Yesterday I was trying to figure out what to blog about today. Between working hard to finish the latest work in progress, dealing with some personal stuff and the usual NRP stuff, blogging was most definitely not the most important thing on my mind. Add in an unusual amount of troll activity on by Facebook wall as well as on my friends’ Facebook walls and blogs I follow and I knew I needed to find something that didn’t send me over the edge. That’s when I saw a link on Facebook that had me alternately shaking my head and thinking about the “whys” of it.
In a post titled “Self-Published Erotica is Being Singled Out For Sweeping Deletions From Major eBookstores“, The Digital Reader wrote about what appears to be a trend to remove certain titles from the catalogs of Amazon, Kobo, B&N and WH Smith. I’ll let you read the article but the basic gist of it is that these e-book stores are removing certain erotica titles which are all either self-published or small press published and are doing so without notice. Over on the KBoards site, in a thread going back to September, there are howls of protest about this that range from condemning Amazon for changing its terms of service to censorship. I’m not going to get into the technical argument of whether or not a non-governmental entity can actually censor someone.
However, with regard to the changing of Amazon’s terms of service, that’s the company’s prerogative. It is why you should always read the changes when you get notice of it — something that is required to be given. So that is also a non-argument, in my opinion.
But there is a problem that has been presented in what happened and the reasons for these stores to start pulling these titles. (I’ll get into the argument some have put forth about how it is the prelude to them removing all self-published titles shortly.) This problem has been exacerbated by the explosion in the number of self-published titles coming through the various e-book stores over the last few years. As could be expected, some of these titles are erotica. It wouldn’t surprise me at all to find that the number of erotica titles increased dramatically after the success of Fifty Shades of Gray. Nor would it surprise me to find out that these titles pushed the boundaries on a number of different levels, including being poorly written and being barely legal.
The real problem isn’t that these books exist. Nor is it that they may not be well-written or edited. The actual problem is two-fold. When you put an e-book up on most e-book platforms, you are asked for basic information: title, author, cover image, product description, copyright, pricing, territories where it is to be sold. What you aren’t asked is if it includes adult content. (Caveat here, Smashwords does ask this and does use that as a filter.)
The second part of the problem comes with how the author classifies and then tags the title. There is no guarantee an author is going to tag their erotica as erotica. Also, as with anything, there are varying degrees of erotica. Some can be well-written and hot but in a sensual way — not in a way that sends you running from the room screaming “EWWW!”. It can be nothing but “vanilla” sex or it can include BDSM. It can be consensual or non-consensual. I think you get my meaning. The problem is, the reader doesn’t know this if it isn’t classified and described very specifically.
But there is an underlying problem that goes beyond just the classification of a title. It is the tagging. You know what I’m talking about: those pesky words or phrases you are asked to put in that will be used as search terms for your title. For example, my novel Nocturnal Origins (an urban fantasy/police procedural) has tags of Dallas, murder, shapeshifter, police, werewolf, and a couple of others. So, if you were to type in “Dallas”, it would come up somewhere in a long list of other books with Dallas as a search term.
That’s all very innocent and no problem. But think about sitting down with your child and typing in the word “Daddy” and the search bringing up a list of titles that include books about underage sex, incest, etc. Add in then the cover images that would go with such titles and, well, you get some upset parents — especially if they discover these are the sorts of titles their kids are seeing when they aren’t around to supervise.
Now, does this justify removing en masse a bunch of titles that can be classed as erotica and only doing them with self-published titles? No, at least not in my opinion. However, I really think this is a tempest in a teacup. Historically, this has been the way Amazon, Kobo and the others have reacted when they’ve received a number of complaints (unfortunately, we don’t know what that magical number is). They react by pulling everything that might be “offensive” or against their terms of service and then they go back through and start returning titles for sale. It’s happened with everything from works that included parts of other works to other issues with erotica titles and more. Each and every time, the problem has been clarified and new procedures put into place.
And I think it will happen exactly this way again.
However, these different e-book stores have to do something to make sure these potentially objectionable titles aren’t available for easy access to minors. I say that not because I think we need to protect our little babies but because it will make life a lot easier for the retailers. A simple question about whether or not your book contains adult content — with that term clearly defined, including a list you can check to show what sort of content is included — like Smashwords currently has in place would help. Then those titles could be put behind a filter so their tags wouldn’t necessarily show up in a search for common terms like “daddy”.
And, no, that isn’t censorship. We so aren’t going to have that conversation here.
That said, the different e-book stores do have to worry about what they sell and the legality of it. This is especially true for those selling in multiple countries. Because of that, we may see periodic glitches as titles are pulled either by accident from all countries instead of just one or two countries due to legal issues or through a bit of overzealous precaution. But, it is more likely to happen because these stores use software “spiders” to search for certain words and terms and pull potentially questionable titles until real eyes can look them over. It is far from perfect but instead of taking to the internet to whine and gnash your teeth, contact the e-book retailer and find out what is going on and then find out what you can do to correct the situation. Don’t just rely on the e-mail you get telling you your title has been pulled for some none-too-specific reason.
On the KBoards and elsewhere, there is the renewed accusation that this is all part of some big conspiracy by Amazon, mainly, and the other retailers, to pull all self-published books from their virtual shelves. All I can say to that is, “get real”. I’m sorry, but Amazon and Jeff Bezos is anything but foolish. The KDP platform is a moneymaker for Amazon and it isn’t going to do away with an income stream that basically costs them nothing more than the price of transmission fees and hosting web pages. Okay, it is a little more than that, but not much.
Is it a problem when our titles are removed, even for a few days? Yes. Of course. Those titles are our income. So keep an eye on your titles, all of them, and make sure there are no problems. If there are, go to the source and keep pushing until you find out why they have been taken down. There are ways to contact Amazon and the others that don’t end with the generic notes you get in e-mail. With only one exception, NRP has never had any problem getting resolution within a few days of what the problem happens to be. That one exception is still taking place on a non-Amazon platform but I think I have an idea of what it might be and it is something to discuss with the bosses.
Finally, if you are an author of erotica titles that push the envelope, look for other platforms to sell you titles on besides the major players. I know of a number of erotica and m/m titles who sell much more on platforms like AllRomance than they do on Amazon or Kobo or B&N. Watch what you use as tags and be very careful that your cover images do not violate the terms of service for the various platforms.
In the meantime, I’ll be keeping my eye on what happens with this latest problem and, hopefully, by the time next week rolls around, solutions will be in place and this will be just another bad memory for those who have been affected.