freely about these titles and other products we offer on our website. However, Amazon.com doesn't endorse opinions expressed by individual authors, musical artists, or filmmakers.
The statement is very similar to the one Amazon issued in response to legal threats against its sale of Reigel's book. http://www.wnd.com/?pageId=15397
It would be one thing if Jeff Bezos and company steadfastly stuck to the no-censorship rule. However, Amazon's not totally opposed to deleting what doesn't suit. It's already removed over 100 negative reviews of Greaves' e- book at the request of the author. Commenters in the forum note that the author protested that these critics didn't actually buy or read his book so their reviews were "unhelpful."
The greater issue in play now is whether Amazon's corporate brass will deviate from its "making controversial works available" rule. When does assuaging customer outrage (and generating some positive PR out of this mess) trump freedom of speech? Do executives of a publicly-traded company have a responsibility to police what they will sell? If so, who draws the guidelines for what is deemed "appropriate?"
It also calls into question the entire self-publishing enterprise. In effort to give potential authors a marketplace for books bypassed by traditional publishers, Amazon has opened itself to vulnerability.
There are no easy answers. But let's not forget that Apple (APPL) has struggled with this issue, too. Steve Jobs has drawn plenty of criticism for rejecting mobile apps based on content such as political satire and porn among other things. And Google (GOOG) Books was hosting a preview inside the book Daddy's Little Boy, but took it down within hours of being contacted about its inappropriate content.
It's reasonable to think few people, if any, will buy, much less read, this book. And even if Amazon continues selling the e-book, episodes like this are often quickly forgotten. (Remember? No?) However, the rising tide of disgruntled customers is a force to be reckoned with right now. Amazon would do well to take a serious look at whether it's worth becoming known as a purveyor of pedophilia -- even for a little while.
Image via Amazon.com