Mark Coker at Smashwords is no stranger to controversy arising from publishing erotica. A few years ago, he famously fought back against PayPal’s attempt to limit what categories of work he could publish, and ended up prevailing.
Today he announced a new initiative Smashwords is taking concerning erotica publication. From this point forward, authors will be invited to specify which taboo themes are present in the books. The subcategories include age play, bestiality, dubious consent, incest or pseudo-incest, nonconsensual sexual slavery, rape for titillation, and “other.”
These categories are intended to add more clarity than the relatively uninformative categories for erotica used by BISAC and other classification systems. They will also help Smashwords determine which ebooks to place with partner retailers such as iBooks and Barnes & Noble, so they can hold back those that would run afoul of those retailers’ own policies and end up getting removed (and, presumably, causing more friction between that retailer and Smashwords).
The comments to Coker’s blog post are an odd mixture of people concerned that classification could lead down the slippery slope to censorship (never mind that Coker previously went to great lengths to fight back against erotica censorship, as mentioned above), and those who feel it’s terrible that Smashwords publishes any erotica at all.
Something Coker doesn’t mention, but that I think could be just as important going forward, is that these taboo classifications could also help readers specifically looking for those taboos locate works they want to read. As long as such works remain unclassified, discerning readers with specific taste in taboos will have a hard time finding works that do contain them, just as more conservative retailers will have a hard time keeping them out of their stores. Hopefully this new classification system will prove useful in resolving those issues for everyone.