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Amazon has recently changed its policies regarding Kindle content, and it is akin to burning books. This may sound overly dramatic, but romance novelists are finding that their work is being “shadow-banned.” That is, Amazon is not pulling this content directly but instead is stripping it of its ranking so that it does not show up very high in searches.
Update (3/30): An Amazon representative stated in an email to TechSpot that the ranking issue was a technical error. "A recent Kindle Store change inadvertently affected the display of sales rank for some titles," said the spokesperson. "We have corrected this issue."
To be clear, this is not happening to all romance novels. It appears only to be affecting those that are also tagged “Erotica.” According to The Digital Reader, the policy quietly took effect on or before March 22, and it is not only affecting self-publishers.
Mainstream publishing houses like St. Martin’s Press and Random House have seen publications disappear. The books are not obscure titles that nobody reads either. Apparently, best sellers are getting downranked severely. Some titles have lost hundreds of spots in search results for romance.
What is more nefarious is Amazon seems to have made the change without notifying any publishers or authors. One erotica writer contacted support when trying to figure out what was going on and was told via email about the policy change.
I'm following up concerning some of your books missing their best sellers ranking.
After hearing from our technical team, we have confirmed that this is due to a recent update to the filter option for Erotica ebooks.
All adult-themed titles will be filtered from the main category sales rank as part of this update. However, you will still continue to keep all of your category rankings. I know this wasn't the answer you were looking for but appreciate your understanding on this policy.
Please let us know if you have any further questions.
Speculation on the forums suggest that H.R. 1865 might be to blame. The law, also referred to as the "Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act" or FOSTA, passed through the Senate last Friday with a near-unanimous 97-2 vote. The legislation is meant to be an anti-sex trafficking measure, but many companies have been implementing policies prior to the law passing in anticipation of it.
"The bill seeks 'to subject websites to criminal and civil liability when third parties (users) misuse online [services] unlawfully.'"
Indeed, we have been hearing a lot about companies cracking down on offensive language and toxic behavior. Microsoft has recently changed its policies regarding chatter on Xbox Live and Skype. Ubisoft and many others have made similar changes. Craigslist shut down its personals ads for fear that they may be in violation of FOSTA by people who choose to misuse that section of the website.
While there is no evidence FOSTA had anything to do with Amazon’s policy decision, the timing indeed suggests it. Amazon still has yet to announce or comment on the new Kindle rules.