The ebook market owes its existence to the romance genre.
eBooks gave authors a chance to sell the stories readers wanted to buy rather than the stories the gatekeepers wanted to publish, and without romance we would have an ebook market dominated by the Big Five and their pricing policies.
Guess how Amazon is repaying that debt?
By shadow-banning romance titles from the Kindle Store.
I have seen numerous reports on Facebook, KBoards, and elsewhere that Amazon has adopted a new policy where some romance titles, most notably those titles that Amazon has identified as erotica, have been removed from the Kindle Store best-seller list.
In other words, the ebooks are still being sold, they are just not showing up in rankings and have lost the algorithmic benefit of their previous sales rank.
Update: About 36 hours from my first email, and nearly 12 hours after I published this post, Amazon finally decided how they are going to spin this:
A recent Kindle Store change inadvertently affected the display of sales rank for some titles. We have corrected this issue.
Second Update: I have confirmation from authors on KBoards that their ranks have been restored.
The change in policy was first noticed on 22 March, and it has affected both indie published ebooks as well as ebooks published by traditional publishers.
“While my self-pub BDSM books got hit, it’s also affected publishers like St. Martin’s Swerve imprint as well,” one author wrote on KBoards. “I wrote two threesome books for them, Betting on Both and Game On, and both have had their rankings pulled. Dropped my editor at St. Martin’s Press a note – they may not be so happy about having the ‘Zon do that to them.”
Another author confirmed that even EL Grey got hit with the shadow ban. “I had noticed last night that E.L. James’ Grey (pubbed via Random House) is overall-rank stripped too. It’s Book 1 from Christian’s POV. Book 2, Darker, is categorized as Romance, and is #676 overall. Grey is #7 in Erotica, but not on the BS list.”
There are also a bunch of reports from authors who say that they checked their respective Author Central pages for their erotica titles, only be be informed that said titles were no longer ranked.
Amazon has confirmed the new policy, telling one author by email:
I’m following up concerning some of your books missing their best sellers ranking.
After hearing from our technical team we have confirmed that this is due to a recent update to the filter option for Erotica ebooks.
All adult themed titles will be filtered from the main category sales rank as part of this update. However, you will still continue to keep all of your category rankings. I know this wasn’t the answer you were looking for but appreciate your understanding on this policy.
Please let us know if you have any further questions.
I have attached a screenshot of the email at the end of this post.
Curiously enough, the change in policy only affects the main Amazon site, and not other sites like Amazon UK.
This detail has lead some authors to speculate that Amazon changed its policy in anticipation of the FOSTA bill becoming law. This bill is ostensibly intended to fight sex trafficking, but it has already had unexpected side effects such as Microst enacting a strict PG content policy in Office 365, Skype, and Xbox Live. Reddit has also removed several forums, and Craigslist has nuked its entire personals section.
I cannot confirm that Amazon’s new policy is also a result of the new law, however.
I reached out to Amazon for comment a day before publishing this post. They were still struggling with how to spin this new policy when this post went live, which is why I do not have a statement from them.