Corporate Bullies

First, I want to thank the writers here at OHW for asking me to come on board. Aloha! It’s been a great welcome. :)

Now, on to business…

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

Selena Kitt (40 Posts)

New York Times and USA Today Bestselling author of erotica and erotic romance.


6 comments

  1. Anjasa says:

    I love this post, Selena. Thanks so much for writing it.

    I have several incest/rape stories that I would love to put out there for other consenting adults, but there are barriers everywhere to that type of content. I understand it’s ‘extreme’, but I can barely pick up a fiction book any more that doesn’t have rape or incest in it (alright, a bit of a stretch, but still). It seems that as long as you wrap it up in a plot, it’s okay to use such things to arouse, but if that’s the sole focus? Forget about it.

    • Stuart says:

      UK TV last week had a docu-drama that featured 3 deaths, an incestuous relationship, rape and evidence one of the victims had been tortured. It also featured a kid aged about 12 tied to a chair before he too was killed. That is all fiction and allowed to be broadcast (after 9:00pm so after the watershed) – so someone had to write the script! Why can this stuff be broadcast yet some publishers not be allowed to sell similar written stories.

      On the issue of incest/rape, currently Amazon Kindle have over 300 books that show if you search on the word rape, and over 1100 if you search on the word incest – so they are evidently allowed to sell them and no douibt Mastercard and Visa benefit from the card charges levied on those sales.

      As to covers on books – why do Mastercard and Visa sanction erotic fiction sites (such as mine) but have no complaints against certain very graphic sites such as http://www.kink.com which have tens of thousands of images and thousands of hours of movies they sell to their members (who pay with Mastercard and Visa). Seems like Kink can promote their movies with very graphic images (like book covers) yet Mastercard and Visa won’t allow similar images in fiction, either as cover designs or inside the books. Also, please note, on http://www.kink.com you only have to say you are an adult to see these images – you don’t even have to prove you are 18. Seems like Mastercard and Visa are discriminating against the creative art of some authors and publishers while allowing the “bigger” players free rein to sell much stronger content.

      It’s time for Mastercard and Visa to stop applying their “word” tests to fiction sites and once and for all state categorically that ALL authors, publishers and distriibutors of fiction are allowed to write and sell any subject that is legal and fictional.

      Maybe we need a group of publishers who are willing to start a class action against them to bring this to the courts and get a judicial ruling once for all on what is and is not allowed to be sold on the Internet – and then for that rule to be applied equally across every adult site that has been created!

  2. It is interesting how non-standard the policies are. I wish that it would be just simple to resolve, but I think there is going to be a lot of smoke and mirrors before things settle down. Also going to be frustrating as all hell also.

    (Seriously, commenting is a pain in the ass since I can’t figure out what magic account I’m suppose to use. :P)

  3. Sessha Batto says:

    An interesting tactic (and one, I fear, I was expecting) public acquiescence followed by no implementation :( As soon as the battle appeared to be won everyone yelled yippee and walked away – leaving the corpoations free to once again act in whatever manner they choose. I am not surprised, but I am saddened. So, we continue to fight, keep making noise, don’t let this fall off of everyone’s radar.

    • Diane Nelson says:

      Sustaining a movement was difficult back in the 60′s & 70′s, nowadays the populace has mass-induced ADD. I am not surprised that the ‘acquiescence’ by the major players in this brouhaha was nothing more than a clever spin doctor’s manipulation of public perceptions. We’ve been had yet again.

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