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

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

Nate Hoffelder

View posts by Nate Hoffelder
Nate Hoffelder is the founder and editor of The Digital Reader:He's here to chew bubble gum and fix broken websites, and he is all out of bubble gum. He has been blogging about indie authors since 2010 while learning new tech skills at the drop of a hat. He fixes author sites, and shares what he learns on The Digital Reader's blog. In his spare time, he fosters dogs for A Forever Home, a local rescue group.


  1. Kallypso Masters14 October, 2013

    Well stated. I and many other indie authors on Facebook unleashed our avid fans, the readers, on Corporate Headquarters at Amazon since last night via e-mail and all day via phone, causing them to send a whole bunch of people $5 store credit and a statement that taking spreading lies to new heights (I guess they had to pay them the $5 to read THAT crap) saying it wasn’t censorship. Here’s one someone shared privately with me on FB:

    Your Account
    Message From Customer Service
    I am sorry for the wrong information you heard.
    We are not censoring adult books or any other content however we have changed the recommendation pattern of our website so that customers not see Adult books as suggestion or recommendation. Before purchasing adult and romance books we will verify the age of customers.
    We’re constantly working to establish and enhance these agreements so we can offer the largest selection of books possible.
    Further to compensate your inconvenience I’ve issued a promotional certificate for $5.00 to your account, which will automatically apply the next time you order an item sold and shipped by
    Promotions don’t apply to items offered by other sellers on our website or to gift cards and won’t cover the shipping costs of an order. When using a promotion to buy eligible Kindle books or other digital products sold by Amazon Digital Services, the promotional funds will apply to your order automatically before another payment method is charged.
    If you require further assistance, please feel free to contact us and we will be happy to help you. You can reach us by email, chat or phone directly and toll-free from many countries by clicking the Contact Us option in the right-hand column of our Kindle Support pages at:
    When you visit our website and select Contact Us, click on the “Phone” tab, enter your number, and we’ll call you right back. If your country isn’t listed or you’re unable to take advantage of the Contact Us feature, you can call us directly at 1-866-321-8851 or 1-206-266-2992 (if you’re calling from outside the U.S.).
    I hope this Helps.
    Best regards,
    Abhishek M”

    Oh, yeah, it’s all about keeping smut out of kiddie hands. Yeah, right. Lie, lie, lie. Total censorship. I’ll bet their PR firm is working overtime this week!


  2. Deanndra Hall14 October, 2013

    As an Indie author, I am highly offended. Censorship runs rampant in this country, and this is just another example. Yes, at times when I visit Smashwords, I see titles that make me cringe. Then I remind myself that if I don’t want to read it, I don’t have to. Who am I to tell another person that they can’t publish what they want? Who am I to tell another person that they can’t READ what they want?

    As for the kiddies, well, where are their parents? When did it become the online retailers’ responsibility to make sure the children don’t get their hands on something to which their parents object? And what kid under the age of 18 has their own account with Amazon, B&N, etc.? I am constantly amazed at the parents who hand a child a computer or tablet and walk away. If erotica is babysitting your child, whose fault is that? Certainly not the writer’s.

    Which brings me back to a question I asked recently. I was met with curiosity and skepticism when I asked, and was told “it’s not like that anymore, Indie authors aren’t being discriminated against anymore,” but here it is: Is it better to publish under your person and/or the imprint of the retailer? Or should you form a corporation and create your own publishing arm? I think I’m going to get busy tomorrow filling out our state’s forms for an LLC and do just that. If they want to know about the publisher, they’ll have to ask. Otherwise, my ebooks won’t be “self published” anymore and perhaps they’ll leave me alone.

    Just one more case of discrimination against Indie authors. And I, for one, am getting really sick of it. They’d better watch out: Retailers like Smashwords (who, for the record, has virtually no rules except no depiction of sexual activity, either voluntary or forced, with minors) will gladly welcome the influx of customers they’ll get, and readers will be able to buy whatever they want there. And once a customer leaves, just try getting them back.

    Lotsa luck, Amazon, B&N, and WH Smith. You may have just stepped in it. I’ll gladly watch you try to put the hornets back into the nest you just kicked.

    1. Basia Rose15 October, 2013

      I just read a one star review of a BDSM book listed on Amazon. The reviewer complained her five-year-old daughter bought it by accident.
      My question: why should writing careers be destroyed because total idiots let their kindergarteners shop online?!

    2. Kathlena Contreras15 October, 2013

      As for the kiddies, well, where are their parents? When did it become the online retailers’ responsibility to make sure the children don’t get their hands on something to which their parents object? And what kid under the age of 18 has their own account with Amazon, B&N, etc.? I am constantly amazed at the parents who hand a child a computer or tablet and walk away. If erotica is babysitting your child, whose fault is that? Certainly not the writer’s.

      My thoughts exactly, Deanndra.

  3. […] regards to porn, and I honestly have no idea what those differences are. (Though apparently, this isn’t an issue of things being legal or not even? Great.) Nor am I at all interested in writing a bombastic American defense of porn that […]

  4. Anita14 October, 2013

    I am wondering how all this got started. I mean these questionable titles have been on Amazon for a food long while. Kobo has never been a Fan of Indie writers. That is why I bought a Kindle. Now this. Completely Unfair not only the Writers but to their Fans. It sounds totally like a form of Censorship to me.

  5. The Rodent15 October, 2013

    Another reason for Indies to walk away from the big stores and strike out on their own… And shows one reason I have never sold books through those outlets. You know know when they’ll have another knee-jerk reaction to something silly.

  6. Ferdinand deMarco15 October, 2013

    I don’t think this is too overblown if you look at it from Amazon’s point of view. They are based in the USA, home of the ultra conservatives. There is a possibility they can be nailed for selling child porn. Probably not, but if they had done nothing they would have faced a backlash. They might have even pushed to have executives arrested, and in some states that would be a real possibility. I’m not saying it’s right, and chances are in the end any charged would get off, but by that time it could be years, their careers and lives could be ruined.

    Lets face the facts, Amazon is a business, it’s not there to advocate free speech although it would be nice.
    Another business, probably dozens, maybe thousands will pop up to take advantage of this opportunity. The ones in countries with good freedom of speech laws, lax pornography laws and low age of consent will likely do best. And Amazon will lose out on revenue if they don’t distinguish.

    1. Ken Smith15 October, 2013

      Well mine was pulled in UK only.

      And the more you think of this the more it smacks of being preplanned, like they already had a list of who was going.

    2. Alley Latham15 October, 2013

      The U.S. has some of the most lax laws in regards to porn in the world, mainly because we have very strict freedom of speech guidelines. One of which is that fictional portrayals of illegal activity are protected by the Constitution. So fictional erotica, even involving minors, or illustrations/digital manipulations of minors involved in sexual activity are all legal. Our Supreme Court decided just a couple of years ago that “crush” videos (usually depicting women actually killing small animals with their high heels) are protected under the Constitution.

      The idea of an Amazon executive being arrested in the U.S. for something like this is just not realistic. No, I’m afraid this is driven by the UK. Unfortunately the freedom of speech protections in the UK are not as broad, and once you illegalize rape fiction or bestiality fiction, it’s only a matter of time before you restrict other things as well. Once you start making exceptions it’s hard to stop.

    3. Inane Rambler16 October, 2013

      Honestly I think you’re relying on a stereotype of America that just isn’t all that accurate.

  7. Ken Smith15 October, 2013

    Rumour has it that Amazon is to start a new online shop, Kindle’s Delicious Porn. Well, with all that homeless erotica floating about they could be onto a winner.
    I made changes to Riding the Big One by blanking the cover and replacing it with Censored by Amazon KDP. I also took away product description and replaced that with Censored by Amazon KDP, and resubmitted. They left the cover art alone, so far, but used the new product description. It is now up and running again. Erm!

  8. Joanne Christenson15 October, 2013

    Kobo has removed all self published authors. This whole thing is ridiculous. I can understand revamping amazons search function so that recommendations are age appropriate. ….but to remove content and tell me what I am allowed to read is preposterous. This truly is backwards book burning. Amazon removed some books from a friend in the U.K’s kindle and when she asked why….that she paid for them….they told her that she had permission to read them. …not keep them. If she wanted lifelong ownership she needed to purchase the paperback

    1. M15 October, 2013

      this is insane, I agree, bookburning all over again. If we are only paying for “permisson to read them” maybe they should be a heck of a lot cheaper, right? (someone should tell Amazon that) so adults like us cannot read a erotic romance, but a 7yr old can go online and find videos of absolutely ANYTHING, right? I just started to read after almost 10yrs of just not having the time, and have been enjoying one book after another from Amazon, spending extra money I saved or amazon cards I asked for as gifts, and some of the books were Kindle romances, it is enjoyable to read up and coming authors not yet published. Sounds like this will squash all of that.
      Is this our freedoms slowly being taken away?
      This angers me.

      1. A. H. De Carrasco15 October, 2013

        wait, wait, wait. So you’re tell me that the books have been REMOVED from her physical Kindle? Just like that?
        –A. H.

    2. Soon_to_be_famous16 October, 2013

      An ironic and strange twist that Kobo is the sponsor of the Self Publishing Book Expo in New York. The event is in November 9th, 2013. Can someone explain this to me? Kobo bans all self published titles yet one of representative is speaking at this expo for self publishing.

  9. A. H. De Carrasco15 October, 2013

    My books were pulled by Kobo. No sex in either of them. I am never supporting Kobo again.
    –A. H.

  10. M15 October, 2013

    I understand not allowing content that is illegal, incest, rape, etc. But everything else should be protected under Freedom of Speech-right? It still is a free country, at least I thought…are we only allowed to read what someone deems proper? Will we burn books next? So, now I can’t buy an indie book online, but a child can go on YouTube and find any X-rated video he/she wants, with no regulations. I think this is ridiculous.
    I remember an author a good 25yrs ago that wrote and published a book with a rape scene in it, it was a romance novel. If you didn’t like it, you just didn’ t buy it. That simple.
    So now will this be stopping any up and coming author trying to get their name out there, just not able to get published?
    Not to mention if the writing vilolates the policy, dont put it on your site to begin with! Don’ t punish everyone becasue you didn’t follow your own policy when you let rape and incest writing on your page.

    1. LS16 October, 2013

      Although committing rape & incest may be illegal, writing or reading fictional accounts about it are not. I remember at least half of those really old romance books had arranged marriages in them where the husband had his wedding night whether his wife wanted it or not. She then magically fell in love with him, a reason I prefer more modern romances without the rape in it. Most serial killer fiction also contains rape. I agree this whole thing is ridiculous, they should just put an adult filter in the search function.

    2. Andrew17 October, 2013

      The First Amendment has nothing to do with what Amazon, B&N, etc. decide to sell. Those are private entities — and as such, they have the right to sell or not sell whatever they want (if it’s within the bounds of existing law). If you were running a bookstore, you’d have the same right (at least here in the US). So, again, this has nothing to do with the First Amendment — nor censorship, nor discrimination. Anyone on here raising these issues is barking up the wrong tree.

  11. […] knew I needed to find something that didn’t send me over the edge. That’s when I saw a link on Facebook that had me alternately shaking my head and thinking about the “whys” of […]

  12. SnowCat MacDobhran15 October, 2013

    The only thing that is unclear to me is if the Giants are double dipping – removing the content from their sites *and* deleting the content from the e-readers a la the George Orwell novel it yanked a couple years ago.

    1. Nate Hoffelder15 October, 2013

      I have not found any evidence of this, thank goodness.

  13. […] at issue here. That we’re putting down as simply an interesting experiment. The issue is the moral tempest-in-a-teacup that the recent ebook censorship blow-up illuminates. As Daily Grail contributing editor Ian […]

  14. Celeste M. Bath15 October, 2013

    I have seen my Barnes & Nobles online sales make a rather impressive jump over the last 24 hours. I guess Kobo’s customers have decided to take their money to a different seller? So far B&N hasn’t engaged in any of these censorship activities in the US.
    If they continue to hold out, they could very well see their profits start to rise.

  15. Digital Products | daily digital deals15 October, 2013

    […] Self-Published Erotica is Being Singled Out For Sweeping Deletions … 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 … 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 … […]

  16. […] of “Fifty Shades of Grey” author E.L. James, a/k/a Erika Leonard.   You can catch up here via an excellent piece from The Digital […]

  17. […] Barnes & Noble, Kobo and the UK’s WH Smith are pulling erotica featuring rape, incest and […]

  18. Soon_to_be_famous15 October, 2013

    I’ve been thinking about my childhood and teenage reading and about the pop culture children and young teens are exposed to. They are bombarded by all sorts of visual pornography on television in movies, even you-tube ads have become incredibly hyper sexual, as well as the most main stream of music, hip hop, that every teenager has or knows which is often extremely explicit, and details abuse and victimization of women in a sexual way. I believe reading promotes creativity and problem solving. I do not believe that reading any sort of literature can prompt people to hurt or engage in acts that they have read of. Instead reading does the opposite. Reading promotes pondering the subject deeply and intellectually, unlike a hyped up you-tube advertisement forced upon viewers would. I am completely against this ban. My response is sparked by the fact that I actually do not read erotica at all and this whole conversation around it has been very theraputic. Yes, it is theraputic reading about erotica themes in this way. I would not be in favor of requiring kids or teens to read anything of adult nature, but that is not the issue. And as for adult readers and creators of taboo or unacceptable erotica topics, genres or mores, simply banning the reading is not going to solve any sort of societal problem, in fact I will go as far to say that it will make the ” problems and issues” even worse.

  19. […] Self-Published Erotica is Being Singled Out For Sweeping Deletions From Major eBookstores […]

  20. RSWriter16 October, 2013

    The more I hear about these online e booksellers, the more I’m convinced that they are scared and lazy. It’s easier to search for a few keywords and remove some titles willy nilly than to actually assess each book in a methodical way to be certain of its content. That would require their staff using their brains. Remember, there’s A LOT of self published stuff out there so it’s likely that booksellers don’t want to waste staff time which equals money. Problem is, from the public’s point of view these actions appear non sensical and stupid. The biggest crime is how hard it is for a wrongfully deleted book to be reinstated. That’s no way to treat what can be defined as a business relationship. Clearly these online booksellers/publishers have little respect for these relationships, just like many others do (whether justified or not) and its hypocritical for them to profit from authors at the same time as they play the big bad corporation versus the little guy with them. That attitude is for consumers!

    1. Ken Smith16 October, 2013

      So many guys on the forum don’t seem to grasp the hypocrisy of Amazon, and side with them. Well if you sell my book(s) for 13 years knowing what the content is, make a good deal of cash from it, then while I’m asleep in my bed remove my book because you are not sure if there is something bad between the sheets, then what other word would Amazon use. And there’s a nice bit of divide and rule going on here, where some of those not affected are happy to see the erotica go. After all, erotica writers are not real writers.

  21. […] ebook news over the past few days then you probably know that Amazon, B&N, and Kobo have been scrambling to respond to the news that they were selling questionable […]

  22. […] Digital Reader has a good piece that they’ve been keeping updated. And these are just a few you can share — most […]

  23. Panic Censorship by Amazon, Kobo and other ebookstores | Stillpoint/Eros16 October, 2013

    […] and, more particularly, in a British tabloid that we don’t choose to link to have thrown many of the major online ebook outlets into a panic. Accused of being incapable of detecting and deleting all instances of their “vile […]

  24. […] online and, more particularly, in a British tabloid that we don’t choose to link to have thrown many of the major online ebook outlets into a panic. Accused of being incapable of detecting and deleting all instances of their “vile trade” in […]

  25. […] pulled blogs. Facebook pulled BDSM pages. Amazon pulled self-published erotica. I am one woman, and I can’t fix those things – as much as I […]

  26. Sure Glad I Didn’t… | Sober Shoshi17 October, 2013

    […] to a report on October 13th, 2013, in the The Digital Reader, Self-Published Erotica is Being Singled Out For Sweeping Deletions From Major […]

  27. ePubNick17 October, 2013

    Someone needs to shine a light on those (consumers?) who started yelling Fire in this Theatre.

    No doubt, some fundie religious sect. What some can’t accomplish by infiltrating the employment ranks at publishing companies, others do by stirring up these Nazi-era book burnings.

  28. Travis Luedke17 October, 2013

    I think we need to form an erotic authors coalition, and look into the feasibility of a class action lawsuit for discrimination. Not sure if it can be done, but I feel like it should be done.

    And another thought for consideration: When WH Smith opens its site back up, do you think 50 Shades or any of the other traditionally published erotica/erotic romance will be removed?

    Hell no.

    This is a blatant attack on self-published erotica. Suspiciously timed for the holiday season book rush.

    I bet if an investigator dug through emails and other records, at the bottom of this media scare and all this posturing by British lawmakers, there is some major publishers lobbyist funds being flung around.

    Its way too convenient to have all this self-published erotica removed from the shelves right before the holiday rush. And the only erotica remaining is that from major publishers.

    Any time you want to get to the heart of the matter in these things, follow the trail of money and ask the question: Who benefits from this act?


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