KoboIt’s rare to see a kneejerk panic reaction to populist scaremongering hailed as ” a courageous stance,” but then the whole debacle of Kobogate and the WHSmith ebook sales shutdown has been rich in cheap prudish posturing and unwitting self-condemnation, and I don’t expect this to be the last shameful instance. Now we have Michael Tamblyn, Chief Content Officer at Kobo, going on record via “A Kobo Writing Life Update” to give his official post facto version of events. And we have John McKnight, “a comic novelist as well as the author of the notorious self-help manual “a comic novelist as well as the author of the notorious self-help manual Throw The Book At Them! The Art Of The Well-Aimed Complaint,” applauding Kobo on Goodreads for “putting integrity before profit in such a competitive marketplace” in “Kobo’s Finest Hour.”

Michael Tamblyn, Chief Content Officer at Kobo

I don’t know whether it’s fair to use someone like McKnight as a stick to beat Tamblyn over the head with, but Tamblyn certainly deserves to be beaten with something, and McKnight happens to be the thickest stick to hand. Tamblyn himself makes no admission of shortcomings in Kobo’s operation, and no apology to the writers who suffered through the affair. If, for instance, Kobo carried “some content clearly in violation of our posted standards,” then how on earth did it get there in the first place? No one can sneak stuff onto Kobo’s site through a back door.

As David Gaughran and others have pointed out repeatedly, Kobo’s own “terrible” search function and “failure … to adequately handle adult content” were triggers for the subsequent fiasco. And once the shitstorm broke, Kobo then made a kneejerk reaction in the wrong direction, taking self-published content offline in bulk regardless of content.

At least The Bookseller takes a more neutral stance on Tamblyn’s comments, running them without much interpretative gloss, and adding a positive statement towards self-publishing from WHSmith. But against this you have McKnight lauding Kobo for “the increased respect it deserves for drawing its line in the sand.”

And, Tamblyn continues, “For those few titles that remain unavailable, some feel that we chose a path of censorship. All I can say is that if your dream is to publish ‘barely legal’ erotica or exploitative rape fantasies, distribution is probably going to be a struggle for you. We aren’t saying you can’t write them. But we don’t feel compelled to sell them.” No you don’t. But then, that didn’t stop you up until now, did it? And it took a business partner running into commercial difficulties to make you rejig your strategy, didn’t it? And no, I’m not claiming that you were cynically and knowingly profiting off “exploitative rape fantasies” until you were brought to book. But your entire operation was obviously ready to take them on board without any kind of screening until the consequences blew up in your face. Does that make you a late repenter, or simply ignorant of the content that you are supposed to be chiefly officering, or what?

And what is “barely legal”? Either it is legal, or it’s not. Are you going to explain exactly what “barely legal” means in law? Where it stands versus freedom of expression? Just what criteria have you put in place to decide this? If it’s content that should be off limits to some readers, isn’t it up to you to make that happen?

” My thanks go out to Mark Lefebvre and the whole Kobo Writing Life team and to all of our authors who have been so supportive and understanding in the past two weeks,” Tamblyn says. And my contempt goes out to you, Tamblyn, and all who followed you. For bowing down so supinely to rabble-rousing and then dressing up your actions as high principle. For hiding behind ignorance of your own product. For claiming that you are now highly ethical only after a business reverse that suggested the opposite. And for letting the gutter press dictate your morality for you. And you’re obviously not going to be short of useful fools telling you how good you did.

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Paul St John Mackintosh is a British poet, writer of dark fiction, and media pro with a love of e-reading. His gadgets range from a $50 Kindle Fire to his trusty Vodafone Smart Grand 6. Paul was educated at public school and Trinity College, Cambridge, but modern technology saved him from the Hugh Grant trap. His acclaimed first poetry collection, The Golden Age, was published in 1997, and reissued on Kindle in 2013, and his second poetry collection, The Musical Box of Wonders, was published in 2011.


  1. To Michael @ Kobo. (next time leave your email in your Kobo letter to authors…)
    My eight-year-old could have done a better boolean search to not affect Kobo Writing Life titles clearly not part of your “witch hunt”. What are you planning to do about my LOST revenues for my clearly not erotica ebooks in the non-fiction category you blacklisted for nearly a week???
    Not even a sorry for the hassles in your letter to Writing Life authors. Wow – what an oversight.

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