Thursday, January 6, 2011

Amazon Book Banning Irony

Have you heard the latest?

Mark Twain, who once wrote that "the difference between the almost right word and the right word is really a large matter” will now have the “N” word replaced with “slave” and the word “injun” replaced with “Indian” in his book, Huckleberry Finn. Oh, the irony.

Amazon, who came out and said, Amazon believes it is censorship not to sell certain books simply because we or others believe their message is objectionable. Amazon does not support or promote hatred or criminal acts, however, we do support the right of every individual to make their own purchasing decisions” removed not only the infamous ped0phile book that the statement was made in reference to, but then went on to begin removing books they deemed in violation of their “content guidelines.” Books involving incest disappeared. On December 13, 2010 a search result for Kindle books tagged with “incest” returned 650. As of January 5, 2011, that number had dropped to 511. Books involving bestiality were the next to go. Then they removed two gay male books that simply had “rape” in the title.

Oh the irony.

The L.A. Times did an interview recently with Russ Grandinetti, the “head of content for’s Kindle business,” wherein he reiterated Amazon’s mission statement: Our vision is [to make] every book ever written, in any language, in print or out of print, all available within 60 seconds.”

Oh, Russ. Do you really expect us to believe that? Oh the irony.

I finally had a non-conversation with an Amazon Executive Customer Service representative in regards to the removal of my three books - Back to the Garden, Under Mr. Nolan’s Bed and Naughty Bits. I call it a non-conversation because we had to talk around their definition of what would or wouldn’t violate their “content guidelines” – she told me that Amazon refused tell me why my books were removed, now or ever.

Okay then. At least I was on the phone with a person, right? I decided to get as much information as I could, hence the talking in circles.

What I did gather is that Amazon has no intention now or in the future of making those horrible vague “content guidelines” any clearer. They will also continue removing material as they see fit, notifying authors and publishers after the fact, and not telling them how or why they violated the aforementioned guidelines. While the Amazon CS rep wouldn't confirm or deny the reason that my titles had been removed, when I asked if "all titles that violated the content guidelines in a similar way" were going to be removed, she confirmed that yes, that was their intention.

When I asked if Amazon had any intention of removing books that violated their content guidelines in other ways, she said that while they would exercise their right to revisit their policy, she thought it was now pretty well set. Of course, that was before the two m/m “rape” titles were removed.

Oh the irony.

I did also point out that in their letter to authors and publishers, they state:

“Please note that if you continue to submit content that violates our content guidelines, we may conduct a general review of your account. Actions resulting from such a review could result in a termination of your account.”

Um, really? How can an author or publisher know if they are submitting content that violates any guidelines if Amazon refuses to specifically state what those guidelines are? Thankfully, the CS rep saw reason when it came to that and she agreed that she would be looking into getting that statement removed from the letters.

Small consolation. It doesn’t really solve the problem.

I have said before and I’ll say it again – I have no problem with a company deciding what they will and will not sell, but I do have a problem with the way Amazon has handled this.

They could have come to the publishers and told them about their new guidelines, given them time to prepare their authors and make other arrangements. Anthologies that contained offending material, for example, could have been reworked and re-uploaded instead of being removed, without any penalty in loss in ranking.

Instead, they’ve clandestinely removed titles, informed authors and publishers days or weeks later, and most importantly, refused to tell anyone what they’re doing or why.

They should, in my opinion, be clear about what is and isn’t acceptable. This “ban as we go” way of doing things is just going to move from one hot button topic to the next. If you’re a business, and you’re going to make a policy, then make one.

Readers and authors have a right to know where Amazon stands. That’s just good business.

Most publishers (and Amazon is a publisher now, whether they like it or not) are clear about what they do and don’t accept. This is even more true for erotic publishers in the ebook world. At Excessica, we’re very clear about what we do and don’t accept:

No sexual situations featuring characters under the age of eighteen
No bestiality (fantastic creatures exempt)
No necrophilia (fantastic creatures exempt)
No incest

Yes, we added that last guideline recently, thanks to Amazon’s ham-handed censorship tactics. We have caved and self-censored in anticipation of Amazon’s rejection of future work. It’s unfortunate – and I’m sure it’s exactly what they intended.

I’ve also personally self-censored my books, releasing a new version of Under Mr. Nolan’s Bed without the father/daughter incest titled, “Plaid Skirt Confessions,” and a different version of Naughty Bits without the sibling incest titled, “Foreign Exchange.” I’ve clearly stated in the descriptions that they are reworked versions of the originals, so readers will know.

Oh the irony.

So now we’re in the business of censoring ourselves. Big Brother has won. But at least we are clear about what we do accept and what we don’t!

See, Amazon, that wasn’t so hard, was it?

There is another ironic twist in this story. Since Amazon banned my books, my sales of one of my banned titles (Under Mr. Nolan’s Bed) is now in Barnes & Noble’s Top 10 Pubit Titles. Should I say, “Thank you, Amazon? May I have another?”

Or perhaps the next twist will be that B&N and other vendors will start banning books from their sites, too. I’m afraid we’ll have to wait and see what the next ironic twist in this censorship story will be.

Selena Kitt


  1. I think it's ridiculous that they're banning this stuff. I mean, books that have incest aren't necessarily PROMOTING it. I wonder if they'll ban Jodi Picoult's book that had a daughter abused by her father?

  2. With regard to Huck Finn: I'm not quite sure how referring to the man as a slave 219 times is going to soothe the supposed sting people will get from reading the n-word. Nor do I understand how replacing injun with Indian corrects anything, since it should read Native American -If we're going to be PC about something, let's do it all the way. Change slave to "the human male of african descent who so happened to be in forced employ." There, that's better. I'm sooo less offended now.

    At any rate, I think it's horrible that Amazon's inconsistency has lead to Excessica's self-censoring. I understand it from a business stance; doesn't mean I like it. It just blocks a niche that some authors have found success in. It's almost as though Amazon has the position that if we're not selling it, it's not happening. If something offends you, don't buy it. You'd think that would be clear but apparently not. I personally don't care for the idea of polygamy, but BIG LOVE is still on HBO. Excuse me, I have hell to raise and letters to write...

  3. Thank you for updating us on the Amazon Censorship situation. The thing still doesn't sit well with me.

    "At any rate, I think it's horrible that Amazon's inconsistency has lead to Excessica's self-censoring. I understand it from a business stance; doesn't mean I like it. It just blocks a niche that some authors have found success in."

    Yes! That's exactly how I feel as well. I get why you're having to change policy but what really rubs me raw is that it isn't because YOU want to do it; it's because you've been cornered into this decision.

    It just stinks all around. *sigh*

  4. Had you thought about offering people an uncensored version of the offended/offending works? Kind of the way the unrated version of a movie might be available under separate cover. Maybe let buyers know that the original versions are available thru another website?

    I don't know how you'd let them know they had an alternative, maybe list it at the end of the sample section?

    It just sucks that there's no way to know when you've cleaned it up enough that there won't be another purge. Keep up the good fight, Selena. The sane people in the audience are rooting vor you!

  5. Thanks for taking on this fight on behalf of all of us. Wonder if Amazon has started removing Robert Heinlein's works?

  6. So now we’re in the business of censoring ourselves. Big Brother has won. But at least we are clear about what we do accept and what we don’t!