Amazon’s Adult Dungeon – Or Why You Can’t Find What You Really Want to Read

This is the first of several posts on censorship.

We always wonder how big our niche is.  Because we’re in a fairly small minority genre, it feels like we’re alone, isolated from the rest of the book-buying audience.  Even isolated from most author communities, with their increasingly common Kindle fairy tales of instant riches (Amanda Hocking, etc.)

It would be a lot easier to make money if we put out, for example, cozy mysteries or contemporary romances.  But we don’t.  We publish mature action and adventure because it is what we love to read.

We buy books, too.  In massive quantities.  And we’re always looking for more adult stories to entertain us.

But they are surprisingly hard to find.

Browsing for adult stories brought back pre-Raythe Reign feelings of being outsiders for our choices of what we wanted to read.  “Are we so strange?” we asked.  “Why is no one else doing this?  Why can’t we find them?”

We talked about this during many of our business meetings.  “It feels like we’re still the only ones, and that can’t be right.  We know they’re out there.”

With the masses of writers and ease of self-publishing, it was a mystery why no good matches turned up, even on Amazon.  Their advanced book suggestion algorithm often turned up more duds than hits when it comes to adult reading material.

It was a mystery, but this week, the mystery was partially solved.

What readers do not see: introducing Amazon’s Adult Dungeon.

What happens is this: Amazon internally tags certain works as “adult.”  This isn’t something that the writers do; it is something that Amazon’s employees do after publishing.

When a work gets ADULTed, it’s the kiss of death for sales.  The works don’t show up in general search and/or are stuck at the end of the list.  They don’t appear as suggestions in the “Customers who bought X also bought Y of any books” that are NOT in the dungeon, which, as you know, is an incredibly powerful and accurate tool that leads customers to new authors.

It’s fine to label works as adult — when we’re looking for an adult story, we want to know that it’s actually adult and not, for example, sweet romance.  As we all know from Fifty Shades, there is a booming market for adult works that has just started to come out from the underground.

But this is not what Amazon is doing.  They don’t want to provide a useful category to help readers — something that most erotica authors do a fine job of already.  They apply ADULT to works they want to send to the back of the line.

This shouldn’t have been surprising.  Amazon does have a history of non-mainstream content discrimination with the LGBT “glitch,” the continued pulling of yaoi manga titles, and most recently, books containing incest fantasies.

And they obviously feel that it is not quite kosher, since they do this quietly, behind the backs of the writers whose works earn them money.  They don’t tell the authors.  They don’t identify the books in any way.  The only way to know if a book has been ADULTed is to check the title here: http://sre.novelrank.com/

And that’s where we found Volumes 1 and 2 of The Dark Earth manga.

Screen Shot 2013-05-15 at 2.21.38 PM

That’s right.  The ones that have little to no sex (and, by the way, the censors don’t actually read the interior content, they look at the blurb and the cover.)  We had an inkling that something was wrong when Volume 2 was not coming up in the general search.  There had also seemed to be an odd drop in sales for it.  Well, SURPRISE!  We were ADULTed.

But why?  If there’s no sex in the blurb (or book), the covers don’t have naked people on them and the title doesn’t contain words like “breeding”, “cum”, “sluts” etc. how did The Dark Earth get into the Dungeon. Oh, yeah, it’s yaoi … And some drone at Amazon decided that they didn’t like that and slammed it with the filter.

But we didn’t take that sitting down.  We appealed the drone’s judgment.  And, for now, Amazon backed down when we requested that The Dark Earth be de-ADULTed:

Here’s their response:

Hello,

We’ve reviewed your response concerning the following book(s):

ASIN: B006NSWC6I

After further review, we have decided to remove the search restrictions so your book will now be found in our general product search results.  We appreciate your feedback and apologize for any inconvenience caused by this temporary restriction.

But this random, unjustified classification leads us to wonder how many books we, as readers, have missed out on because they got this same treatment?  How many authors looked up to Amazon as the self-publisher’s dream they present themselves to be, only to be shut down — sometimes incorrectly, as they did with us?

Obviously, this affects us as a publisher.  Our sales have been affected, and many other authors have reported significant sales hits.

But what makes us the angriest is our reactions as readers.

At RR, we do not sell to people under 18.  But once they reach the supposed age of maturity, we trust our readers to know the difference between fantasy and reality.  This is one of the abilities of a grownup.  With this ability, we believe, should come the privilege of being able to read any book you want without needing to justify yourself or apologize.

Amazon is acting out of fear, not trust.  They are not doing you the same courtesy of trusting that you are an adult.  They are assigning themselves the role as the nanny of your imagination.

No matter how many years you have lived or how much you have experienced, they do not feel that you are capable of choosing your own entertainment.  In controlling which books you may buy, they are saying that your morals are so questionable that you need Amazon’s help to control yourself.  To control your own imagination and thoughts.

This is, quite possibly, the biggest possible insult that a retailer could deal to a customer.

And they don’t do it consistently.  While our tamest, most non-adult manga volumes are labeled as adult, Fifty Shades is not.  Fifty Shades… the BDSM self-labeled erotica.  What’s different?

Screen Shot 2013-05-15 at 7.41.52 PM

Obviously, gay fictional content is still a target of discrimination, just as gay people are targets in real life.

But there’s also this to consider: Fifty Shades is a huge money-maker.  It basically pulled B&N’s keister from the fire during its launch, and we’re sure it’s significant enough that even a retail giant like Amazon would be affected if it suddenly were not there anymore in the listings.

Only independent authors and publishers seem to be affected by this, and it isn’t universally enforced.  How can it be? There probably aren’t enough Amazon censors to handle the influx of submissions they get every day.

Instead, what gets ADULTed seems to be at the whim of random Amazon employees.

We can’t trust Amazon to determine what we get to read or sell.  The problem is not restricted to Amazon, though, as you’ll find out in the next installment.

14 Responses to Amazon’s Adult Dungeon – Or Why You Can’t Find What You Really Want to Read

  1. kissedbymidnight May 20, 2013 at 5:20 pm #

    A lot of people in this world seem to think they know what is best and ‘safe’ for the public. Our choices I think are more limited than we even realize because even with so much limitations there is still so many options of things to buy, so its hard for us to notice until something like this is brought to our attention.

    It happens in other areas also. I know at a Subway in our town the inspector made them decrease the variety of chip options. Why? Because so many choices will confuse the customer. No joke, that was the answer. Are we two? How will more options confuse us. I thought it was rather insulting, as if we don’t have any intelligence at all. Being indecisive is not the same as confusion.

    But at least you were able to get it fixed. While it would have been better if it didn’t happen at all, some companies don’t like to cooperate with complaints.

    • admin May 20, 2013 at 6:13 pm #

      That is insane about the chip selection! What will happen if people have more than TWO options? Will their heads explode? Perhaps they won’t be able to think properly ever again1

      You’re spot on about the fact that sometimes the limitations aren’t obvious b/c it still seems like we have choices. Amazon hasn’t sent all yaoi to the Adult Dungeon nor all erotica. It’s haphazard at best with no great thought behind it. The individual moral convictions of the employee at Amazon, though they might have some vague guidelines, to make a decision. Authors have literally been told: no, your book is adult. They go back again to another employee and they are out of the dungeon. Oh, but they can be put back INTO the dungeon at any time.

      It’s just crazy.

      Smashwords has a filter where the READER toggles it on or off. You don’t want to see erotica, you don’t have to see it. Amazon does not have this obvious little trick. They seem to think that they should control what you see. And that’s fine on one level as it is their site. But be upfront about it.

  2. vessto May 20, 2013 at 8:03 pm #

    More they try to “purify” the world more they fail. Taking human beings far from their own nature is a favor only to the twisted minds that want us dumb and easy for ruling. That is valid for the youths too. Being uneducated in the sexual matters that wait them ahead is even dangerous because the ones that fears of themselves could become the biggest criminals.

    • admin May 20, 2013 at 10:08 pm #

      That’s an interesting viewpoint. I think for myself “sex” was this separate thing from the rest of life. It was how it was presented in books, movies, etc. When I write now I don’t want sex to be something that happens off the page and behind closed doors as if it isn’t a part of the story and doesn’t matter or is something to be ashamed of. It isn’t. And its frustrating that Amazon’s “fear” continues to increase this unnatural separation.

      • vessto May 21, 2013 at 8:14 am #

        Exactly unnatural, and that leaded, leads and will lead only to deeper separation and unhappy lives.:/

  3. Shavarra May 20, 2013 at 9:54 pm #

    This is why I rarely buy books from Amazon even though I am a prime member. Their policies just piss me off. I buy from B&N.com, rightstuff or the authors site. I am not a sheep and I don’t need some one else to do my thinking for me. It is why when I was looking for an ereader I had decided to go with the Nook. However I decided to just get a Google Nexus tablet and use ereader apps.

    • admin May 20, 2013 at 10:11 pm #

      I wish B&N were not guilty as well. Next post, we’ll talk about how B&N stripped the best seller lists of erotica by automatically adding on 1000s of points to every erotica title to keep it pushed down. I don’t know rightstuff.

      But if I ever needed a reason to be grateful that I went and created a site instead of relying upon Amazon, et al., I’m really grateful now.

      Another author on another board tried to say that it was essentially “easy” to see who Amazon would put in the dungeon b/c they all had naked covers, trigger words like cum, etc., etc. Except DE doesn’t have any of that. There is the sexy short story in the back of Volume 2 and the brief (non-sexual) scenes of Asher naked in Volume 1, but Amazon doesn’t actually look inside. So it was simply the categorization as “yaoi” that made DE dungeonable. No one is safe from someone else’s prejudice.

  4. Beth May 21, 2013 at 3:20 am #

    This makes complete since to me! I had this happen to me when I was desperately trying to find the next installment in a series of books that follow a family of shifters, but can be read as a stand alone.
    I had finished three of the books and knew that the author would be writing another book, cause she left some of the characters stories unfinished, but I couldn’t find it! It made me so mad!
    It took a while but I finally found it, but it wasn’t in most of the places I searched, including the authors page. And yes, it is yaoi.

    I can see not wanting kids to see stuff like that, but as you said we are adults, and can make the decision to read whatever we want.

    And just because these stories don’t have a wide audience and don’t make as much money as other non-yaoi/gay books make that doesn’t mean they aren’t written well and have awesome characters as well as people wanting to read them!!

    But in the end there probably isn’t much we really can do, we can always ask for things to be “de-ADULTed”, but that won’t really ever get rid of the problem. I really wish we could get beyond the discrimination not only for gay people but for other things and people as well.

    Beth

    • vessto May 21, 2013 at 8:21 am #

      There’s nothing bad is kids seeing/knowing GLBT people and stuff exist. Percent of these kids will also belong to this community. It is about on which level erotic things should be allowed to underage audience and this level to be equal to all kind of erotica. From any point the double standard is bad and could teach these same kids to discriminate too, that is what is bad for them, not the seeing of some adult materials. In fact what is bad to prepare future adults to what adult life is, not knowing about this is worse.

      • Beth May 22, 2013 at 5:23 am #

        I still don’t think that kids should be allowed to see erotica. Yes, when they get to a certain age, they will need to know about certain adult things.
        But until then they should be allowed to be kids and not have to worry about such things.

        Reading/Seeing erotica should be a choice they make as adults. Not seeing it on the internet.

        I know this from my own experiences. I found out about “adult things” way to young and it almost ruined my childhood. Because at a young age I was thinking about sexual things, I couldn’t just play with boys/girls my age because I kept thinking about doing other things besides playing. And to this day my friends I had as a child I don’t have as an adult. So no, kids should not be able to see erotica.

        But, that doesn’t give people the right to make it to where an adult can’t read what they want. If they have to “adult” something, then they need to make it to where ONLY adults can see it. So that way the kids can’t see it, but we can.

        • vessto May 22, 2013 at 7:33 pm #

          I meant kids to know at least some of the things that expect them as adults, maybe not exactly erotica but more educational things.

          But no matter what would be shown (or not) to them, I’m mainly against the double standard toward the different kinds of human sexuality. The level should be a same. Not two guys/girls holding hands to be equalized as “harmful” as hard het pr0n.

    • Shavarra May 21, 2013 at 9:27 pm #

      I didn’t realize B&N was also guilty. Hate that 🙁

      Rightstuf is a great site. http://www.rightstuf.com/rssite/main/ Akadot is also a good one and yet another place I order from. http://www.akadot.com/ I seem to remember one of them soliciting for manga but can’t remember which one it was off the top of my head. It was in one or the others monthly newsletter.

      Thanks for all your hard work btw. Love your site!!

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