Amazon Kills One Pedophilia Book -- but Keeps Another

Last Updated Nov 12, 2010 5:42 AM EST

Amazon (AMZN) has been caught up in another hurricane of consumer outrage. This time the reason was a Kindle book on how to make pedophilia safer for both child victims and pedophiles. But Amazon's protestations that it supports absolute freedom of expression and choice fall flat, when you remember the very difference stance the company took last year over all GLBT (gay/lesbian/bisexual/transgender), no matter what the actual subject -- and that the company took the new title off sale while keeping an older pro-pedophilia book in its offerings.

The current popular target, called The Pedophile's Guide to Love and Pleasure: A Child-Lover's Code of Conduct -- a second edition, no less â€" was described by its author, Phillip R Greaves 2nd, as follows:

This is my attempt to make pedophile situations safer for those juveniles that find themselves involved in them, by establishing certian 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 sentences should they ever be caught.
The title sold for $4.97 on the Kindle and had more than 900 customer reviews ... with an average rating of one star and some, as you might expect, fairly harsh remarks.

As a colleague of mine, Jenna Glatzer, noted in her Hot Diggity blog, Amazon had been receiving complaints about the title for days. Fellow BNET writer Lydia Dishman pointed out that Amazon has defended carrying the title, saying that it was an issue of freedom of expression and choice. The reseller has used similar language in defense of selling books from Holocaust deniers as well as a choice episode a decade ago when it received heavy criticism for selling Understanding Loved Boys and Boylovers by David L. Reigel (as the blog Jezebel noted).

A fundamentalist stance on free speech, no matter how horrid, you might understand if Amazon had applied it evenly. It would have taken a firm principled stand in the face of economic penalty. However, Amazon has been anything but equal in its application.

Last year, Amazon removed many books with a GLBT focus or theme from its virtual shelves -- including such literary titles as Brokeback Mountain by Annie Proulx and James Baldwin's Giovanni's Room. There was strong evidence at the time that Amazon acted deliberately over a period of months. Consumer backlash and outrage caused the company to bring them back. Clearly "free expression" has some pretty odd limits for Amazon, with completely mainstream GLBT somehow being too dangerous to leave in search results but not pedophilia.

Furthermore, Amazon still sells the Reigel title. The retailer's own review of the book reads as follows:

Is there such a thing as a legitimate sexual relationship between an adult male and an underage boy? Most civilized people would answer emphatically "no," and Understanding Loved Boys and Boylovers won't convince them otherwise. Defensive in tone and amateurishly produced, this monograph uses both pseudo-scholarship and anecdotes in its attempt to justify its target audience's actions and feelings.
So not only does Amazon apply its principle differently, depending on the subject matter, but it apparently acts only when enough public heat makes it uncomfortable. In fact, as Lydia pointed out, the company apparently deleted more than 100 negative reviews at the request of the author, so protecting free speech is a farce. Furthermore, Amazon hadn't even marked the title as being appropriate for adults only, as it does with many books -- and as it did with many GLBT titles in the past. (The Riegel book also is not marked as adults only.)

Amazon management is now squarely in a fix. It cannot honestly claim long support for pure freedom of expression, which puts its latest defense of the objectionable into a very unsavory light, indeed.

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Image: Amazon.com
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    Erik Sherman is a widely published writer and editor who also does select ghosting and corporate work. The views expressed in this column belong to Sherman and do not represent the views of CBS Interactive. Follow him on Twitter at @ErikSherman or on Facebook.