According to techie news site Ars Technica, Selena Kitt, a self-published author of erotic fiction and a publisher, reported that Amazon removed some of her stories from the print store and from the Kindle store. Other authors affected include Esmeralda Green and Jess C Scott. Amazon did not give an explanation to the authors, but the stories had one thing in common — they all contained erotic incest fantasies.
Kitt’s non-incest stories seem unaffected. Early reports that Amazon was removing the stories from readers’ Kindles were wrong. However, they did remove the stories from readers’ archives, so if those readers want to read the stories later, they are out of luck. They may be able to get a refund, but that depends.
For all the incest stories Amazon pulled, hundreds are still available for sale in the Kindle store. Including stories with underage incest and worse. No wonder people argue that Amazon isn’t being consistent. Some readers even argued that if Amazon pulled incest erotica, they should pull all stories involving incest, from V. C. Andrews’ Flowers in the Attic to mainstream novels about incest or memoirs about survivors of incest. But surely there is a world of difference between V. C. Andrews (the infamous sex scene between Chris and Cathy in Flowers in the Attic was barely a page) or the memoir Daddy’s Girl by Charlotte Vale Allen. Context is everything. In those cases, the incest is part of a larger story, rather than the driving force behind an erotic fantasy.
Like just pretty much everyone else who is covering this, let me state that incest fetish fiction isn’t my thing. I realize it’s a part of erotica. I found that out in college, when I bought an “erotic” novel (a Beeline Double Novel) so that my friends and I could read it out loud at a birthday party. It was the worst book I had ever read, and the funniest birthday party ever. In that story, relatives jumped into bed together as casually as most people put on socks, and the dialogue consisted of words like “Ohhhhhhhhh.” The incest was supposed to make the story “hotter,” but the only hot things in that room were the candles on our birthday cake. I read one of Selena Kitt’s free stories while researching
this. Although most of her stories aren’t about incest, I read one of her
incest stories to learn what they were all about, and learned that she is a
far better writer than the author of the Beeline novel. Still, the plot line
left me depressed, with a feeling of “This shouldn’t be happening.” Then
again, in high school, I was one of the few V. C. Andrews fans who thought
it was a tragedy when Chris and Cathy eventually became a couple, while many
fans saw it as true love.
I believe that a business also has a right to say “That’s not my thing.” So what are Amazon’s guidelines for publishing for the Kindle? I wish I could tell you. The FAQ for DTP for the Kindle says that “Pornographic, obscene or offensive content” is banned from the descriptions of items and says, “For more information on Amazon.com policies with regard to inappropriate content, please see the Digital Text Platform Terms and Conditions.” Yet the Terms and Conditions don’t really say anything about what is “inappropriate”. The Amazon Kindle Publishing Guidelines cover formatting issues rather than obscenity, pornography, etc. The CreateSpace guidelines are also vague and apply tovideos more than to books. Under “Offensive content,” they say, “What we deem offensive is probably about what you would expect” and then go on to mention crime scene videos and the like. Amazon most likely kept their guidelines rather loose so that they could use them if something came up that they didn’t plan for, but that only creates new quagmires. Barnes and Noble could get into a similar quagmire in the future. Their guidelines for Pubit, their self-publishing service for the Nook, ban pornography and define it as “Hard-core material that depicts graphic or explicit sexual acts.” Huh? Does that mean they would ban Bertrice Small from the NOOKbooks store?
Compare those guidelines to the guidelines set some eBook publishers. Ellora’s Cave guidelines say “NO incest” and also ban sexual situations involving children. Similar bans are found in the guidelines from Samhain, Loose Id, Phaze Publishing, and eXtasy Books. Even erotica publishers that are more open, such as Total E-Bound, ban sex with minors and rape as titillation. Selena Kitt’s own company, eXcessica, allows incest — but bans underage sex, among other things, and the self-publishing platform Smashwords does publish incest erotica, but they ban also sex scenes involving minors and rape as titillation.
Like Smashwords, Amazon is a distributor and not a publisher, so their guidelines don’t have to be as specific as, say, Ellora’s Cave. Still, if they are going to carry Kitt’s incest erotica stories for over a year, then why pull them now without warning or explanation? Many people think this is because of the furor over Amazon and the self-published pro-pedophilia book, which was eventually pulled by Amazon. Yet Kitt’s incest stories are fantasies involving consenting adults, not handbooks for pedophiles.
Because of the confusion, many people worry about what will be yanked next. What is “pornography”? How does Amazon (and B&N) define offensive material? You’ve got me there. Both sites make it easy to report eBooks as offensive. Maybe too easy. Someone with a vendetta could report an author’s book as “pornographic” to get back at them. Some people also fear that while today Amazon is going after incest erotica, tomorrow they may yank BDSM or male/male. I would like to think that Amazon is not going to do that. For one thing, too many readers are buying these stories. Then again, when big companies make decisions, sometimes stupid things happen. Let’s hope Amazon’s staff knows better than pulling the plug on erotic romances. Let’s hope instead that they settle a lot of the controversy by creating more specific guidelines and following them more carefully and consistently in the future.
– Anne Marble