Friday, 2 September 2011

X-rated Kindle? Should e-books come with warning stickers?

Should e-books come with warning stickers?  Well, should they? 

I bought two books on Amazon for my Kindle the other day.  One was The Power of Six by Pittacus Lore. The other was Django Zoon: The Straightener by Jobo Pooks.  One was for James; one was for me.  Because, see, James has sort of purloined my Kindle, having consumed Kim Jewell’s YA books, Invisible Justice and BruteJustice.  And I tell you, if you have a recalcitrant reader, try him or her with an e-reader…while adults may baulk at the lack of a ‘real’ book, children seem to feel quite the opposite.
Now then.  Here’s the thing.  Zoon is huge fun – I read the first few chapters on Authonomy and it’s a wild roller-coaster ride, totally crazy and, in places, laugh-out-loud funny. Incorrect in every which way but that’s part of the charm. However  it also has a high filth level and some pretty fruity language.  Is it the kind of thing even a feckless liberal parent like me would want their twelve-year old to read?  Umm, no, not really. 

It kinda crossed my mind at the time whether I should say anything about it to James but I figured that doing so would only draw his attention to it, thus making it quite quite irresistible. So I kept schtum.  But I joked to Jobo, on Twitter, that my son was enjoying it – and he didn’t think it was remotely funny; in fact he was pretty perturbed.  And we batted it back and forth a bit – this question of books being available to buy online.  I really hadn’t given it any thought and, okay, I thought he was overreacting a bit.
I just don’t think children will be out there buying books for their Kindles in the first place by and large – they’d be getting their parents to spend the dosh, won’t they?  But, stop right there – James did order himself a copy of the Stig’s biography the other day.  Hmm.  Then again, even if a child did buy x-rated porn, the parents are going to get the email bill, right?  They’re going to see what little Bob or Kylie has downloaded and, unless Bob or Kylie is a speed reader, could nab it off them and lock them in their room to think about it before you could say ‘wildly inappropriate tits and arses’.  Anyhow, how is it an e-book any different from a paper book?  A lot of ‘normal’ adult books (I’m not talking erotica here) have scenes of sex and violence. Some have pretty ripe language.  If you have anything other than Barbara Cartland on your shelves (in which case we have a whole other conversation to have), surely your children could get a dose of adult material if they really wanted?

But then I thought again. It’s  not so much what they can buy but what’s already on there. And it is different because, with a paper book, you’re going to spot ‘em, aren’t you?  If James wanted, he could climb up on a chair and grab any number of explicit sex tomes (left over from my sex columnist days, of course). But I’d notice him thumbing through Extreme Tantra, wouldn't I?  Whereas Kindles are secretive little things.  Someone I know (I won't out her) says she loves her Kindle because she can be cruising the web, chatting on Twitter or Facebook while everyone thinks she is quietly reading Jane Austen.  Sneaky little baggage. 
Cos, think about it, there’s no cover to act as a giveaway, is there?  There’s no physical presence, no hard evidence. 

And I got to wondering.  Has James looked through the contents of my Kindle?  My tastes are pretty tame on the whole but a few of the authors I know from Authonomy write saucy stuff and I’ve got a couple of Poppet’s raunchy tales stashed away there.  And some of Jake Barton's crime stuff is pretty graphic in a blood and guts way. Not to mention Sessha Batto's intense homo-erotica!  We get so worried about children not reading that maybe we've lost sight that perhaps there are books they shouldn't read. Not yet anyway. 
Hmm, I said to Jobo.  Maybe books should have stickers – like they put on rap records – warning that they have adult content.  Absolutely, he replied, and went off to get Zoon reclassified.  ‘Amazon should categorise stuff,’ he said firmly. ‘I don’t want children reading it full stop.’ 

But that’s just looking at it from one end and I still don’t think it’s actually the major problem.  However, if you share a Kindle with your child, have you thought about what they could read?  Would it worry you?  Should it worry you? Ought e-readers come with some kind of parental lock that you could put on certain books?
Bottom line: do you know what your children are reading? 

btw, going back briefly to Jobo and Zoon - it's an interactive project and the music is pretty cool too (and, as far as I can hear, there's no filth there)... check it out here.  You can download tracks for a donation to charity- or see/hear the audio/visual on YouTube

PS: I'd like to point out that I do also know plenty of people who write nice books which aren't full of filth... :)


Anonymous said...

Actually, I have been liberal enough never to worry what my offspring read or saw as long as she read.
Personally, I think Cartland ought to have a warning on it: Consumption of this will seriously affect your grasp on reality....
Good points, and I have no sensible answers.

Sessha Batto said...

I'm of many minds on this one, Jane! I write what would certainly be classified as 'not for under 18' books, I wouldn't want my son to read them and I go to great lengths to make sure people are aware of the content before they buy . . . I have no control after that, and I refuse to worry about it. I lapped up wildly inappropriate, overly adult content from a VERY young age and turned out none the worse for it (don't you dare laugh). As for my teen - well, I caught him with the kama sutra AND a textbook on abnormal sexual psychology a couple of years ago - they were on the shelf, after all! It does not appear to have stunted his puberty (well, any more than having a mom who writes about gay sex would have on its own, that is!)

As with everything, parents need to take responsibility . . . I've never had to use any of the lock out parental controls, I prefer to monitor and discuss - so far, it seems to be working!

Rob-bear said...

I think the Kindle versions should have the exact same warnings as the printed versions. Hmmmm.

Frances said...

Oh Jane, I haven't left you many comments recently, because as a non parent I feel very unqualified.

Ahh, but but a reader I was as a child, teenager and, truth be told, still read a bit.

Seems to me that reading is a wonderful thing. I am sure that even in the "golden age" of books that were books, and could be borrowed from the library if you had a card, I might have read something that my parents had not read,or even known about.

Yes, that was ages ago, but the theme continues. I love to read and have since since I was six years old. Reading is the key to so much. Why deny anyone the opportunity to keep that reading fire lit? I am quite sure that my parents had no clue as to what I was reading beyond a certain age. (I should also say that I really don't know what they were reading, then or now.)

Of course. I am not a parent. If I had young children in this age, I might just feel differently, but hope that I would not.

Raising a toast to authors and readers! xo

Ditzy Mummy said...

Interesting post I hadn't even thought about it, I have just bought my mum a kindle and my oldest has been reading some books of it. Better check she hasn't got an naughty books on there!!

Alison Cross said...

I've not used an e-reader, but is there not a way to 'lock' books or something? No different 'users' that can be specified, like on a computer? So that what is yours stays locked when your son is reading it?

I am a sweary kind of person, but not around my son (well, not unless we're in the car and it just kind of slips out) but I cannot ABIDE the language that some of his peers use.

I'm not talking about your standard effing. You can eff and blind without having much of a clue about what you're saying. But the sexual content of their language I find disturbing. I am uncomfortable with children talking that way.

Hopelessly old-fashioned?

D.J. Kirkby said...

This is a topical post for me because I am giving away a Kindle on my blog right now (yes, that was a deliberate plug), and I mentioned to my husband that an eReader would make a good Christmas gift for N3S (8 years old) because we have run out of room to store his books in his room. This then led to all manner of 'what if' discussions much like your blog post. We haven't come to a satisfactory decision yet...

Exmoorjane said...

Oh my! For once Blogger is letting me comment... I'll grab my chance.

Viv: yeah, I'm so with you on Cartland et al... far scarier than any porn.

Sessh: you know, I'm pretty much of a mind with you on this...monitor and discuss works well for us too, and results in some hilarious (and illuminating - for me!) conversations

Rob: ARE there warnings though? I don't see 'em in the bookshops or on Amazon - or am I looking in the wrong places??

Frances: as always, my dear friend, I raise my glass to you. I've been enjoying your words and pictures as always - as you see, I can't often comment but please know I'm enjoying my glimpses into your world.

Ditzy: the older they get, the worse they are. Check that Kindle!!

Ali: if there is, I can't find it. Re swearing, I think it can be a valid form of expression when used - imaginatively, shall we say. But James knows there are times, places, ways and means... :)

DJ: Now if I could only enter that competition!!! That, you see, is the answer...James NEEDS his own Kindle. Hint, hint, hint.

Michele on behalf of Endaxi Press said...

From the point of view of a publisher we would LOVE to be able to easily separate the raunchy/edgy stuff from the kids-and-aunty-friendly stuff in a way that was immediately obvious to the purchaser.

We've done our best by setting up an imprint Prosochi where all our grown-up-only stuff gets published and we publish the safe-for-all books under the Endaxi banner.

But it is tricky when we have an author like Poppet who has a sweet author name who usually writes decidedly Prosochi material and then writes a runaway success of a children's book like Fey's Adventure - which shot to the top of its genre chart by being downloaded over 2000 times in less than a week.

It could be very confusing if a tot or parent who had led a sheltered life decided to search for more books by Poppet and then downloaded Heresy or Seithe or Dusan expecting more heartwarming fairyland adventures!

Would save us all a lot of angst if ebooks could be classified like films and then the parents could set up a block on adult material if they chose to do so.

Katherine L. Holmes said...

I'll bet this becomes an issue. As you said, parents will be buying the e-books for the most part. I'm not even sure if kids could get an Amazon account if they can't get a PayPal account.

Still, with so many new books coming out, even adults might want to know content. If the reviewers don't tell, then people might want ratings. It seems at Amazon that it depends on what the customer demands, such as with that notorious book about the pedophile.

But another problem is that Kindles should be family devices. People shouldn't have to invest in a Kindle per person. So then they might want a blocker on their Kindle. Or passwords for family members. I'm surprised they didn't plan for it.

Bridge Oliver said...

I agree with Viv. I remember reading Last Tango in Paris as a young teen (probably about 14) There are two bits I still remember :- the girl having her first orgasm whilst riding a bicycle; the other bit involved butter. Neither made me want to go and try it out, in fact I took it all with a pinch of salt. Nothing wrong with a bit of erotica for a young girl - it did me no harm.

janerowena said...

I used to sneak all my parents' books up to my room to read, and now my son does the same. I don't mention it, just watch with interest to see where his tastes lie. We don't tend to read much that could be considered bad for a YA, but I have discovered, through watching films with him, that he self-censors - he will go and fetch a drink during a particularly violent part, or visit the loo if he feels things are getting too romantic. I assume he skips parts he doesn't like in books in the same way that I used to - I found both violence and lovemaking descriptions got in the way of a good story!

Jobo Pooks said...

Great post, Jane and one that should be passed around. I too had never even thought about categorising Zoon, even though I have adult Meta tags in place on the sample pages on my website and more disturbing is the USA Zoon, which has a simple "look inside" link, thereby, making it available without downloading. Youngsters will probably poo poo the idea of censoring stuff from them....let's face it....we weren't all little angels, but that's no excuse to just be blaze about what kids these days are into and have open access to. There are lines that must not be crossed because young minds are easily influenced and corrupted and I vote yes to categorising on Amazon and similar sites in as much as they set up proper Meta tags and warnings for material that warrants it. I also think that authors should have warnings on the covers of their books and within any blurb that promotes it.

Milla said...

The version of kindle on my iPhone has a bit which categorises the book. Kindly telling me the book I'm now reading (visit from goon squad) has adult themes and language. But don't have this on kindle proper.

Yvonne Johnston said...

I have wondered about this one too as I recently downloaded a few samples for my 15 yo son to look at. I've not got much on my Kindle that I wouldn't want him to see. Only one - which I myself found too extreme. However I was concerned to discover that I could not delete it completely. If you delete a book, it goes into 'archive' and can be instantly downloaded to your Kindle once more!

Tee said...

Good post, Jane! I don't have a Kindle and so never thought of this. But do books in book stores come with warnings? I've never noticed that here. Except the ones in the erotica section.

But for Ficiton, anyone can waltz in and buy it.

Oh and...POOKIE! ♥

Anonymous said...

I read Richard Adam's Maia from my school library as a very young teen. If you know that book well then... um... yeah. Kids find out for themselves no matter how careful you are and my folks were VERY careful. I didn't get 'the chat' till I was 12 and my mum was super clinical about it.

When I was six I took an anatomy book into school and explained sex and childbirth to my friends. I did rather well, too, and nobody had ever explained it to me.

Kids are instinctive and intuitive and yes we should protect them but we shouldn't suffocate them with ignorance.

Ignorance leaves them open to harm just as much as an over-surfeit of knowledge does.

Anonymous said...

Do Kindles have nanny watch on them?