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Did Amazon Just Ban Suggestive eBook Covers from the Kindle Store?

514599575a4_ae48561877_o[1]There is an unconfirmed story going around today that Amazon has issued new standards and guidelines for cover images for ebooks in the Kindle Store.

According to one cover designer, Amazon has banned a long list of human anatomy from appearing on covers in the Kindle Store.

Erin Dameron-Hill, writing on her Facebook page, reports that Amazon has changed what they will allow in cover images:

 Hey there! Amazon has made a few changes to their rules on accepting covers.

  • No model can be handcuffed (this will instantly flag you), blindfolds are okay for now (but I don’t expect them to be in the future).
  • Handcuffs are allowed if they are separate–not on the models . The model can hold the cuffs.
  • No side boob or big cleavage.
  • No upper butt. (No nudity, obviously).
  • No lower hair patch for men (or women).
  • No sexual positions–no doggie style, missionary (or any position that implies penetration).
  • No hands on boobs or private areas.
  • No women on their knees in front of men (even fully clothed).
  • No men between women’s thighs.
  • No men’s faces on breasts (resting, etc–even fully clothed).

For those of you with erotic, dark erotic, or BDSM romances, I would highly recommend a symbolic cover otherwise your books are likely to be flagged. I hope this has been enlightening.

It 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 "news" organizations by removing vast swaths of content based on little more than keyword searches.

On the other hand, maybe not.

This story currently only has a single source, and has yet to be confirmed by Kindle PR (I queried Amazon a couple hours ago) or the several authors I asked. Also, I briefly checked the Kindle Store and can tell you that there are any number of cover images which violate the new policy.

But most importantly, I cannot find any similar reports from forums where authors gather. I checked Absolute Write and KBoards and I didn’t find any authors commenting, complaining, or even mentioning the new rules. If this new policy was real then there would be dozens of comments by now.

Folks, without the confirmation I don’t think we can assume that this really is a new policy from Amazon. Instead, this could well be another case of some mid-level drone making up the rules as they go along.

It’s happened before.

Last April a similar story went around concerning Amazon banning works under 2,500 long. That story also lacked confirmation and turned out not to be true at all. As I pointed out at the time:

While Amazon is in the habit of suddenly enforcing new rules with little notice, they also make sure to tell everyone about it. In May 2012 Amazon got serious about banning public domain and junk ebooks from the Kindle Store, and they sent out an email to all KDP authors and publishers. The email highlighted Amazon’s content rules, which said in part:

Some types of content, such as public domain content, may be free to use by anyone, or may be licensed for use by more than one party. We will not accept content that is freely available on the web unless you are the copyright owner of that content. For example, if you received your book content from a source that allows you and others to re-distribute it, and the content is freely available on the web, we will not accept it for sale on the Kindle store. We do accept public domain content, however we may choose to not sell a public domain book if its content is undifferentiated or barely differentiated from one or more other books.

Without confirmation from another source or explicit confirmation from KDP, I would lay odds that this story is not as true as it appears.

If anyone can confirm or deny this story, the comments are open.

Update: Dameron-Hill has since backpedaled, explaining in a follow up comment that the list was her own creation and not an official list from Amazon. The list is based on what her clients had told her concerning ebooks rejected or pulled by Amazon. So basically I was right; this is a case of unnamed drones establishing policy by fiat.

image by kodomut

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Maria (BearMountainBooks) June 9, 2014 um 1:53 pm

If nothing else I wish there were a way to filter them out. Many other sites have filtering and I use it. It’s quite disconcerting to be randomly browsing children’s books for a gift and come across two nudes in a compromising position. Shoot, never mind whether I’m browsing children’s books or not. They have clamped down on some titles/photos in the past. It wouldn’t surprise me if they changed the guidelines and tried to either filter or clean things up. They are a public site and I’m sure they get complaints about some of the photos/material that is available to anyone using the site.

Andrew June 9, 2014 um 3:30 pm

Filtering would be great – no cries of censorship, and I won’t be embarassed when sitting beside my young daughter surfing for new books. Yesterday I searched for "spy vs spy" on Kobo’s site, hoping to get a Mad Magazine collection to show her, and instead was returned a bunch of title pages that would not pass the rules listed above.

Bob W June 9, 2014 um 4:12 pm

I think this is in preparation for the new 3D phones and confirms the rumors. You wouldn’t want all these covers busting out of your 3D phone on the subway now would you? rotfl

Nate Hoffelder June 9, 2014 um 4:48 pm

Just imagine if Amazon found a way to auto-covert book covers to motion 3d comics. Amazon would be responsible for creating tens of millions of porn gifs.

jjj June 9, 2014 um 4:51 pm

lol this would be insane, corporate America is so scared of religious nutjobs.
Handcuffs i guess are taboo now , it’s a miracle that cops can still use em in real life!
Are strap-ons allowed on covers? Is The Washington Monument kosher or is it way too phallic? How about lipstick?If they plan to ban anything with any sexual symbolism ,there won’t be much left besides blank covers.

Brina Brady June 11, 2014 um 8:21 am

I agree with you. What is going on here? If you look for a book under a certain topic you will see more erotic covers so these religious nut jobs should not be searching for books under a certain genre, therefore they would not be so shocked. I don’t believe that article anyway. Someone is trying to cause trouble. Lots of naked people on covers, not totally naked and certainly there are books with handcuffs. Someone is trying to stir something.

Timothy Wilhoit June 9, 2014 um 5:04 pm

If I read Erin Dameron-Hill’s posts correctly, the list is her creation. She says she compiled it from info from other authors who "came to her." She says Amazon posted no such list, but should post one. Evil Wylie also seems to have back pedaled a bit.

Nate Hoffelder June 9, 2014 um 5:19 pm

Thanks for pointing that out. She hadn’t posted that clarification when I read it before.

Rochelle June 9, 2014 um 7:12 pm

Thanks for the post I also have a feeling that this is probably an issue that a few authors have had with certain things that may have been on covers then it was blown up into a bigger issue. If you do in fact get a response from amazon I would love to hear it as there really is no evidence that Amazon is doing this or will be. It would limit nearly every genre from Crime to historical not just erotica. Handcuffs aren’t just used for kink and we all know that there is some extra cleavage in those historical romance books lol ;). Thanks for the post!

Maria DeSouza June 9, 2014 um 7:24 pm

Amazon customer service said they are reviewing covers on a complaint basis since they have received a few complaints of inappropriate covers popping up in the incorrect genre. She said there is no "list" per say as to what is appropriate and what isn’t. However, if you are complained about, you will be asked to edit your cover. This seems to be more of a book being mislabeled instead of a cover issue. List your books correctly and this stuff will stop happening.

Nate Hoffelder June 9, 2014 um 8:15 pm

Thanks for double checking. I thought it would be something like this.

Dylan Cross June 10, 2014 um 12:35 am

The Erotic Authors Guild has heard nothing from official channels. We also find it unlikely that guidelines written by the world’s largest book retailer would include such phrases as "side boob" or "doggy style."

Brina Brady June 11, 2014 um 11:01 am

Yes I had not thought about the phrases. They would not use such phrases.

Greg Strandberg June 10, 2014 um 1:58 am

I wish Amazon would get over its shyness, red face, and childishness on this issue and get more in line with Smashwords, where you don’t run into these problems.

Timothy Wilhoit June 10, 2014 um 2:05 am

If you think Smashwords has never succumbed to "redface," you’re mistaken.

Nate Hoffelder June 10, 2014 um 6:50 am

That wasn’t redface; that was external pressure.

Mark Coker June 10, 2014 um 10:14 am

It’s worth noting that there was no succumbing. We pushed back and the community pushed back and together with the support of many allies the community realized a positive outcome –

Sadly, that victory may have planted the seeds for what came next. Possibly emboldened by the victory, some erotic writers pushed the limits too far with covers, titles, book descriptions, extreme taboo subjects (incest, PI, barely legal), illegal erotica (underage), gross miscategorizations (believe it or not, we’ve caught and stopped some erotic writers from dual-classifying their erotica books under children’s fiction) and that eventually led to the clamp down we’re now seeing. There’s a war on erotica right now. It’s a backlash that’s harming many mainstream erotic writers, the result of which will be fewer markets in the future. Unlike the PayPal issue, this isn’t a battle writers can easily win because if retail outlets see the content as too high-risk, they don’t want it, period. I don’t see a solution in the near term. Longer term, better erotic literature classification systems are needed because BISAC lumps it all together. And the community needs to learn to self-regulate better.

Andrew June 10, 2014 um 8:55 am

I do most of my online shopping on my lunch break at work, or on the couch in the evening while my kids are around. As a result, I gravitate to sites that have little to no chance of causing me embarassment. I buy from Amazon and not Smashwords because of the latter’s covers – Smashwords was actually the first ebook retailer I used to visit.

carmen webster buxton June 10, 2014 um 2:02 am

I’ve always thought it interesting that 50 Shades of Gray used a simple photo of a man’s tie on the cover. I know indie author’s need to rely on inexpensive covers, but when you find out what the book is about, it seems like an incredibly tame cover for a (fairly) racy book.

Kaz Augustin June 10, 2014 um 4:08 am

Soon, babies will have to be born clothed or there’ll be hell to pay.

Michelle Louring June 10, 2014 um 4:50 am

I agree with the comments on filtering instead of censoring. If Amazon really removed all books with book covers living up to the criteria listed, hardly a romance writer around would be able to publish their books.

The Rodent June 10, 2014 um 12:35 pm

This related blog post yesterday…

Nate Hoffelder June 10, 2014 um 1:41 pm

Useful, thanks.

Selena Kitt June 11, 2014 um 12:15 am

Mark is correct in that he and Smashwords were instrumental in getting Paypal to back down. He’s also correct in that there is a war on erotica – but there always was. And those risqué covers/blurbs started long before the PP debacle. It was a visibility war that was bound to happen – until retailers did something about it. When the Kobo drama caused a major UK retailer to remove ALL self published books from their store, that’s when people really noticed. Unfortunately, every measure taken so far has been a stop-gap, not a real solution. Erotica writers have a hard time following the rules when the rules aren’t given. And trust me, while there are some who would continue to try to circumvent them, most erotica writers would just like to know the guidelines so they can follow them and sell their books. Most if not all erotica writers don’t want their books seen by let alone read by children. We want a solution too – one that’s fair, consistent and transparent. I don’t think that’s too much to ask.

fjtorres June 11, 2014 um 7:51 am

Well, for sales from devices/apps with embedded stores there is a simple solution: account-based filtering. MS has been doing it for a decade in the XBOX: what gets displayed is a function of the parental controls of the account browsing the store. Kids on an account tagged for young kids don’t even know there are teen or mature games or even videos on the XBOX Marketplaces.

Won’t work on a web-based store, though. It amounts to censorship and can only lead to pressure group tug of war. And, worse, lost sales by making it harder for the intended audience to find the stuff.

Even the existing half-measures (and the account-based filters) are problematic for Amazon because buyers of adult content also buy other stuff. Where stuff = anything from books to groceries. Or local services. Too much of Amazon’s business comes from "also bought" for them to ghetto-ize anything.

Selena Kitt June 11, 2014 um 9:55 am

I’m not a web designer but it seems to me sites like Smashwords have a simple opt-out solution. There is also the "have to be signed in with a credit card to see the adult stuff" solution. I don’t think the blogger was trying to stir anything up – just looking to inform erotica and erotic romance authors and give them a heads up. Mainstream authors and the general public have no idea how frustrating and demoralizing it is to have your book – which you worked just as hard on as any other author did on theirs – filtered or banned without any reason or recourse. Then the author has to play a guessing game. Was it the cover? The description? The title? Where did I cross Amazon’s unspoken line? Because Amazon says they don’t accept "pornography" but if you look at their site, they sure do. Their guidelines about offensive content read: "What we deem offensive is probably about what you would expect." Not much to go on there. So an author is pretty much stuck with playing a guessing game. I think the original poster was just trying to help both authors and cover artists (who struggle with the same guidelines). My poor cover artist – I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had to go back and say things like, "no more bare butts" (cover change) "no more thongs" (cover change) "no more side boob" (cover change) "no more hand bra" (cover change). As an author/artist you start to wonder if you should just put someone in a burka on the front! It’s that frustrating. And of course, the simple solution is just clear guidelines. Instead, we get this:

Viari Rose June 17, 2014 um 6:26 pm

And apparently no female bare backs.

Lacey August 10, 2014 um 12:43 am

Yep! This is exactly what happened to me, I felt so lost. I cropped the cover and altered the title and description, but my blocked book is still in my kdp and it looks like I can’t delete that entry. Weird.
The whole thing on how "I should know whats appropriate " because I do know and none of my books are appropriate! I just thought amazon was capable of filtering my erotic books! (clearly labeled twice in fiction, erotica and fiction, romance, erotica) thanks for your comment, it feels like shit when it happens!

Dylan Cross June 11, 2014 um 11:03 am

Although the previous Amazon policy blurb was a hoax, this story is 100% factual:

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