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.

141 Comments

  1. […] The best summary (even if it’s a few days old now) that I’ve seen so far is here: Self-Published Erotica is Being Singled Out For Sweeping Deletions From Major eBookstores. […]

    Reply
  2. Andrew17 October, 2013

    There is an abundance of misinformation in these comments about the First Amendment, censorship, and discrimination — which is sad given that these should be literate and educated people.

    The First Amendment and censorship do NOT apply to Amazon, B&N, or any of these other companies because they are PRIVATE entities. They are allowed to sell or not sell whatever they choose (as long as it’s within existing law). Please go to Wikipedia and read what the First Amendment is before professing how these companies are violating it.

    As for discrimination, (again, here in the US), there are legally defined categories of discrimination — against race, religion, sexual orientation, or gender, for example — and the people within these groups are protected under specific circumstances. However, this has NOTHING to do with the actions of these companies. “Erotica authors” are not a Constitutionally protected group of people when it comes to discrimination. As such, Amazon, etc. can choose to “discriminate” against them all they want.

    So, all this talk about “rights” and lawsuits and such is totally off target.

    Reply
    1. Celeste M. Bath17 October, 2013

      Andrew,

      As I mentioned above, they are only breaking the law if they apply these new ‘rules’ to one group, but not another. In business in most countries you can not ban a product by one group of people, but allow the same product to be sold by another.

      And this really is censorship, but yes, Kobo or WH Smith or Amazon are free to sell or not sell whatever they want, but again, as long as they apply the same standards evenly across the board.

      Reply
      1. Andrew17 October, 2013

        Celeste,

        I think you’re confusing “fair” with “law” — which are not necessarily the same. I’m happy to be wrong, if I am, but I’m not aware of any law that you’re talking about that applies to booksellers in the U.S. There are laws of the kind you mention regarding housing, employment, and some other fields, but I don’t think it relates to book retailing. In almost every form of business, the same standards do not automatically or legally apply across the board; all vendors or providers are not treated the same. As a service-providing and product-creating entrepreneur since I was 18 (almost 30 years), I can tell you this from firsthand experience.

        I’ll give you a similar example… Let’s say that Walmart or Target carries a certain kind of chair that I also make and wholesale (a comparable model). Their chair comes from a huge furniture manufacturer. I ask if they’ll sell my chair and they say no. That’s it! They don’t need to give a reason. They can refuse me and anyone else all day and all night for whatever reason, as long as it’s not *legally* discriminating (e.g., they’re only refusing stuff from Hispanics).

        In fact, more on the topic… Walmart and Target would refuse to carry most of the erotica that Amazon has been carrying. And Walmart and Target already refuse to carry 99.9999% of self-published books, while carrying plenty of books from the big New York publishers.

        Again… nothing I’m saying has to do with whether this is all fair or not. I’m only talking legally, because if everyone is up in a storm about this being a legal issue — and it’s not — then everyone may as well be yelling at clouds.

        Reply
        1. Celeste M. Bath17 October, 2013

          It’s called ‘Restraint of Trade’ if I remember correctly, IANAL, but I’ve dealt with things like this in other businesses. It is illegal in the US and some European countries.

          Reply
  3. Online Booksellers Are Increasingly Afraid of Selling Smut | Joe Garde17 October, 2013

    […] a landing page and apology up in its place. E-book blog the Digital Reader compiled a list of first-person accounts from authors who claim their non-offensive books getting swept up in the […]

    Reply
  4. Travis Luedke17 October, 2013

    Though I may have seemed to imply a right or some level of legal knowledge, I don’t have it.

    But I do know, and can see for my own two legally incompetent eyes, that there is widespread discrimination taking place.

    ALL SELF PUBLISHED EROTICA IS BEING REMOVED.

    You can sit around and quote laws and whip out legal dictionaries and whatever. None of that changes the plain truth that self-published erotica is being discriminated against. Is it a form of discrimination that can be sued for? Probably not.

    But it should be.

    Is it a form of discrimination against one’s rights? Not exactly no.

    But its still discrimination.

    So, there’s no point in debating whether or not its discrimination. The debate is what the hell can and should be done about it, if anything?

    Its high time for a Self-Published Erotic Authors Union, to create a united front, and start amassing clout and leverage in the world of publishing and distribution.

    But that would probably be like trying to herd cats. LOL.

    Reply
  5. Genre Bias | Tricia Drammeh18 October, 2013

    […] guidelines. Kobo (UK) began removing all self-published books. (You can read more here, here, and […]

    Reply
  6. The Recent Ebooks Pornocalypse - Lust My Body18 October, 2013

    […] The best summary (even if it’s a few days old now) that I’ve seen so far is here: Self-Published Erotica is Being Singled Out For Sweeping Deletions From Major eBookstores. […]

    Reply
  7. […] Self-Published Erotica is Being Singled Out For Sweeping Deletions From Major eBookstores (the-digital-reader.com) […]

    Reply
  8. John Jorsett19 October, 2013

    I wonder when Amazon will also ban rap songs with violent and/or misogynistic lyrics, such as “Cop Killer” which Amazon still has for sale. If you’re going to undertake the purging of the objectionable, don’t stop halfway:

    I got my twelve gauge sawed off.
    I got my headlights turned off.
    I’m ’bout to bust some shots off.
    I’m ’bout to dust some cops off.

    I’m a cop killer, better you than me.
    Cop killer, f**k police brutality!
    Cop killer, I know your family’s grieving,
    (f**k ’em!)
    Cop killer, but tonight we get even, ha ha.

    Reply
  9. J. K.21 October, 2013

    We had a good discussion about this going on KBoards, with lots of suggestions for improved filtering, and an adult only section…

    Only to have it censored. They don’t want solutions, they just want all of the Erotica writers and readers to vanish so they can forget this ever happened.

    Give it a few months, and the pain will hit their bottom line. THEN they will reconsider…

    Reply
  10. […] Here’s a really good article on the whole thing – http://the-digital-reader.com/2013/10/13/amazon-bn-whsmith-now/#.UnB-CI0jIeo […]

    Reply
  11. Karen Victoria30 October, 2013

    This whole thing is absolutely silly. PARENTS need to use PARENTAL CONTROLS and interact with their children on a regular basis. Help them choose their reading materials. As for those of us who are adults, we should be able to write, publish and read whatever type of material we wish. It has been my experience that the Authors are very conscientious about including “WARNINGS” that a specific book may not be suitable for certain ages and even certain adults who may be offended or even triggered by the books content. They even include descriptions of certain content so that a decision may be made as to whether a reader may find the book appropriate for themselves. Please don’t “BURN” books because you find them inappropriate. Let the reader decide that for themselves. If your issues include underage readers, utilize the PARENTAL CONTROLS and closely interact and monitor your child’s reading habits. It is my opinion that this is a PARENTAL ISSUE and we have moved past the point in our history that we CENSURE reading materials. I thought the whole point of history was to learn from our past and I think it is clear that CENSURSHIP AND BOOK BURNING was pointless and inappropriate. Grow up and invest time with your children as appropriate and get over it if you don’t like a specific gendre. You get to choose to read it or not. Read what makes you happy and pass on what doesn’t. Be an educated adult and reader and do not discriminate. Society will be a better place.

    Reply
  12. […] You can read more about the Amazon situation here: BBC.CO.UK The Digital Reader […]

    Reply
  13. […] Filth‘. As a result, many major publishers and bookstores, like WH Smith, are promising mass deletions of these types of all self-published eBooks, regardless of content, so pick up Kitt’s […]

    Reply
  14. […] bills so I am pleased that Kobo has gotten the finances right. And given the recent blowup over erotica in the Kobo, Kindle, and other ebookstores, it’s good to know that Kobo is offering a kid-safe […]

    Reply
  15. Missy Jubilee's sex blog10 November, 2013

    […] Self-Published Erotica is Being Singled Out For Sweeping Deletions From Major eBookstores (the-digital-reader.com) […]

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

    Reply
  17. You put your right foot in, you take your right foot out… « Anderson Gray21 November, 2013

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

    Reply
  18. […] in het buitenland ook relevant voor Nederland. Zeker nu Amazon, Barnes & Noble en WH Smith besloten om zelfgepubliceerde erotica te verbannen uit hun […]

    Reply
  19. James7 January, 2014

    Amazon now also deleting associate accounts that may have been ok for years recently when they out of the blue changed their operating agreement to not allow associates who have adult sites to join the program any longer.

    What’s funny is they say associates sites may be inappropriate but yet when you search “porn” on their site you see they themselves still sell it porn related items ….conflicting isn’t it.

    So I lost my account I had for over 8 years that they approved originally and just got back a couple weeks ago after being deleted in their sales tax war with the state of Illinois that our Supreme Court ruled they did not have to collect sales tax so they sent e-mails inviting former Illinois associates such as me back, to now just get deleted again because they now feel my site not appropriate

    Reply
  20. […] looks like Amazon may be taking a drastic response to the erotica brouhaha which blew up last year. Last October Amazon and other ebook retailers responded to the hysteria instigated by the Daily Mail and other […]

    Reply
  21. […] it comes to banning authors or books, self-published erotica is the low hanging fruit of the world of fiction. You won’t get news editorials defending the right of someone to publish “Cheerleaders 2: The […]

    Reply
  22. […] been just over 13 months since Kobo kicked off the Great eBook Purge of 2013, effectively banning self-published ebooks from its UK-facing site, and it looks like the ban […]

    Reply
  23. Bonfire of the self-publishers | Vox Popoli3 December, 2014

    […] about the news that the bushwhackers at the bookstores attempting to clean out the erotic filth have been cutting too wide a swath. It’s their right to sell what they want, to whom they want, and if the leading digital […]

    Reply
  24. […] place, seeing as they get their online ebook listings from Kobo. They took their whole site down. Kobo pulled all the self-published titles from their stores, thus screwing over umpteen authors who are ostensibly not involved in this and whose books are not […]

    Reply
  25. […] means certain kinds of content is not allowed. Self-published ebooks ran into a similar issue in October 2013, when it came to light that ebooks about rape, incest, and bestiality were for sale on retail […]

    Reply
  26. […] reazione immediata di molti grandi distributori digitali è stata infatti di cancellare semplicemente tutti i libri erotici autoprodotti che avevano in catalogo. Da un giorno all’altro sono sparite migliaia di titoli, e […]

    Reply
  27. […] immediate reaction of several large digital retailers was to simply axe every single self-published erotica they had. Thousands of titles disappeared overnight, and only the «non-controversial» ones are […]

    Reply
  28. […] short, Tumblr's new filter rule is as badly considered as Amazon's decision in late 2013 to abruptly delist self-published erotica based on keyword searches for innocuous terms like teen […]

    Reply
  29. […] curious that when Kobo, Amazon, et al were pulling erotica in wholesale swathes during that panic in October 2013, Coker didn't raise similar objections to the censorship, and he didn't respond by pulling […]

    Reply
  30. Linda Harvey’s Book Pulled From Amazon | Joe.My.God.14 May, 2015

    […] “abuse-themed” e-books, some of which depicted rape, bestiality, and incest. That move was criticized by some as the sweeping deletions apparently included titles that might be considered mere erotica […]

    Reply

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