Suppliers, brand reputations, WHSmith, Amazon and porn

WH Smith

Last week some rather astonishing headlines emerged, as several major online retailers found far more than gremlins in their electronic back room. Anyone who has picked up on this already will no-doubt realise how serious the situation is.

According to an investigation by The Kernel, shops like WHSmith and Amazon have been stocking e-books containing all manner of horrific stories, including child abuse and incest. Worse still, the offending titles appeared as search suggestions when trawling through the online store catalogues, which in effect means children may well have been exposed to the likes of Taking My Teenage Daughter (no, we’re not making the name up- take a look here.)

The response has been dramatic, especially from WHSmith, which shut down its entire website, with the URL still inaccessible today, four days on. Clearly there can be no questions asked as to the sincerity of that decision; not trading on the web is going to cost the company millions, but that’s not really the point.

WHSmith has also announced it will no longer stock self-published e-books, and as such it’s unsurprising that many experts are suggesting long lasting damage for that industry. It would be surprising if other shops don’t follow suit, so obviously we have to ask is this the end for author-publishers looking to maximise their exposure? Quite possibly yes. In contrast, though, this may not impact on the way businesses do business, despite the fact it should given we live in a world where it’s becoming impossible not to have your oversights exposed as near-negligence.

We could think of numerous examples from recent months in which it has come to light that leading firms have failed to properly check what they’re ordering in, and who from. Horsemeat disguised as beef, and prison-like technology work camps providing luxury gadgets and computers for us Britons being just two instances that spring to mind. Now even the humble, bookish bookstore has been exposed for peddling unarguably perverse and despicable porn without realising it, which is particularly humiliating when you consider the whole lad’s mags covering up debacle.

The point being that it isn’t hard for people to dig rather deep these days- from a journalist to anyone with an Internet connection. As such surely if a company provides a service or product it should look to ensure everyone involved in the creation, delivery and final sale is legitimate and isn’t writing a tale so terrifyingly disturbing nobody should ever read it? Even though e-books work in a very different way to hardbacks, if there were concerns over the ability to quality control then they should have been addressed long ago. Needless to say, the aftermath and fallout from such revelations is incredibly damaging for reputations, but marketing mindset aside, knowing exactly what you are selling is the right thing to do, and let’s not forget that good practice usually breeds business success.