Is there a classification system for books?

by Amanda Greenslade

I sometimes get asked this question by people in the film and television industry starting out in self-publishing. The answer is not in Australia, no. When there is explicit content in a book, there are often 18+ boxes a publisher can tick, with applicable book and ebook vendors. For more on what explicit content in books might mean, please see What counts as explicit content' in books and What level of violence and sex is OK For Kids to read?.

To my knowledge, there is no official classification system for books in any western nation. There are only marketing department decisions about genre, age-group and whether or not a book is for juveniles.

Why is there a classification system for film and television, but not for books?

Film and TV are visual mediums that can cause psychological harm to an inappropriate viewer (such as a young person or child) in moments if they are allowed to watch even a few minutes of something shocking. Those images and sounds cannot be taken back once viewed, and they can have an immediate and long-term impact on the mind.

Reading is a completely different experience, a much slower more thoughtful one. It is easier to process confronting ideas as there is more time for the brain to work on them. This processing takes place through the lens of the reader's existing understanding. They can't easily create images in their mind that aren't already there, whereas Film and tv can introduce new shocking images and sounds rapidly.

So while there certainly is some content in books that is inappropriate for under 18s there is no classification system as such. There are only marketers, parents, teachers and the children themselves being drawn, or not drawn, to make the effort to read certain books.

Also see:

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