There's been a big hullabaloo in the news over the weekend about Amazon suppressing the sales ranking of certain erotic or adult oriented books. There's nothing new about this, Amazon has been trying for years to keep their website kid and family friendly by not popping up adult oriented titles in casual searches. Back three or four years ago, when Amazon was selling ebooks supplied through Ingram distribution, I wrote about the cover art used to market erotic ebooks books online. They used to dominate (double entendre intended) the top sellers in ebooks, especially at night and on weekends.
Amazon discontinued selling ebooks in the UK soon after acquiring the French ebook company Mobipocket back in the summer of 2005, and the next year, they discontinued selling Ingram (Lightning Source) distributed ebooks in the U.S. After a hiatus of a little over a year, they introduced the Kindle, and in my capacity as an ebook journalist and not as a voyeur (disclaimer about protesting too much:-), I kept checking to see if adult oriented ebooks, or out-and-out porn, would come to dominate the Kindle bestseller list as well.
That never happened for several reasons. First, Kindle was launched with wide availability of frontlist bestsellers and leading newspapers all ready to go. Second, Kindles aren't cheap, and $400 would pay for a lot of subscriptions to hard core adult websites for the full length raincoat in the summer crowd. Third, I'd estimate that the majority of Kindle buyers are women, and while women consume lots of erotic fiction, it tends more to the romance or the NYT bestseller variety than to the kidnapping co-eds and locking them in the basement theme. To put it bluntly, I just checked the Kindle bestseller list for erotica, and the cover images all appeared to be male models with ripped abs, as opposed to young women in cages with ripped clothing.
Fourth, and to the point, Amazon eliminated the sales ranks from the adult oriented books, which prevented them from coming up in general bestseller sorts and searches that use the sales rank in determining the results. This isn't something new, the sales ranks for erotic ebooks on Amazon were missing from the day Kindle launched, and as a friend just reminded me, Amazon had begun the practice of reducing the general visibility of adult oriented books even before then. In today's Kindle store, Amazon may be censoring the cover art of the more graphic ebooks, those with full frontal nudity and photographic depiction of bondage and sadism, but it's hard to prove something from its absence. Those books are still for sale, but you'll have to go to Mobipocket or Google search to see the cover image.
I know that some free speech uber alles advocates find all of this hard to swallow, but Amazon really is a family site where your kids go to search for books, in order to make you buy them. Nobody wants some kid's search on "I want to be a math teacher" to bring up a title like "What Boys Want From Sally the Math Teacher", including a cover image making it clear for anybody who couldn't guess from the title what it was that the boys wanted. You may think that's all good fun and part of a child's educational process, but only if your idea of summer fashion is a long raincoat with shoes and black socks.
I recently recorded an unscripted 40 minute interview on the subject of ebook publishing and sales with Jon Reed, which is now posted on his Free From Corporate America Website. I haven't listened to it yet, so let me know if I shouldn't have it linked:-) And yes, I could have used a two word synonym for "sink" in the post title, but it would have been too cheap a shot.