Amazon is Embarrassed by Sexy Books
I love Amazon! I buy products from the website more than ever since we moved to Italy. (They’re one of the only companies that will ship here reliably) I also rely on Amazon for the vast majority of my income as an author. Not only are each of my books for sale in paperback, ebook, and audio through the site, but I also use subsidiaries of Amazon to set up these formats.
Selling on Amazon is a necessary evil for me, like so many other Indie authors. But the giant has recently made changes to its policy on erotica fiction. You might go so far as to say that they’re “targeting” erotica novels. Authors are reporting that their books have lost their sales rank on Amazon, which will make a huge impact on their sales.
What does removing a book’s ranking do?
Books are ranked based on their sales. The higher your sales, the higher your book ranks, the more visible your book on Amazon; it appears higher in searches, and in the “If you like this, we recommend this…” areas. Ranking is SUPER important! To strip a book’s ranking is to send it to the dark bowels of Amazon. Only someone searching for the exact title or author will find it.
So far my novels haven’t been targeted—their ranks are still in place—but other authors haven’t been as lucky.
One of the major things that’s bothering people about Amazon’s actions, is that the company hasn’t made a statement about any of this; no new policies have been revealed, AND they’re not answering author’s concerns. One author who wrote to Amazon to ask what happened to her ranking, got this reply:
“We have found that when books are placed in the correct category it increases visibility to customers who are seeking that content… In addition, we are working on improvements to our store to further improve our search experience for customers.”
That’s not helpful in the slightest! It doesn’t tell this author why her books have been (basically) black-listed, or what (if anything) she can do to reverse the decision. None of us know how to avoid it in the future, and that’s the scary part.
This isn’t the first time Amazon has cracked down on erotica books. In 2013 they targeted books that focued on sex with animals and creatures such as Bigfoot, dinosaurs, and aliens. They’re doing the same thing now, but not across the board. Some authors have avoided the ax, while others fall victim. There doesn’t seem to be any rhyme or reason.
From the articles I’ve read, there is a theory that Amazon is focusing on “erotica” and not “romance” novels. The problem is that no one can agree on the difference between the two categories! The internet seems divided on this issue, leaving too much open to a person’s own definition. I wouldn’t call my stories erotica, but my neighbor might.
Romance VS. Erotica:
Since the internet is so divided on this, I’ll give you my personal interpretation:
In romance novels, you’re wined and dined. The main characters meet, build their relationship, overcome conflict, and have a happily ever after. I know that’s super-basic, but it’s generally the formula.
Erotica is more gritty. It uses dirtier words, there’s less plot, and way more sex. Often it’s rougher, kinkier, has multiple people, and pushes boundaries of the average reader.
An example comes to mind: erotica vs. romance is like watching a porno vs. Game of Thrones. Both have sex, but one is completely focused on it with a sprinkling of plot (sometimes), while the other is a story, where the characters sometimes have sex. You following me?
Here’s my thing: if Amazon believes that allowing erotic content on their site is “promoting” it, then there are a LOT of other products that need to be removed. Sex paraphernalia comes to mind. If they sensor BDSM novels, then they should also remove ball-gags, whips, fur-lined handcuffs, crotchless fishnet stockings… the list goes on and on.
Another thing: who is making these decisions? Whose morality are they using as a compass? Are they’re basing their decisions on what’s legal? Because if they are, there are a lot of state laws that are outright strange. For instance:
Oral sex is illegal in Indiana, as is a man being sexually aroused in public. That’s also true in South Dakota. In Newcastle, WY, it’s illegal to have sex in a walk-in meat freezer. Sexual intercourse in any position other than missionary is illegal in Washington, D.C. Anal sex is illegal in Cincinnati, Ohio. Sex toys are illegal in Alabama and Georgia. In Nevada the sale of sex toys is illegal.
I’m not making this stuff up! A quick Goggle search will prove these are true.
Let’s take the sex toys as an example—does Amazon sell vibrators to people who live in Alabama, Georgia, and Nevada?
What I’m trying to illustrate is what a slippery slope Amazon is walking. I agree that they should reserve the right to refuse to sell certain items, but where should they draw the line? Amazon has a right to make sure that the products it sells doesn’t promote criminal activity… but again, where are they drawing line?
What does this mean for fans of erotica?
I can’t predict what Amazon will do in the future, but readers can expect to see far less erotica in their “suggested books” list. They won’t be able to do a general search for erotica, they’ll need to search for specific authors or titles to find them.
It means less available erotica. As books get forced into the darkness by Amazon, authors will be forced to write more “acceptable” books to keep selling and making money. You can’t stay an author for long without income. They will be forced to adapt their writing, attempt to find readers through a different platform, or quit writing altogether.
What does all this mean for me?
It’s my belief that the erotica books Amazon is targeting are vastly different than my own. The end goal of my books isn’t sex. Sex is a part of my stories, because it’s a natural extension of love, but it’s never been the focus of my books. I’m proud of my novels! I promote positive, consensual sexual experiences, and I’m happy with that. If my books get lumped with sex with dinosaurs and Bigfoot, I’ll be… “disappointed” seems like too mild of a word.
If Amazon is basing its decisions on whether or not a book has aliens or menage, then I’m screwed. But hopefully the issue isn’t black and white. Hopefully I’m in that happy gray medium and can continue to write the stories that I feel passionately about.
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