Amazon removes incest-related erotica titles from store, Kindle archive

A discussion thread on Amazon’s Kindle Community forum notes that Amazon has begun removing some previously-published books or stories from its store, and from the Kindle archives. Readers who have previously downloaded them to their Kindles can keep them there, but cannot re-download them (and will be refunded the price of purchase assuming Amazon can still find the purchase record).

The story whose removal sparked the discussion was an erotica title called Wicked Lovely by author Jess C. Scott. The tale dealt with incest, and involved a love scene between a 17- and an 18-year-old. However, Amazon would not tell Scott specifically what caused the removal of her novel. The only response she has received, after repeatedly trying to contact Amazon for more information, is a form letter:

Dear Publisher,

As stated in our content guidelines, we reserve the right to determine what content we consider to be appropriate. This content includes both the cover art image and the content within the book.

Best regards,

Amazon Customer Service
http://www.amazon.com

Further down the thread, author Selena Kitt notes that Jess is not the only author to have had works removed.

Incest books (and they seem to be currently targeting incest – whether characters are eighteen or not in the book in question – all of my characters are eighteen or older and there is an explicit warning at the beginning of each book making that clear) are being pulled from Amazon as we speak. I’ve had three removed. Esmerelda Greene has had at least one pulled. There are several others that have disappeared as well.

A number of participants in the discussion compare this to the pedophilia how-to guide removal of last month, in which Amazon first said it would not be removing a book due to its commitment to principles of free speech—and then abruptly yanked it after all a couple of hours later.

On the other hand, I wonder how much this might have to do with the big news story that broke recently of a Columbia University professor being arrested for a three-year “consensual” sexual relationship with his 24-year-old daughter. If incest is a hot topic in the news right now, it might be that Amazon is trying to preempt complaints from people who might search for “incest” on Amazon and then be offended when they find it—or it could be reacting to such complaints from people who already have.

Amazon has done this sort of thing before, of course. The example everyone remembers is the improperly-sold George Orwell titles that were actually removed from Kindles as well as from the store, leading Jeff Bezos to apologize and promise not to do that again. But if you web-search “amazonfail”, the top results point to a more apt example: Amazon’s 2009 self-admittedly “embarrassing and ham-fisted” removal of 57,000 gay-and-lesbian-themed books from its sales rankings and search algorithms.

Jess C. Scott points out:

The content guidelines on Amazon do not have clear guidelines as to what is considered as "acceptable" in the erotica genre. I see other similarly-themed books still available for purchase, and see books with the subjects of rape, bestiality, etc, available for purchase (books that have not been deleted from Amazon’s catalog). If underage sex is illegal, why is Vladimir Nabokov’s "Lolita" still available for purchase?

Whatever your feelings are concerning incest, or its portrayal in fiction, every book in the entire “erotica” genre probably contains something that will be offensive to someone. And yet it is also one of the best-selling genres in electronic literature.

And Amazon’s failure to define clear categories or to provide an explanation of where the bright lines are could have a chilling effect on writers similar to that of Apple’s often-arbitrary app store rejections of the last few years on developers. How can you know whether any given story dealing with risqué issues will be considered acceptable?

Of course, Amazon is under no obligation to carry any title it deems offensive—it’s only a violation of the First Amendment if the government or a government-connected body acts to prohibit speech—but hopefully it will provide some further explanation of what the grounds for rejection are.

32 Comments on Amazon removes incest-related erotica titles from store, Kindle archive

  1. I have read several titles by Selena Kitt. She writes with exceedingly high literary standards and should not be judged as less than worthy because her subject happens to be erotica. I believe Amazon’s decision to remove her books, and other books similar to hers, is small-minded and petty. I hope readers will raise enough of an outcry against this decision that it will be reversed.

  2. Amazing. Another backlash against the permissiveness of the last few decades, or is Amazon.com just being overcautious? You can get a pretty good view of things here:

    http://www.amazon.com/gp/tagging/items-tagged-with?ie=UTF8&flatten=1&tag=kindle&search=1#page=1:sort=relevant:tags=erotica,incest

    All of the “Product no longer available” entries are those which Amazon yanked.

  3. As a librarian and a former bookstore manager I must point out that a bookseller has the right to choose what is offered for sale. Amazon is within its rights to drop the titles. They should however refund every customer for the dropped books. If a customer keeps records (I have all my receipts archived), even if Amazon has ‘lost’ the record they should quickly offer a refund.
    I own several of Selena Kitt’s novelas and short stories and she is an author who writes with depth and even a certain morality. She writes mostly erotica, true, but her books are well written. That said, I personally do not have any wish to read incest themed material, regardless of the age of the characters: including “Flowers in the Attic” by VC Andrews, which is not erotica, and is a popular print series.
    As the article stated, freedom of speech deals with suppression by the government. The First Amendment should not be used as a threat to force an individual or business to act against conscience or even good business sense. We do hope it is still a free country. Find another venue.

  4. It strikes me as odd that Amazon does not even have a rudimentary Adult switch in settings. Not that I suggest it is a silver bullet. More annoying to me is the blatant SEO abuse allowed by title manipulation. Do they even look at these things when updates are made? Example: Search “EA Sudoku” then be amazed that “Eric Culpepper” is not being hauled over the coals.

    Durban, South Africa

  5. I have not read and have no intention of reading the erotica in question, but in all fairness, if incest relationships are a forbidden topic, then the Bible should also be removed from sale.
    Not having source material on hand I’m forced to rely solely on memory, but Noah (or someone) in the Bible does his daughters with no shame or condemnation. Maybe I should send an email to Amazon.

  6. I have not read and have no intention of reading the erotica in question, but in all fairness, if incest relationships are a forbidden topic, then the Bible should also be removed from sale.

    Not having source material on hand I’m forced to rely solely on memory, but Noah (or someone) in the Bible does his daughters with no shame or condemnation. Maybe I should send an email to Amazon.

  7. Censorship is wrong–no matter the “why” of it.

    Removing books that deal with incest from a library doesn’t make the fact of incest go away.

    What is that quote about ignoring are mistakes means we’re destined to repeat our mistakes?

    What is Amazon going to do about popular books by VC Andrews? FLOWERS IN THE ATTIC and the series that follows have been best sellers since the 80s and incest is certainly a main component of the story line. Does being a bestselling author make your use of an unpleasant topic more legitimate than that of a new author?

  8. Davis is right. This is not about censorship. It is about an eRetailer being embarrassed into removing material because they fear being associated with anything with even the slightest ‘negative’ connotations. It is also about consumers and how they will feel about it.
    As a consumer my response is … what else is Amazon not carrying that I might be interested in ? History books that reflect opinions Amazon don’t agree with ? Political books about views that amazon find offensive ?
    But in the end it is up to Amazon.

    If I want to enjoy erotica, and I do, I can find it quite easily from independent eRetailers. Incest as a topic is a perfectly justifiable one to be explored in fiction considering it is a real issue in many societies around the world and fiction should be free to explore such human experiences. It is also far better for people to explore their responses to such explorations in book form that in real life I would submit.
    What Amazon needs to do, as time goes past, is reflect on how much damage, or not, they may do to their sales figures if customers are pushed to visit independent eRetailers on a regular basis where they may well find a lot more eBooks of interest to them and start to visit Amazon a lot less.

  9. This is a disturbing trend. Adults should be free to choose what they want to read, and I don’t like the idea of the easily offended, vocal minority deciding what is moral for me or others. Why is it always sexual issues that are treated this way while violence and gore go ignored? Mind you, I don’t want violence censored either, but it is a huge double standard.

  10. It appears some other titles (gay BDSM vampires) have been deleted, too. Raev Gray’s and mine “Blood Run Cold” has been removed from the Kindle store. They are published at the same place as Selena Kitt’s books – I assume that was enough to presume guilt.

    But after AmazonFAIL and deleting top reviewer Amos Lassen’s five thousand reviews of GLTBQ books, I shouldn’t be surprised. Well. I’ll be shopping at the Book Depository until Amazon pulls its fingers out.

  11. Alek, the book isn’t banned. It’s still there. It’s still on excessica’s Amazon DTP page as “live” – maybe you missed it in a search? But as of this writing, I found it here:

    http://www.amazon.com/Blood-Run-Cold-ebook/dp/B003L78056

  12. That’s what people get for using Kindle – sorry to say. It’s like television, you can’t watch whatever you want to watch can you? It’s all censored. Aren’t you glad you forked out that money so Amazon could tell you what you can and can’t read?

    I’m not one for censorship either, but the question of whether it’s wrong doesn’t really enter into it. If you don’t agree with censorship, then don’t buy a Kindle, find something else to do besides watch t.v, etc.

    You can’t agree to their stupid terms and then afterwards say “Oh, that’s so not fair.”

    You voice your disapproval of censorship by not buying a Kindle, not paying for cable, etc. in the first place. Anything after the fact is pointless whining.

  13. @Greg M.: Thanks for your suggestion. I just wrote to Amazon thanking them for their initiative and asking them to remove all editions of the Bible that include incest from the Kindle Store. Will no one think of the children?

  14. BTW, Amazon replied with “Thanks for your suggestion about deleting books with incest in it. Customer feedback…”. They either do not pick up on sarcasm or are choosing to ignore me. Or I have made the situation worse. Oh dear.

  15. Oh well, there goes my favorite novel of all time; Ada or Ardor by Vladimir Nabokov.

    Jess C Scott is an amazing writer and appeared in our literary journal last year at http://www.vagabondagepress.com/90901/90901.html

    We support her completely.

    Fawn Neun, C. Editor

  16. Update on the original thread posting over @ Amazon:

    Amazon Kindle Customer Service (AMAZON OFFICIAL) says:
    Due to a technical issue, for a short window of time three books were temporarily unavailable for re-download by customers who had previously purchased them. When this was brought to our attention, we fixed the problem and those books were once again made available for re-download. We apologize for the inconvenience.

    My Reply:
    @ Amazon Kindle Customer Service: Thank you for the reply. I have one question: what are the titles of these three books?

    Some of the ones mentioned on this thread were:

    1) Wicked Lovely (Jess C Scott)
    2) Under Mr. Nolan’s Bed (Selena Kitt)
    3) Mindy’s Family (Esmeralda Green)

    Did these books experience a technical glitch too? If so, when will these books be made available again for re-download? They (and many other self-published erotica books) are not available at the Kindle store at the time of this posting.

    Jess.
    http://www.jesscscott.com

    Link to Amazon’s Reply: http://www.amazon.com/tag/kindle/forum/ref=cm_cd_et_md_pl?_encoding=UTF8&cdForum=Fx1D7SY3BVSESG&cdMsgNo=161&cdPage=7&cdSort=oldest&cdThread=Tx2QG9BWA19KO4O&displayType=tagsDetail&cdMsgID=Mx1R06EV4B15ZFQ#Mx1R06EV4B15ZFQ

    Link to my reply: http://www.amazon.com/tag/kindle/forum/ref=cm_cd_et_md_pl?_encoding=UTF8&cdForum=Fx1D7SY3BVSESG&cdMsgNo=166&cdPage=7&cdSort=oldest&cdThread=Tx2QG9BWA19KO4O&displayType=tagsDetail&cdMsgID=Mx1RTECSUGA8X5R#Mx1RTECSUGA8X5R

    —-

    @ Fawn Neun, thanks for your support + featuring my work on Vagabondage Press (:!

    Jess.
    http://www.jesscscott.com

  17. Update on the original thread posting over @ Amazon:

    Amazon Kindle Customer Service (AMAZON OFFICIAL) says:
    Due to a technical issue, for a short window of time three books were temporarily unavailable for re-download by customers who had previously purchased them. When this was brought to our attention, we fixed the problem and those books were once again made available for re-download. We apologize for the inconvenience.

    My Reply:
    @ Amazon Kindle Customer Service: Thank you for the reply. I have one question: what are the titles of these three books?

    Some of the ones mentioned on this thread were:

    1) Wicked Lovely (Jess C Scott)
    2) Under Mr. Nolan’s Bed (Selena Kitt)
    3) Mindy’s Family (Esmeralda Green)

    Did these books experience a technical glitch too? If so, when will these books be made available again for re-download? They (and many other self-published erotica books) are not available at the Kindle store at the time of this posting.

    Jess.
    http://www.jesscscott.com

    Link to Amazon’s Reply: http://www.amazon.com/tag/kindle/forum/ref=cm_cd_et_md_pl?_encoding=UTF8&cdForum=Fx1D7SY3BVSESG&cdMsgNo=161&cdPage=7&cdSort=oldest&cdThread=Tx2QG9BWA19KO4O&displayType=tagsDetail&cdMsgID=Mx1R06EV4B15ZFQ#Mx1R06EV4B15ZFQ

    Link to my reply: http://www.amazon.com/tag/kindle/forum/ref=cm_cd_et_md_pl?_encoding=UTF8&cdForum=Fx1D7SY3BVSESG&cdMsgNo=166&cdPage=7&cdSort=oldest&cdThread=Tx2QG9BWA19KO4O&displayType=tagsDetail&cdMsgID=Mx1RTECSUGA8X5R#Mx1RTECSUGA8X5R

    —-

    @ Fawn Neun, thanks for your support + featuring my work on Vagabondage Press!

    Jess.
    http://www.jesscscott.com

  18. Ah cannot make up my mind as to whether banning of incest books by Amazon is objectionable; ah would much rather read a true-life book about President Obama’s closet homosexuality and membership in the “Man’s Country” gay bath house of Chicago. But ah would like to relate how Amazon has really annoyed me in the past. Years ago, ah tried to review a book, but Amazon first insisted that ah had to become a registered user. So ah complied, giving away my e-mail address and accepting an identifying cookie on mah hard-drive. Having duped me, Amazon then informed me that it was not enough to sign up as a registered user; ah had to buy a book first, before they would let me register.

  19. Jess C. Scott Wicked Lovely is available at Barnes & Noble for 99 cents, but that won’t help Kindle users will it.

  20. Disgusted by Amazon // December 20, 2010 at 2:58 am //

    So are they going to remove the bestselling Flowers in the Attic series by V.C. Andrews and the entire bestselling Mayfair Witches series by Ann Rice, too? Those books also deal with incest. Or is Amazon only censoring digital books? I’m guessing the latter. Hypocrites.

  21. I have a lot of books by Selena Kitt and I love them. Personally if incest isn’t your thing, then don’t buy them. There is a huge variety of erotica books out there and some of it’s going to bother people while some of it wont. Everyone has different taste and we should be able to write and to read what we want! I have amazon on PC but if they’re going to start unselling certain books I definitely wont be buying a kindle.

  22. Amazon has Anais Nin’s Delta of Venus, which contains child rape, necrophilia, child molestation, beastiality, scat, and many others I can’t even think of what to call it. But, they will NEVER pull it. These books that are being pulled are NOT the results of Amazon’s prudishness. There is a group of people, church goers, who are tagging everything related to sex as “inappropriate” to get Amazon to pull them. Amazon will cave in to this BS, and delete even the Bible, which contains incest, rape, murder, beastiality, and many more things. Certainly, Amazon has the right to do so; it is THEIR proprietary system, software, and ebook store. It is truly ashamed that Amazon, the biggest of them all, will allow other to tell them what they can publish. Barnes and Noble, Kobo, Smashwords, Ebookmall, Diesel, and many others are gaining in popularity, and Amazon will suffer from their actions. The ONLY recourse, legally, is to notify Amazon that pulling the titles constitutes a violation of terms of agreement; Anais Nin’s book were available from the beginning, and therefore, the terms must allow such content, so the content pulled is NOT a violation of said agreement. That is my copyright attorney’s take on it, and we have indeed, sent Amazon constructive UCC 1-308 notice of the fact. I write erotica, and have done so since 1977. I have sold over five thousand stories, novels, and articles relating to erotica, along with many other genres. I own six publishing companies of my own; I buy manuscripts. I have ten employees. I am not a fly by night independent publisher selling trash. I let Amazon know this, in extremely explicit terms, after one of my titles was pulled for being ‘inappropriate.’ I sent them a copy of Delta of Venus, letting them know that if THAT is ‘appropriate’ then my title also was. I replaced the title, and let them know that I did. I sent them notice that I will attach all their receipts, by registered, certified mail, that unless they abide by UCC 1-308, I will send notarized failure of specific perfomance. My titles have not been removed, but they likely will be. Then, I will attach their receipts.

  23. Bravo, Mr. Wainwright for stating things so persuasively. I also am an erotica writer, so I am familiar with these issues.

    The underlying problem is that opening the floodgates to self-publishing makes it easier for tasteless crap to be published by amateurs and bought and sold through ebook distribution channels. The works in question don’t seem to be tasteless, so I don’t know what’s up with Amazon.

    The underlying problem is that corporations are uncomfortable with selling sexually-oriented material without having a gatekeeper to make sure it is “literary enough.” If Olympia Press or Black Cat press does it, at least there is some commercial entity behind it. But what if it’s just a lone writer who has published it? Has it been vetted or edited? I’m not talking about the content itself, but whether it is an original work or well formatted or editorially complete. Amazon has a stake in making sure that self-published books meet some minimum standard. They probably are more sensitive to the concerns of NY publishers than say Smashwords.

    Chris Meadows is right that there are no flags for adult content, and that is a problem. It should be an “opt-in” feature to have adult content appear in search results.

    I don’t think Amazon was trying to keep out these specific titles. At the same time, I think Amazon is having trouble dealing with adult-themed content being mixed in search results with literary classics by people such as Glen Beck and Ann Coulter.

  24. Christopher Benchley // April 10, 2011 at 1:12 am //

    Hello it’s Christopher Benchley & I am just publishing a 73 000 word book Inside The Agency, a true story of five years of running an escort agency. If you look at Amazons restrictions on erotica it talks about no explicit descriptions of acts of sex or of pornograhic content, which means they can throw most of the books on the site in one socking great bin. I contacted them in advance of printing & they told me they wanted the words “Contains Explicit Material” on the cover. This must be an effective safety catch because any one who could read the book would know whats inside it. Its a good idea & avoids that painful moment when Granny eyes your book while you are out & noting a picture of a nice young lady on the cover, reads it then drops dead of shock!

  25. @Christopher: I’d hope Amazon specified the same wording in the book’s description, since not everyone who shops at Amazon is sighted, or examines covers closely enough to catch it, so a cover admonishment won’t work for everyone.

    @Hapax: As someone who often enjoys non-standard media, it’s always been my opinion that one man’s “tasteless crap” is another man’s meat and potatoes (and some artist’s bread and butter). I hate the idea that Amazon, an entity selling books to anyone in the public and private sectors, censors any books from its libraries, no matter the subject or content, or even quality; some of our greatest literary and cinematic works would fail in one or the other of those subjects.

    Fortunately, we also live in an era when artists can sell their own material independently of any service like the Kindle Store… if you don’t like the way Amazon treats some material, you can almost certainly find it elsewhere.

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