bear-gods_1000x15002-200x300Business Insider is running a piece on Amazon’s latest crackdown: monster erotica. Yes, that’s right, if you write stories involving sex with Bigfoot, aliens, giant squids, etc., Amazon doesn’t want you around—even if your titles have been selling well. In the most recent purge, one author saw her income fall from $2,000 to $400 a month.

Authors can try cleaning up the titles, covers, and descriptions of their books, but the problem is anything that makes them less “offensive” also makes them less likely to appeal to the people who like that sort of thing.

There is, of course, no reason why Amazon can’t reject books it doesn’t want, just as Apple can reject or impose asinine restrictions on the apps or other content it lets into its store. And nothing keeps writers from selling their works on sites more friendly to outre stories, such as Smashwords. But this is a case where Amazon’s monopoly really comes around to bite writers in the rear: if you can’t sell your e-books in the place where the vast majority of e-book readers shop, you’ve basically been done out of most of your potential audience.

And it’s not a good thing for readers, either, if Amazon doesn’t want to sell the type of books they’re most willing to buy. Of course, the ones who are really dedicated probably already know they need to wander off the beaten path to find stories that interest them—there are, after all, a zillion different semi-private websites where people can post stories and artwork in all kinds of non-mainstream fetishes. But as one author notes, Amazon makes things easy, and consumers want easy.

The fundamental problem is that a lot of people in the mainstream find the presence of these bizarre works offensive, and will complain if Amazon sells them at all. So Amazon has to at least wink at propriety. (A pity, given that e-books solve the problem of others seeing the cover of the book you’re reading.) I don’t imagine that will change any time soon.

(Found via The Digital Reader.)


  1. When I lived in Seattle, a friend who developed software for Google told me that she knew programmers at Amazon who’d been tasked for the last few years with finding a way to hide this stuff from most customers. I suspect their inability to do that is why Amazon is following in the footsteps of Apple and just dumping it. Why lose ten customers to service one? Corporate decision making is usually driven by money.

    Personally, I don’t get worked up over this sort of thing. There are a thousand topics that we ought to be discussing in our society that we aren’t because of everything from well-connected gatekeepers to indifference keeps them from becoming more well known.

    Sex with giant squids isn’t among that thousand and it wouldn’t be among the top hundred-thousand, million or ten-millon. In fact, there are dark schemers around who think getting people indulging in such fantasies is a good way to distract them from focusing on topics that really matter. By the time this ‘my boyfriend the squid’ crowd wakes up, it’ll be too late.

    Quite frankly, I feel sorry for authors and readers who feel they must spice up their lives with such stuff. There’s a host of really moving stories out there that they could be telling and reading.

    My latest and almost done book is reviving an bestselling 1870s novel whose theme, violence in the Reconstruction South, is too dependent on understanding the historical setting to be read today by anyone but a historian. But when I read it, I realized that, lurking in its pages was a marvelous young adult tale that could be pulled out. When a teen girl discovers that Klan plans to intercept her father on a lonely road and murder him, she must ride a high-strung and dangerous thoroughbred stallion at night over dark, Klan-infested country roads to warn him. That’s the only way she can reach him in time.

    THAT is a story worth reading and something, I like to think, will inspire readers to do something brave and bold with their lives. In comparison, “Wild Nights with Big Foot” is the literary equivalent of dining on road-kill.

    Sorry to be so blunt, but it’s an idea worth thinking about.

    –Michael W. Perry, Lily’s Ride: Saving Her Father from the Ku Klux Klan (out real soon now)

  2. Quite frankly, I feel sorry for authors and readers who feel they must spice up their lives with such stuff. There’s a host of really moving stories out there that they could be telling and reading.

    Did you honestly just say that and then proceed to talk about your historical fiction novel without irony?

    That is, after all, what so-called “mainstream” readers and writers say about any “genre.” Science fiction, mystery, etc. It’s what the bookshop owner in Parnassus on Wheels and The Haunted Bookshop said about writers who are now recognized as “classics” of their genre such as Edgar Rice Burroughs.

    (And it’s what, I imagine, all genre fans say about genres that aren’t theirs.)

    “Get off my lawn, dagnabbit!”

    “Quality” is in the eye of the beholder.

  3. Michael, I don’t understand why those Amazon programmers weren’t successful. Web browsers send all sorts of info about us to the web sites we surf and those sites are thereby able to respond to us conditionally. One example of that is our language preference. My web browsers all declare my preference for English so web sites that have an English version present that instead of some other version of the site. This concept could be extended to include alerts that the web surfer is visually or otherwise handicapped and the web site could respond accordingly. Similarly, web sites can know when I am using a mobile device with a limited viewport and respond to my requests differently than if I were using a desktop or laptop computer. Responsive design is becoming de rigueur.
    Web browser “cookies” have long been used to profile us and now, with HTML 5, there is “Local Storage” that can include megabytes of data readable by web browsers whenever needed.
    Of course, all this would have to be initiated by the Amazon customer. Amazon would have to provide me with a menu of things that I could select in order to reveal hidden stuff. Maybe that’s the real hangup. Amazon may not want to acknowledge the existence of titles whose existence might be offensive to somebody.
    Censorship is indeed a slippery slope. Calling it public relations or customer relations doesn’t change that at all.

  4. The censorship follows in Amazon tradition. For years Amazon has been pulling books which deal with GLBT themes as well as many fetishes. Amazon refuses to explain its criteria. There is a great deal of angry and frustrated discussion of Amazon censorship, in boards of self-publishers and small publishers. Amazon could be a great force for free speech; instead it is becoming a giant censor and imposer of political correctness. And no one knows for sure what Amazon’s version of political correctness even is.

  5. Thanks Hiram Jones, your explanation of Amazon pulling books with fetish themes answered the question of why Amazon didn’t publish my book. It’s a modeling book of myself in my underwear that doesn’t even feature full nudity. After seeing some of what else was for sale on amazon I never anticipated this problem. I asked them about it but of course they won’t give me an explanation. I think the censorship is very wrong, and the fact that even written works like the monster erotica in the article are being pulled is degrading to free speech. To be honest I can see why photo books might be pulled but Amazon doesn’t even focus on them, they are going after written works! that is just wrong.

  6. Michael, perhaps the day will come when Amazon and most other publishers decide that anything written about the darker times of America’s history, with respect to racial inequities, will be seen as divisive. Perhaps they will feel readers must be protected from divisive books like the one you are writing. If that day comes, you might well find your book on the banned list.
    The way to prevent this is to oppose censorship now, even censorship of works you do not deem worthy , rather than waiting for the day they ban the books you do consider to have merit.
    Who do you want to be in charge of what you, as an adult, are permitted to purchase and read?
    Amazon could install an adult filter, rather than banning books. So far, they have not. They have chosen to do the digital equivalent of book burning, instead.
    Yes, Amazon has the legal right to ban whatever they wish. We, as their customers and as adult readers, have the responsibility to make it known censorship is not acceptable, especially when doing business with adults, as adults do not need their minds protected from ideas.
    Do you understand?

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