Very alarming …
Like many indie authors, I distribute my books to some retail platforms through Draft2Digital, a company I’ve always found to be competent, responsive, and trustworthy. At some point in the fairly recent past, D2D added Playster to its roster of retail platforms. Playster is a digital entertainment subscription service that includes ebooks, similar to Scribd, Amazon’s Kindle Unlimited program, and the now-defunct Oyster: for $9.95 a month, you can access what Playster advertises as a library of more than 250,000 “premium titles” — “the world’s only truly unlimited ebook service” (source).
Playster’s site is full of the rhetoric of freedom and limitlessness — attempts, I assume, to play off the name of Amazon’s program while distinguishing itself from Scribd, which restricts borrowing within certain genres. Just a sampling: “Entertainment Unlimited is about freedom of choice, and that’s what we’re giving you with Playster” (source); “The best thing about what we’re doing is its limitless potential. … we’re always looking at ways to give you more choice and bring you closer to the things you love” (source); “No Restrictions. … Spend as long as you like enjoying your favorite titles and discovering new things” (source); “World’s Most Diverse Digital Catalogue … Find everything you’re looking for” (source); “Anytime, Anywhere, Anyone … Playster is essential for families needing different things for different people” (source).
Sounds pretty good, right?
Unfortunately, at least four KBoards authors who attempted to distribute LGBT+ themed books to Playster are reporting that those books were rejected, even as their non-LGBT+ books were accepted. According to an email shared by one of these authors, Playster claims “erotic content” as the reason for her books’ rejection. The platform’s Terms of Service do reject content that’s “obscene, vulgar, pornographic, offensive, profane, contains or depicts nudity, contains or depicts sexual activity, or is otherwise inappropriate as determined by [Playster] in [its] sole discretion” (Source). But that prohibition doesn’t seem to offer a convincing rationale for the rejections. This author said her rejected books do have “steamy” scenes, but those scenes are no steamier than what appears in her straight romances that Playster accepted. Furthermore, Playster previously accepted the LGBT+ books of hers that it is now rejecting. Another author said none of her rejected books “has more sexual content than a kiss.” One isn’t even a romance.
So the catalog is “the world’s most diverse” … so long as we’re talking about straight folks? You can read books that “bring you closer to the things you love” … unless you’d love to read books about gay characters? It’s great for “families needing different things for different people” … but if they have a daughter who likes to read f/f romance, she’s sh*t out of luck? Using Playster “means no restrictions” … except, you know, that one? Seriously, I had to tie my hands behind my back to make myself end the second paragraph of this post. There’s so much “freedom” and “choice” rhetoric in Playster’s verbiage that I got a little irony-drunk.
In 2017, it should go without saying that a book is not “erotic” just because it focuses on gay, lesbian, bi, or transgender characters. Books about LGBT+ people can be erotic or not erotic, just like books about straight, cis-gender people.
I am really hoping this is some kind of mistake.
Hopefully D2D can liaise with Playster to shed some light on this situation and, if there really is a no-LGBT-books policy at Playster, help us get it changed. I mean, sure, Playster can sell and not sell whatever it chooses. But a policy to exclude LGBT+ books from its catalog would be unacceptable to many readers, as well as to authors on both the indie and traditional sides of publishing.
I encourage authors and readers to contact D2D and/or Playster* and express their concerns. I’ve written to D2D myself. I hadn’t yet distributed my books to Playster, but if I had, I would have pulled them, pending clarification. I’ll certainly update this post as new information comes in. Again, very much hoping these book rejections can be explained in some other way.
Looks like you might need to use Playster’s live chat feature to contact them. I couldn’t get the “email us” link on the above-linked page to work. The person I chatted with said I would need to send my question here: email@example.com. I’ve done that and will update this post when I get a response.
Update, 9/2/17: Dan Wood, director of author relations at D2D, has chimed in on the KBoards thread to say they’re “working on” the problem. He said he thinks it may be “just a misunderstanding over what is meant by some of the BISAC categories [D2D] sent Playster.”
Update, 9/5/17: Playster has posted in the KBoards thread, saying that it is in “absolutely no way discriminating against LGBTQ+ content.” Their explanation for the rejections is that they have “been receiving books with underage characters, and therefore put a temporary ban on all books labelled ‘erotica’ that are delivered from self-publishing platforms.” They say they are “investigating the possibility that some books have been mislabeled.” I’m glad to see this message and to know Playster rejects discrimination and is trying to fix this problem. The difficulty for me comes in figuring out where and how the “mislabel[ing]” could have happened. An author submits Book MM and Book MF to D2D and chooses to distribute both books to Playster. These books have similar content, and the author does not give either book an “erotica” label or category. Book MM ends up banned by Playster as erotica and Book MF doesn’t. So … when and how was the “erotica” label placed on Book MM, and why wasn’t that label placed on the Book MF?
Update, 9/6/17: Playster posted further on KBoards that they are “investigating the labeling thoroughly, using some of the examples in [the KBoards] thread, to establish exactly what’s happening,” and asking for “patience.” Very glad to know they’re working on the problem.
Update, 9/7/17: Playster has updated the KBoards thread with the following:
After careful investigation of each step of our content ingestion process for self-publishing platforms, we discovered that our restriction on the ‘erotica’ category had unintentionally affected other tags and genres, including LGBTQ+ fiction. We are extremely sorry for our mistake and any hurt it may have caused – it was never our intention to block these titles.
What happens now? The books that were wrongfully declined are currently being added to the Playster catalog where they will join our existing collection of LGBTQ+ titles previously delivered by our other major publishing partners.
Playster takes an extra cautious approach when it comes to self-published fiction because we do not have a large in-house team that is able to thoroughly read and review all titles that are submitted. However, we accept that, in this case, our efforts to solve one problem inadvertently caused another.
We strongly encourage authors to contact us if they have any further problems submitting books to Playster or notice that any titles that should be present are missing. They can do so by emailing us directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.
So, good news! And, I might add, quite a prompt response, given that the problem came to light over the U.S. Labor Day weekend.
I’ll admit to some lingering curiosity about exactly how Playster’s ban on erotica came to affect other tags and genres in ways not intended. I speculated on one possibility toward the end of this KBoards post, but I have no idea whether that’s actually what happened.
All in all, this seems like a positive resolution. Thanks to D2D and Playster for the quick and productive attention.
Update, 9/8/17: A number of authors are now reporting their LGBT+ books have successfully published to Playster.
Very much worth reading …