It appears as though reason has won out at Amazon.com today as a how-to manual for pedophiles that sparked a furious protest yesterday has been pulled from company's virtual shelves.
The self-published e-book -- "The Pedophile's Guide to Love and Pleasure" - had been on Amazon since Oct. 28 without a ripple or significant sales. That changed dramatically yesterday when word of its availability raced across the Internet, generating boycott threats, and reportedly launching the title to number 80 on Amazon's bestseller list.
While I have not read the book, based upon excerpts I have seen online, its content covers exactly what the title would suggest: a how-to manual for child rapists.
Yesterday, Amazon appeared unmoved by the gathering firestorm. However, what had been a link to the book now turns up a blank page.
Accounts of an initial statement being widely attributed to Amazon have been unclear as to its origin, with at least one that I read indicating that it was a customer service representative's reply to a complaint. Here it is:
"Amazon believes it is censorship not to sell certain books simply because we or others believe their message is objectionable.
"Amazon does not support or promote hatred or criminal acts, however, we do support the right of every individual to make their own purchasing decisions."
As I've written before, these decisions are not about "censorship," not by a long shot. Government's censor; private entities do not. Companies such as Amazon not only have a right to decide what goods they will and will not sell, they have a responsibility to do so, expressly if not primarily a fiduciary responsibility to stockholders.
The company issues guidelines banning certain materials, including offensive content, illegal items and educational test solution manuals. However, Amazon does not elaborate on what might be considered inappropriate content, stating that "what we deem offensive is probably what you would expect."
A how-to for test cheaters? Not acceptable.
A how-to for child rapists? ... Fine?
That's not what I would expect.
Those who defend the book on free-speech grounds and believe Amazon needed to hold firm appreciate the complexities of neither free speech nor corporate responsibility. The book's author does indeed have every right to express his heinous views (within existing law), but he has no right to every megaphone or any specific one, such as Amazon's.
And, of course, Amazon has a right to sell any legal book it pleases.
The public has the right to shop elsewhere.
Amazon needs to address the issue publicly with a full explanation of how the book was made available in the first place. It should also determine what revenue accrued to it through the unavoidably hyped sales, multiply that amount by 10 or 100, and donate it to a charity that helps abused children.
And it should promise that such an inexcusable breach of its corporate responsibility will never happen again.
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