Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and WH Smith are taking a radical response to last week's "news" that they sell boundary-pushing adult content in their ebookstores. They are now deleting not just the questionable erotica but are also removing any ebooks that might even hint at violating cultural norms.
This story began when The Kernel discovered last week that, much to their dismay, Amazon was selling legal adult content:
The books are sold as Kindle Editions, the name Amazon gives to books that can be cheaply and quickly downloaded to its portable Kindle device. Available titles include Don’t Daddy (Forced Virgin Seduction) and Daddy’s Invisible Condom (Dumb Daughter Novelette).
As with “barely legal” pornographic films, which seek to satisfy base urges associated with illegal and immoral acts while circumventing laws against depictions of underage sex, many of the titles listed on Amazon protest loudly that rape victims are “over 18”.
Similarly, the “daddy” rapists in many incest stories are revealed in the small print to be “not blood related”. But few reading the titles of these books will be fooled about the supposed erotic intent of the volumes.
Again, this content is legal.
I had planned to simply ignore this as a non-news story, but the major ebookstores were more concerned about legal self-published erotica than I would have expected. The Daily Mail, On The Media, BBC News, and a couple dozen authors on KBoards are all reporting that content is being deleted right and left.
The ebookstores are sweeping a wide broom in the process, with WH Smith even going so far as to shut down their website. They have replaced it with a holder page that explains that:
Last week we were made aware that a number of unacceptable titles were appearing on our website through the Kobo website that has an automated feed to ours. This is an industry wide issue impacting retailers that sell self published eBooks due to the explosion of self publishing, which in the main is good as it gives new authors the opportunity to get their content published. However we are disgusted by these particular titles, find this unacceptable and we in no way whatsoever condone them.
Their statement ends with the conclusion that the website will be operational again "once all self published eBooks have been removed and we are totally sure that there are no offending titles available." When that will be, they did not say.
Update: It appears that WH Smith wasn't exaggerating when they said that all self-published ebooks were going to go; there are numerous reports that Kobo is removing most if not all of the self-pub titles in their UK ebookstore. Click here for more details.
WH Smith is not alone in their overreaction. Barnes & Noble was only peripherally mentioned in this story, but they too have started removing content and released an official statement:
When there are violations to the content policy that are brought to our attention, either through our internal process or from a customer or external source, we have a rapid response team in place to appropriately categorize or remove the content in accordance with our policy.
Amazon has not officially commented on the story, but I do have numerous confirmations from KBoards (I can't figure out how to link to specific posts, sorry) that Amazon as well as Barnes & Noble have been removing whole swathes of self-published erotica from the Nook Store and Kindle Store. And they are not just deleting the more questionable titles; B&N and Amazon appear to be performing keyword searches in the erotica section and removing everything they find.
Many authors have reported that their titles had been pulled from the Kindle Store with little explanation beyond the statement that the titles in question violated Amazon's policies on "Description, Cover Image". Many don't have a clue what that is supposed to mean, including the author who forwarded one of the emails to me.
For example, one self-published title that was swept up in the crowd was Babysitting the Baumgartners. This ebook was unquestionably erotica, but based on the listing on Goodreads it is not in the least bit questionable (other than the word babysitter in the title). This title is not listed in either the Kindle Store or Nook Store any more.
And then there is Riding the Big One, a gay novel which was originally published years ago and subsequently re-released by the author in 2010. And suddenly Amazon decided they won't sell it anymore as an ebook, possibly because the description mentions the word teenager.
There is also The Nun's Lover, which appears to have been removed simply because the description mentions the word sister.
Curiously enough, B&N and Amazon have yet to remove The Bible, V.C. Andrews' Flowers In The Attic, Alyssa Nutting's Tampa, Judy Blume's Forever, or Lolita. No, they're just removing self-published erotica. And that brings me to what I see as the more important story.
This story has already gotten a lot of press, but so far as I can tell everyone from the journalists to the ebookstore staff has made the same assumption that only the self-published titles are an issue. As you can see from that list of titles above, that is simply not true.
Unfortunately, I may have been the only one who noticed. And I might be the one only one who cares about the authors who have been harmed in this moral panic.
It is not easy to get a title restored to the Kindle Store after the staff removed it. Said title has to be approved by some faceless drone inside Amazon before it can be sold again, and thanks to the minimalist explanations provided by Amazon it's going to be exceptionally difficult for authors to comply.
And that means that this overreaction on the part of Amazon, B&N, and WH Smith is affecting the livelihoods of more than a few authors, none of whom have done anything worse than write and sell what readers want to buy. The overblown response to a couple of news stories is actually causing more damage than the content being vilified.
And that, frankly, is ridiculous.
- Amazon removes abuse-themed e-books from store (BBC News)
- Why Amazon Should Keep Publishing Rape and Incest Porn (On The Media)
- Warning: KDP banning old and new erotica titles en masse from self-publishers (KBoards)
- WHSmith removing all self-published titles; Offline Statement (Kboards)
- How Amazon cashes in on Kindle filth – Jeremy Wilson (The Kernel)
- WHSmith's vile trade in online rape porn: Bookseller apologises after sales of sick ebooks are revealed (Mail Online)
image by victoriapeckham