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.
Selena Kitt

Erotic Fiction You Won’t Forget

www.selenakitt.com

5 comments to Corporate Bullies

  • [...] Though not everything is fine and dandy for erotica writers. Selena Kitt reports about random filtering of erotica titles at Amazon and vague and contradictory p…. [...]

  • Katie Elle  says:

    I noticed that many of your works are tagged “not adult?” Any idea why that is? Have you disputed things in the past? Is this a feature of Excessica being officially a publishing house? Or perhaps Amazon decided they were ok? There’s no consistency: Babysitting is “not adult” where Reunion is “adult.”

    And certainly consistency is the issue. The problem with such irregular enforcement is it punishes those of us who are trying to play by the rules. I was a good girl and put all my stuff on ARe behind Erotica, so I’ve sold exactly nothing since the Satin Curtain fell. But getting raped and dumped in an alley is tagged “Romantic Erotica” and is a best seller for the author.

  • Selena Kitt  says:

    Yes, I fought it back in 2010. I was told that it was “nudity on the covers” that was the problem, so I thonged up Mrs. Baumgartner and resubmitted, and got babysitting and a few others marked “not adult.” Now, though, things seem to be much more random and strange than nudity on covers. It’s not consistent at all.

  • D. L. King  says:

    Yes, arbitrary–willy nilly–you name it. two out of four of my anthologies are marked adult. Neither has nudity on the cover. One is lesbian erotica (but the other lesbian erotica antho is unmarked) and one is vampire erotica (but the steampunk erotica is unmarked). None of it makes any sense. And yes, of course, the unmarked, or unfiltered, books have much higher sales rankings.

    These are paperbacks in wide distribution from a major independent publisher, not kindle books (although they’re all available in kindle). And just for giggles, they’re not all marked the same at Amazon UK, DE or FR either.

  • Amazon Filtering | Krista Lakes Erotic Romance  says:

    [...] Kitt, http://selenakitt.com/blog/index.php/2012/03/20/corporate-bullies/ explains this much eloquently than I do. This post is over a year old, but it has come up again. [...]

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