Using a clever strategy that has pit Christian readers against anti-censorship intellectuals, a new online bookstore has impressed some marketing experts with its enlightened approach.
Abunga.com -- a kind of Facebook meets prayer book -- touts itself as a "family friendly" Web site that allows its buyers to ban saucy books from their accounts. What's more, if enough customers block a certain book, the company removes it from the site altogether.
Just this month, the Knoxville, Tenn., site banned "The Golden Compass," a children's fantasy novel that has been targeted by religious groups as being anti-Christian since the release of the film version of the book in December.
The site launched in the fall and initially blocked 65,000 titles; since then, another 100 to 200 books have been dropped.
Abunga donates 5 percent of its revenues to charity, which are also chosen by customers. The nonprofits include Christian churches, anti-abortion rights groups and mainstream groups such as the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation.
Critics have compared Abunga's methods to Nazi book burning, but its founders say the site is more about participation than censorship -- a cross between social networking and cost-friendly online retailing.
Abunga Chairman Lee Martin told ABCNEWS.com that censorship charges were unfounded.
"It is truly a free country, and I'm not the public library or the forced education system," he said. "I believe in free enterprise, and I think people care what we are about."
Last month, Martin sent out an e-mail to supporters, saying, "The battle has now begun."
The holy war started when a biology professor -- who runs a left-of-center blog about science and politics -- was tipped off by his readers about the site, accusing Abunga of pushing a religious agenda.
According to P.Z. Myers, who is a biologist at the University of Minnesota and runs scienceblogs.com/pharyngula, Abunga readers have targeted science books on evolution and climate change.
"Anything that irritates the right, they want off," Myers told ABCNEWS.com "They can have a limited selection of books and select whatever political perspective they want. But [Abunga] is cloaking itself in democracy, and instead of being open-minded, they are being narrow-minded. It's hypocrisy."
In response, Myers' readers mass e-mailed the company and logged on to Abunga.com to ban a number of religious books themselves, including the Bible.
"What they didn't realize is that we control inventory from our members, and it's pretty easy to see the difference of customers who are blocking 'The Golden Compass' and the Bible," Martin said.
Martin insists his company has no agenda. "If you look at the books, we have a complete rainbow range of books, and we give to non-Christian ministries."
"We rely on the community to create a warehouse full of books they want," he said. "Frankly, I know personally I am viscerally angry about the spread of pornography."
The fledgling site may be worthy of a Puritan prayer meeting, but a quick glance shows many titles that would raise the hairs of any church-going granny.
Two of the "dirtiest" books on the 2002 New York Times best-seller list are available on Abunga: "The Sexual Life of Catherine M," a French art critic's 2002 memoir of her infinite sexual encounters.