Are indie erotic romances and erotica no longer welcome in the Barnes & Noble Nook store? Are some of them okay? Apparently, it depends on what day of the week it is.

Last week, several erotic romance authors reported that that Barnes & Noble’s Nook Press had suspended their accounts. Initially, it was reported that the books being removed were those that broke the content policy – that is, erotica about incest, rape, bestiality, necrophilia, or pedophilia. As with any of these breaking news stories, the truth always takes time to bubble to the surface. In other words… That was far from the truth. Author David Gaughran reported that authors of “regular erotica” were being targeted – not just writers of the more … niche … stories.

This reminded me of the controversy several years ago when Amazon pulled a number of erotica stories for breaking vague guidelines. Or the times Amazon hid “adult” books (not just erotica, but mainstream LGBT nonfiction) from search results. Except that Nook Press  found an even clumsier way to screw up their bookstore. Rather than making the world safe from incest fetish stories, they also managed to make the world safe from G-rated cozy mysteries.

Cozy mystery author Bobbi Holmes, who no longer publishes erotica, reported that Nook Press terminated her account. Oh those dangerous writers of cozy mysteries!

According to Bobbi Holmes, she received a letter from Nook Press stating “We have determined that many of your titles available for sale are in violation of our Content Policy. Accordingly, the offending titles have been removed from sale and your account is being terminated.” The problem? She had published erotica with Nook Press, but two years ago, she removed those titles. The books Nook Presss ended up pulling were cozy mysteries in her Haunting Danielle series. Within a day or two, the account was reinstated, as were the cozy mysteries, but Holmes had to republish the books. Extra work caused by Nook Press screwing up.

Popular shifter romance author Georgette St. Clair announced to her fans that Barnes & Noble’s Nook Press suspended her account.

Nook Press gave St. Clair notice that her account was suspended, and didn’t provide a reason. St. Clair’s publishes shifter romances like The Mating Game: Big Bad Wolf. Five years ago, under a pen name, she also published some more erotic stories through Nook Press —  and never received complaints about the content in all that time. Suddenly, last week, her entire account was pulled. Two days later, they apologized and reinstated her account.

St. Clair and Holmes weren’t the only ones affected. Author Alessandra Torre warned fans that her self-published titles had been removed from the Nook store.

Nate Hoffelder of The Digital Reader confirmed these reports, as did industry journal Publishers Weekly. A pattern emerged. Nook Press objected to some of an author’s titles – but pulled all books by that author. Within a couple of days, many authors reported that Nook Press apologized and reinstated their accounts. As reported by The Digital Reader, apparently it was all a big misunderstanding. Oops? So I guess everything’s okay? Until the next mistake happens.

It’s never good when a major company pulls an Oops like this. This could be B&N’s equivalent of New Coke. It doesn’t hurt only authors. It screws readers – and not in the good way. What happens to eBooks you bought that are no longer available? Will you always be able to download them? My Nook library takes way too long to show up and often crashes, so I’ll have a difficult time making backups. Especially as the site no longer allows readers to download the books they bought directly (unless they use a workaround).

Author Cherry Pickett sees this as a business failure on B&N’s part.

I want B&N’s Nook to succeed. I don’t want Amazon’s Kindle to be the only game in town. We need competition in the eBook publishing field, rather than one huge store controlling most of the sales. Nook could have done better, but B&N kept dropping the ball. Worse, if B&N keeps slipping up like this, they’re going to fade away even faster than experts predict.

If you’ve followed this story on social media, you know that for all the people upset with B&N, some posters supported their decision. They claimed that the authors should have known better. After all, the rules were clearly written in the content policy. But were they? Sure, the policy bans works “portraying or encouraging incest, rape, bestiality, necrophilia, paedophilia or content that encourages hate or violence.”

Uhm. Most erotic romances do not break those guidelines. (It’s not bestiality if shapeshifters are involved.) Left out of most discussions was that the policy also states that Nook Press does not allow “content that graphically portrays sexual subject matter for the purposes of sexual arousal and erotic satisfaction.”

Golly gee whiz. That covers a lot of books. As someone who used to buy lots of erotic romance from the Nook eBook store (until I got annoyed with their store and search engine and software, gave up, and became a Kindle fan), that clause had me thinking… “What?!” Have they read the books in their own store? You know, the books that have been on sale since 2009? Have they also noticed what types of books are selling the most? Erotic romance often outsells everything else. So why pull those titles? And why pull them now? Was that the rule authors were accused of breaking? No one can tell. Authors found themselves up the creek because it was so hard to contact anyone at Nook Press. Why is it so easy for big companies like B&N to screw up, and so hard for authors to get help?

It’s easy to point fingers at writers and say “You should have known better.” It’s easy to blame the authors if you think they were dropped because they published rape or pedophilia erotica. So what about erotic romances without those elements? Or cozy mysteries without explicit sex?

Cozy mysteries aside, what about the customers? You know, the people who paid for those books? Casey Brienza (author of Manga in America: Transnational Book Publishing and the Domestication of Japanese Comics) didn’t forget them.

If I bought an erotic romance from the Nook store several years ago, will it still be available to me? If not, why not? What constitutes an erotic romance? What constitutes an erotic romance that breaks the content rules of Nook Press? What will B&N do wrong next time? The jury is still out.