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Amazon is Burying Sexy Books, Sending Erotic Novel Authors to the 'No-Rank Dungeon' (vice.com) 163

Samantha Cole, reporting for Motherboard: In the last few days, word has spread among independent erotica authors on social media that Amazon was quietly changing its policies for erotic novels. Five authors I spoke to, and several more on social media, have reported that their books were stripped of their best seller rankings -- essentially hiding them from casual browsing on the site, and separating them from more mainstream, safe-for-work titles.

[...] Most people browsing Amazon books might not notice or care about the best seller rank -- a number that's based on how well the title is selling on Amazon.com -- but it's part of an algorithm that influences how the book appears in search, and whether it shows up in advertisements, including suggestions from one product to the next ("If you like this book, you might like this book"). For independent authors and booksellers, this ranking is hugely important for visibility.

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Amazon is Burying Sexy Books, Sending Erotic Novel Authors to the 'No-Rank Dungeon'

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  • by Kenja ( 541830 ) on Thursday March 29, 2018 @12:44PM (#56347471)
    If I search for books on dinosaurs, I don't really want to see a "romance" title about a guy and a t-rex having sex.
    • by gweihir ( 88907 )

      But if you search for "sex", do you want books about birds and bees?

      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by Anonymous Coward

        If you search for "sex" on Amazon, you are doing it wrong... on many levels at that.

      • Tzz .... your mother made a mistake in explaining it to you. It is not about birds and bees!! It is about bees and flowers, you understand?

    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Why not? That is technically a "book on dinosaurs" as much as any other.

    • by ElRabbit ( 2624627 ) on Thursday March 29, 2018 @12:53PM (#56347567)
      It will be OK until Amazon decides that book on dinosaur may be offending for a certain category of people (fundamentalist) and then send them down the drain too. Hidding erotic book is just the first step to send us back to Middle Age
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Penguinisto ( 415985 )

        Not seeing the slippery slope here.

        Seriously - a book about gay dinosaur sex (WTF?), on a site where more and more minors go browsing (so they can bug Mom and Dad to buy them whatever they find) is most likely not something you want turning up in generic results. Remove the silly Dino reference, and the same holds true for any adult vs. generic-audience book.

        Couple of thoughts come to mind here...

        * Amazon could have done this better (say, similar to Google or Bing's SafeSearch functions, where you have to o

        • Government is almost certainly why they are doing this....Remember the outlook of our VP? And the current gov noise about how Amazon may not be a good thing? I can add 2 and 2, I'd bet they can too. That Facebook thing really got the anti-big-tech thing rolling. They're all running scared they'll be regulated our of their business models. I'l reserve judgement on whether that'd be good as the devil is always in the details (and loopholes for "friends of officials" - which is how they got here in the fi
          • by sycodon ( 149926 )

            That's just stupid. Neither Amazon nor anyone else is doing this because of Pence.

            • Pence was an excuse. Was the rest of what I said BS? Did Trump not today - in the previous story here - diss the crap out of Amazon? Could it be they're looking for a way to duck the storm that's coming to all these data-grabbers by offering something that might deflect attention from their other issues?
              C'mon, if you think any of this works by the letter, much less the spirit of law, you need to get out of the basement for a couple of decades and find out how stuff works out here. Or maybe just live a c
          • Not to mention the new law that holds online companies liable for anything resembling sex trafficking......funny how Congress passed a law that Trump has not yet signed, and it still gets enforced long before it goes into effect. I guess you can use greed against lust to enforce morality.

        • by PPH ( 736903 )

          on a site where more and more minors go browsing

          Perhaps it's time to reinstate the '18 years or older' rule for Internet use.

          The Parkland students and Florida might be onto something here. Owning guns, driving, voting, surfing the web. Maybe they need a few more years of maturity.

          • Perhaps it's time to reinstate the '18 years or older' rule for Internet use.

            How do you "reinstate" something that never existed?

            • by PPH ( 736903 )

              How do you "reinstate" something that never existed?

              From https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ARPANET#Rules_and_etiquette [wikipedia.org] "It is considered illegal to use the ARPANet for anything which is not in direct support of Government business". And this was the case until around 1995, when the Internet was opened up for commercial traffic.

              So yeah, effectively "no kids allowed".

        • by rgbatduke ( 1231380 ) <rgb@ph y . d u k e.edu> on Friday March 30, 2018 @08:30AM (#56352427) Homepage

          There are two really important problems with this:

          a) Where do you draw the line? Is Stranger in a Strange Land "erotic"? How about Lady Chatterlie's Lover? Is it "eroticism" that we hide, or do we hide books with politically incorrect content, such as books that refer to persons of color as ni**ers or w*gs? Do we hide books that might make some particular group feel bad? Do we hide poltical books?

          If Amazon starts hiding every single book that has a sex scene in it, it will become Amazon for Kids. We'll be thrown back to the last century, only worse, as Amazon is well on the way to becoming the only viable bookseller in the country, and its browsing algorithms are already super dangerous in terms of raising any new book or casting it down to oblivion, no matter how good or bad it might be. Sure, many books with erotic scenes aren't porn, but again, where do you draw the line? On what basis?

          b) Who decides? This is the really terrible thing -- not only is there no clear line, but whatever criterion they come up with for a line is being implemented by some overworked human who probably has no time at all to actually read the books that they are effectively "banning", hiding from nearly everybody. This isn't even malicious censorship -- it is censorship by the lazy, censorship by the unqualified, censorship by a bored clerk somewhere.

          I say this as the author of a book that is not porn, it is actually at least an attempt at actual literature, that has erotic content (it's a book for grown ups to be sure) that has been classified without my knowledge or consent as "erotica" by Amazon and hidden so securely that when I tell people about it, they often can't find it searching for it by name.

          And that s**Ks.

          (And by the way, /., putting a "lameness filter" on my submissions that prevents them from happening if they contain ni**ers and w*gs spelled the right way in a context where I'm using them in an intelligent conversation is an example of exactly the same thing. Leaving me pretty damn mad...)

      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by AmiMoJo ( 196126 )

        All the evidence is that it works the opposite way. Society becomes more permissive over time.

        Some people will always try to drag us backwards, but overall and over the longer term it's pretty much impossible to resist.

    • Ross Geller does.

    • Don't be such a puritan. Next thing you're going to tell me is that when you search for detergent you don't want to see this [amazon.com] either. Prude!

    • If I search for books on dinosaurs, I don't really want to see a "romance" title about a guy and a t-rex having sex.

      So if you search for *something* you thinkg *someone else* should decide precisely what part of *something* you should see, and you're happy with that because you may see a title you don't like?

      Maybe you should move to North Korea where the censors can keep you safe from seeing things that may cause your brain to hurt.

    • Dinosaurs? Fake NEWS!

    • It's amazing how President Trump can not yet sign a law, but have it go into effect. Must be a time traveler.

    • by Askmum ( 1038780 ) on Friday March 30, 2018 @02:04AM (#56351551)

      If I search for books on dinosaurs, I don't really want to see a "romance" title about a guy and a t-rex having sex.

      You may be trolling here, but this is actually an example of the creepy kind of censorship that is very prevalent these days. Just like Google removing KODI from their autocomplete.
      This is censorship and censorship sucks. We should stand up and fight companies who do this, not make jokes about it. Because at the end, there will be nobody who can make the joke.

    • . . . 50 Shades of Obscurity

      !!

      hawk

  • by GoJays ( 1793832 ) on Thursday March 29, 2018 @12:54PM (#56347575)

    People seem to forget that Amazon is a private business. They can do whatever they want. If they choose to not show your book, that is up to them. They are not blocking the sale of the book. The author can sell the book on their own site, or at another book store if they like.

    If the book was removed from the INTERNET, this may be a problem because it is the removal of freedom of speech. Not shown in Amazon searches.... nothing to see here... move along.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Nobody is disputing that point; you've concocted a fake argument so that you can easily dismantle it and look like you've made a point.

    • People seem to forget that Amazon is a private business. They can do whatever they want

      How absolute is this in the US? For example, if you have a literal monopoly on something?

      • by Anonymous Coward

        How absolute is this in the US? For example, if you have a literal monopoly on something?

        Let's see if I can write one that doesn't immediately get downmodded for honesty (not going to try to compete with the one that gown downmodded for attempted British vulgarity).

        In the US, the Federal government is fairly tolerant of natural monopolies that stay in their own domain. The two main situations that can result in antitrust investigations are using the weight of a monopoly to undercut competition elsewhere and drive out business, and trying to establish yourself as a utility while also holding on

        • Amazon doesn't have a monopoly, because all of the products available through amazon are available elsewhere. Unless you specifically NEED that amazon branded USB cable over one branded with some other company name.

          These books can be sold through other websites, brick-and-mortar, or whatever you like... so Amazon cannot be considered a monopoly under any rational definition. Full Stop.

        • So, to evaluate the monopoly claims, is Amazon the overwhelming leader (more business than all their competition combined) in a category of commerce?
          Is Amazon using their overwhelming position in a category of commerce to bankroll undercutting competition in a different category of commerce?
          Is Amazon the sole provider of a dominant standard while exploiting that advantage to shape a marketplace?

          Yes. They've put every other major bookstore but one out of business, and the sole remaining at-scale competitor is Barnes and Noble, which just fired most of its store management because it is about to follow Toys'R'Us to oblivion, barring a miracle. At this point they have more business in e-books in particular than all of their competitors put together, they have more business in REGULAR books than all of their competitors put together, and they are rapidly pushing to achieve that sort of market domina

    • by Dutch Gun ( 899105 ) on Thursday March 29, 2018 @01:06PM (#56347693)

      No one is claiming it's a 2nd amendment or free speech issue. The issue here is that Amazon is such a dominant force for modern literature that authors are now pretty much beholden to whatever whims they decide to act upon.

      Author Jenny Trout had every book in her contemporary erotic romance series The Boss (written under the pen name Abigail Barnette) stripped of its rank and reclassified to remove it from the Romance category. She told me in an email that Amazon is “the bread and butter of every indie out there.” She says she sold half a million copies through Amazon in a three-year period, compared to 35,000 at every other retailer combined. Her series was de-ranked without warning or explanation.

      “There's no way for an indie author to make a living without Amazon, so whatever nonsense they decide they're pulling this month is just one other thing we've got to put up with,” Trout said. “And that sucks, but they're a private business and they get to do what they want, so we can only really complain from a consumer standpoint. It's not censorship, it's just a big bullshit hassle, so there's really no recourse for us.”

      I'm not some anti-Amazon crusader by any means, but it's always a little worrisome for a single entity to become as dominant as they've become in so many areas, because when this sort of thing happens, there's literally no recourse for people, and no real way for market forces to make corrections.

      • Where are my moderator votes when I need them? +1
      • Amazon is responding to their customers, just like they've done in the past.

        One of the biggest source of customer complaints was Romance novels showing up all over the site in other categories, like Mil SF, or historical fiction, or whatever, when they didn't really fit, because Romance is such a huge and competitive category. So Amazon put in place some restrictions so that people who were looking for Romance genre books would find them and people who weren't, didn't.

        This is essentially the same thing. Ero

        • I'm not saying Amazon is necessarily wrong to do this, but it would probably make things much more palatable to at least send an e-mail to those authors explaining why they're re-categorizing their books, instead of just doing so silently. It makes for bad press when they do things like this arbitrarily.

          Again, I'm not saying they don't have the right or a good reason for doing this, but I think they should try to communicate a bit better, given that they have such a dominating position.

    • by BlazeMiskulin ( 1043328 ) on Thursday March 29, 2018 @01:13PM (#56347741)

      People seem to forget that Amazon is a private business. They can do whatever they want. [...] Not shown in Amazon searches.... nothing to see here... move along.

      Nobody has said anything about the First Amendment--which you are jumping onto with a strawman.

      Just because they're a private business doesn't mean they're immune to criticism.

      People are complaining that this private business is behaving in a way which is detrimental to the livelihood of their suppliers, and convenience of their customers. This IS something worth discussing--so that suppliers and customers know what's happening and can make knowledgeable business and purchasing decisions.

      • People are complaining that this private business is behaving in a way which is detrimental to the livelihood of their suppliers, and convenience of their customers.

        Who says having erotic fiction lumped in with other books is convenient for customers?

    • by Anonymous Coward

      The author can sell the book on their own site, or at another book store if they like.

      Can they? That's the thing about monopolies: people don't really buy anywhere else.

      Plus, many hosters, payment processors, service providers, etc have a "no sexual content" policy. Then there are countless regulations that serve as a barrier of entry. Setting up your own store isn't as easy as it sounds.

    • The issue is that porn is one of those businesses where the producers will seek out and try new methods of distribution long before the mainstream does. Essentially Bezos used erotic novel authors to help jumpstart amazon.com (Amazon began as an online bookstore). Now that it's branched out and grown big enough that Bezoes doesn't feel he needs them anymore, he's burying them. It is literally climbing on the backs of other people to haul yourself up into a dominant position, then discarding them. Decent
    • IANAL but this reeks of discrimination.
      A private business can't discriminate against certain categories just because it's a private business.
      However... Amazon could go ahead and completely ban erotica literature as a whole, which is not discrimination, it's policy change. But right now they're basically saying "you can sell your books here just like everyone else but you won't get the same treatment as everyone else" which is the definition of discrimination.
      Similar to "you can ride the bus but not in the "

    • People seem to forget that Amazon is a private business. They can do whatever they want.

      Actually no they can't. They stop being allowed to do whatever they want when they reach the status of monopoly, which they have.

    • Actually I had expected that you would suppose that they have to treat any author equally.
      What about your famous free speech ;D etc. ...

    • There may be something to see here. When businesses engage in actions that destroy lives or block free speech, there could be a problem. For example, suppose Amazon stopped ranking books that talked about racial discrimination. Where is the line drawn? Can I stop ranking books about gays? Can I stop ranking books about religions that don't allow gay marriage? This action by Amazon is very disturbing.
  • Or they're filtering out low effort sleaze so that their browsing/recommendation system is usable.

    The same problem has hit my local library. Browsing their ebook collection is an exercise in clicking through six million low-effort pieces of trash.

  • I'm with Playboy. There's something wrong with sexual prudishness holding sway in all these giant Internet companies.

    Religious folk would be happy, while '60s hippies aghast after their efforts at the sexual revolution.

    Two days ago on the CNN home page, the Playboy story was literally right next to the story on Walmart removing Cosmo from checkout line stands, where it has been in supermarkets since I was born.

    Looks like the equivalency of religion and politics, and politics taking over as religion, is dee

  • In the butt (Score:3, Informative)

    by PopeRatzo ( 965947 ) on Thursday March 29, 2018 @01:01PM (#56347633) Journal

    They best not try to bury the great Chuck Tingle, author of such books as, Space Raptor Butt Invasion, which is book one of the Space Raptor Butt Trilogy. His earlier work, such as Pounded In The Butt By My Own Butt are already classics. However, his newer work, such as the speculative Slammed In The Butthole By My Concept Of Linear Time is not quite as good as his earlier work.

    https://www.amazon.com/Space-R... [amazon.com]

    https://www.amazon.com/Slammed... [amazon.com]

    • by Mal-2 ( 675116 )

      He should thank his lucky stars he was slammed in the butthole by linear time, rather than a Time Cube.

  • It's not unsual for an author to categorize an erotica book as a romance book to get more visibility. Not surprising that explicit books are being recharacterized as erotica.
  • by gachunt ( 4485797 ) on Thursday March 29, 2018 @01:11PM (#56347723)
    I read

    " Amazon is Burying Sexy Books, Sending Erotic Novel Authors to the 'No-Rank Dungeon' "

    ... then ...

    " President Trump Slams Amazon For 'Causing Tremendous Loss To the United States' "
  • Amazon needs a Safe Mode.

  • Maybe Amazon should consider a separate listing for Erotics? With the Internet, I'm sure there's customer demand for this kinda of stuff so why not setup a separate restricted group.

    • They could set up a second shop on www.amazon.xxx

    • So, you mean, like having entire categories of various erotica on their site? Like they do? Like these books still rank in?

      All they did was remove the erotica which had been pushed by authors/publishers into non-erotica categories from those non-erotica categories, because their customers don't like buying what they think is historical fiction to find it full of explicit reverse-harem dungeon scenes. They still have erotica categories which the erotica books are listed in and rank in based on their sales an

  • Worldly advice has always been sex sells ... well, may be not.

    Time to get out of the dirt and darkness and embrace Jesus.
  • by Anonymous Coward

    a lot of sites are removing or downgrading 'sexy' and 'offensive' content in the wake of the feds recent gutting of safe harbor provisions.

  • It's no wonder Trump is angry at Amazon now!

    • The lust-filled landlord ran his short, pudgy fingers over the porn star's rubbery, spheroid br-

      Ugh, I just threw up a little. I quit.

  • True to the spirit of slashdot, I did not read the entire piece. But this stands out:

    âoeThere's no way for an indie author to make a living without Amazon, so whatever nonsense they decide they're pulling this month is just one other thing we've got to put up with,â Trout said."

    How was an indie author making it before Amazon? And where does it say Amazon has to ensure the business vitality of all writers? As others have said, they are a private business, and can conduct their business according

    • "How was an indie author making it before Amazon? And where does it say Amazon has to ensure the business vitality of all writers?"

      This has nothing to do with ensuring the business vitality of anyone and everything to with amazon censorship practices... people choose amazon because of convenience and technical capabilities almost nobody voting for Amazon with their dollar realizes that Amazon applies censorship in broad strokes.
      • Well, heaven forbid that a company wouldn't want to indiscriminantly bombard its customers with porn that they weren't looking for. What a world.

      • only governments censor. businesses don't have to sell
        a particular type of book if they don't want to, or they can choose to put it under the counter until a customer someone goes "wink wink nudge nudge knowwhatimean"

        • "only governments censor."

          Patently false. That's like saying only governments can unjustly execute someone. I think you are confusing the matter with the legal restriction preventing government from censoring free speech. That is only one very limited example of censorship.

          Just because businesses can legally censor some things or engage in any particular behavior today doesn't mean they have to be allowed to do so tomorrow. Further, there is nothing a business is legally allowed to do which grants them any
          • the word literary came from a person in government whose job it was to uphold public morals and remove material. censorship is an act of government.

            businesses ought to be able to sell what the owners choose, anything else is evil and tyranny.

            "morally reprehensible", that's a matter of someone's opinion only

            your story about flu shots and pregnant women is laughable, maybe you valiantly let the pregnant woman get the shot, and then go to infect ten other pregnant women at work.

    • How was an indie author making it before Amazon?

      They weren't. Self-publishing was a money loser for virtually everyone until Amazon provided the audience and platform. Of course, providing the audience and platform makes it no longer really self-publishing or indie, but simply publishing through Amazon, which happens to have almost no editorial standards unlike other publishers.

  • They are growing massive and most people using their services don't know anything about their massive and widespread censorship practices. People are choosing them based on convenience and technical capabilities with no idea they are engaging in these practices.
  • Just some months ago Amazon started selling sex toys.

  • what was happening (Score:4, Insightful)

    by cascadingstylesheet ( 140919 ) on Thursday March 29, 2018 @03:44PM (#56348877)

    What was happening previously was that racy books were showing up for searches for normal books, often absurdly unrelated searches. They were gaming the searches like it was the early days of Google.

    I don't know if Amazon was weighting the sales numbers too highly in their algorithm or what, but even quite specific searches for normal topics might have the bizarre racy results showing higher than strongly selling normal books.

    So I say, good: it's about time.

    If this is a problem somehow, then fine, give us an easy, prominent account setting to say "no smut". Then go back to your old algorithms to your heart's content.

    But something was not right before, in any case.

  • No rank? No wank.

  • Anyone remember this, back in 2011?

    https://yro.slashdot.org/story... [slashdot.org]

    They decided to stop selling Yaoi manga. For anyone not aware of the term, it's male homo-erotic manga. However, they didn't stop selling Yuri - the female equivalent with homosexual relationships between women instead of men.

    It struck me at the time as blatant homophobia on the part of Amazon, I never bought any yaoi or yuri from them in the first place, but after that (and various other shady practices, like their remote deletion of copie

  • I'm not a prude but I'm never going to buy one, Why can't I just set my Amazon user profile so they never offer them to me? Of course, romance books are almost as bad. A romance with a spaceship in it is not science fiction, it's just a subcategory of romance. A romance where the heroine using Celtic magic to transport herself back and forth to her lover in ancient Scotland is not fantasy, it is just a subcategory of romance. Romances with private investigators in them (notice how I didn't use the slang te
  • There was a piece on Australian TV about Walmart removing Cosmopolitan magazine from the shelves. It seems the group that pestered them into it were masquerading as part of the #MeToo movement but they had recently undergone a name change, and were actually another right wing religious organization riding on #MeToo's coat tails.

    I wonder if there's something like that going on here? Maybe some nasty little group of religious bigots is harassing Amazon behind the scenes.

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