Why is Amazon censoring e-book porn?

A couple days ago, a well-meaning colleague of mine, who often sends me e-book pornlinks to news stories he finds online that may be of interest to the TeleRead community, emailed me with a real whopper.

The link he sent took me to a CNET article that certainly grabbed my attention; “E-book porn flourishes on Amazon’s Kindle,” it was titled. Naturally, I gave it a thorough read. (For professionals reasons, of course!)

But my amusement was short-lived. Because this wasn’t just any old news article, although it most definitely did present itself as such. No, this was actually an opinion piece masquerading as a news item. And the opinion of the article’s author, a CNET News staff writer by the name of Donna Tam, has me more than a little fired up.

Let me explain.

The article in question describes how Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing platform has been slipping a bit lately on the self-censorship front. Apparently, scores of amateur smut peddlers have been cobbling together poorly-produced porno picture books, and selling them on the cheap through KDP. Some of these e-books even include “a weak attempt at a storyline,” according to Tam’s CNET piece. From the article:

“Some of the milder titles include “The Dirty Blonde 2,” which comes with a self-prescribed adults-only warning … and more than 80 photos of a woman posing in various stages of undress. It’s yours for only $2.99 or, like many of the titles, you can even borrow it through Amazon Prime’s lending library.”

Clearly, that statement begs a pretty obvious question: Who on earth is spending $2.99—or hell, even $0.99—on a collection of black-and-white nudie pictures, given the fact that hundreds—maybe thousands—of porn videos can be streamed online for free? But that’s not a question Tam’s CNET article aims to answer, so I’ll leave it alone for the time being.

Instead, Tam offers up a different question: Why isn’t Amazon, she wonders, doing a better job of screening its KDP submissions, especially given the fact that its content policy clearly disallows self-published pornography of any sort?

Tam asks the same question of Barnes & Noble, which apparently has a similar anti-porn policy, even though “searching for the term ‘adult picture book’ on the Barnes & Noble Nook store also produces a list of hundreds of adult-oriented e-books created by the company’s PubIt! Nook Books system,” she writes.

Those are fair enough questions, I suppose. And yet what bothers me so much about this article is the fact that Tam never bothers to question why Amazon and Barnes & Noble have chosen to censor—or attempt to censor, as the case may be—this sort of content in the first place. And regardless of your own personal feelings about porn, that is definitely a question that needs to be asked.

Please don’t misunderstand: I have a fairly firm grasp of the workings of the free market, and I understand perfectly well that companies not operated by the state are free to trade, or to not trade, whatever they please, as long as an item in question is legal. And we’ve gotten into debates before on this site about whether or not a company like Amazon, which nearly has a monopoly on the written word these days, should be held to a higher standard when it comes to the content they’re willing, or not willing, to sell. But I’m going to refrain from sharing my opinion on the subject, because it’s a very muddy philosophical argument I really don’t want to dive into right now.

The aspect of this whole business that rubs me the wrong way, I think, is the fact that both Amazon and B&N are taking it upon themselves to censor only self-published porn, when ‘professionally’ published porn is made freely available on their respective sites to any consumer with a credit card and an Internet connection. Just do a quick search for the words “porn” or “sex” in the Kindle or Nook stores, and you’ll see exactly what I mean.

There are literally hundreds of choices on offer—many are of the erotic fiction variety, while others sell themselves as art books. Most come from publishers that clearly exist on the low-budget end of the publishing spectrum. The variety is so wide-ranging and large, in fact, that after scouring the Kindle store for just a few moments, I found myself wondering if perhaps Amazon wasn’t really censoring the self-published content on its site at all. In the aforementioned CNET article, Tam quotes from a written statement she says CNET received from Amazon: “We have processes and systems—both automated and manual—to detect and remove books that do not adhere to our posted Content Guidelines,” the quote reads.

Really? Why is it, then, that a Kindle Store search for the phrase “adult picture book” returns well over 2,000 results? Can it really be that difficult to remove the “offending titles,” as the Amazon statement refers to them, if they’re so easy to find?

Perhaps. But probably not.

My suspicion? Amazon (and Nook Media, and nearly any other outlet that sells porn, for that matter) makes a lot of money from these titles. A lot. No one actually seems to know just how big the U.S. porn industry really is, although a good number of reporters have attempted to put a number on it over the years. Writing in the New York Times in 2001, Frank Rich suggested the industry was responsible for “$10 billion to $14 billion in annual sales,” although that figure has since been questioned.

At any rate, it seems to me that what we have here is something of a double negative, for lack of a more appropriate term. We have an official policy in place from Amazon that smells of censorship, for one thing. And ethical arguments of pornography aside, I hope the majority of us here can agree that censorship of any sort—especially from a company with as much power and reach as Amazon—makes for the beginnings of a very slippery slope. (And again, I do realize that Amazon’s policy is actually self-censorship, since it’s not a state-owned entity. Still, this isn’t exactly B. Dalton we’re talking about here.)

As for the other half of that double negative, I get the sense that Amazon isn’t being entirely forthcoming by stating that it actively searches out and deletes self-published e-books that don’t adhere to its Content Guidelines. There are simply too many of these books available for that to be the case. Which, in a sense, I suppose, is a good thing.

I’m curious to hear from our readers: Do you think huge e-retailers should be going out of their way to remove content from their stores that ‘appeals to the prurient interest‘? And furthermore, do you think they actually are doing so? Or is their self-censorship claim simply a party line they pull out when reporters ask them to explain why they’re selling such low-grade smut?

And finally, speaking of reporters, I contacted Amazon’s PR department earlier today, and requested a response in regards to their official porn policy. I’m not expecting a call.

e-book porn

6 Comments on Why is Amazon censoring e-book porn?

  1. Their censorship goes against freedom of speech and rubs me the wrong way, even if I am not the target audience for this type of ebook content, which does not even seem to be porn but erotica.

    Tam would be well advised to read Fahrenheit 451 and do some thinking, or maybe move on to a different job. Glad to see that comments are mostly open-minded, and to quote JohnnyL53’s comment:

    “I for one sleep better at night knowing the CNET editors are busily flagging e-book porn on Amazon. Thanks for keeping me on the moral straight and narrow.

    Was this activity going on just to test the Amazon’s porn removal system or is it a regular activity?”

  2. Good points. I don’t have any issue with Amazon selling this stuff, but I do have an issue with this junk with very risque and explicitly porny cover images showing up in every search on the Kindle store. My kids are getting exposed to this even when often searching there in ‘Kids books’. Amazon needs to fix this and in two key ways: First they need to enforce their own rules on what is/is not acceptable for cover art images.
    Second they need to wall all these titles off in a seperate area via a content flag in their database so they can never show up in searches unless you check a box that says “Show adult titles”. It simple to do and would fix the issues many parents have with letting their kids use the Kindle / Kindle store.

  3. Stevh – Very good idea about the ‘Show adult titles’ box. I hadn’t thought of that, but if some of these titles are in fact showing up in searches for children’s books, that seems like something Amazon would want to take care of yesterday. Incidentally, could you tell us a little more about your experience? For instance, are these titles showing up most times when your kids search, or really only when they search for specific titles that may unintentinally have titles that are similar to an erotica book?

  4. Is Amazon corrupting Children?

    Decades ago, pornography was isolated to those sleazy grey buildings, with bars on the windows and ID checks at the door. Today you can find hundreds of new porn books on Amazon, absolutely free, each and every day, and easily available to children. No credit card is required, no parental locks, and no tracking. Kids are becoming addicted to sexually explicit material, and Amazon is making access to pornography easier than ever.

    But what is even more disturbing is the activity on the Amazon website, where children are being lured into adults only groups, populated by members who read and review erotica. For example, this reporter found the following conversation on the Amazon Customer Discussions:

    Adult#1 says: “10. through me, you can get to Adult #4 and others you know here, and Adult #4 can get you into the “cool places” ;-)”

    Female child-14yo says: “The only objection I have to goodreads is that I’m not old enough to be in the BBA group. 😛 Would I be able to find most of you at the Dead Writers’ Society?”

    Adult#2 says: “Oh, Pet, I’ve been wanting you to join us over there. … If it won’t let you join, PM Adult #4 (she is easier to find than I am because my name over there is really common) and we’ll figure out a way to let you in.”

    Adult#1 says: “Lie about your DOB year. (I will disavow any knowledge of this suggestion).”

    Adult#3 says: “You do know that what you just did is a criminal offense?”

    And further research leads us to discussion threads started by Adult #4, like “For the Quirky and Racy Among Us”, and “Spanking in erotica: How much is too much?” where she states “I thought spanking should be something of a sexual turn on…” And what is most shocking of all, Adult #4 claims to be a first-grade school teacher.

    Amazon has been notified repeatedly about this group of adults, and has refused to stop the obvious criminal corruption of a minor. The question is why? Is Amazon so desperate to destroy Barnes & Noble with the dumping of free eBooks, that they will sacrifice the mental health of children? Do the lawyers at Amazon even know what the Sherman Act says, or what criminal negligence means in this country.

    Parents around the world need to demand an explanation from Amazon, and an immediate investigation by the US Justice Department. Our children are not pawns in Amazons perverted games and craving for power. It is time to put an end to this criminal behavior against children, and against Barnes & Noble.

    And that is the opinion of this reporter.

    Sources:

    http://www.amazon.com/forum/romance/ref=cm_cd_et_md_pl?_encoding=UTF8&cdForum=FxM42D5QN2YZ1D&cdMsgID=Mx163H0RIVM8ZDP&cdMsgNo=276&cdPage=12&cdSort=oldest&cdThread=TxYJLTT8II764G#Mx163H0RIVM8ZDP

  5. Hey Roman, it seems your forgot to mention how your book series, Stargate: The Twins carries heavy undertones, overtones, and full on smack-you-in-the-face-tones of pedophilia. Most often he who shouts loudest, has the most to hide. You sit here trying to shift attention away from yourself, and yet your terrible works of “fiction” (a.k.a. your fantasies) are easily the most disturbing thing in this whole fiasco. I have been following the discussion very carefully (no, I’m not a contributor in that thread) and no matter what you do to change the description of your book, there is ALWAYS a record. I applaud the several people who reported you to the authorities, and I hope they come a’knocking. Whether it’s for your obvious perversion or for your blatant copyright infringement makes no difference to me – it’s high time the furious sound of your frantic typing echoed no longer.

    If we’re providing sources, let’s look at this wonderful synopsis of the contents of YOUR book, shall we:

    http://www.amazon.com/forum/romance/ref=cm_cd_et_md_pl?_encoding=UTF8&cdForum=FxM42D5QN2YZ1D&cdMsgID=Mx1BQM20W8NZ6EK&cdMsgNo=597&cdPage=24&cdSort=oldest&cdThread=TxYJLTT8II764G#Mx1BQM20W8NZ6EK

    Whereas “Roman” here linked to a post easily skewed by the agenda he led his comment with, the synopsis I linked to can easily be backed up by reading his travesty of a book. I don’t suggest doing so, if only to avoid a call from the feds when his reader lists are seized, but at least it that poster’s claims can be backed up by the author’s own words.

  6. Thank you for promoting Stargate: The Twins, but readers will discover that the book is G rated, and contrary to what Hawkins fantasized, the twins did not have an orgy. It was a joke, taken out of context, and the twins are 10,000 years old. Some readers may have been disappointed, but you can always get a refund at Amazon if a book does not live up to your fantasy expectations.

    It is clear that those individuals who were attempting to recruit a minor into their adult group, listed at STGRB as ‘Amazon fora trolls’ bullies, are now trying to slander the person who blew the whistle on their criminal behavior. This never works, as it only draws attention to the criminal activity, and the person who spoke directly to the child, telling her to lie about her age. Fictional books are one thing, actual corruption of a minor is something entirely different.

    The real question is simply this: Why does amazon have open discussions of adult deviant sexual behavior, on a website frequented by minors. A first grade teacher openly discussing erotica spanking is not a healthy topic for the 14 year old she was recruiting into her ‘discussion’ groups, both at Amazon and GoodReads. If Amazon does not deal with this, then the Justice Department needs to take action.

    We did not want children in the adults-only stores 40 years ago, and we do not want them in adults-only internet stores today.

The TeleRead community values your civil and thoughtful comments. We use a cache, so expect a delay. Problems? E-mail newteleread@gmail.com.

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