War of the E-Readers – and a juicy German bookselling scandal

Apparently, Amazon is getting more aggressive about marketing the new 99 Euro Kindle in Germany. They’re even running TV ads now, something Amazon Germany has never done before, probably because they didn’t need to.

Though maybe Amazon is just trying to compete with the German bookseller chain Weltbild. Weltbild does advertise on TV – their cheap book club picks, mostly. However, of late they have also been pushing their 59.90 Euro colour e-book reader.

The Weltbild reader is forty Euros cheaper than Amazon’s Kindle and it has a colour display. On the other hand, the Weltbild reader has a backlit LCD display, which is more eye-straining than the Kindle‘s e-ink display. And guess which aspect Amazon is stressing in their Kindle TV ads?

However, Weltbild has issues of its own, because even though the company operates its publishing house, bookstore chain and online store at a profit, they are being sold off in a hurry by their owners. The reason for the hurried sale, however, is not the market disruption due to e-books at all.

Rather, Weltbild – like most booksellers – happens to sell erotic fiction, sex manuals, books on occultism, etc… in their online and brick and mortar stores. I bought a (pretty good) Black Lace novel from one of their stores myself. And the fact that Weltbild sells erotica and books on occultism would not bother anybody, if not for one little detail: Weltbild is owned by the Catholic church.

Of course, Weltbild has been selling all sorts of secular books including erotica and books on occultism for years now and nobody ever complained. And the fact that Weltbild is owned by the Catholic church is not widely known. I did know that the Catholic church was involved with Weltbild, though I didn’t know that they were the sole proprietors.

However, once someone made the connection that the Catholic church owned a company that sells erotica, a lot of people smelled a scandal. There are two prongs to the scandal, the Catholic bashing “Look, they’re all hypocrites” and the handwringing “Oh my God, they’re making money by selling something sinful”, so the German Catholic church is under pressure, particularly since the Pope has just condemned pornography on the Internet. First they fired the Weltbild CEO and then they decided to sell off Weltbild altogether.

Here’s an article from Die Welt (in German) with a few examples of the objectionable titles. There is also a very good interview with a religious affairs journalist at Deutschlandradio Kultur (also in German). The religious affairs journalist points out that it isn’t as if Weltbild is mainly selling erotica – most of the stuff they sell is standard commercial fiction and non-fiction. She also views the campaign against Weltbild as part of the general trend towards more conservatism and a withdrawl from secular affairs in the Catholic church.

For English language news sources, here is an article from The Independent. The National Catholic Register, a Catholic news site in the US, weighs in as well with the expected American prudery regarding matters of sexuality. Really, they should mind their own business.

I’m not Catholic and therefore not outraged. Erotica isn’t my favourite genre, but it has its place. Besides – and this is what bothers me about this discussion – Weltbild sells erotica, not pornography. There is a difference, a legal difference even, in Germany. And since distribution of pornography is restricted by law, Weltbild wouldn’t be allowed to sell actual porn either. Finally, some of the supposedly objectionable books shown in some of the reports on the “scandal” aren’t erotica at all, just regular romances by mainstream authors like Sandra Brown or Gena Showalter. And if Gena Showalter and Sandra Brown are considered objectionable now, does this mean that Weltbild will stop selling romances altogether?

It’s probably best for Weltbild to be sold off, so the conflict is gone. Because otherwise, Weltbild‘s offerings would be censored and restricted and I disagree with that. If I shop at a store, I don’t want my choices unnecessarily restricted by the owner’s moral sensibilities. It also annoyed me that the German Wal-Mart stores (when we still had Wal-Mart stores) didn’t sell Playboy and similar skin mags, which no one in Germany considers even remotely objectionable, because some busybodies in the US have issues with largely tasteful photos of topless women. So if Weltbild is sold off, the issue will be avoided, which is probably best for all concerned.

However, the worst case scenario would be that we lose a major bookselling chain, just because some people have their panties in a moral twist. And while I vastly prefer Amazon and Thalia (Weltbild is too mass market and bestseller focused for my tastes), Weltbild has its place and I have bought a couple of books from them over the years.

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3 Responses to War of the E-Readers – and a juicy German bookselling scandal

  1. Pingback: International Bookselling News | Pegasus Pulp

  2. Pingback: Another Fifty Shades of Grey Discussion | Cora Buhlert

  3. Pingback: The Weltbild Scandal Goes International | Pegasus Pulp

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