Saturday, May 25, 2013

Amazon & Censorship (or, to paraphrase Simone de Beauvoir, "Must we burn e-books"?)

As Amazon increasingly gains a monopoly over bookselling in the United States, they're also gaining a really terrifying power to control what you read.

Case in point: we received an email today whose subject line was "Alert from Amazon KDP".  The email says, in its entirety:


We’re contacting you regarding the following book(s) that you submitted for sale in our Kindle Store:

The Sins of the Cities of the Plain [Unabridged 1881 text with a new introduction] (Valancourt Classics) (B00926PXEQ)

During our review process, we found that your book contains content that is in violation of our content guidelines.  As a result, we will not be offering this book for sale.    

Our content guidelines are published on the Kindle Direct Publishing website.

To learn more, please see:

Well, I clicked on the link, and it didn't take me anywhere.  So I wrote them back to ask why this historically significant gay text from 1881 does not meet their "content guidelines".  I got a response shortly thereafter, which says:


As stated in our content guidelines, found at, 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.

Or, to translate: "We don't have to tell you why, and there's nothing at all you can do about it."

Which is fine, I suppose, from a legal point of view.  They're a private company and I wouldn't support, say, forcing them to sell books they didn't want to sell.  But as other e-book readers flop and get left behind in Amazon's Kindle's dust, and as Amazon puts more and more brick-and-mortar bookstores (Borders, anyone?) out of business, they now have, and will continue increasingly to have, nearly unfettered power in determining what you can or can't read.  

Of course, Sins of the Cities of the Plain probably runs afoul of Amazon's "pornography policy", which reads: "We don't accept pornography or offensive depictions of graphic sexual acts", but then, most other books written for readers aged above 18 or so probably do too.  It all depends on how you define "pornography" or "graphic sexual acts."  Curiously, you can buy the Marquis de Sade's books on Kindle (Juliette is $12.07!)  So the "pornography" policy seems, to say the least, a little imprecise.

I'm most irritated by the fact that an email from "Carlos S.", presumably an omniscient arbiter of good literary taste, is all it takes to eliminate one of our books from Amazon, with no right of remonstrance or appeal.

For now, you can still buy Sins and all our other titles in paperback, though if you feel at all certain that this will always be the case, you're more confident (or more gullible) than we are....


  1. And, of course, there is certainly no problem with purchasing Fifty Shades of Grey on Amazon....


  2. Very true that there was no problem with "Fifty Shades of Grey", and it was in the top ten kindle books for several months, and recommended in every "you may like this" email. Even now at least a quarter of the books in the top 100 appear to be some sort of porn. There are definitely loopholes in the pornography restriction.

    Perhaps Valancourt Books would consider selling ebooks off their own website? No double standard on I would love to be able to buy epub format.

    1. In that last sentence it should say "and" instead of "on".

  3. It's a shame that anybody writing about Amazon and pornography is doing this without giving his or her name. I suppose Amazon won't be able to extinguish real people, they just extinguish ebooks. To the matter: I would suggest to republish the book with a modified title, e.g. as the German translation: "Sins of Sodom" or something alike. And then just wait and see, if "Carlos" will find it again. Amazon is just a computer, so you can play them any tricks you want.

  4. We love you and your innocents. Stay true to Robert. Don't wear two faces. We love the real you. A real fan and a Mom. Girls look up to you. Can't you be a good role modle instead if getting caught in the sleezy look. You are to beautiful for that.
    50 shades of grey movie