Earlier last week, rumors began circulating among self-published authors that NOOK Press was pulling erotica titles from its website and terminating authors’ accounts without warning. On Wednesday, Publishers Weekly confirmed, reporting that because of a new content policy, the accounts of numerous self-published authors had been terminated.
The update to the content policy, which most authors appeared to be unaware of, specifies that titles subject to removal include “works portraying or encouraging incest, rape, bestiality, necrophilia, paedophilia or content that encourages hate or violence.”
An already existing clause—that had obviously not been followed for years—also points out that content subject to removal includes: “Obscene or Pornographic material: This may include content that graphically portrays sexual subject matter for the purposes of sexual arousal and erotic satisfaction.”
Isn’t that… all erotica, ever?
Already-existing clause aside, most authors who received an email from NOOK Press about their account termination were mystified as to how they were in violation of the new policy.
“Umm…okay…please explain which of my titles currently for sale are in violation of their content policy,” wrote Bobbi Holmes on her blog. “I would love for them to answer that question for me. Unfortunately, NookPress doesn’t have a contact phone number, and they keep sending me form letters in response to my email inquiries.”
Amelia Wilde, another romance author, recounts a similar story. “I’ve never seen anything so bonkers in my life,” she says in reference to the sudden account terminations.
On Tuesday, she received an email from Barnes & Noble saying that her account was on hold, and to email them about steps she needed to take in order to reverse the account suspension. Wilde was confused. She had nothing for sale that was in violation of the new content policy.
But she received no response to her initial email, and eventually got a notice that her account was being terminated because of the “many” titles she had on sale that were in violation of the content policy. Upon writing back for clarification, they responded with a copy and paste of the same termination email as before. The only content she had that might be subject to the new policy were unpublished files that had never been made available for sale.
Wilde acknowledges that NOOK Press’s new policy doesn’t seem to be all that different from those policies already in place at iBooks and other sales fronts. “Any privately owned outlet can decide what kinds of things it wants to sell, and that’s fine with me,” says Wilde. “It’s my job as an author to know which outlets my work is appropriate for.” But she says that the way they approached implementation of this policy is bewildering.
This recent move by Barnes & Noble is reminiscent of the time in 2013 when several ebooksellers—most notably Amazon—began deleting erotica titles from their online storefronts in a fit of moral panic. Which is infuriating on its own. But beyond the puritanical implications of this purge, this move also raises questions about the security of authors’ income.
While Amazon would seem to be the front runner for book sales and the obvious choice of platform for authors, they have been decreasing payouts for Kindle Unlimited titles for several years now. In response, some authors have played around with going wide, spreading their sales out among a variety of ebooksellers, including Barnes & Noble. “This is a huge chunk of money for a lot of people,” writes romance author Georgette St. Clair of the recent account terminations on her blog. “Barnes and Noble isn’t even giving these people a chance to take their books down; it’s just a scorched earth policy.”
Negative press has since forced Barnes & Noble’s hand, and they have reinstated many of the terminated accounts.
But censorship such as this, with sex as its target, shouldn’t be swept under the rug at a time like this, even if only temporary. Not when access to sexual health resources and information continues to be taken away in the name of morality.