Earlier this week, a kerfuffle broke out on the Internet over whether Amazon removing a book from its sales stock was censorship.
(Side note: I love an opportunity to use the word kerfuffle.)
The issue began when a self-published Sandy Hook conspiracy book, “Nobody Died at Sandy Hook,” was removed from Amazon.com on Nov. 19. According to a news release from the book’s publicity team, “The book … had enjoyed a brisk sale of around 500 copies since Amazon initially offered it on Oct. 22, of this year. The book was removed by Amazon Nov. 19, after less than a month and despite nearly 80 reviews.”
I first heard the news on a post in a NaNoWriMo group on Facebook. Commenters were outraged at Amazon’s blatant censorship by removing access to a book.
Except, here’s the thing: That’s not censorship.
By U.S. law, censorship is when the government denies citizens access to content. The United States government isn’t allowed to tell its citizens, “You can’t say the Sandy Hook massacre didn’t happen.” We are free to share our ideas, opinions, and thoughts.
A private business, however, isn’t obligated to sell a book. Amazon has no obligation to stock and sell any product, nor does its print-on-demand subsidiary CreateSpace have any obligation to produce copies of the book.
In the NaNoWriMo group, one commenter said it’s censorship for CreateSpace to stop printing the book because “everyone has the right to share their opinion.”
Yes, I agree that everyone has the right to share their opinion. But that doesn’t mean they have the right to share it through CreateSpace’s platform. If CreateSpace says, “Sorry, your publication goes against our company’s values and mission,” then a person’s opinion has to be shared via an alternative platform.
And with today’s technology, there are platforms galore. Blogs, websites, podcasts, social media, and hundreds of self-publishing platforms (both e-book and print) are available. Some are free, some have costs attached. But the point is, the platforms are out there.
In fact, the book’s team did pursue another platform. They now are offering the book for free in PDF format. Obviously the book hasn’t been censored, because it’s still available.
I said it before and I’ll say it again: Amazon isn’t censoring the idea. Amazon isn’t making sure the book never reaches readers. The company only decided they don’t want to sell it, the same way retailers decided not to sell the Confederate flag earlier this year.
HAVING A RIGHT, MAKING A CHOICE
Interestingly, when I joined a discussion online to point out Amazon isn’t censoring content, I was labeled a censorship supporter.
Hmm. Sorry, but no. That one missed the mark.
The truth is, I support a private business’ right to stock and sell whatever it wants. They should have that right. No one should be able to tell a business, “You have to sell this.”
I agree they should have that right. But I rarely agree with their decision to pull a product from the shelf.
I respect that companies wanted to pull the Confederate flag from their inventory because it’s their right to do so, but I also think companies should leave room for the consumer to decide if a product is harmful. (Note the subtle difference: I think companies should leave products on the shelf, but I don’t think they should have to. There is a difference.)
Unless a product has a defect that can lead to injury or death, I agree with leaving it on the shelf.
If Amazon continued to sell “Nobody Died at Sandy Hook,” I wouldn’t think less of them as a company. Readers can discern for themselves whether the book is worth reading or ignoring, whether the authors have a point or are detestable human beings for trivializing the deaths of children.
Disclaimer: I am an independent author who publishes in partnership with CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform’s print on demand services.