Monday 25 November 2013

The Indie Ebook Watershed? (part 2)

Last month I blogged about the scandal that hit the ebook market when UK high street retailer WH Smith fielded numerous complaints about books of a more - shall we say - adventurous nature appearing alongside kiddie books on their website. Their search engines were not filtering out adult content or indeed even flagging such content as appropriate for over 18s only. WH Smith's slightly knee-jerk reaction was to take its online store down completely while the matter was investigated.

you'd be surprised what else comes up in a search... 
WH Smith gets its ebook feed from the Kobo store, as do many other online retailers of ebooks. In response to complaints from WH Smith, Kobo in turn pulled all "independently-published" ebooks from its virtual shelves. Don't ask me how it defined independently-published - anybody can set up a publishing company or imprint with little or no financial outlay. Only the taxmen in their various guises need to know the true legal entity of a business.

So. Fast-forward a few weeks. My ebooks are once again listed with Kobo (at least some of them are - my new release hasn't yet appeared there but I'm confident it will in time). They've not yet reappeared on WH Smith's shelves and I doubt they will. But is this the end of the story? I don't think so.

Online stores do deals with different ebook suppliers. Like Kobo, Barnes & Noble/Nook Press ebooks go out to small online stores throughout the world. For instance, here's one of my books in the Indigo ebook store. Indigo is a Canadian company with physical stores across the country.

And don't forget physical books. I have three paperbacks now, published via CreateSpace. This is US-only and frankly nobody ever buys books from the CreateSpace site itself - they buy via Amazon or via one of the many sites that CreateSpace distributes too across the world via its Expanded Distribution option. This optional extra distribution used to cost an extra $25 - now it's free - and I've actually sold more print books via Barnes & Noble than I have on Amazon itself.

So what's wrong with that? Well - I have no idea where my books are being sold. Google alerts doesn't seem to help here (you all have Google Alerts set up, don't you? Authors and non-authors alike, it's invaluable for knowing who's talking about you...). So I was surprised to find my paperbacks being sold on UK site Fishpond. No, I'd never heard of it either. Quite why anybody would even consider buying a UK book priced in dollars and shipped via the US, when they could buy it from is beyond me - but what is disturbing is the description:   

black & white illustrations and Age Range: 15+ years.

Yes, really.

For the purposes of anyone who has not read my books, my thrillers are very dark, very graphic and absolutely in no way are suitable for under 18s. Oh, and there are no illustrations.

I have no idea where this information is coming from. It's not in my meta-data from CreateSpace, so who tagged my books and why? There's no "look-inside" feature, and I'd be horrified if people thought it might actually have illustrations and be suitable for mid-teenagers. I could possibly understand all books defaulting to an age-range (even if it's clearly the wrong one, and there is nothing that suggests it's a child or YA book), but to state it has illustrations? How? Why?

I've contacted Fishpond and they are looking at the my issue and hopefully amending the description. But what will happen if I change my book, re-upload and CreateSpace pushes a fresh copy out to all its satellite sites? And what else is out there that I know nothing about? How can I control  how my books are presented to the public?

Answer - I can't. And that's why I think this ebook watershed has only just begun.


Anonymous said...

A quick correction there, Debbie. Fishpond is an Oceania site, based in New Zealand and Australia.

Sadly it is looking bleak for indies with W H Smith. I am in discussion with their HQ, but it's like banging your head against a brick wall. But just maybe someone there will see some sense and at least agree to Kobo allowing titles in through approved aggregators (which won't be anything-goes Smashwords or D2D) next year. I think that's the best we can hope for.


PS Sorry for the anon. Blogger won't let me comment with the other options. The joys of a West African ISP...

Debbie Bennett said...

I stand corrected. I assume that anything is English!