Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Corporate Bullies

The blogosphere exploded last month when Paypal started threatening account holders who published "extreme" erotic fiction - things like incest, pseudoincest, rape for titillation and bestiality. Our little publishing company, Excessica, was contacted directly by Paypal. Mark Coker from Smashwords was too. He fought the good fight, got lots of bloggers and tweeters on board, we all made a great big stink, and lo and behold... The good guys won! Might doesn't always equal right! Paypal reversed their decision!

Or... did they?

I received an email recently from Stuart, who runs A1 Adult Ebooks. They've always been willing to carry content that's a little more extreme than most, so Stuart is very familiar with credit card processors and their particulars when it comes to sex. He heard the news about Paypal and Mastercard and Visa, and he rejoiced. Finally! He was going to be able to sell all those books the CC processing companies previously refused to pay for!

Except when Stuart contacted Paypal, the representative told him that, no, there had been no recent change in their policy in regards to adult erotic fiction. Incest, according to them, was still banned. He then contacted his credit card processors, and both of them agreed - that "icky" stuff was still not allowed. Just for chucks and giggles, I contacted Paypal as well, and received the same response from the CS rep - still banned. Then I called the guy I'd talked to before - the one who could get a CC processing account for practically anyone - and he, too, was aware of no changes in policy. Still banned.

Now, this could be the case of the left hand doesn't know what the right hand is doing. They're all large companies, so it may take a little time for the word to filter down to the customer service department. That's giving them all the benefit of the doubt. Maybe Stuart and I are asking too much too soon. I hope so.

But what concerns me is that the credit card processors told me "NO!" before all of this went down with Paypal. And they're still telling me "NO!" afterward. And it's not just me--because Stuart is getting the same answers. And while Visa and Mastercard came forward and said they've never had policies or limits against selling erotic fiction of any sort... I was still getting processors telling me no, for very specific reasons (i.e. rape and incest).

So if the right hand didn't know what the left hand was doing then... why would that change now? And what good is a policy change, if the actual policy doesn't ever go into effect?
I feel a little like we've been unsegregated... on paper. But I still have to sit at the back of the bus.
I truly hope that's not what's happening. But what's going on at Amazon right now gives me pause and makes me wonder. Can it all just be a coincidence? Yes, I sound like a crazy conspiracy theorist sometimes. But just because you're paranoid...

Oh, what's been happening at Amazon?

Well, for the past few months, Amazon has been filtering more and more erotica titles out of their main search page. This ADULT filter makes books unsearchable from the main/All Department Search page.Which makes some sort of sense - a kid looking for "What to Expect Babysitters Handbook" doesn't want to see my "Babysitting the Baumgartners," right? And their parents definitely don't want them seeing it. Heck, I don't want them seeing it!

And they both come up in the main search. The handbook is first, my book is second. So it makes sense to filter adult titles from the main page, okay, I get that.

The problem is that this "filter" is being applied without any rhyme or reason. It's totally arbitrary. For example, my Babysitting the Baumgartners isn't filtered. The one with the nearly-naked bum on the cover and "babysitting" in the title. But my Modern Wicked Fairy Tales Vol 2 is filtered. That cover doesn't even have people on it! And strangely, Modern Wicked Fairy Tales Vol 1 and Modern Wicked Fairy Tales The Complete Collection remain (as of this writing) unfiltered.

If you want to know if your book is being filtered, click HERE and put in your title. If you see a red ADULT next to your book - it's being filtered. If you see NOT ADULT next to your title, that means it was previously filtered and has been, for some reason, unfiltered.

What does Amazon say about it? As with the incest banning, Amazon will only refer to their so-vague-as-to-be-useless terms of service instead of being clear and transparent. So far, they won't tell us why certain content is filtered, or what criteria have to be met to keep it from being filtered. Previously, it's been nudity on covers - understandable. But my Modern Wicked Fairy Tale series has no people on the cover, so that's clearly not all the criteria they're using. But who know what it is? Because they're not talking.

I know Amazon doesn't want to be targeted as "censors," and go through what Paypal just did. They'd like to save face, I'm sure. So they're doing all of this secretly and sporadically and arbitrarily. And then denying it. Otherwise it would be clear, and we could call them on it. We certainly can't have that!

So what's the big deal about being "filtered" out of the main search?

Being filtered is a sales-killer. Because not only are you removed from the main page search and relegated only to Kindle Books search - your filtered book will now stop appearing with any UNfiltered books, in terms of recommended reads or also-boughts. Your filtered book also won't appear on any "hot new release" lists either. Your filtered book is now wrapped in plain brown paper and sold at the back of the store.

Which is where porn belongs, you say! Well fine. But then why aren't ALL of them back there? I won't name names here and put out titles - don't want to target anyone unnecessarily when Amazon is clearly going on a sniper hunt - but there are plenty of adult titles that have gone "unfiltered" that should be wrapped in brown paper and sold at the back of the store, if that's what they're going to do.
I've never had a problem with Amazon selling what they want to sell, how they want to sell it. I've always had a problem with their lack of CONSISTENCY and TRANSPARENCY. Even now, years after they've banned incest books from their site, erotic incest is still available on Amazon. They're still publishing it. Some of it has remained. For years. Amazon just targeted the most visible and obvious titles.

Amazon knows its biggest strength -- and weapon -- is its search engine, algorithms and rankings/ratings system. They're using it now, hammering erotica writers right out of the top lists. And they're trying to do it without anyone (who matters) catching wind of what's happening.

Is this a form of censorship? Oh boy, here we go again. You know what, I don't care what you call it. It's unfair, any way you look at it. If you're going to have a policy, apply it--clearly, consistently, and fairly. It's very simple.

You you hear that Amazon?

Do you hear that Paypal?

Do you hear that Visa and Mastercard?

Stop being so afraid of sex that you can't even talk about it. You're perfectly willing to profit from it, but you don't want to make policies about it? Ridiculous. And stupid. It's bad business. There isn't anyone in this equation, from reader to writer to customer (in or out of the erotica genre) that doesn't want you to be clear about your policies!

Instead, Paypal pretends to have a policy change - but really doesn't. Visa and Mastercard claim they've sold this stuff all along, no problem - but they lied. Amazon claims they can "filter" whatever they want, whatever they want, willy nilly, without any consistency or fairness.

If these corporations want to be treated like citizens, then they should stand up and be a man about it, instead of slinking around behind the scenes, only making a statement when they're forced to, and then going back on their word. They're wussies. And they're bullies.
And I really hope they prove me wrong.

Erotic Fiction You Won't Forget



  1. Well said! Amazon needs to step up and be the industry leader it likes to project itself to be, and show us some clarity and consistency.

    And yup, I too noticed the ADULT-tagged books do bring up ADULT-tagged also boughts, but the non-tagged ones pretty much do not. That means the customer who is looking for certain titles will have to look a little harder now. Hopefully, they'll catch on and do so.

  2. As I have always said, "If you're going to be a hypocrite, at least be consistent about it!"

    I'm a preacher's child/sibling/nieceornephew/cousin, so I've seen my share of hypocrosy and lived a life filled with "censorship." I've even had a "sitting" preacher try to kiss me when his pregnant wife was in their kitchen with their children. So I know hypocrisy when I see it...or smell it.

    And now that I am free of that hostile, self-serving, dogmatic, hateful environment I will say what I please, thank you very much.

    Certain other authors (who shall remain nameless) claim to have written and sold erotica, yet fear the mere mention of it. They write and profit from it in the shadows, but want "all those smut profiteers" to burn in hell.

    Well, stoke the fires for me when you get there, Babe! You can read to me from the Bible. After all, Lot's daughters got him drunk and raped him. Talk about incest!

    This burns me like little else does.

    I don't want kids to see improper images without a filter. Heck, I think they SHOULD put in a filter that requires them to prove they are of age. But apply this principle consistently!

    If it is up to the author to tell their readers the story includes adult content, they won't do it. As a matter of fact, these kinds of back-handed corporate tactics leave us all subject to the bad actors "working the system" and mis-tagging thier works.

    I guess it is back to the letter writing campaigns and screaming from the mountain-tops. We haven't yet won anything but our own censorship, and it seems by lowering our guard, we may have handed them this round. But the war is not over.

    I knew there was something fishy when the PR person from PayPal blogged innocuously how their real targets were images and never mentioned how they had back-pedaled on the content restriction.

    I hope those authors who carelessly insisted on putting full frontal nudity on their covers are proud of themselves. They have accomplished so much for the First Amendment. Then again, we may never know if that was their true intention.

    But I'm not a conspiracy theorist, either.

  3. Surely now is the perfect time for PayPal, Visa and Mastercard to come out of their corporate buildings, take the proverbial bull by its horns and state clearly, once and for all, what is and what is not permitted in terms of both text only ebook/printed fiction, text only ebook/printed non-fiction, and image based media such as pictures, movies etc and audio products.

    When they do that everyone, merchants and customers, will know where they stand. We may not LIKE what they decide to do but at least it will be clear. What is not acceptable is PayPal saying one thing to one organisation and something completely different to someone else.

    Maybe, what we really need is a new organisation to emerge for handling adult payments - one that has clear and precise rules and one that is transparent and applies those rules fairly, whether you are Amazon or Joe Bloggs the author.

  4. Thank you so much for posting this. We obviously need to be eternally vigilant. I'm ready to join in any future polls to stop this censorship.

  5. Its ridiculous! I don't understand how anybody is supposed to function when sites like Amazon can't even maintain consistency. I must admit I hadn't noticed this was happening (Amazon's filters), but I'm going to have to pay more and more attention now as I look into self-pubbing some of my erotic work.

  6. Interesting... I write erotica under a pen name, and was surprised to find my books aren't filtered. I had thought they would be (and yanno, possibly they *should* be.)

  7. I'll put this in as anonymous as well, just not to draw any more unwanted attention from the 900lb gorilla. I find that about 40% of my titles are shown as ADULT, but no rhyme or reason to it. Some individual stories are tagged, yet collections of them aren't -- or vice versa.

    I'm guessing that they get tagged either if indicated as adult, or if some reader flags it as such. But it's a guess.

  8. I am really thankful to you for this great read!! You did a very great job, keep it up. cheap Credit card processing

  9. Thanks for this illuminating post, Ms. Kitt.

    I'm new to the erotica genre, and I had no idea that Amazon flagged books. One of my titles, fresh off a successful promotion, is underperforming and now I know why.


    I suspect they flagged the book because the girl is nude, but it's a side view with no genitalia showing so I thought the cover art wouldn't be a problem. I'm in the process of changing my cover so hopefully the powers that be will reconsider their position. I agree with your fair play argument and would feel better about my banishment to the smut shelf if the site had a set of rules they applied to all titles. I also would feel better about this filter if I had been told the book raised a flag and given a chance to correct any issues.

    I want to thank you again for your reasoned and well written post.


    Manhattan Minx

  10. Whoops, I see my link didn't come through. Here it is again. Check out the cover art for what is apparently a no no on Amazon.

    Ravage Me.