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Amazon, World Adult Content Police?

There’s a new sheriff in town, but I was quite happy with the land being lawless.  Because, you know, us settlers were pretty good at regulating ourselves.  From recent events, it’s clear to me, at least, that Amazon is trying to take control of the wilderness that is electronic publishing.

In retrospect, it shouldn’t be that surprising.  They did make the Kindle, after all, and were pretty successful in making their name synonymous with ebooks for the general, mainstream public.  But at the time, it didn’t look like Amazon was taking anything away from the ebook-reading people, just making it more available.

Now, they’re starting to impose their order on the wider landscape of all e-publishers, both amateur and professional, and they are taking things away from us.

The Amazon Adult Dungeon

If you haven’t heard of this, the Adult Dungeon is what some erotica authors are calling it when Amazon internally labels a work as “adult.”  In itself, this is not problematic, as most erotica authors do a damn good job of laying out warnings and content labels in their descriptions.  But when a work gets put into the Adult Dungeon, it is no longer searchable.  If you search specifically for the title and author, you will not find it.

Nor will it get recommended in the “Customers who bought X also bought…”

They essentially blacklist any book thrown in their Adult Dungeon.  They don’t tell the authors they’re doing this, and they don’t tell the readers, either.  It’s done behind the backs of everyone involved.  Amazon is taking away your right, as a grownup reader, to make your own decisions about what to read.  Or, they think you can’t control your  (non-mainstream) sexual imagination, so they feel like it’s their place to do it for you.

(This is also what happened, apparently, a few years ago, when they “mistakenly” marked all LGBT related books as ADULT.  Of course, they claimed that it was a “glitch…”)

Author Selena Kitt points out — quite rightly — that erotica readers created the Kindle market.  Why does anyone want an e-reader?  For a private reading experience.

When I was describing this to a friend, she also works in PR, and she was quick to cotton on.  “Who pulls their strings?” she said.  Our best guess is that Amazon is randomly, haphazardly blacklisting “objectionable” books to please their (mainstream, hetero) shareholders.

Amazon is not the only game in town, say a lot of folks.  Just hop on over to another ebookstore and give them your money.

Well, not so fast.  Other ebookstores pull the same shenanigans — such as B&N kicking erotica off the best-selling lists because it was embarrassing.  Any while it’s easy for anyone to set up shop, they ultimately have to answer to PayPal’s obscenity clauses.

And PayPal has brought the hammer down (again, quite randomly.)  They, too, probably have to answer to the shadowy oligarchy of their shareholders.

Plus, Amazon has built up so much brand equity that their very name is now synonymous with e-publishing.  They have 80% of the ebook market.  I’m not saying that they don’t deserve it, since they worked damn hard for it.  But now, they look much less like they’re trying to bring ebooks to the masses, and more like Christian missionaries trying to convert the “heathens.”

The “Kindle Worlds” Fanfiction Deal

Their recent fanfiction deal is another attempt to bring their vanilla, PG-13 order to an unregulated wilderness.  Content holders can agree to let writers publish their own fanfiction for money, and Amazon will curate the stories.

Fanfiction seems to be dominated by:

1) Mature content

2) Non-hetero content (“slash”)

3) Both

And the mature stuff is some of the best written.  But will Amazon allow that under their guidelines?  Probably not, and the rights-holders can also set their own restrictions.

Fine and dandy, people say.  It won’t change what’s happening in the rest of the fanfiction world… except that it will.  Fanfiction’s entire purpose is for writers to express the full range of their imaginations, without the restrictions of the original works!

Perhaps this is paranoid, but Amazon seems to be trying to redefine fanfiction itself — ushering it away from this fan-ruled unregulated expression of creativity, and into the well-manicured lawns of PG-13 amateur media tie-ins.  In doing this, they take away from the very thing that interests me about fanfiction, the unbridled creativity.

“But what about the children?”

There is always that well-meaning American who approves of censorship out of desire to protect children.

First of all, only adults are allowed to shop on Amazon.  You need a credit card or PayPal account, and that means you have to be 18 (in theory.)

But even if my own offspring does get hold of my PayPal account and start buying all kinds of ebooks, I don’t fear this future.  My offspring will venture out into the wild, uncontrolled borderlands of porn — it’s why the internet was born.  But my young charges, by the time they’re interested in adult material, will know the difference between thought and deed and fantasy and reality because I taught it to them.

What do I really fear?

I fear that they will never venture out of their own safe backyards because of this nanny culture that hasn’t ever quite gone away.  It’s everywhere, from Bowdlerization of literature (de-sexing) to the USDA food pyramid, which is really not healthy but still taught in schools anyway. 

I fear that they will never even think to explore and make their own decisions in this age of blind brand trust, where there is a ready-bought solution for every woe.  (Except for awesome Japanese toilets, which Americans refuse to buy because of embarrassment about bathroom functions!)


Amazon also acquired Goodreads, another self-regulating community of settlers.  While GR was not perceived to have any central authority before, now Amazon’s army of data miners (and censors?) will be able to keep its ever-present eye on your book reviews.  I don’t think they’d go as low as to stop allowing reviews of “objectionable” books, but you never know.

Peer reviews still are a major force that drive sales, and Amazon clearly knows that since they bought GR.  But if their strings are being pulled by their PG-13 shareholders, they might be forced in a position of disallowing adult book reviews.

Authors also sell through GR.  Since GR is now under the Amazon umbrella, they can shut down any sales of “objectionable” books as well.  As for advertising?  Will advertising erotic romance even be allowed?  Especially if it’s not vanilla hetero?

They’re only in it for the money.

We can safely assume that these measures are all for the money.  It’s no secret that Amazon wants a bigger and bigger piece of the pie — but now, it looks like they also want to control the recipe and production of the pie itself.

Amazon is a company, and companies don’t act for the greater good.  They act for the money, which may coincide with the greater good, but it also might ride into town on a horse, make lots of fancy promises, and start stripping the land of its most valuable resources at the expense of the settlers.

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