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Amazon Under Pressure for Selling Pedophilia Book

Wednesday, 10 Nov 2010 | 6:09 PM ET

Amazon is standing behind the first amendment in the face of a social media firestorm over a self-published digital book on its site titled "The Pedophile's Guide to Love and Pleasure: A Child-lover's Code of Conduct."

Amazon.com
Amazon.com

Despite a growing number of negative comments on its own site, the world's largest online bookseller says it will not pull the digital manuscript from its Kindle offerings.

"Amazon believes it is censorship not sell certain books simply because we or others believe their message is objectionable," spokesman Drew Herdener explained in an e-mail, in response to inquiries from CNBC. "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."

The purported guide book for pedophiles, listed as being written by Phillip R. Greaves II, has triggered a Twitter and Facebook campaign to get Amazon to pull the book. Amazon's listing for the publication showed more than 300 negative user comments by late Wednesday afternoon, with some users threatening to boycott the online retailer over the issue.

Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Borders and other electronic booksellers make it possible for writers to self-publish books on a digital platform. But, unlike traditional publishers, analysts say the e-book sellers do not edit or vet the manuscripts.

"We look upon the internet like it's a media, but it's not. It's a platform," says Jeff Jarvis, director of the interactive journalism program at City University of New York and author of "What Would Google Do?"

Jarvis says Amazon's defense of itself underscores the company's belief in self-publishing as a form of speech.

"Amazon is a platform for all sorts of information to be published and found," he says. "They want the marketplace and society to decide."

Still, Amazon's self-publishing contract with authors gives the online retailer the right to take down a book without explanation, stipulating in a distribution agreement posted online that the company "may also suspend your Program account at any time with or without notice to you, for any reason in our discretion."

On Twitter, where topics are aggregated by hash tags, Amazon's refusal to remove the book has been tagged with #fail, web speak for massive misstep. Indeed, for social media consultants, Amazon's early silence on its Facebook and Twitter accounts has been a distinct failure.

"Letting the social media outcry go unchecked is inexcusable for a company this large," says social media consultant Amy West of West Freelance Communications. West flagged the Amazon flap on her own Facebook page this morning.

West says Amazon's team should have been proactive. "A good rule of thumb is to forgo accounts on Facebook and Twitter if you're not going to actively manage them," West adds.

Analyst Jordan Rohan of Stifel Nicolaus, meanwhile, says "it's a tough position for Amazon." Still, despite the public reaction to the objectionable material, Rohan doesn't believe the outcry will affect Amazon's stock.

"The issue seems more to be with the content than the distributor," Rohan says.

Amazon shares, which closed $3 higher near a new all-time high Wednesday, were down about 1 percent in extended trading. Get after-hours quotes for Amazon here.

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