Sunday, August 27, 2017

Is Barnes & Noble The Nation’s Largest Book Banner?

Barnes & Noble used to lead the nation in book sales and had a wonderful brand for more than a century.  It has not only fallen to a distant second place in the book market, but it has disgraced itself and all that it has stood for.

What am I talking about?

Barnes & Noble recently issued a content policy for its Nook, basically saying that titles that run afoul of it can be pulled from being sold immediately.  No appeals process, no debates, no chance for a negotiated settlement between publishers or self-published authors and the corporate giant. 

Is this really America?

That would be bad enough, but the real injustice is the content policy.  It clearly is arbitrary, confusing, and in conflict with free speech and ignores the very purpose of a bookstore:  to allow books and ideas to be sold and exchanged without judgment by the retailer.

You expect book bans from dictatorships, not here in America where a true democracy allows for all books to be sold without a corporation getting in the way.  B&N are hypocrites.  They sell all kinds of books that many would oppose for any number of reasons.  The answer is not to remove all books that possibly offend, but rather, to remove none.

If a book violates the law then I can understand why a store wouldn’t sell it, though that alone ishould not always to be the case.  But if a book is a hoax or there’s evidence a book is libelous or that it was pirated, then of course the store has a legal obligation to cease selling it. But once you get into areas of content, everything should be allowed – unless a crime was committed to create the content.  For instance, if a woman was forced to have photos taken of her nude body for a photography book, that book should not be sold in the store.

So what happened to B&N – why did they turn weak and craft some catch-all policy that could easily snare half the books that exist?  Why would they risk alienating authors and customers?  Why do they not stand up for freedom of speech and to encourage the publication and sale of all books?

Several self-published erotica books were immediately banned from the Nook for sale once the new policy was posted on their site. 

Their policy states books can be removed for “portraying or encouraging incest, rape, bestiality, necrophilia, paedophilia or content that encourages hate or violence.”

On first pass you may think such a policy sounds good until you realize there’s no way to draw a line here.  Portraying violence?  Many books portray violence, from history to crime drama to fantasy.  What we really want is to ban violence or hate or rape – but banning books that merely talk about it won’t solve the problem.

We’re going backwards here.  Books reflect the world’s realities and they indulge in our darkest fantasies.  They help us cope with life as it is and they allow us to co-exist in an imperfect world.  We can’t script happy endings to every story, whitewash the past, or act as if bad things never happen.  The bookstore is not Disneyland, nor is it a church, or a government office.  It’s a sacred place where everyone should have access to all books.

How many classics would get banned if B&N followed its own policy?  Would authors have to re-write their books to fit within the censored standards of the corporate entity that dictates which books get to live or die?  Do we not distinguish between words and actions, fantasy and reality, debate and silence?

I can’t begin to express how such a policy saddens me.  It won’t end there.  Every day some tech behemoth uses its power to pick and choose who gets to be heard, from Facebook, YouTube and Twitter to Go Daddy, Google, and now Barnes & Noble. 

For shame!

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Brian Feinblum’s views, opinions, and ideas expressed in this blog are his alone and not that of his employer. You can follow him on Twitter @theprexpert and email him at He feels more important when discussed in the third-person. This is copyrighted by BookMarketingBuzzBlog 2017©. Born and raised in Brooklyn, now resides in Westchester. Named one of the best book marketing blogs by Book Baby 

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