Amazon Swings its Mighty Censorship Baton Once More
As I’m sure many of you have noticed, Amazon has a really big problem on their hands. After years of perfecting their algorhithms to make books more searchable, they’ve discovered they may have taken the science a little too far. Titles like Babysitting the Baumgartners and Daddy’s Little Slut are showing up in searches for children’s books, so Amazon is now frantically pulling these books from their virtual shelves and requiring authors to clean them up before they can be relisted.
When an author publishes on KDP (Kindle Direct Publishing) the question of age-appropriateness never comes up. No, the only thing Amazon asks is for an author to choose a category for their book – like a genre breakdown. Because there is no age filter, many authors take the initiative and include a warning in their blurb or description: This book is not suitable for children under the age of –. There is no box an author can tick off saying, you know, this probably shouldn’t be seen by anyone under the age of 18. Instead, they must choose from a limited category filter. For many authors of erotic fiction, the broad category of ‘erotica’ isn’t specific enough, after all, there are many sub-genres and simply listing a book as erotica would limit the book’s exposure
Recently, Amazon did something really stupid. They decided to hide many erotic titles. I can’t remember how they selected which books to hide. I think it was by keywords, like incest, rape, bestiality, implied consent – all those hot-button subjects. This little gaffe sent authors into a frenzy. Links to websites that could show if Amazon hid a book popped up everywhere. Blog articles describing how to get around these filters to make books discoverable again materialized over night. “Do not,” they all said, “choose the category of erotica, or mention anywhere in your blurb that the book is erotic or contains explicit sexual acts.”
And now we have the current mess in which Amazon finds itself. With all their fancy technology, you’d think they could come up with a system to filter inappropriate books from the eyes of children. The first step would be for authors to designate their books as adult only, something Smashwords has done all along. The next step is to verify the age of customers before allowing downloads or purchases. This can happen in several ways. Credit card, driver’s license, PayPal account.
Amazon’s knee-jerk reaction of removing questionable content is akin to a grocery store finding out they’ve been selling alcohol to minors, and rather than implement a rule of carding customers, they yank all the alcohol from the shelves and refuse to sell to anyone, regardless of age.
Beyond that, Amazon needs to clarify their content guidelines. When they removed my book for violating those guidelines, they referred me to the following statement: What we deem offensive is probably about what you would expect.
I write erotica, so what I deem offensive and what my neighbor deems offensive is likely to be worlds apart, and this vague explanation is of no help in determining what is acceptable, and until they clarify or make up their minds about what they will publish, arbitrary Amazon censorship will continue.
Authors and readers need to send a message to Amazon. We (myself and several other authors) have organized a 1-Click boycott on October 26th and 27th. Obviously, we aren’t trying to hurt Amazon’s sales, and refraining from purchasing for two days won’t hurt authors, either. Buyers can simply purchase their books the preceding or following days. But if enough readers refrain from handing their money over to Amazon for a couple of days, they will hopefully come to realize that we are not powerless and we will not continue to pay for their miscalculations. Together, we can stand up for ourselves and bring about change.
Amazon, get your shit together and stop punishing authors and readers for your mistakes!