A Quickie Roundup Of Clean Reader Stuff

The Clean Reader saga continues:

- Joanne Harris has another round of reply and response with the Clean Reader folks.

- Lilith Saintcrow had a reply and response round, too — and got her books taken off the site.

- Jennifer Porter hilariously looks at what Clean Reader actually does, and lists the word replacements (and notes, as Joanne does, that it scrubs references to female anatomy and changes them all to “bottom,” thus suggesting that Clean Reader is not-so-secretly a fan of anal sex).

- Smashwords has removed access to its library, so its books won’t automatically end up at the Clean Reader store anymore.

(They have a book of mine — The Cormorant — for sale, which is ha ha ohhh, not actually awesome because that book is no longer for sale. It has changed publishers and will be republished by Simon & Schuster SAGA in April, so how exactly they’re selling that book is somewhat beyond me. They also have Kick-Ass Writer for sale, and at this point I’m pretty sure that any of my books run through their colonic cleansing process will cause whatever device is using it to catch fire and melt into a ball of sparking, smoking slag.)

For those saying that this doesn’t modify the file and isn’t illegal — well, maybe so. I’m not a lawyer. Lots of things are legal that I think jolly well shouldn’t be. For my mileage, that this modifies the reader’s experience is the same as modifying the book. Yes, the file of the book has meaning, but so does the content, and when you change the content or allow it to be changed, that concerns me.

Look at it this way:

Imagine that in the real world there existed a bookstore, and the clerk at this store will modify any book on the shelves and sell it to you. He’ll change words, characters, whatever. He makes money off the exchange. The book received is not the book you wrote.

Okay, your objection to that is — ahh, but this is the reader’s choice and it’s not one change but an entire host of permutational programmatic changes, so, okay.

Let’s change the story.

Imagine that in the online world (which is still real, by the way), there existed an online bookstore and the magical online robot at this store will modify any book on their digital shelves and sell it to you. The content of the book — whether technically changed or overlaid with changes — is marred. And not just with one set of changes but with a whole host of permutational possibilities — a finite set, however, of those possibilities, because a book contains only so many tsk-tsk naughty fuckbuckets and shitkittens within its pages, and so only so many changes are possible.

Maybe that sits okay with you.

It does not sit well with me.

The reader can take my books and do whatever he or she wants with them after sale. Read them backward, forward, upside-down, block out whole pages of text, draw dong doodles in all the margins, write phone numbers in the front, scratch out my name on the cover and write in theirs, use it as a butt plug for an elephant. The trick is, you then cannot go and sell that modification back to the consumer. Much as you are free to mod a game or download mods to a game — but you are not then able to sell/resell the game with that mod (or a host of potential mods embedded in or overlaid upon the code) in place.

And so, the battle against this silly, septic product continues. As the only profane thing here that I can see is what this app does to books and stories and history.

Hilariously, if you used this app, you could have substitutions like:

Was: “Jon Snow was the bastard son of House Stark.”

Becomes: “Jon Snow was the jerk son of House Stark.”

Was: “The bitch had her puppies.”

Becomes: “The witch had her puppies.”

Was: “This chicken breast is delicious.”

Becomes: “This chicken chest is delicious.”

Was: “The needle stuck in his arm with a prick.”

Becomes: “The needle stuck in his arm with a groin.”

Was: “Jesus Christ is the Son of God.”

Becomes: “Geez is the Son of God.” / “Gee Gosh is the Son of God”

Was: “Would you care for one of these Oscar Meyer wieners?”

Becomes: “Would you care for one of these Oscar Meyer groins?”

Was: “She’s a real pussycat.”


Was: “Oh, fuck, I want you to put your prick inside me and fuck my asshole.”

Becomes: “Oh, freak, I want you to put your groin inside me and freak my jerk.”

Just a sampling of the absurd delights! Change the words but don’t change any of the context or content for maximum whatthefuckery. (Because changing words doesn’t change what goes on inside the book. Just because you change the words fuck my asshole doesn’t mean the sentiment isn’t still fuck my asshole — and the scene that ensues is likely very much about some kind of anal penetration with all the context and sexery remaining relatively explicit. Changing a few words does nothing except make explicit material goofy.)

Good times.

For my mileage, if you require action items:

You can email them at cleanreader@inktera.com and demand your books be taken off.

You can also talk to your publishers about keeping your books off of Clean Reader.

You can air your grievances on Twitter — they are at @CleanReader.

And you can rate and review the app at either the iTunes or Google Play marketplaces.


  • Okay, another point my publisher brought up that I’d forgotten about. A couple of years ago, there was a huge uproar when Apple decided nope, Kindle, Nook, Comixology, etc. couldn’t do in-app book purchases. My publisher has an app, and they couldn’t do in-app book purchases.

    HOW THE FRAK is (was) the Clean Reader app, and that romance book app Page Foundry also puts out, doing in-app book purchases??? How are they getting around the system?

  • I’m curious to know if your bud, Kevin Hearne, has expressed an opinion on this topic. I’m sure his Owen Kennedy would have something fecking colorful to say!

  • Considering the furor this has generated in just TWO DAYS, I suspect Clean Reader is soon going to die an unnatural death. XXX Thank you for playing–NOT!

  • I only looked into this superficially, but it does seem like Clean Reader has its own library where the reader purchases books (meaning that Clean Reader becomes the retailer). I may have misunderstood, but that’s how it seems.

    That means that Clean Reader would be SELLING altered content, not just altering content that had been previously purchased. As such: SUPER WRONG ON ALL THE LEVELS!

    Again, I may have misread some stuff. I feel like without prior consent and a contract, Clean Reader shouldn’t even have access to these books, so really, I’m just super confused.

    • I must correct my own comment.

      Clean Reader has officially stopped selling e-books. The app, however, will continue to function on pre-purchased e-files.

      While this is better (trying not to let perfect be the enemy of good, here), it’s still an issue. We’ll see how it continues…

  • If anything, they’re just making it so that all sorts of objectionable material flies under their radar and into their kids brains.

    There was an episode of the Brady Bunch where one of the kids decided Jesse James was his hero. Thinking to teach him the truth, the parents let him watch a movie about James. They’d seen the movie and knew that it showed James doing reprehensible things that their child would object to. Unfortunately, the moral guardians had censored the movie of all of James’ bad acts and the kid came out of it more convinced than ever before that Jesse James was a heroic figure.

    Seems to me that same problem exists here. Take away the racial and misogynist slurs and other vile language that reveal a character to be morally reprehensible, and characters become cool who in the original are vile human beings, and no opportunity to talk about it, because they’ve removed the very words that create talking points and perspective on those characters. And what happens when they are idolizing these “cleaned” characters around others who have read the original? Are they not concerned with what others will think this reveals about their child’s values since others will assume the child read the unedited version? How will their children communicate with those who have read the same book but the content and context is fundamentally different? If they don’t want to talk to their children, how will they prepare their children for these conversations with their peers? What happens when the teacher freaks out over the child idolizing the character who is known to be a misogynist, racist, or otherwise vile person? How do they explain to the child that the words they took out revealed the character for who he really is? How do they explain that they altered the child’s hero and he isn’t really a hero, but they misled him?

    They’ve even created a reality in which their children will idolize characters that have values that the author may think are okay, but that the parents object to. For example, changing sex to love. I’m assuming these people think a loving relationship is a monogomous one, but the app teaches otherwise. Which means that characters who sleep around instead of having “wholesome” relationships are portrayed as having feelings that they don’t have when they are fucking. What are they going to do when their child thinks that all sex is love? That using and discarding sexual partners is love? That promiscuity is love? Because they’d rather clean the book than talk about the fact that they believe in different values than some authors. If they’re just going to pass the book through an app and trust that that makes it “clean,” how will they have any sense of what the book is actually teaching their child?

  • It’s like pornographic mad libs. I did one of those and came up with awesome and hilarious new euphemisms.

  • Does anyone know someone with excellent hacking skills? It would be great to hack into the Clean Reader site and corrupt their app so it randomly replaces words like “if”, “the”, and “and” with “fuck”, “cunt”, and “douchebag.”

  • I keep thinking of “Bastard out of Carolina”. First off, the book becomes “Jerk out of Carolina”? I see a confused reader asking “Why did they stamp ‘jerk’ on her birth certificate?”

    So the meaning of the work can definitely change. What’s ironic is that for a really erotic scene the word substitution actually wouldn’t change the meaning much (except for adding in extra anal sex), so what the frilly heck is the point? My guess is they’d rather not have such scenes at all, since they’re trying (ineffectively) to scrub them. I wonder if that’s the next step – censoring entire scenes from books?

    This app makes some books incomprehensible, some inadvertently hilarious… no kidding authors are pissed. It really only makes sense for books with a handful of swearing in the dialogue. They should let authors (who would know how their book will be affected, and who have the best sense of whether the audience they would reach through this app is in any way a match) opt in, not force everyone to opt out.

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