In the last month or so, Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and Kobo have all been taking down what they call abuse-themed ebooks. What they claim is simply a removal of incest or beastiality books has actually hit perfectly legal ebooks as well. Ignoring that some stores are removing all self published titles completely, these three stores in specific are doing this in as shady a way as possible.
Amazon, the largest web-based store in the US and definitely the largest ebook store in the US, has been removing huge amounts of books that have certain keywords in them. Many are what you'd expect: "daddy", "daughter", "little girl". However, there is now evidence that they are removing any reference to the keyword virgin. They're even removing stories about babysitters, even when they're over 18 and having completely consensual sex.
Instead of telling authors exactly what they want and do not want in their store, they are explicitly refusing to give any details. When a book is blocked on their website, they will only tell you if it was blocked because of the cover, the title, or the description. That's it. They will not tell you what is wrong with your cover, title, or description.
I recently had a story about gay roommates blocked, with this given as the reason:
During our review process, we found that your book contains content that is in violation of our content guidelines. Our content guidelines apply to the book interior, as well as cover image, title and/or product descriptions. As a result, we will not be offering this book for sale.
That's it. And their guidelines are no help, because all it says is this: "What we deem offensive is probably about what you would expect."
Barnes and Noble has not come out yet with what they plan to do with abuse-themed ebooks. I do know that I cannot search my pen name on their website anymore, though searching for book titles does bring up my books still. There are rumors that they will be flat-out banning accounts with books about incest, beastiality, or "child rape". I haven't found any proof at all that there were child rape books on these websites, though certain other websites make the claim that they are there. If you have any books about incest, pseudoincest or beastiality on Barnes and Noble, the current advice is to remove them immediately.
Kobo has completely removed whole authors from their site, especially their UK site. They also sent the following email:
To our Kobo Writing Life and self-publishing partners:
As you may be aware, there has been a significant amount of negative media attention in the UK regarding offensive material that became available across a number of eBook platforms. Kobo was included in the reports from media and we are taking immediate action to resolve an issue that is the direct result of a select few authors and publishers violating Kobo’s content policies.
In order to address the situation Kobo is taking the following steps:
1. We are removing titles in question from the Kobo platform.
2. We are quarantining and reviewing titles to ensure that compliance to our policies is met by all authors and publishers. We will ensure that content meeting the policy is made available online as soon as possible.
3. We are reviewing our policies and procedures to implement safeguards that will ensure this situation does not happen in the future.
We are working hard to get back to business as usual, as quickly as possible. We appreciate your patience and understanding in this matter.
Our goal at Kobo is not to censor material; we support freedom of expression. Further, we want to protect the reputation of self-publishing as a whole. You have our promise that we will do all we can to ensure the exceptions that have caused this current situation will not have a lasting effect on what is an exciting new channel that connects Readers to a wealth of books.
Director, Kobo Writing Life
The essential meaning to be taken from this: Their goal isn't to censor material, but they will censor material in order to avoid making their search better.
And that's the biggest part of this issue. The problem of children supposedly finding these books can be solved by making it so adult content is only visible when you choose for it to be. Google has safesearch. Amazon has one of the most advanced search algorithms on earth, and yet it is refusing to put all adult material on an even footing. Each of these websites should be capable of putting a check box in the settings for their account that will allow them to see or not see adult material.
We're not interested in selling porn to children, or about children. We want to have a safe space to sell our work, and we want traditionally published stories with the same themes as ours to be put on the same level as us. A lot of erotica authors are parents, too. We understand the need for filtering and keeping kids safe.
Further, no book put up by a traditional publisher is going to be held to the same rules that we are. Have you heard of the Gorean series by John Norman? This science fiction series has spawned an actual subculture around it, but what's truly horrifying is that this subculture treats women like slaves.
The Gor novels have been criticized for their focus on relationships between dominant men and submissive women, the latter often in positions of slavery. The Encyclopedia of Fantasy says, "later volumes degenerate into extremely sexist, sadomasochistic pornography involving the ritual humiliation of women, and as a result have caused widespread offence."
These books will be allowed to remain, but not ours.
As for incest, I'll just point out George R R Martin and leave it at that. Anne Rice's Sleeping Beauty trilogy remains on these sites.
Sleeping Beauty, in a version of the story you're not likely to find in any of Disney's early script drafts, is rescued from her century-long slumber by a handsome prince. The handsome prince then strips her naked, rapes her, rapes her again, spanks her, rapes her some more for good measure, and announces his intention to walk her completely starkers to his own kingdom, where he will continue to rape her until her vagina resembles the Channel Tunnel. Beauty's parents make a suspiciously small number of objections to this action plan, and fondly wave her goodbye as the entire population of the kingdom get a good look at her sweaty tits.
Books and movies and shows about murder, incest and cannibalism will still be sold by these websites. Dexter , Hannibal, Sleeping Beauty and Game of Thrones will not be removed, because it's a lot harder to bully people with the money for lawyers. This is censorship, and it's only being used against those who are self published.
On Amazon, you can even buy dildos, vibrators, butt plugs or anything else they sell without proof of being over 18.
D2D, a website that pushes ebooks to Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Kobo and Apple, recently sent out this email:
We have new information concerning the recent removal of titles from distribution through Kobo. I’ve been working directly with Kobo staff to resolve the matter, and have already seen dozens of Draft2Digital titles returned to sale.
Of course, that’s just a small step toward fully reinstating all the books that meet Kobo’s content guidelines. However, we’re making progress now, and we have a clear path to resolving this unfortunate matter.
We expect all non-erotica titles to be live again by the end of this week, while erotica will undergo a more extensive review process. Ultimately, we expect all works that conform to Kobo’s content guidelines to return to sale.
If you’ve been waiting to publish new titles (or push changes) to Kobo, you may resume both at this time. These new changes may also experience an extended delay, but we’ll make sure they are preserved and pushed to the live site as soon as possible.
The material that sparked this incident consisted of erotica falling into several specific categories. Kobo provides clear guidelines concerning acceptable content in their Content Policy.
While we recognize that there’s a proven market for the more extreme material, our sales channels are increasingly unwilling to carry those titles in their stores. If you are intent on publishing such material through Draft2Digital, we ask that you clearly mark it as such using your categories, search keywords, and product description.
Furthermore, we encourage you to refrain from publishing it to sites that are known to reject such material. At this time, that includes three of our four available sales channels; Apple, Amazon, and Kobo have all begun an extensive campaign to remove and block these titles from their stores.
For all our users who carefully subscribe to the content guidelines of their selected sales channels, we once again offer our sincere apologies that your titles were caught up in this mess. We continue to do everything we can to see the matter resolved quickly. Thank you for your patience.
Sincerely, Kris Austin President and CEO Draft2Digital, LLC https://www.draft2digital.com
This gives a little bit more information about whats going on at these sales channels. It seems that Kobo will slowly let erotica back in, but it'll all be under much more scrutiny now.
For your information, here is Kobo's content policy which is mentioned in the email above:
Pornography, adult content, and obscenity:
- Pornography, Nudity, and Sexually Explicit Material: Adult or explicit material depicting illegal acts or deemed to be exploitative shall be considered pornography and blocked or removed from the Website. See below for details regarding Kobo standards. If Your content contains appropriate adult or explicit material, please mark the page as containing mature content as a courtesy to other Users, so that they will have the choice whether or not to view this content. You can do this either in the subtitle or in the opening paragraph of your Shortcover. We reserve the right to put such content, or any Shortcover containing mature content, behind an interstitial.
- Pedophilia, Incest, Bestiality, Exploitation and Sexual Violence or Force: Users may not publish written, image, audio or video content that promotes pedophilia, incest, bestiality, or sexual violence or force.
- Commercial Pornography: We do not allow content that exists for the primary purpose of monetizing porn content or driving traffic to a monetized pornography site.
- Child Pornography: Kobo has a zero-tolerance policy against child pornography, and We will terminate and report to the appropriate authorities any User who publishes or distributes child pornography, or who promotes material that is or purports to be child pornography.
- Hateful content: Users may not publish material that promotes hate toward groups based on race or ethnic origin, religion, disability, gender, age, veteran status, and sexual orientation/gender identity.
- Violent content: Users may not publish direct threats of violence against any person or group of people. We also ask Users not to publish content that contains graphic violence. Users may not publish instructional material regarding the creation of weapons of mass destruction
The only issue I really take with this is that more than half of all women have rape fantasies and they like reading dubious consent stories. Still, it is their website and because they actually give clear guidelines, we should all follow them. Amazon take note: We cannot follow rules that you do not explicitly state.
Here's what authors want and need from these self publishing websites:
- Actual, written out, thorough guidelines, so that we can follow the rules you expect us to follow.
- Even footing for all authors, traditional or self published.
- A way to keep our books from children, by putting it in an adult section.
If you can't give us these things, we will eventually find someplace better to sell our work. And as you can see from this petition with 13,000 signatures telling you to stop censoring us, the readers will follow us there.
- This hilariously awful and biased article by Engadget, which essentially says "Isn't censorship great! Also we really love the traditional publishers and hate self publishers!"
- This International Business Times article about the petition
- Here's the petition itself
- A post by Selena Kitt from the start of this controversy, "Amazon At It Again-- Blocking Pseudoincest and Monster Sex".
- Porn Hunt 2013: Gossip Boys “Researching” Porn Real Hard
- Thoughts on the Great Erotica Panic of 2013
- Kobo removes all self-published titles. Is this censorship, an overreaction, or just good sense?
- Depraved ebooks don't belong on the digital high street (This one is interesting: "Censorship's not the answer, but that doesn't mean deeply disturbing written pornography should be on sale via major online booksellers". So censorship isn't the answer, but the answer is something that looks exactly like censorship!)
- Daily Mail’s manufactured outrage prompts retailers to jettison self-published erotica