Did Amazon ban an erotic ebook over nude drawings?

One of the offending images. Courtesy of the author. Used by permission.

Late last November, a client of mine received a shocking email from Amazon: they were removing one of her erotic novels from Kindle Direct Publishing over violations of their content standards (such as they are), along with a threat that, should she violate these standards again, she would be permanently banned from KDP. Problem was, Amazon failed to specify the violating content. What made it even more of a mystery was that the ebook had already been on sale for over a year without complaint, the paperback version is still offered on Amazon, and none of her other erotic novels were pulled.

After consulting on the forums, she was advised to contact Jeff Bezos directly, at Jeff@amazon.com, and ask for an explanation. The email was forwarded to KDP Executive Customer Relations, who responded to inform the author that her appeal had been forwarded to the Content Review team, and she should receive a response from them soon. To date, no response has been received.

The author then contacted KDP’s Customer Service (such as it is) and received this response:

As stated in our content guidelines, we reserve the right to determine what content we consider to be appropriate. This content includes both the cover art image and the content within the book.

We’re unable to elaborate further on specific details regarding our content guidelines beyond what is available here: https://kdp.amazon.com/help?topicId=A2TOZW0SV7IR1U.

As anyone who has read the guidelines knows, they are as clear as mud:

Pornography

We don’t accept pornography or offensive depictions of graphic sexual acts.

Offensive content

What we deem offensive is probably about what you would expect.

So what differentiated this banned ebook from the other, acceptable, erotic novels by this author? The only thing we can think of is that the banned ebook contained charcoal drawings of nude women, made in an art class.

So while Amazon has no issue with selling a multitude of art books on the nude, both as ebooks and print, one is apparently banned from putting such images in a novel.

A clue that the drawings are the issue can be found on the Smashwords website where they warn authors not to “push the line.” Among the examples given is this:

7. Erotic fiction that contains illustrated or photographic images of nudity or people involved in sexual situations. Erotic fiction should use words to paint pictures in the reader’s imagination, not images. If it contains images, we consider it pornography, and pornography is never allowed at Smashwords or Smashwords retailers. Bottom line, act professional and don’t push the line.

For another clue we can also look back to the 2012 PayPal fiasco in which they threatened to cut off their services to distributors such as Smashwords (who use PayPal to pay out royalties) if they continued to sell and distribute erotica. In the end, PayPal capitulated, reducing their objections to ebooks that contain “obscene images of rape, bestiality, or incest.” But with thousands of erotic ebooks published each year, I doubt individual ebooks are checked to determine the nature of the images therein. Instead, if the ebook contains images, and the ebook is erotica, then the ebook is banned.

And the keyword is ebook. As noted earlier, the paperback version of this book is still available for sale on Amazon. In fact, if one clicks on the Look Inside feature, one of the drawings appears. Go figure. Then again, this is Amazon, and if you look up illogical in the dictionary, you’ll find a picture of their Seattle headquarters.

Of course, we can only speculate that the offence is the nude drawings because Amazon/KDP refuse to give the author any explanation as to what offended them (or a reader). In the absence of an explanation, the author is left fearful that her account will be closed should she offend Amazon again even though she has no idea how to avoid this. This is outrageous. While I fully support a retailer’s right to refuse to sell a product, the least they can do is offer proper guidance. To offer only threats is just being a bully.

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