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