Self-Published Erotica is Being Singled Out For Sweeping Deletions From Major eBookstores

Amazon,5001841627_fed12fba03[1] 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.

Further Reading

  • 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

127 thoughts on “Self-Published Erotica is Being Singled Out For Sweeping Deletions From Major eBookstores

  1. Sounds like “questionable literature” is just a pretext. After all, banning “questionable” expression is called censorship, and that’s illegal. More likely, this is an attack on self-publishing itself. “Once all self published eBooks have been removed”, indeed.

    Publishers are panicking, that’s what happens. And they’re lashing at those who no longer need them.

    1. This has nothing to do with publishers telling them to remove these titles. This is based on feedback from consumers who are upset with what they are seeing in their online stores. The same thing often happens in the printed retail space.

      1. I might accept that explanation if the deletions weren’t so sweeping, up to *all* self-pub titles in the case of Kobo and WH Smith… while leaving in place erotica from big publishers which is potentially just as questionable. (Lolita, anyone?) Complaints from customers should address specific books, which should be reviewed case-by-case. So I don’t buy that, especially considering what’s going on right now in the book market. The timing’s just too convenient.

      2. This is not caused by consumers. It’s by a select group originating in the U.K. who want to control what people can and cannot read. Many of these companies have stated that it is not because of customer feedback but because of that group who brought it to their attention as being “offensive”. No one is going to tell what I can and cannot read or write. The content is legal. The companies actions are illegal. They are violating civil rights…by censoring and taking away a person’s right to choose.

    2. Wrong, Felix — censorship is only an issue when it’s done by government, and only illegal in countries where it’s deemed so. When it comes to private entities (which all of these are), there is no such thing as “censorship”; they are allowed to sell or not sell whatever they please (within the bounds of law). If you were running your own store, you’d expect the same privilege.

      1. Well, I bet a class action attorney firm might find a solid civil case for discrimination.

        When you offer the public a service for publishing/distribution, and yet you discriminate against a certain sector of publishers, that might be a good argument for a big, fat, nasty lawsuit.

        Now, that doesn’t make allowance for taboo subject matter such as incest and whatnot. But it does make allowance for your garden variety steamy romance or standard erotica material.

        I could be totally wrong, but it seems to me, there is a whole lot of discrimination going on right now, and a decent civil case could be made, especially since the discrimination is so blatantly targeted at self/Indie publishing. Its too well focused to be non-discriminatory.

        If the discrimination was truly about content-only considerations, then 50 Shades of Grey, Story of O, and a large number of traditionally published erotic titles would have to be pulled based on the same content criteria.

        This is targeted discrimination, with real measurable financial losses, and a quantifiable value could be established in those losses in a class action suit, especially for those titles that have been published and selling for YEARS, but now are pulled.

        1. I can’t speak for the UK, but here in the US that would unlikely be grounds for discrimination. As with censorship, these are private companies, which have the right to refuse service as they choose — as long as it doesn’t violate *legally defined* categories of discrimination. And there are not very many of these… race, gender, religious affiliation, sexual orientation… I can’t remember the others. So, yeah, they couldn’t refuse to sell books written by black people (specifically because they’re black), but they can refuse to sell categories of books. “Erotica authors” are not a Constitutionally protected group of people.

          1. Andrew,

            If they have one set of standards for one group of authors, but a separate set of standards for another (like say big 5 publishers) group of authors, THAT is illegal. They have to maintain the same set of standards across the board.

      2. The real 1st Amendment censorship issue is the infiltration of religious extremists at book publishers like Amazon, and as individuals and groups that cause these fake crises.

        The 1st Amendment also states that we are to be protected from religious persecution. We publishers of “erotica” are constantly bombarded by take down efforts by religious extremists, of all religions, world wide.

        While WH Smith is UK, and this publicized effort is based from the UK, Amazon and Kobo are very US in terms of the global Internet economy,

        Amazon first and foremost needs to clean out the religious extremists in its censorship unit, that targets anything erotic, because of their narrow religious beliefs. Amazon does more to censor in-house, than anyone else.

        Kobo and others needs to stand strong against this media campaign. The BBC should be very ashamed of itself for promoting this fake crusts, especially after the sex scandals that occurred on BBC property for decades. While there isn’t a “1st Amendment” in the UK, applying the US analogy: shame on the BBC for manufacturing a “don’t read this” campaign against anyone who publishes – other than them!

        1. ePubNick:

          1. The First Amendment prohibits the making of a law that establishes a religion or impedes the free exercise of a religion. So, again, the protection is from the *government* — not free enterprise and private entities.

          2. Thinking this is all about religious extremists is misguided. I know many people who are non-religious who are offended or disturbed by certain sexual content. To think that opposition only comes from religious extremists is as much a blanket (and thus erroneous) statement as someone saying all erotica authors are pornographers.

  2. Kobo just pulled all our titles. They show as published but none are actually available in the store. Ironically, the one title we published through Smashwords which was then republished by Kobo is our only title now listed.

    We’ve tweeted and emailed Writing Life for an explanation.

    With respect to Amazon, we’re very surprised by their overreaction. We know that nearly a third of our titles are not offered in the India Amazon store due to censorship, and we expected that if the UK went forward with blatant censorship then titles would be removed from the UK store only. We’re watching how this develops very closely because our investment in the erotica segment of the market is a considerable portion of our work.

    My sympathies to all the authors and publishers effected already. Perhaps this just points back to the problem of monopoly market holders and the need to establish an open marketing platform for literature of all types with a business commitment to fair trade rather than selective content.

    1. First of all I am the CEO of a publishing company, so let me disclose that up front. I think the reason that the accounts would be removing all self-published titles; and believe me, I’m not saying that I agree with that decision……is that when a book comes from a publisher, they know that it has been edited and hopefully handled professionally. Of course that doesn’t mean it doesn’t have questionable content. It certainly can and as a romance publisher there is often a very fine line between erotica and what might be considered pornographic by some people.

      When it’s self-published, they have no way of knowing the content of the book. The retailers do not read the content so they can only rely on comments from users. I think the idea of a website to sell only self-published drm free self-published books is a great idea. There are numerous sites like iUniverse and others that are basically this model.

      1. With all due respect, bull! Sorry, but I’m self-published and would put my books up against anything from ANY publisher ANY day–and mine would probably win. I have a team of six editors now (four of them trained professional editors and two others who are just damned good and worth every dollar I pay them). I hire a professional graphic artist to do my covers. I hire a professional book formatter (who some publishers should be paying to format for them, too–and that’s for you, New York Big Five!).

        So, no. I don’t accept that ALL indie books should be treated as pig fodder just because some people put up crappy books with disgusting subjects wanting to make a quick buck off unsuspecting (or uncaring) readers. MOST readers do care about content and when they find a typo, they report it. Then the bookseller gives the author 5 days to fix it (well, that’s how Amazon used to do it). Now it’s take down a book because the title used the word First Timer or Babysitter or whatever and review it later, if they feel like it. That just doesn’t fly with me. And Kobo UK takes down every freaking title in their inventory and close the store because they might have 50 titles they find objectionable. Really? How do they stay in business?

        I’ve sold more than a quarter million books by my own marketing strategies and word of mouth from my amazing fans. I have given away another 400,000 freebies of my first two titles, mostly via Amazon. You don’t have numbers like that if you are putting out crap. I have turned DOWN a Big Five editor because I don’t want anyone having control over my content. The buck stops with me (and I made six figures the last two years, so that’s a lot of bucks). I prefer to be Indie. It’s very much a point of pride with me that the only gatekeepers I have are the readers. And that’s how I intend to keep it, even if I have to sell my books from my own Kally Swag Store on my web site.

        Kally

        1. Kally, even if I had to go back to reading paper books and not my kindle I would for your books. And I’m sure ALL of your fans would too.

        2. Love you and your work, Kallypso Masters. I will buy any and everything you publish from wherever you make it available.

        3. I totally agree with you. No ALL self published books are horrid with errors and not all Big 5 books have been well edited nor do they always have great content.

        4. K. M.- I am a fan of yours and have purchased every book you’ve put out (As far as I know). I just want you to know I will continue to purchase erotica and indie publishers as long as I read. I think amazon and others are cutting off their nose to spite their face as probably 80% of what I read is erotica and/or indie publishing. I can’t help but think that they will reconsider this desision once they determine the loss of profit and consumer exposure. It would suite me, and those in my book club just fine to go elsewhere to get what we want. Perhaps a new site specifically for these author/publishers and a non-censurship of content is exactly what is needed. Why oh why is it so surprising to me that as a mostly free world we still must deal with hippocrocy and censorship like we are little children! Shame on those that do those things. The rest of us Will find a way over, under, around or through!

  3. No vacuum on the market.

    If it can make money it will make money.
    So prepare for rise of some self-pub platforms.
    Pandora’s box can’t be closed ;-)

    1. I completely agree. This is a great opportunity for someone to make a boatload of money. A single site, selling to a specific market, selling multiple formats DRM free would be a cash cow.

  4. The UK is such a puritan country, I’m surprised they haven’t made sex illegal yet.

    I mean, at what point did they come to a big fork in the road where reality took a left but they hung a sharp right?

    If you can’t tell the difference between real child abuse and something that’s described in a work of fiction then you’re no different than the people who actually abuse children.

    1. “The UK is such a puritan country, I’m surprised they haven’t made sex illegal yet.”

      Considering the downward trend in population growth for most first world countries, what makes you think it hasn’t already happened? (Just kidding.)

      It’s not about the reasons for the ban, it’s about the effect. Once they can eliminate the self-published authors, they can start working on the minor and medium sized ones.
      It’s pure economics, and filthy morals on their part. They can’t uphold the inflated ebook prices for long, so, they do the next best thing. They eliminate the competition.

  5. I’m sure the big publishing houses are loving the message- Self Published Literature= Paedophilia, Pornography and Raunch. They couldn’t have come up with a more marginalizing message if they tried. Of course maybe they did.

  6. Since 1999 Amazon has sold my gay erotica when it was first published by Prowler. In all these years I’ve not been aware of any complaints. Amazon have done very nicely out of them I would think. The books I now publish with KDP are the very same books, with mostly the same covers, and often the same blurb. Can someone at Amazon explain why ‘teenager’ is now an offensive word and they must be withdrawn. Shame they are not paperback then you could have had a public burning.

    1. I’m surprised the media hasn’t shown these idiots trying to “burn Kindles”. I’m just waiting for it…*shaking my head*

  7. So much for crime thrillers and the like. I guess Hannibal Lecter wont have a presence there or any other story where a rapist, pedophile etc is the villian and the act has to at least be mentioned. I guess that a tell all book about surviving incestuous rape named somethign like “Daddy only said he loved me” will be banned since it has the word Daddy even though its a book that would help many suffering to feel the bravery needed to come forward at last. If you don’t like something don’t freakin buy it (I don’t), BTW it’s a book, it’s not real!

  8. Kobo has even pulled my book of fairy tales, Dragons and Dreams. I understand that Kobo has pulled all books offered through Draft to Digital, no matter what the topic.

  9. All six of my self published stories have been removed from the Kobo website. One of them was a short ghost story about a middle aged shop keeper so it’s not just erotic titles that are being removed. I am very disappointed at this knee jerk reaction.

  10. This affects so many authors who were trying to eke out a meager living during hard economic times. The fact that sex sells, and has done so since the dawn of time, and that thousands of authors were able to live comfortably because of catering to the genre doesn’t seem to matter at all. For the last two years a lot of authors have mentioned the option of putting a content filter into place to solve the problem of exposing underage readers to questionable content, but it would seem these companies would rather cut off a huge leg of income rather than working with authors and readers.

  11. Most of our traditionally published books have disappeared from Kobo. And they included everything from middle grade books to contemporary erotic romance.

    I do see Fifty Shades of Grey still up…is that questionable material?

    Right before the holidays wasn’t the best time for them to do this. Or at least to have began checking books and titles instead of wiping everything out.

  12. My brothers company was hit by this and I work for him. We are starting our own bookstore at Cryptobooks dot com Right now its erotica because that’s what we sell, but we plan on putting up titles for other things as well at some point. We’re doing this partially to give us another outlet to sell our books but also because we think it’s ridiculous that you can’t sell things that are perfectly legal because certain companies said so. It’s upsetting because we didn’t break any rules they just suddenly changed the rules. I understand them being upset that children could see it, but they can still get to many mainstream books from large publishers that are damn near as explicit as ours. It shouldn’t affect our finances just because they can’t be bothered to partition their sites.

  13. Why are they attacking self-published authors when they allow you to self-publish on Amazon.com? That just doesn’t make sense and as for erotica being banned, that’s just stupid, it’s fictional writing meant for adults, to keep it out of kids’ hands, simply don’t let them use your e-reader and instead get them their own with parental controls on it.

  14. I remember the flowers in the attic series in middle school. It was really popular with my classmates. I don’t remember the book that well. I thought it was in the ” horror, murder mystery category” that was the last I ever read in this category or of the series. I swear. I decided in middle school I did not want my mind to dwell in this area ever. I am now 38 and still haven’t changed my mind, though now as a writer I find the murder mystery horror authors discussions quite fascinating but personally cannot read anything in this genre! From my memory of middle school I don’t know if really understood ” flowers in the attic” was erotica. I just thought it was ****** sick and didn’t like it.

  15. I am all for free speech within limits. I feel more for these authors pocket books than anything else. I sympathize with them extremely as I am an aspiring non-fiction author with some controversial topics and a memoirs who believes that you live and die by touching on the darkest parts of life and family. For some authors this is their only source of income. They should have a union or something. This is just an unacceptable act. It’s making clear how at mercy we are to these big publishing giants. They are now controlling the art world of literature and uhm who gave them the license to do that?

  16. Kobo has pulled ALL of my titles. This is going to cost me hundreds of dollars a month that in this economy I really need.
    But I still see a lot of other porn books there, with a lot more blatant content. How come those are okay and mine are not? They bribing somebody or something?

  17. When does writing about raping children and animals become an acceptable form of entertainment deserving protection? Just trying to understand the rationale in defending certain types of books. And no, I’m not a prude, I love erotica between consenting adults of any kind, about pretty much anything. But the attempts to justify some of the materials that started this firestorm are bewildering. No one is suggesting that the vast majority of erotica be removed. But when books about raping minors (no matter how it’s set up, plotwise, to appear legal) or abusing animals are the subject, can you really expect a major retailer to defend your right to make a buck? By the way, they are businesses, they don’t owe you a living, they have the right to sell or not sell your product, and if you don’t like, go set up your own bookstore. It’s not censorship.

    1. “When does writing about raping children and animals become an acceptable form of entertainment deserving protection?”

      When any censorship at all is a slippery slope. Today, it’s “questionable” erotica (and where do you draw the line?) Tomorrow, it’s Nazi symbols. After-tomorrow, it’s *anything that criticizes the government*. And the trip is shorter than you think.

      Also, did you miss the part where at least two stores have removed *all* self-published books, regardless of content? That may not be censorship, but it sure is *breach of contract*. Sure, if you don’t like my products you don’t have to carry them, but don’t change the rules midway through the game!

    2. If you don’t want to read the material, then don’t buy it. But don’t tell me what I can and cannot read. No one has the right to tell me that. Unless you are paying my bills for me, taking care of me and my pre-teen child, you have no right to give me your opinion on what I do read. If some of those acts were actually committed, that would be illegal. But to write a fictional…or even non-fictional account…is not illegal. It is censorship.

  18. I write romance and erotica. Every one of my titles was removed from Kobo. Amazon pulled several and I removed the rest of my erotic titles through KDP in order to prevent them from eventually blocking even my romance novels.

    I have never written rape or abuse or incest or bestiality. I do have a collection of BDSM erotica (pretty light BDSM) and the consenting adults are over 18. However the characters are 18 and virgins. Is it garbage? From a literary standpoint (and I have an MA in English), yes. However, are we now banning the Marquis de Sade? Anais Nin? EL James? Fifty Shades of Grey is not winning the Pulitzer. Yet people read it. As an author, marketability is a factor, especially for someone only a year into this publishing gig.

    One of my titles was blocked for the word babysitter. Another for daddy. The title? “Daddy’s Little Girl Gets Naughty.” The plot? An 18 year old girl decides to have sex (vanilla sex) with her father’s business partner. The blurb is clear. No fine print. The title isn’t referring to daddy but the idea that the good girl misbehaves.

    I don’t really mind but the principle bugs me. Because meanwhile dinosaur rape is still selling. The bestseller lists are flooded with rape and abdication novels. A fair and consistent plan would have been a smarter business move.

    Meanwhile my suggestion to supporters of indie writers is to spend your money on sites that don’t react like children. Apple, Smashwords, and Sony appear to have remained calm. But keep buying indies, to show that your money can be spent elsewhere. Because the authors are losing out here and it’s a bad sign for the industry.

  19. This topic is adding an entirely new vocabulary and bringing a lot of publicity to my long ago forgotten and neglected erotica shelf. I suppose the ones that do “stay alive” will be doing exceptionally well.

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