Thursday, September 19, 2013

A Puritan's Pursuit: Filtered By Amazon

Recently, Amazon has been making some radical changes as to how they conduct business with authors of erotica, erotic romance, and the readers who love both.

Amazon has always been a little more strict than Barnes & Noble, which seems to have an almost no-holds-barred policy, and Smashwords, which similarly does not seem to care much about anything that doesn't involve rape or bestiality (shifter/werewolf porn is still okay, though). Over the past month, however, Amazon's efforts have turned downright Puritanical.
After systematically banning any incest erotica, Amazon started going on a killing spree under the guise of an "Adult Filter." This filter prevents anyone anywhere from searching the title of your work via the main screen. Better yet, if they search you by author on that screen, the book also won't show up there - not even on your author page.

This forces your (potential) readers to now go to the sidebar, select "Kindle Books," open up the page, and then search from there. Only then will your book show up as normal in search results, as well as on your author page.

Although this seems like a small modification, and although common sense would tell us that readers could figure it out on their own, the problem is that most of them are not aware of the Adult Filter. Not in the way that us authors are, anyway.

We notice because suddenly our sales - our very livelihood, for some of us - start dropping off considerably. We may no longer be selling at all. It is only through our own efforts to research the reason why that we may find we have been filtered. You see, Amazon does not send out an alert when one of your books has been filtered, and the filter can be applied at any time. Published your bestseller five months ago and just start noticing your sales plummet over the past few weeks? That was thanks to the Amazon filter, which has been applied to works both past and present, always after the work has been published. It is sneaky, dishonest, and underhanded, and I don't like it one bit.

But why would your readers notice? There was no announcement on the Amazon Prime homepage about it. No letter from the CEO detailing changes to Amazon's adult content policy. The filter was applied without any pomp or circumstance, leaving some readers to believe their favorite authors had simply vanished, or at the very least were no longer producing the type of content they liked to read. So they moved on to other authors, while the ones they left behind starved.

The lack of transparency on Amazon's part regarding the nature of the filter is astounding. Not only do they not inform you as the author that the filter has been applied, but it's up to you to contact them about the issue in an attempt to resolve it. At first, representatives would only point to their vague, unhelpful "guidelines" as the issue, leaving authors to guess at what might be wrong. The only positive mention I can give them is that as of late, they have been willing to point out more specific elements of an author's work that may have gotten them filtered, such as cover art, fuzzy details about the character's ages, or dubious consent (there is an entire subgenre devoted to this, and it is a very popular and prevalent kink among both men and women, so this affects a boatload of authors). Once the changes are made, Amazon will review them at their leisure and decide whether or not they would like to unfilter the work. Once they do, you're back in business - but can you recover from your time spent as invisible?

Some authors can. Many can't. And that's not even the worst of it.

Amazon has gone beyond their ultra-conservative "filtering" of adult content. They have recently begun to outright ban works consisting of pseudo-incest (step-siblings, etc.) and now, if the data I'm receiving is correct, power relationships. That means that any work containing a character who is perceived as having more power than another will be deleted from their database. Say goodbye to BDSM erotica, and even spanking. Works containing relationships between doctors and patients, students and teachers, and even cougars and cubs are being banned, meaning that some of the most popular sexual fantasies are being removed as content from Amazon's shelves.

We already know how this will affect authors. They will starve. They will be forced to return to the jobs they hated - jobs that they left to pursue their dreams, only to have them quashed by Amazon's overzealous censorship. Amazon is the largest retailer of literature there is right now, and to say that their insidious filtering and banning of erotic materials is devastating would be a massive understatement.

But what does all of this mean for Amazon? As a company, what ramifications will these policies have on them?

My prediction is this:

Amazon will begin to feel the hurt. Erotica and erotic romance are two of their most lucrative genres, and they've treated those authors like second-class citizens of Amazonworld for so long that many will begin to jump ship. Barnes & Noble is a pretty good alternative. Their publishing time is much, much shorter than Amazon's with far less restrictions, and as far as my own experience goes, Nookpress' formatting makes my .epubs look much prettier and much more uniform than Amazon's .mobi files. Although the market there is not nearly as expansive as Amazon's is right now, Amazon is also working as hard as they can to insulate themselves and create a much smaller world for these authors, so B&N may end up having both a larger and deeper pond for us fish once it's all said and done.

Barnes & Noble has been floundering in Amazon's wake. Their Nook hasn't done nearly as well as Amazon's Kindle, and the introduction of the Kindle Fire really gave B&N a run for their money. Barnes & Noble began shutting down retail centers in all 50 states, just like the ill-fated attempt of Borders to stay afloat in the long shadow cast by Amazon's colossus. I was sad to see Borders go, and became nervous when Barnes & Noble began implementing the same tactics to survive. Hell, one of the reasons I lost my former day job was because one of their hideous branch managers ended up getting hired at the place I worked, and made everyone's life a nightmare. But I digress - the point of me mentioning this is that I see Amazon's ban/filter as cutting themselves off at the knees, and since Barnes & Noble is so thirsty for the business, they'll hopefully welcome authors affected by this with open arms. Readers will be able to find the content they desire more easily through the Nook and, and if authors begin forsaking Amazon altogether and publishing exclusively through Nookpress in order to jump through far less hoops, readers of this content may follow suit.

This could be disastrous for Amazon in the long run, because censorship has never worked out in favor of the censor, especially not when it comes to sexy literature. Prohibition proved that people lust after their chosen vices even more once it becomes taboo, and in response, those who carry the products they want become rich. This is Barnes & Noble's chance to seize that reality and make it work for their business model, and to be honest, I hope they do. I'd love to see Amazon get taken down a peg for their terrible business decisions. I'd love to hit them where it hurts.

Because you know what? There's two things that a respectable entity doesn't fuck with: people's money, and people's kids. The economy being what it is, Amazon's ban and filter are effectively committing both sins, which ironically states much more about their lack of character than it does about the smut peddlers they wish to profit from, and yet shun.

Until I can work out how to get unfiltered, you can click on the cover art below to get the direct link to the "Cleaning Up Camille" page on Amazon. But honestly? Maybe go through Barnes & Noble, instead. If you really enjoy erotic fiction, you can make a statement with your cash. Still, if Amazon is easier for you, by all means click on the picture below.

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