Book burning’s digital counterpart. It’s happening right now.

Short version: Amazon and Kobo, among others, began mass deleting self-published erotica last month in response to some media heat from articles like this one from The Kernel. The online magazine recently released what it calls an investigative report called “How Amazon Cashes in on Kindle Filth.”

Except Amazon and other digital book big shots aren’t deleting erotica from publishing houses.

What. The. Fuck.

• • •

For clarity, I’m not interested in reading about incest, rape or anything else that denigrates another human. But I also believe it’s not up to me to say what should or shouldn’t be published. Because, well, the First Amendment.

Anyway, Amazon created this computer filtering system that alerts them if certain words are in a book.

Let’s take “incest,” as an example.

Victoria Lexington’s novel, Sex and the Social Network, made it to #2 in erotica on October 14 (see image below) – before Amazon deleted it. It also earned a mention in USA TODAY on October 25 (fourth paragraph here), and had forty-five 4- and 5-star reviews. This book has flashbacks to childhood incest, as well as a rape scene. Fun? No. But things that give a character depth.

Things that Lexington said many readers told her made her book better than others in the same genre. Her characters are real.

Sticking point:

Other books with similar taboo topics – The Kite Runner, The Perks of Being a Wallflower, Flowers in the Attic, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo – and those with far more controversial material, are NOT being deleted by Amazon and Kobo.

You can still get a fresh copy of Fifty Shades of Grey, arguably the biggest piece of literary garbage to infect this century. Because BDSM – even with shit grammar, sentence fragments, nonsensical adverbs and no plot – is somehow more appropriate than a book that shows a character flashing back to a less than rosy childhood.

The Digital Reader and Salon both wrote about the issue this month, so I won’t belabor the point. You can read both pieces by following the links below.

Self-Published Erotica is Being Singled Out For Sweeping Deletions From Major eBookstores

Amazon’s porn censorship is inconsistent and unfair

This is a link directly to KDP’s discussion forum, where authors are asking why their books have been removed. It’s no hoax.

Meantime, self-published authors with the “offensive” books in question are receiving emails like this from Amazon.

Hello, We’re contacting you regarding the following book(s) that you submitted for sale in our Kindle Store:

XXX XXXX XXXXX Digital Item ID:XXX000XX ASIN:000000 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.

Our content guidelines are published on the Kindle Direct Publishing website. To learn more, please see:

Best regards,

Kindle Direct Publishing

And that’s it.

Sure, they can appeal. Anyone want to wager on how far they’ll get?

I call this new age book burning. Yes, the shit that’s emblematic of oppressive regimes.

Think about it.

What’s the difference between good old-fashioned biblioclasm and what Amazon is doing here with self-published erotica?

And how dare we allow it.


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12 replies
  1. Ekatarina Sayanova
    Ekatarina Sayanova says:

    This has been going on a lot longer than last month. It started on Facebook deleting anything that looked remotely like exploitation of women directed mainly at BDSM pages because of a couple of radical feminazi groups pressuring advertisers. This latest censorship is the direct result of a rant on a blog that is nothing more than birdcage liner called “The Kernel”. While the rant made some salient points, the end result was the entire self-publishing arm of literature got painted with a very broad, inaccurate brush.

    I don’t have time to go into great detail, but the basic legalities of this are:

    1. The distributors are private companies who can set their rules as they like. They are not bound by any law other than their own.

    2. The Constitution does not apply to business practices of private companies, only to hiring practices.

    3. While self-published authors do, in fact, constitute a class, unless and/or until a suit is filed and makes its way through the courts, the distributors can and probably will continue to penalize self-published authors for the distributors’ lack of due diligence.

    4. If you are a self-published author, choose your title carefully. Avoid any buzzwords that remotely hint at erotic subject matter. Do the same with your cover. There is a good reason why beautiful, sensual covers have been replaced by things like fruit, strings of pearls, ties, keys, masks, etc.

    5. Consider speaking up with your wallets. Encourage your readers to buy your books from other distributors like Smashwords, All Romance eBooks, etc. Amazon, Kobo, BN, etc. ain’t the only games in town.

    • Rebecca T. Dickson
      Rebecca T. Dickson says:

      Thank you for joining the conversation.
      It’s true, as a private company, Amazon et. al. can do whatever they want. I’m infuriated they have chosen to target self-published books, however.
      It’s just plain wrong.

  2. Ciara Ballintyne
    Ciara Ballintyne says:

    I would like to start by saying that I don’t believe Victoria Lexington’s book is the type of book that the content guidelines were designed for (and if it is actually caught, then it shouldn’t be) as I believe the guidelines are intended to be targeted at books where the only purpose is for the reader to derive gratuitous sexual pleasure from the taboo topics (and it is just disturbing that people are writing and reading this stuff). A valid flashback to horrific events early in a character’s life as part of character building clearly doesn’t fit that bill. In fact, I would argue that it doesn’t infringe the guidelines at all – it has been incorrectly pulled because Amazon is targeting keywords rather than individually reading all the books, because that would be a mammoth task (not to mention probably distasteful for the person required to read the titles that have been validly pulled). Amazon may not have provided an appeals process, but of course every contract can be enforced in court. Of course it would be prohibitively expensive, I realise that, but the point I’m making is that it’s no better and no worse than any time a large company screws over the little guy and gets away with it because the little guy can’t afford to sue – the fact that the subject matter in this case is a book doesn’t, in my opinion, make the situation any worse.

    But, for your question, ‘how dare we allow it?’ the answer is ‘you can’t stop it’ – unless you want to completely dismantle the entire legal infrastructure of the civilised world. Any retailer has the legal right to dictate what they will and won’t sell. Writers contractually agree with these companies the terms of that service. Writers may not be reading those terms of service, but they should. If they breach them (and again I reiterate that I’m not convinced that what Victoria Lexington has done should be considered a breach), but if they breach them, and here I’m talking about authors who write about daddy raping his daughter for the titillation of readers (i.e. that is the sum whole of the plot) they have no one to blame for having their book removed except THEMSELVES.

    This isn’t bookburning, it’s the enforcement of a legal agreement. Anyone who doesn’t like the terms doesn’t have to sign up. It’s sad that valid books have been caught up in this mess, and that’s not right, but the basic principle, that Amazon has the right to determine what it chooses to sell, is right and fair and sound.

    After all, authors whose works are (validly) excluded can still sell their books via their own website, and no one can do a damn thing about it (unless they are actually illegal). It’s not a freedom of speech issue unless and until every avenue open to those authors have been closed, which is not currently the case.

    You can’t really take away the right of Amazon to say what they will and won’t sell unless you want to take away the right of every other person to say what they will or won’t sell or contractually agree to do.

    As to why they aren’t deleting traditionally published erotica? There are numerous cynical reasons, of course, but the legal reason is that traditional publishers have not agreed to the KDP Terms of Service. We don’t know what those traditional publishers have agreed with Amazon (and therefore we can’t know whether Amazon should legally be deleting traditional works), but certainly it is NOT the contract that Amazon has been relying on to delete self-published erotica, and therefore the mere fact that self-published works have been deleted does not automatically mean that traditionally published ones should be as well. An unfair fact. But then traditional publishers have more power to negotiate deals with Amazon, and self-publishers don’t.

      • Ciara Ballintyne
        Ciara Ballintyne says:

        Most non-writers don’t have an issue with what Amazon has done, so they won’t shop elsewhere. Also, now I’m going to be cynical – if people haven’t stopped shopping at Amazon YET because of all the other issues it already has, including the breackneck speed with which it is headed for a monopoly, which is bad for everyone, it’s never going to happen.

          • Ciara Ballintyne
            Ciara Ballintyne says:

            I don’t believe they are intended to be caught by the guidelines and there may be other avenues for rectifying that situation, but it will take time. There may be no formal appeals process, but there are still ways to contact Amazon. Has anyone affected made any attempt to contact Amazon with an articulate explanation of the issue? I don’t know the answer. There was a problem, there’s been a backlash, and a rectification that goes too far. This does not preclude a proper balancing in the future.

  3. jevvv
    jevvv says:

    I don’t agree with what the publishers are doing to self-published authors


    I also thing that on their sites I should be able to filter out erotic content and not have to see suggestions for those books… I have not yet been able to do this

    There are problems both directions

  4. Mary Pax
    Mary Pax says:

    Read the books? They don’t even do a cursory check of a file. Book theft and piracy prove that.

    Their refusal to publish, means a golden opportunity for someone else. Maybe that will mean the rise of some competition for Amazon, Kobo, et al, and more outlets for us… a writer can dream.

    I’m really surprised they decided to lose money by not publishing. It’s so not Amazon.

    Beyond that, the hypocrisy is staggering. I feel Victoria’s pain. I hope she lands on her feet.

  5. Victoria Lexington
    Victoria Lexington says:

    Thank y’all so much for your support. Ciara-you are correct, the flashbacks of child abuse are in no way meant to titillate. They help explain who Gabby is as an adult and how she ends up with certain feelings about herself, sex and the reckless decisions she makes. Which by the way, numerous readers contacted me after reading Sex and the Social Network to tell me that they were abused as a child and how grateful they were that my book gave it a “voice”.

    Other readers called Gabby’s story “Gut Wrenching, emotional, relatable”. Yes, sex abuse and rape are uncomfortable topics, but unfortunately they are all too real for the victims. Censoring a book because it contains said topics is essentially telling everyone again and again that we don’t talk about shit that makes us uncomfortable. The exact messages sex abuse and rape victims are brainwashed to believe in the first place.

    Also, as Rebecca cites in her blog many bestselling books include these difficult topics as well. Somehow, they are exempt from being banned.

    I am trying to appeal it with Amazon, I will let y’all know what happens. Thank you!

  6. Mande'
    Mande' says:

    I don’t want porn flitting around on amazon where my God sons can access it; however, the 1st amendment protects freedom of speech. So if someone else wants to write about or read erotica, that’s their business. In a plow to not lose money Amazon has done more damage to their wallets than if they had left the subject alone or put out a statement quoting the 1st amendment. It’s sad and I don’t agree.


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