Not sure how I missed this last week, but there’s a nice piece by Eric Spitznagel about how monster erotica writers are struggling in the wake of a crackdown on their work by Amazon.
Monster erotica refers to books about humans having sex with robots, dragons, or Sasquatches. It's a bigger market than you'd think.
Some of these books are now being banned by Amazon, others pass through unscathed. Here’s one author Spitznagel talked to, a woman named K.J. Burkhardt:
"The guidelines are very vague," she says. "Reading them implies any and all erotic pornography is prohibited, so I'm left to wonder exactly what erotica is allowed." "Taken By the Monsters 4," which Burkhardt first published with Amazon in July of 2012, disappeared from the site just a few weeks ago. "After 16 months, they have determined that it either no longer meets their guidelines or they didn't really look it over to begin with and just now caught it," she says.
The background for this is that back in October, Amazon was stung by bad press after the website The Kernel ran a story about authors publishing rape and incest erotica through Amazon’s self-publishing tool. Amazon reacted by banning many of the books.
At the time, I argued against that. Part of my argument was that as a reader, I don’t want Amazon to be in the position of deciding what fiction is fit to print and what isn’t. And while the plight of Bigfoot eroticists may seem silly, it illuminates the trickiness of a company as large as Amazon instituting a censorship policy.
Spitznagel points out that Amazon’s guideline for what’s offensive is a maddening little koan of folksy subjectiveness: “What we deem offensive is probably about what you would expect." The reality seems to be that Amazon doesn't want to be in the business of editing or overseeing every self-published submission they get.
So while we can’t know what Amazon's specific criteria for censorship is, from the outside, you can kind of imagine a formula. Something like, "How likely is it people will be offended by this book?" divided by "How commercially significant is it?". You can imagine how someone self-publishing monster erotica for a fringe audience wouldn't do particularly well in that equation.
And so these writers lose their source of income, or find it suddenly reduced. I recognize that this is a silly story, but it’s also an edge case for a more important one. Amazon has the power to break someone’s writing career, particularly a smaller writer. Amazon’s editorial decisions matter (even these silly ones) whether the company wants them to or not.