#KoboFail: erotica ≠ romance and romance ≠ erotica

May 27, 2015

Recently, I stumbled across a reviewer’s comment that she had received a copy of my “science fiction BDSM romance.”

Spyder’s Trouble is in no way, shape, or form a romance. Technically, it’s not even science fiction, it’s space opera, but that’s a distinction many people don’t make.

I checked on the retail sites and sure enough, Kobo lists the book as Romance > Erotica > BDSM and Romance > Erotica > Science Fiction & Fantasy.

Once I recovered from shock, I wrote to the publisher, Circlet Press. I received the following response from Cecilia Tan:

“Unfortunately on Kobo the only erotica categories are all subcategories under Romance. There is literally no other way to choose an erotic category, and you must choose a category in order to publish. You are free to take it up with them if you wish, but they’ve been deaf to all calls to revise their categories so far.”

So, I did.

I started by tweeting:

“Hey @kobo erotica ≠ romance and ≠ porn! No romance in Spyder’s Trouble (http://transgressivewriter.com/spyder.php#trouble) but that’s only listing option!?!?!?

@mtamblyn” (@mtamblyn is the Twitter handle of Kobo President Michael Tamblyn.)

Tamblyn responded: “I don’t think we necessarily have a problem with any of those three options. Not sure what your question is…” Of course, when I explained the “question” by tweeting “@mtamblyn The problem is that a BDSM space opera with NO romance can’t be listed under Erotica BDSM or Erotica SFF UNLESS it’s under romance” he didn’t respond.

This did not surprise me. I had the same experience last September when I tweeted: “Hey, @mtamblyn it would be nice if your employees actually read emails before they cut and
pasted canned irrelevant responses. #KoboFail” Then he responded with his email address and a request to contact him. He completely ignored my email, despite two subsequent posts on Twitter bringing it to his attention.

This time, I refused to let him get away with pretending to care in public while ignoring all complaints in private. A couple of days later, I asked: “Ain’t it amazing how @mtamblyn always responds to @Kobo tweets, tells you to email him, then ignores emails & tweets questioning #KoboFail”

That’s when he started the whine (later picked up by another Kobo executive) that he couldn’t “have a conversation about metadata in 140 char.” (My interpretation: he didn’t want to have a conversation in the public eye.)

When I reminded him that “Last time I emailed you, you never responded. Since this subject is fairly simple, I thought to keep the conversation public,” he out and out lied.

“Last time I brought in our Director of Self-Pub @MarkLeslie & his staff to help you out. Hope we can help again.” I responded to this blatant fabrication with “Last time NO one responded to
my email, @mtamblyn. Not you nor any member of your staff. My concerns were ignored. You only pretend to care.”

No response.

Mark Leslie Lefebvre, Director of Self Publishing & Author Relations at Kobo, aka @MarkLeslie tried again (repeatedly) to steer the conversation offline (and out of sight) by following me and urging me to DM (direct or private message) him so “we can have a proper conversation regarding category code options.”

Then, he also resorted to lies stating “when a problem is identified it’s definitely addressed.” A good portion of my original email to Tabmlyn was specifically related to the fact that Kobo does not address problems created by its staff. This especially includes issues resulting from Kobo staff training to respond to emails by cutting and pasting FAQ responses rather than actually reading the emails sent them.

I reiterated that I didn’t believe any “dialogue” was necessary, either Kobo intended to correct the classification problem or it needed to admit it had no intention of doing so. Lefebvre again tried to take the conversation off Twitter: “Still waiting for your email so a proper dialogue can occur.” I asked “Why should I waste words on an email you will ignore?”

A day later when he hadn’t responded, I taunted him with “Apparently, @MarkLeslie goes to @mtamblyn school of #KoboFail customer ‘service.’ Pretend to care until hyperbole proved wrong, then ignore.” Lefebvre then took it upon himself to find my email address on my Kobo publisher account and contact me.

He started out with a proven lie: “We take every single email we receive from authors seriously and we track issues reported.” (To which I responded with the list of five emails — including the one to Tamblyn — that never received answers from Kobo.)

He then went on to complain that issues weren’t black and white and required more than 140 characters to discuss after which he wasted almost 600 words trying to justify, with some pretty lame examples, why erotica needed to be listed under romance. He actually claimed that: “Our customers are able to find what they are looking for within the existing hierarchy so what you might see as an issue isn’t an issue from the point of view of the people who are currently purchasing titles in those categories.”

I pointed out that by forcing erotica books to be categorized as romance, “whether or not they are found is not the issue. When they are found by someone thinking they will include romance they are tossed aside in disgust because they contain no romance.

“Meanwhile, people who are interested in Erotica > Sci-Fi or Erotica > BDSM but do not care to read romance (men) will not find my books because they wouldn’t think of looking under romance.”

He insisted that “customers make purchasing decisions from a cover that is designed to appeal to the target audience as well as a synopsis that ensures they are properly informed about what they are going to read should they purchase that book.” He completely ignored the fact that the first step in that purchasing decision is finding a book (to see the cover and descriptive blurb) and no one will be able to do so if the books “are on the wrong shelf in the library or categorized incorrectly by the retailer.”

His response completely ignored the “dialogue” he claimed on Twitter he wished to have. He just defended his boss ignoring my emails, and instead focused on the other four emails that never received answers under the mistaken belief that they could have gone missing. (They all were responses in ongoing conversations that were cut off by Kobo staff who just stopped answering my emails rather than discuss my concerns.)

When I admonished him for not addressing “a single point I made about the classification system,” his response was a politely worded “go away.” He said: “As I stated in a previous email, classification systems are arbitrary. Ours is no exception. I explained how our classification system is set up and acknowledged that you do not agree with it. (Which he actually had not done. His only reference at all to the “dialogue” he claimed to want was the statement: “Your concerns and points have been dually noted.”) It has been noted and if it is felt that making any change to the existing classification system better serves our customers and our business, the appropriate changes will be made.”

Kobo has been, as my publisher stated, “deaf to all calls to revise their categories” for one reason: Kobo wants to marginalize erotica. As I explained in my Banned Books Week post back in September, retailers’ puritanical attitude that readers must be protected from evil authors who produce books those readers might want to purchase and consume will continue unless readers take their dollars elsewhere.

You will notice that I have shared no links to Kobo on this post. I would ask that those of you who are interested in reading Erotic BDSM Space Opera without romance instead purchase Spyder’s
Trouble
from the publisher, Circlet Press. There you also will find many other books that offer both speculative fiction and erotica, some of which contain romance and some of which do not. But, at least you’ll be able to determine whether or not romance is included before you purchase any books.

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