5 Things to Learn From Amazon's Latest PR Disaster

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Amazon is backpedaling after initially coming to the defense of one of its electronic book authors, a man selling a how-to-guide for pedophiles.

"Amazon believes it is censorship not to sell certain books simply because we or others believe their message is objectionable," the company said in a statement. However, after receving massive media attention, the book self-published by Phillip R. Greaves II, The Pedophile's Guide to Love and Pleasure: A Child-lover's Code of Conduct, has been removed quietly from the Kindle store.

This latest action further highlights how Amazon seemingly has no idea how to defuse a public relations nightmare; has sketchy business ethics; and apparently lacks a quality control mechanism to prevent more of these publicity headaches. Here are some takeaways from Amazon's fiasco.

1. There's No Free Speech in Business

Amazon said it didn't condone censorship, but it did just that when it pulled the offending book off its virtual shelves. Despite its publicly expressed views, Amazon has several content guidelines for its e-books, including prohibiting what it deems pornography and offensive material, categories that could have prohibited the e-book from being published in the first place. It's realistic to assume that, like Amazon, any company embroiled in a controversy or dealing with a barrage of consumer complaints could suffer boycotts and negative publicity that harms both its reputation and profits.

2. It's Tarnished the Reputation of Legitimate E-books

Amazon launched its 70 percent royalty program for authors and publishers using the Kindle Digital Text Platform (DTP) earlier this year, which meant that all authors and publishers selling on the site would start gaining 70 percent of list price, minus delivery costs of 15 cents per megabyte. Straight-to-digital e-book authors and publishers were delighted, especially writers. Traditional publishing houses usually only offer up to 15 percent in royalties. The new royalty program also gave Kindle a needed boost against other online e-book stores.

While many straight-to-digital books can be self-published dreck, Amazon opened up a new market for both publishers and authors alike, which promised no startup costs and an easy profit. So far, that's unlikely to change, but authors and publishers could be more leery of working with a company that defends its authors, then quietly delists them.

3. Amazon Has No Quality Control

Aside from the Kindle Digital Text Platform content guidelines, there doesn't seem to be much quality control for the Kindle Store. That's probably OK for 99.9 percent of regular authors, but it also led to this recent fiasco.

However, this isn't the only controversy which pointed to Amazon's lack of quality control. Last year, authors of gay and lesbian e-books suddenly lost their sales rankings and were delisted because of "an embarrassing and ham-fisted cataloging error," as Amazon told the New York Times. Although Amazon never specifically said what happened, many authors believed it was because their books were deemed in some way pornographic because of gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender themes.

4. Action Is Better Than Reaction

As mentioned above, Amazon could have prevented the public failures of its Kindle Digital Text Platform by instituting a department monitoring quality. While this could lead to less content getting through the DTP, it would benefit Amazon financially and legally. The quality control could limit some titles and authors, but it could lead to a better system overall.

5. E-books Are the Future For Authors

E-books are part of the future. Already the Kindle store has spawned a range of shorter novels and books. Publishers are using the medium to sell $2.99 genre fiction such as romance and horror, along with nonfiction how-to guides.

While there are other free e-book publishers out here such as Lulu.com, which offers 80 percent royalties, it's obvious that Amazon's reach and power has them all beat. Who else has e-book apps for Android, Apple, Windows, and BlackBerry? Despite Amazon's history of delisting, an author's best bet for making a splash and money is at the Amazon Kindle store.

Amazon's pedophile book controversy will likely die down soon and have little effect on those individuals or companies who still want to sell their books on its platform--and probably won't affect the vast majority of writers churning out nonfiction books or technical manuals.

Reach or follow Barbara E. Hernandez on Twitter: @bhern.

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