In defense of Amazon


You have, I am sure, heard at least a portion of the story: allowed an e-book that instructed pedophiles on how to be better pedophiles (I’m guessing) to go on sale through their vast retail empire.  When the book was discovered– and I’m sort of interested in figuring out what search parameters led to it– the Internet, and specifically Twitter, lost its collective mind.

Amazon defended the decision.  The outrage got more pronounced.  A boycott was declared.  Amazon pulled the book.  The crowd went wild.  End of story.

And I should probably let it go there.  Except I can’t; I think Amazon was right.

Take a step back

I think it’s inarguable that a pro-pedophilia book should be condemned as an evil and immoral thing, and I have no problem with declaring it to be so loudly and frequently.  What I do have a problem with is blaming Amazon for it.

It’s true that the company vets everything it sells beforehand, but the vetting is for defense against litigation, i.e., improper use.  For instance, if someone decided to publish one of my books without my permission, that would be improper use, and Amazon could get sued for it.  They aren’t making moral choices; they’re making legal ones.

But, the crowd shouted, they should be.

Please take a step back and think about that for a minute.  “I would like the world’s largest online retailer to make decisions of morality for me.”  That is what you, large shouting crowd, just said.  And it’s an easy thing to say when the book in question is about molesting children.  What happens when it isn’t?  This would be a very different argument if Amazon decided not to publish Lolita, a novel widely acknowledged as one of the best English language books of the twentieth century, but one which happens to be about a pedophile.

Now, I’m not equating the pedophile guide with Nabokov.  I’m saying if you demand that a company make moral judgment calls, you can’t guarantee you’re going to agree with their decisions.

Common sense

Ah, the crowd counters: but this was a simple common-sense decision.

Beware, please.  Common sense is subjective.  I grant that you will be hard-pressed to find someone who thinks a pedophile guide is acceptable.  But there are a large number of people in this country who would agree with this statement: “of course man didn’t descend from an ape; it’s only common sense.”

Asking anyone– a large company or a person– to make common-sense decisions is no less dangerous than asking them to make a moral decision.

Not enough outrage to go around

The pedophile guide might not even be the most evil thing to be offered for sale by Amazon.  Go ahead and look up the Protocols of the Elders of Zion.  This is a hoax that is supposed to be the minutes of a meeting between a secret Jewish cabal planning on taking over the world by starting wars, crashing economies, and so on.  It’s nearly a century old, and was definitively debunked at least eighty years ago. Despite that, it was a primary source for Hitler and a key justification for the Holocaust, meaning this little book was indirectly responsible for the deaths of millions.  And it’s still taken seriously today by many people (especially in certain Middle Eastern countries) as justification for continued violence against Jews.  It is probably the most evil and dangerous thing ever published.  And it is on sale at Amazon right now.  So are the books inspired by it, including Hitler’s Mein Kampf and Henry Ford‘s The International Jew.

If you want to be angry, vast hive mind, be angry that THIS book is on sale at Amazon.  But while you’re at it, be just as angry at the 22 other online retailers also selling it.

This is not to say I am happy with Amazon

Right now I would love nothing more than to be able to say “Immortal is now on sale at major online retailer X instead of Amazon”.  The percentage they keep from books sold by way of their Advantage Program is criminal, they are not at all kind to smaller publishers in general, and their customer service is horrifically bad.  I don’t like them, in other words, and would rather not deal with them, much less defend them.

But, and this is an important point: they are currently the only place to buy Immortal.  And when the Kindle version comes out that will be doubly so.  This is true because right now, they’re just about the only game in town.  And there are hundreds of thousands of writers out there in the exact same position.

Boycotting Amazon because they chose not to take a moral stance in circumstances in which they should not have been expected to doesn’t hurt them nearly as much as it hurts someone like me.  And all I’m trying to do is sell a harmless fantasy/sci-fi/adventure book through an online retailer.

My point: if you find a book for sale there that you don’t like, punish the author and the retailer by not buying the book.  That’s how commerce works.

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No Comments

  1. Donna on November 12, 2010 at 4:03 pm

    Or perhaps punish the author with vast volumes of email? The pedophile author, I mean, not you! I do agree with your argument re who I want to make moral judgments, hive mind, etc. But what I do not know is whether it is a crime to publish a book that aims at facilitating the commission of a crime. Child sex abuse is a crime. So is it also a crime to publish a how-to book on it? I don’t know.

    • genedoucette on November 12, 2010 at 4:32 pm

      I think one would have to read the book to determine whether it’s explicitly instructing someone on the commission of a crime. But even that is a slippery slope. I wrote a “how to shoplift” chapter in my Worst Case Scenario Survival Handbook parody that became the most popular linked-to set of instructions for shoplifting on the internet for a while. Even though it was a joke.

  2. WotV on November 12, 2010 at 4:23 pm

    There are a lot of books that many people would find offensive on the shelves of many retail booksellers. Somehow, this one became the poster child for really horrifically inappropriate books. It shouldn’t have been out there at all, but it isn’t Amazon’s fault.

    I don’t know specifics, but what about the publisher? Was it self-pubbed? That raises some interesting questions as far as vetting those, but if a publishing house actually did this, that’s where I would lay the blame…

    • genedoucette on November 12, 2010 at 4:34 pm

      Actually, that introduces an angle I didn’t even have room for. It was an e-book. Amazon allows anyone to publish an e-book, no publisher or ISBN needed. I’ve done it; it’s incredibly easy. This is the vanguard of self-publishing right now, and one of the consequences of allowing anyone to publish. We may applaud the death of the old publishing guard, but the new guard includes people with vile opinions and nothing stopping them from sharing those opinions.

  3. Kimberly Kinrade on November 12, 2010 at 7:10 pm

    My biggest problem with your argument (and while I disagree with you, I admit you have made some good points) is that Amazon DOES take a moral stand against certain types of products. LEGAL products. Like pornography.
    Pornography is legal, yet Amazon refuses to sell it. But will wiling PROFIT off of a book designed to help pedophiles more effective rape children and receive lighter sentences.

    Of course there are other evils in the world. Other things that should stir our conscious and rouse our collective voice. This week, a How to Guide for Pedophiles was my fight. And I do hold Amazon responsible for wishy-washy standards, and vague guidelines for the admissibility of offensive material.

    • genedoucette on November 12, 2010 at 7:20 pm

      The pornography argument is a good one, but I think it’s less straight-forward than that. Different states have different standards for what is considered “legal” pornography and what is legally “obscene” and prosecutable as such. I think their blanket decision to not sell pornographic material has more to do with an inability to govern it safely– meaning to safely protect the company from litigation.

      • Kimberly Kinrade on November 12, 2010 at 7:26 pm

        Wouldn’t that also apply to an instruction manual for illegal behaviour? Admittedly it’s not black and white. But I spoke to an agent at the FBI, it is an area they look at. Child pornography is clearly illegal. Erotica as child porn is less clear, as is writing a how-to-guide for criminal behaviour. But it’s on the radar as potentially illegal.

        If Amazon is being cautious in relation to pornography (which I actually think has more to do with their relationship with Apple…and Apple’s anti-porn stance, than any litigation concerns..) then it would seem reasonable for them to also show some caution in selling and PROFITING from the sale of books that teach illegal and immoral behaviour.

        The book, from what I understand from an MSNBC article (there’s a link to it on my blog post) is very close to the line of child porn erotica. Also, it does offer instruction for lower sentencing if caught.

      • Kimberly Kinrade on November 12, 2010 at 11:02 pm

        Even allowing for the fact that it’s not inherently illegal to publish books that directly teach illegal behavior, (a point I would still argue), there is still the issue of written erotic porn depicting a child.

        This is legally a gray area as the laws have not been clearly established as to weather “Written child pornography” is prosecutable in the same manner as visual (which is illegal if the child even LOOKS underage or even if the picture isn’t real.)

        Likely this issue is weighed down by the fact that the actual visual child porn is so rampant and hard to keep up with there has been little time and resources to devote to the written version.

        But, this still qualifies as a line that, if Amazon was trying to be legally cautious, should not be crossed.

        And in the end, honestly, I abhor a company that is making money on a book that promotes and teaches the rape of children. It’s not like they are just allowing this on their site out of the goodness of their corporate hearts.

        So, regardless of all other issues (Which I still argue hold merit in and of themselves) I will boycott a company that profits from this.

        • genedoucette on November 12, 2010 at 11:12 pm

          Fair enough. I think we understand one another’s points well enough by now that additional back-and-forthing will probably just end up frustrating us both.

  4. mari on November 12, 2010 at 7:26 pm

    Thank you for posting this. I was feeling alone.

    When I heard about the ruckus, I was mad. But what made me madder were people asking the book to be banned, boycotting Amazon, pulling their products off Amazon.

    That book did violate the Terms of Service, and that is why Amazon should have taken it down prior to the outcry. So they were slow on that end.

    As for the the people that raised the cry. They had every right to do so. What made me step back and not join in. I don’t support censorship of any type. There are books out there that inflame me as bad as that one did. But its allowed to be published. No matter how horrible it is.

    In the end the writer got what he wanted. He wanted the publicity. And I feel like he pulled a sick joke on the country.

    • genedoucette on November 12, 2010 at 7:40 pm

      Reaction to this blog seems about split between your response and respectful disagreement. You are welcome! And I am glad nobody’s tried to call me a pedophile yet.

      • Kimberly Kinrade on November 12, 2010 at 11:35 pm

        I would take serious issue with anyone who tried to call you that. I don’t think anyone on any side of this issue is pro-pedophilia.

        Thank you for your intelligent discussion.

  5. Jaleta Clegg on November 12, 2010 at 9:47 pm

    I agree with you, Gene. Amazon is not responsible for deciding what is morally appropriate to publish and sell. If the book crossed the line and infringed on TOS for Amazon, or was pulled as illegal, I support that. They have a right to carry whatever products they choose, including books. But if the book is not illegal but only offensive to the hive mind, Amazon has every right to carry it. This is like boycotting your grocery store because they sell Twinkies, which the hive mind knows are full of preservatives and bad fat and evil calories. If you don’t agree with the book or it’s premise, don’t buy it, don’t read. If you believe it is illegal, contact the authorities or send an email to Amazon support expressing your concerns.

    I will support your right to not be censored. I will support your right to choose your own reading material. I also expect you to respect my choices, too. That’s what makes our country work, when it does.

  6. Laurel L. Russwurm on November 14, 2010 at 12:04 am

    Once upon a time my child’s elementary school wrestled with the issue of whether they ought to ban a book called “Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone” by people with good intentions

    An ongoing Twitter campaign called “Speak Loudly” attempts to raise awareness and prevent the book “Speak” from being banned by people with good intentions.

    The only way to guarantee free speech is to protect all speech. Even speech we might not agree with.

    The American Library Association lobbies against banning books:

    Because the moment you start to ban bad books, you place good books at risk.

    Even forgetting all of that, why on earth would any sane rational being even consider allowing any retail business to dictate our morality?

    Thanks for posting this Gene.

  7. Placing Good Books at Risk « Laurel L. Russwurm on November 14, 2010 at 12:47 am

    […] In defense of Amazon […]

  8. Dushan on November 14, 2010 at 8:20 am

    When e-book comes out you don’t really *need* amazon for distribution – amazon is there just for promotion. Nonetheless while you promote the book on your blog and goodreads (and maybe also somewhere else) you’ll probably stick to amazon because there’s a large percentage of people who search for books with amazon recommendations – in contrast with people like me who search books over goodreads-alike websites and only then check purchase options. It gives me a lot more categories to choose from and more personalized recommendation system.

    For “illegal book” absurdity I couldn’t concur with you more – internet is cesspool of information and it’s up to you to filter it. For example – I am an atheist and I view (organized) religion as very bad. Who am I to say that amazon should remove all religious books just because there’s a lot of us who don’t like what it preaches. I am not comparing pedophillia with religion (though irony shines out with these two words in the same sentence) I am just saying that information is not illegal – it’s what you do with it that counts.

  9. Angela Perry on November 15, 2010 at 2:53 pm

    I followed the debate on Twitter and Facebook, but (unusually for opinionated little me) I didn’t join in. This was a hard decision for me.

    My visceral reaction was “what???!!!!” I was horrified that anyone would write such a book or allow such a book to be sold. For the record, based on an MSNBC article, the book did contain explicit information:

    However, I also value free speech and due process. After thinking long and hard about the situation, I realized my problem is with the obvious gap in our laws. If we have a problem with a book like this being sold, we should make it illegal, not blame Amazon. Has anyone talked to their congressman about it? I’m writing an email to mine about it.

    I’m not boycotting Amazon. They did a poor job vetting a book, true, but it’s one among millions. Mistakes happen. Yes, they carry other books that I find morally reprehensible. But they do so legally. If we want to stop it, we should change the law, not attack the vendor.

    • genedoucette on November 15, 2010 at 3:04 pm

      That’s an interesting point, Angela. I think a law would worry me. How would you phrase it to prevent EXACTLY this without being used as a moral arbiter, like the Comstock law or the Hays code?

      • Angela Perry on November 16, 2010 at 6:18 pm

        Hmm…I’m not a lawyer, but I play one on the Internet, so here goes:

        “Any work that encourages sexual relations with minors shall not be sold nor distributed.”

        That would take care of the NAMBLA garbage, the book that’s still on Amazon, and that guidebook. It shouldn’t affect Lolita (which doesn’t encourage that lifestyle) and doesn’t apply to any other genres of writing (like how to blow up your neighbor).

        Specificity, as much as possible, would help keep it from becoming a moral arbiter, I think. Although you never know…zealots are notoriously resourceful 🙂

        • genedoucette on November 16, 2010 at 7:02 pm

          That might work. But to play devil’s advocate, one could argue that every teen pop star video falls under such a law.

      • Angela Perry on November 17, 2010 at 1:42 pm

        I’m totally okay with that 😀

        (I sent a year and a half trying to help catch a predator that got his jollies stalking little girl Disney stars. The FBI finally caught him when he went after a poser. He liked those videos. A lot.)

  10. BCPI on November 29, 2010 at 11:47 pm

    FYI and thank you. There is a new Christian guide out on the rearing of children which Amazon is planing to replace the Pedophiles Guide with now that it can be purchased as an ebook. The new paper back guide is tentatively called. ¨A Holy Whipping is NOT a Pedophiles Licking¨. And there are all sorts of appropriate punishments in it that can be used by the Christian family for everything from making the child eat hot jalapeño peppers for using the wrong words…to other more sever but not as ¨scaring¨ punishments.

    And there is an entire explanation that we are not animals like K9s or bears who lick and preen their young to bond with them. And that for the sake of the child´s sexual maturity affection should be held to a minimum and only used sparingly as a reward for positive behavior. B.F. Skinner is mentioned in the preface as being among those the author strongly admires.

    Thank you once again for pointing this out.

    Dr LaBra

    • Sarah G on November 30, 2010 at 10:54 am

      This sounds almost as creepy as the pedo book. I hope it’s a joke.

    • genedoucette on November 30, 2010 at 10:57 am

      I debated removing this comment entirely, but in a blog post about potential censorship the irony was too rich to tolerate.

      I would like to say, first, that this is one of the most horrifying things I have ever read, and second that I in no way endorse anything described in this book.

      If it’s a joke, it’s poorly played; I don’t think it is.

      • Sarah Snell-Pym on November 30, 2010 at 11:27 am

        It reads as a joke to me to be honest.

        Even the name is divided up into The Bra?

      • Kate on November 30, 2010 at 11:28 am

        As long as no one’s feeding the trolls, OK. But it ain’t censorship when it comes from a private websites.

        (I know you know that, but I’ve witnessed far too many ridiculous conversations on the subject to keep my yap shut.)

    • bab on December 1, 2010 at 12:16 am

      The poster did not claim that it is his book, but merely pointing out that it is being made available.

      I read this post as sarcastic and satirical.

      Many of the things mentioned in this post seem familiar in a historical way to me. I believe that the verbiage, etc. indicates that the text is from an antiquated child rearing book circa 1930.

      It saddens me that he proclaimed this to be ‘Christian.’ I think it was put in there to be inflammatory.

  11. PJ Kaiser on November 30, 2010 at 11:16 am

    Gene – I applaud you for your post. This is a truly difficult issue, but any issue regarding censorship is. The pedophile’s guide may seem to be an obvious case of immorality and it may seem easy to be offended and say that amazon should pull it. But our culture has become polarized in so many areas that it is the slipperiest of slopes when other people start deciding what *you* should find immoral or offensive. You can argue that no book should explain how to commit an illegal act, but, as Angela points out above, it should be made illegal rather than expecting amazon to be the gatekeeper. And if it was illegal, who would be the gatekeeper then? Would every questionable book be caught up in a judicial process? As a taxpayer, I certainly don’t want my tax money spent on useless litigation. The above comment by “Dr LaBra” only extends the point. Any parent who wants to look for justification of barbaric practices needs to look no further than the web. What makes anybody think amazon could or should prevent these books from being listed? Children’s protective services certainly wouldn’t care if a parent could “justify” abusive parenting because they read about it in a book, it is still illegal and legal action would be taken if it was discovered.

    Bottom line, as much as it pains me to say, I think that censorship is highly dangerous. I don’t want anybody else imposing their sense of values and morality on me. I can decide for myself.

    • genedoucette on November 30, 2010 at 11:54 am

      PJ Thanks for the thoughts. It IS a difficult issue…

  12. BCPI on November 30, 2010 at 3:37 pm

    I assure you the book is no joke. As for my name, I am second generation Vietnamese. And needless to say the world which is spelled in Vietnamese as Phật is pronounced Fuc or Fuk or Fuck. However the literal translation of it is Buddha or God. But then I know American culture which prides it self on speaking one language and even then not that very well finds everything to be viewed as laughable in some sexual sense.

    My purpose in pointing out the book was also to raise the obvious question which the new ¨Christian¨ book implied. Are those who see all affection with a child in the context of a pedophilia capable of raising a healthy child? Or even more agonizingly what is the purpose of human suffering? Because obviously of course it now means that any mother or father who squeezes a 4 yoś bumm will now be considered a pedophile as well.

    Dr Carol LaBra

    • bramin on December 1, 2010 at 12:05 am

      My condolences for being a 2nd generation. I´m 3rd generation Irish American myself…and I can tell you it only gets worse here.

      I´d herd something about the christian guide myself and what you pointed out was the good stuff. The bad stuff that is suppose to be in the book I wouldn´t even print here. Because when it comes right down to it, no one really wants to know what is done to children through out the world and accross the street from you.

      But I can attest to the fact and in hide sight that any child would be better off being raised by a non violent pedophile(and they all do NOT rape children) or even a shoe rather than the God fearing and beat the fuck out of a child parents like I had growing up.

  13. bramin on December 1, 2010 at 5:31 am

    Fortunately, there are technological advances being worked on and contained primarily in the publication of the science, theory and practice of pedophilia that will afford the most violent of pedophiles of today an extreme sexual euphoria in the terror they will be able to effect on the lives of children screaming for billions of years. And in the room right next to you…as the stars measure time.

    Which of course only goes to prove my earlier point that I, like everyone else who goes on from day to day enjoying the remaining sunsets of our lives fraught with meaning, find it all beyond hysterical. Whereas those with weak stomachs have all committed suicide. LOL LOL


  14. theronhardlegacy on December 3, 2010 at 6:25 pm

    Hello and thank you for your comments on whether or not Amazon should be held responsible for the pedophile book. It is unfortunate that people, such as yourself, are done harm because of the actions of others. However, sometimes the only way to get the attention of large corps is to hit them where it hurts… the pocket.

    The good news for you is that I shall now seek out your books because you were able to make a statement on the whole Amazon debacle! I am sure there are many others like myself! I will also subscribe to your blog!

    Have a fabulous day!


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