Climbing on a Soap Box

English: Amazon Kindle DX Graphite displaying ...

English: Amazon Kindle DX Graphite displaying Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’ve been working on this post for a couple of weeks. Some of the delay has been real life issues, and some because I’ve been trying to figure out exactly what I want to say.

Recently, Amazon announced that they were removing all ‘abuse’ and ‘incest’ pornography. On the face this includes rape erotica and other taboo stories, unfortunately it’s not only erotica getting taken down, but books that have “suspicious” titles or descriptions. I could give a long list of non-erotica authors (with non-erotica work) that has been targeted and taken down, meaning they are losing sales until they can get Amazon to acknowledge that – whoops! – they made a mistake, but there’s more to this issue than the collateral damage.

Of course, it should be easy to stay in Amazon’s guidelines, and anyone who hits that publish button knowing that they have broken those rules should be prepared for removal, right? Sadly, Amazon’s guidelines are pretty hard to nail down. the site itself says this:

Pornography
We don’t accept pornography or offensive depictions of graphic sexual acts.

Offensive Content
What we deem offensive is probably about what you would expect.

Isn’t it nice how much wiggle room that gives them? Obviously, incest rape is offensive and needs to be removed, right? Then why has Amazon NOT removed many of VC Andrews’ titles? As someone whose read all her early books, I guarantee that not only is there incest in nearly every book (including father/daughter, half-brother/half-sister and even full brother/sister), but rape in several of them. Of course, VC Andrews (or whoever the guy is who writes them now) has a big advantage.

They’re NOT self published.

And that, of course, makes the books – and many more like it that are traditionally published –“legitimate” books as opposed to the so-called “offensive trash” of the self published world. “They should just get rid of all that self-published crap that clogs up the market and outsells their traditional books.”

Indy authors were outraged by this, so what did many do? Why, they put out a call to battle, a challenge to arms, and suggested that  all of the “legitimate” indy writers with their “legitimate” books should band together and take a stand against this erotica. “They should just get rid of that dirty crap that clogs up the market and outsells their own, non erotica, books.”

Sound familiar? It’s like watching them turn into the very thing they purport to hate.

The principle argument for removal, and for the hallelujah chorus as books are axed, is that erotica books don’t belong on Amazon where innocent children can see them and become forever scarred. They belong in adult stores  next to the adult movies and adult toys, which of course Amazon doesn’t sell . (If you follow the links you’ll note both are sold on Amazon and as freely accessible to minors as those ebooks).

I can’t help but wonder how long it will be before that joyful choir is singing a different tune. Today it’s those erotica books that “cheapen” all self-published writers, but tomorrow it may be the horror novels, the serial killer stories, or the religious books that get removed because they “offend” someone.

Or maybe, it will be YOUR book.

I only hope if it is, that someone shows you some support instead of suggesting we should disown your non-legitimate work and wish you good riddance.

You note when paypal demanded Smashwords take down books, Mark Coker went to bat for erotica authors. What has Amazon done? makes you wonder why we’re all so fast to publish there and buy from them…

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

 

 

 

 

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22 Comments

  1. Yea! You did it. As we both know, they’re deleting by title and many are not self published.

    First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out–
    Because I was not a Socialist.
    Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out–
    Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
    Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out–
    Because I was not a Jew.
    Then they came for me–and there was no one left to speak for me

    Reply
  2. Actually, I am sharing my light, frivolous, warm cuddly – ooops! – side. My dark side is unavailable as it would be unwelcome on a clean-living, totally wholesome blog such as this one.

    On a positive note, this may be the breakthrough smashwords needs to foot it with the monster that amazon has become.

    And hopefully there will be some sales for those pinged off amazon who can say as it used to be, the new equivalent of “banned in Boston!” That used to be a surefire money-spinner when I were a wee fella. “Axed by amazon!” along with “Avoided by Christians”, “Just plain evil”, and “Every page disgusted me – three times.”

    Fortunately, amazon is not “too big to fail”.

    Thanks for a good post Jo. I am presently working on my own wholesome series of non-exploitative non-sexual, non-interesting books starting with the certain to succeed “Moth-eaten ragdoll comes alive”.

    Go well you.

    Steve

    Reply
  3. book burning is book burning no matter what label they use.

    Reply
  4. At first, when this began, I thought it was an internet hoax thing. But I was shocked to learn it was real. Amazon publishes books through their site. Censorship is wrong, but a few years ago some guy published a book on how to be a pedophile. There was a huge outcry, including writers and me, to pull it off the shelf.

    We all have a point where freedom of speech/expression is challenged. And that freedom is not absolute — there’s the adage that you can’t yell fire in a crowded theater. There are times when the public safety outweighs that freedom (but apparently not with the right to bear arms). I believe this was interpreted at some point at some federal court level.

    I imagine that Amazon has the right to set standards. But once they do they should administer the site according to those standards in a non-arbitrary and capricious fashion.

    Democracy is, and ever has been, an interesting experiment. It will be fraught with brilliance AND stupidity, positive changes and missteps.

    Reply
    • All this is very true.

      However, Amazon is pulling books with titles they don’t like. For example one writer, not self published, had one of her books pulled with the word “virgin” in the title but she has another book not pulled with the word virgin also The method seems willy nilly, not based on content.

      Reply
    • I don’t read erotica – but that doesn’t mean I think it should all be banned from mainstream sites like Amazon. I can usually find a review that tells me what I want to know.

      Fangswandsfairy makes a good point.

      The pedophile, the serial killer, the terrorist…we agree that there should be some boundries, but no one agrees where these boundries should be set. Sex sells, 50 Shades sold billions…there’s a huge market out there, so what do we do, as a society when there is a general outcry?

      I’m inclined to believe we are doing the right thing by debating the issue, in blogs like this.

      There has to be a general consenus.

      Reply
  5. You hit the nail Joleene!

    And from what I gathered, also this begin because of one disgruntled writer speaking in a British Tabloid…

    Reply
  6. Reblogged this on The Raptor's Claw and commented:
    Joleene Naylor makes some very good points!

    Reply
  7. (Eesh. I rambled. Apologies for the long reply)

    Thanks, Joleene, for continuing the conversation.

    The problem it seems to me is that there are TWO problems here and the original sensationalist posts made no distinction, so they’ve been conflated.

    The first problem is that of truly illegal — legally obscene or plagiarized — books being up on Amazon, Kobo, and Barnes and Noble. No one except pedophiles and absolute civil libertarians argues that these sites should be able to sell child porn. And even they don’t argue that plagiarism’s okay. (Well, there are always the “all knowledge should be free” folks. But even the NMBLA folks think they’re fringe.) The problem here is that people who sell this material know they’re breaking the law, and so do their best to make their work a) hard to recognize and b) possible to find if you know what to look for. What the booksellers have done is to conduct massive keyword-based campaigns in the hope that they’ll sweep up the offending material and that they’ll be seen to be doing something. Has that been effective? Almost certainly not. Instead, the searches have swept up vast numbers of books that aren’t obscene by any legal definition and in many cases aren’t even vaguely erotic. I would be willing to bet my rapidly-diminishing Amazon royalty check that the number of actual kiddy porn titles up on the major sites hasn’t gone down much at all. But any title with the words “mommy,” “daddy,” “virgin,” or “temptation” was blocked without prejudice. That included children’s picture books and at least one Christian romance that I know of. The content of the books was never considered. (In fairness, I don’t think even Amazon could pull together the manpower actually to read every title available on their store.) Did Amazon, B&N, or Kobo tell authors and publishers what caused the bans? No. That would have opened the booksellers up to lawsuits for breach of contract. Instead they just pointed to their content guidelines. “About what you would expect.” Eesh. Publishers were left to guess.

    The second problem was kids’ access to adult material, and this is where the booksellers hypocrisy has been even more irksome. Of the major booksellers, only Apple and Barnes and Noble ask that publishers mark any sexually explicit titles as such, and even they don’t customers a way to filter out such works. (Apple seems to vet every title by hand; erotica can take months to go through the same process to get posted on iBookstore that takes most non-adult titles a couple of weeks.) Kobo and Amazon rely on their own filters, which are based on keywords searches of book titles and descriptions and visual-recognition software for cover art. Again, the content is never considered. If a book is tagged by one of these searches, an Adult label is slapped on the book — but this label is never revealed either to the consumer or to the publisher. Its only purpose is to cause the book not to show up except in searches of the erotica sections of the respective sites. There are many problems with this. First of all, where’s the first place that a child curious about adult books is going to go to look for them? The erotica section. Duh. Second of all, because this whole process is invisible both to consumers and publishers, there’s no way for either to act responsibly. And third of all, what many of the less responsible publishers have been doing to get around this is to publish their adult book anywhere but in the erotica section. Contemporary Romance, New Adult, Coming-of-Age (!) — anywhere but the place where they’ll have their search hits reduced.

    The answer? I’m not sure what to suggest about the first problem. Kobo has — at least in theory — tried to have all content vetted by human beings, not by bots. So far not so good — my publisher’s own children’s picture book is still off-line. Amazon simply added a whole bunch of new arbitrary and non-transparent filters to their screening system. The guessing game continues!

    The second problem is more easily addressed, it seems to me. What Smashwords and a few other booksellers have done is to have an opt-out adult filter for all store searches. It works very much like Google’s SafeSearch settings. Publishers are expected to mark adult material as such. Consumers have to turn the Adult Filter setting to OFF in order to include marked titles in their searches. Adult material that isn’t marked and that gets flagged — either by Smashwords’s own people or by consumers — is pulled; if the publisher continues to post un-marked adult titles, their account is terminated. Is it foolproof? Hardly. If you ask kids to say they’re of age, they’re often happy to lie. But it is completely transparent, allows publishers to act responsibly, and gives teens and their parents a chance actually to talk about what is and isn’t acceptable.

    In the case of the two pieces of mine that Amazon banned (“Bridget” and “Juliet Takes Off”), my publisher was able to get them both on sale again — after much guesswork — by removing any reference in the title or description to virginity. Again: eesh.

    Clearly Amazon and the rest are trolling with keyword-based searches and pulling down anything that hits, erotica or no.

    And two weeks later, Kobo still has all of my publisher’s books offline. :-p

    Reply
  8. Yup, exactly. This is really more of a movement to do away with self published authors than to do away with porn. And all those writers who are saying ‘we need to ban erotica’ are fools. Because all romance, and most fiction published today falls under the definition of PORN to someone, somewhere.

    Reply
  9. We can all cope for a little censorship to rid the shelves of filth, but ultimately, it’s our choice simply by not buying. If a particular, or group of books don’t sell then Amazon will wipe them off their shelves. Draft 2 digital suffered from this with my novels, none of which have any sex in them because I don’t write that stuff. Luckily sense has prevailed.

    Reply
  10. I’m very worried about where this is headed. You can’t please everyone. As John Van Stry pointed out, the definition of “porn” varies so widely among people. I saw a review on a very clean romance where someone left a 1-star review calling the husband kissing his wife on the neck “porn”.

    It’s a slippery slope when you start to remove books based on subjective views of what is “objectionable”. You’re right, Jo. Any of us could be hurt by this, and looking through the comments, I see some who are already hurt by it. 😦 This isn’t just an issue for erotica authors. It’s something all authors should be scared about.

    Reply
  11. wizki

     /  October 31, 2013

    Spot on, thank you for tackling the “erotica” issue head-on! Censorship of writing and art is a huge issue everywhere; in Japan, where I live, they are trying to phase out “offensive” manga, even those written by famous or respected authors. First visual media, and then most certainly the printed word…:- (

    Reply
  12. Hmmmm…what about Anne Rice’s Claiming Sleeping Beauty trilogy? I read the fist book – a lot of rape (in detail), humiliation, submission and torture of men and women.
    I wonder if Amazon will ‘purge’ the big mass market books and big authors? Or are they targeting self-pubbed only?

    the other worry is, who decides what is erotica or what isn’t? I write contemporary romance, I don’t class it as erotic. It’s been described as ‘hot sex scenes’ by some readers, and ‘light and fluffy’ by other readers!!!!

    Reply
  13. lccooper

     /  October 31, 2013

    Sent from my iPhone

    >

    Reply
  14. Great post, Jolene. I meant to comment on this when you first posted it, but I was traveling. I immediately thought about this post today when I stumbled upon more Author vs Author snobbery on Facebook. While Amazon pushed the issue into the limelight, anti-Indie attitudes already existed. It’s sad to see Indie authors declaring war on “trashy” indie authors who “make them look bad.” I’ve seen several posts on FB from authors who say erotica authors deserved to have their books removed. In the Indie community, it isn’t just a war on erotica authors–I’ve seen authors scorning authors who write “YA fluff,” or “vampire porn” or fantasy. They declare authors of one genre aren’t “real authors” because it isn’t literary enough. Authors need to join together now more than ever instead of tearing each other apart. Just my opinion.

    Reply
  15. Yet, didn’t they sell 50 shades of that color? This is one of those ripples that will continually run through Indie Authors. Nice job on this.

    Reply
  1. Page not found | K.D West
  2. SmutTalk: Censored! (Epilogue Redux) | K.D West
  3. kindle instead erotica | luxury style - stylist for hedonistluxury style – stylist for hedonist

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