11th May 2015

Cleaning Up ‘Bad’ Language with Clean Reader

The latest furore to hit the literary world surrounds a new e-book app called Clean Reader. Inviting users to “read books, not profanity”, the new app scans books and other e-reader content for swear words, then replaces them with more “acceptable” alternatives. It even gives you a choice over how inoffensive you want your daily reading to be, from clean to squeaky clean.
There always seems to be some sort of controversy swirling around the literary scene: accusations of shortlist rigging in awards; or even protests about the growing influence of online retailers over publishing houses. Following it all can be exciting, like watching a soap opera, full of scandal and gossip.

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Surprisingly, considering its aim to cause as little offence as possible, Clean Reader has succeeded in offending a number of writers. Many argue that, by removing words from their work that they have spent ages carefully composing, they are not only butchering their masterpieces, but violating their freedom of expression as well.

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Now, I agree that the app does have the potential to wreck classic literature (Lady Chatterley’s Lover would be rubbish without the profanity and far less fun to read), but I’m not sure how I feel about the free speech argument. An individual certainly has the right to speak his or her mind and to be published, but that doesn’t mean he or she has the right to make people listen. People have the right to decide what they read as well.
The app is clearly designed to appeal to a small and very specific audience of individuals who want to have access to a wide array of adult literature, but don’t want to see terminology they consider to be immoral or taboo. One might question why they wish to read novels containing vulgar language in the first place, but it is their right to do so.

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Clean Reader simply demonstrates to all of us that, like other consumers, readers have greater choice than ever before, not just over what they read, but how they read as well. Just as ad blocker apps allow people to enjoy their Facebook or Twitter page free from the distraction of advertising, Clean Reader enables the people who choose to use it to enjoy widely acclaimed literature without worrying about coming across language they find objectionable.
The launch of the Clean Reader app, and its subsequent notoriety, should remind us all as content developers that no two audiences are the same and each one communicates differently, with its own dialects and lexicons of acceptable terminology. Brands need to be aware of this and, to successfully engage with each of their many target audiences, they must tailor not just what they say, but how they say it. This means choosing the right platform for each demographic, and talking to them in the right tone of voice and the right language as well.
Speaking personally, I shall not be downloading Clean Reader to my Kindle any time soon. I like my fiction to push boundaries, and I wouldn’t want to miss out on that satisfying twinge of embarrassment when I accidentally stumble upon a page full of expletives on my Kindle in the middle of a packed bus.

By Michael Wood, senior B2B copy writer