The Kobo Fiasco

Some of you may already be aware of what's going on. Others may not.Here's a simplified summary.


Kobo realised that *some* indie-published books in their catalogue contained illegal or icky erotic content. So they pulled *all* indie-published books.


Yep. You've read that right.


The books aren't permanently deleted, they're quarantined pending individual reviews. However, can you imagine how long it will take Kobo staff to check several hundred thousand titles individually? Especially considering that Kobo staff are overworked and can't even cope with their normal workload.


Kobo spent much time and money courting indie authors and persuading them to publish with authors. With one fell swoop, they've destroyed that trust.


What caused this sudden action? This is where you may laugh: A tabloid newspaper in Britain published an article showing that a retailer in Britain was selling books containing incest. This exposure caused outrage against that retailer. Kobo (which sells ereaders to that retailer) panicked.


I can understand that Kobo would take a drastic emergency measure. For example, they might have decided to temporarily quarantine all erotic books, or all books containing certain suspicious words such as 'Daddy', and check them for illegal erotic content.


But to do this to all indie books, simply because they're indie?


On the plus side, Kobo sent an email to authors that books would be quarantined and why. I appreciate being informed. That's something. Alas, only authors who published directly with Kobo received that email. Authors who published to Kobo via Smashwords or D2D were not informed. They were shocked to see their books had vanished.


The situation is of course more complicated than I've described. For example, not all books were removed at once. Mine were still in the Kobo catalogue yesterday - but today they've disappeared. And Kobo has several websites (some of them are regional, some are by other criteria) and the sweeping deletion has not happened to all of them at once. I believe some (but not all) American customers can still get all titles. If you're an author, your books will still show on your dashboard page even if Kobo has pulled it from the catalogue.


I suggest we allow Kobo until Friday to sort out this mess they've created.They may not be able to because manually checking hundreds of thousands of books is bound to take months. But they may realise their mistake and do a u-turn, and restore books wholesale the way they've deleted them, and then remove individual suspect titles the way they should have in the first place.


If Kobo don't backtrack by Friday, I suggest it's time for authors (indie authors and sympathetic trad authors) and readers (especially Kobo customers) to unite and speak up.


Because if we allow Kobo to get away with this monumental breach of trust, other retailers and publishers will think they can do the same.


Some months ago, readers and authors used social media to campaign against the outrage of banks censoring books (the famous Smashwords vs PayPal case). We were very successful then. PayPal backed down, the freedom of literature was restored, and the credit card companies also gave up their self-appointed role as book censors.


If Kobo doesn't correct their anti-indie stance, it's time to speak up. Tweet, retweet, blog etc about it. On Twitter, we're currently discussing suitable hashtags. #kobofiasco and #kobogeddon are favourites.


However, I suggest we wait. Kobo *may* after all get their act together and sort this somehow. I suggest waiting until Friday.


Some authors are already removing books from Kobo, calling for Kobo boycotts etc. I think that's premature.


I used to have a positive opinion of Kobo, and used to promote Kobo a lot (largely because I hoped it would grow into a strong competitor to Amazon). But now, I'm no longer sure. If Kobo manages to review all the pulled books, to delete the illegal ones and restore the legal ones by Friday, I'll applaud them. Otherwise, I'll be in the front lines of the #kobogeddon campaign.

Rayne Hall
Fantasy & Horror Fiction
Dark * Dangerous * Disturbing