Did your mother say you could read that book?
As writers, I think it’s likely that many of us read books when we were kids that somebody would have considered to be inappropriate.
That doesn’t necessarily mean Fear of Flying or Lolita when you were ten. It could have been science fiction, or fantasy, or War and Peace, or even something political.
It might have just been a high school level science book when you were in grade school.
Some of us were encouraged by parents or legal guardians to do so: they might have even given us the books. In other cases, it was just because we had freedom to do so. Our parents or legal guardians didn’t know exactly what we were reading, but were open to discussing it. Some of us might even have been allowed to (bahm bahm bahm BAHM) go to the library by ourselves!
E-books change that to some extent, because the process is different. Your device is largely supplied through a specific account (with Amazon, with Barnes & Noble, with Apple), and your parents/legal guardians have fiscal responsibility for it.
Up until recently, though, kids could easily get what they wanted. The parents/legal guardians would get an e-mail and could return it, if it came from the regular account.
All along, I’ve seen people asking for “parental controls”. I’m going to use that term for simplicity’s sake, even though they are used by a lot more people than parents. Not only did they want to limit what their children could buy, but what the kids could see in the archives (the books which have already been bought).
I saw many people not understanding that book publishing does not have a self-imposed rating system, like movies, games, and music do. There aren’t any “R-rated” or “MA” books. You can’t just set a filter for books of an appropriate age, even though recommended age/grade levels are available for some books.
The solution to this that we are starting to see is “white-listing” books (and other content) on children’s devices.
A “white list” is the opposite of a “black list”. With a black list, you say what people can’t access. With a white list, you say what they can.
This may have a significant unintended impact on authors, and especially indie authors.
If there is a black list, the child can typically still browse the Amazon bookstore on the device, and discover books. It may be that the kid then asks the responsible party if it is okay to get it, or perhaps the child has a certain allowance for books.
With a white list, the child is typically prevented from seeing the store at all on the device.
It becomes impossible to stumble across something new. The parents/legal guardians have to have taken the active step to make a book available.
It’s possible that this will favor books from tradpubs (traditional publishers) disproportionately. A parent/legal guardian may approve of a book that was reviewed in People magazine, but not one that wasn’t.
It’s not that they think the indie book is bad; it’s that they don’t know if it isn’t “inappropriate”.
When we get to the level of Young Adult (and this will surely affect some of you), that becomes even more problematic.
Remember that the child can’t easily get an e-book from someone not on the account. That means there can’t be one well-worn copy of Catcher in the Rye or Catch-22 being passed from person to person. You can’t just go into a bookstore and plop your paper route money on the counter. Of course, kids probably don’t have a paper route. Have you noticed how that now tends to be adults…who drive on both sides of the road and throw the newspaper out the car window?
I think this is going to mean that getting your books on curated recommendation lists is going to be increasingly important. Parents/legal guardians may look at lists from librarians, teachers, people they know (like Google Circles), and perhaps blogs and interest groups and only pick from those lists.
How are you going to adjust to a world that goes from “What aren’t your kids allowed to read?” to “What are your kids allowed to read?”
Recent posts in the I Love My Kindle blog which may be of particular interest to WG2E readers:
- Hey, bookseller: sell the book!
- Round up #125: Pay by the page, Zinio on the KFHD
- Snapshot: November 1 2012
- It’s official: Penguin/Random House merger announced
- Read the movie: top five movies based on books
Bufo Calvin is the author of the popular I Love My Kindle blog and several titles in the Kindle store, including the #1 bestseller Love Your Kindle Fire: The ILMK Guide to Amazon’s Entertablet, and the best-selling The Mind Boggles: A Unique Book of Quotations. Bufo is proud to be a part of the WG2E family.