04/13/2012 10:46 EDT | Updated 06/13/2012 05:12 EDT

E-Books -- Welcome to iCensorship


Consider the newest words entering our vocabulary: Kindle, eReader, Nook, iBooks, and Kobo. Let me add one more: iCensorship.

If statistics are to be believed, our eBook purchases on these devices are fast eclipsing traditional print books. This isn't surprising, as eBooks are not bulky, don't kill our forests, and are cheaper.

Despite these advantages, they are not perfect. Putting aside the challenges of sharing books or battery problems, there is the problem of the walled garden. Once you have committed to purchasing an ebook through Amazon, you can only read your book on a Kindle. While you can get a Kindle application (an "app") for your iPad, this would be a different app from Apple's built-in iBooks. Having a plethora of different readers and remembering which book is in which app is nonsensical: Consumer behaviour will be to choose one and stick to it.

This app problem is just one skirmish in a long-brewing war between the ebook distributors. Consumers may not realize that ebook distributors have another weapon -- a dirty little secret actually -- to use in their fight: censorship. Yes, censorship.

My latest book was just submitted for electronic distribution, but was rejected because within the manuscript there were several links to the Amazon web site. Not links to the Amazon store, but to two Amazon services that are important for the target audience -- AuthorCentral and Askville. I was told that if the book was to be sold on a Nook, Kobo, Apple iPad, Sony eReader or others, this content would have to go. Guess what happened?

In the olden days of traditional bookstores, this could never happen. While you may be saddened to see the death of so many independent bookstores (and some large ones), you should be more disturbed by the inappropriate use of the monopoly power by these new electronic companies. Is what they are doing unlawful? Not being a lawyer, I couldn't say. You probably don't care about my specific book, but what about others? Imagine where this slippery slope might take us: Will Amazon only agree to carry a product if the publisher adds only-for-Amazon extras? Will Apple or Kobo only carry the product if an author changes the political angle of their manuscript?

I do support the right of ebook distributors to choose what they wish to carry. But their behaviour imposes yet another burden on a beleaguered publishing industry. It is an attack on the editorial freedom of writers. Why should it fall to publishers, authors (and ultimately consumers) to be the pawns in their high-stakes world of ebook poker? Let the competition be on an even playing field, without iCensorship.