Ask any self-published author about their thoughts on Amazon, and you’re likely to get one hundred opinions from one hundred writers. For some, the retail giant represents the gateway to opportunity, options for publishing that were never before available in history. For others, Amazon is symbolic of everything wrong with corporations: arbitrary rules, hoops to jump through, and now, even the loss of revenue, income, and a potential fan base.
A new report by Motherboard details a recent phenomenon in which erotica and romance authors are losing their rankings, seemingly for no reason and without prior warning. Some authors have even indicated their works were “reshelved” due to mature content, meaning they could no longer be classified as romance and had to join the ranks of more hard-core content.
Losing their ranking or being reshelved might not sound too serious, but in reality, it means other people won’t find the author’s books based on browsing or recommendation algorithms. Romance and erotica readers are known to be voracious consumers of this content, and even have a knack for giving new and unfamiliar authors a chance; removing a book from visibility despite the fact that it has earned the ranking based on sales is akin to putting it in a locked cupboard and leaving it to the author to do all of the promotion alone.
As author Jenny Trout told Motherboard in an interview, ““There’s no way for an indie author to make a living without Amazon, so whatever nonsense they decide they’re pulling this month is just one other thing we’ve got to put up with. And that sucks, but they’re a private business and they get to do what they want, so we can only really complain from a consumer standpoint. It’s not censorship, it’s just a big bullshit hassle, so there’s really no recourse for us.”
That lack of recourse is really at the heart of the issue. Amazon has built an environment where authors need their service in order to reach audiences, but then changes the rules on a whim. Further, their rules are unbending and there is no option to appeal.
It’s not only authors who’ve been affected by the “we make the rules and you have no choice” mindset of the largest book retailer on Earth. One book blogger recently told Goodereader that her reviews were deleted for violating Amazon’s terms, but the company refused to cite which review or which terms were the issue. As a Top 5000 reviewer, the blogger suddenly found all of her reviews deleted and she is banned for life from posting any reviews on Amazon. While this isn’t a livelihood issue for the blogger, the books that were given to her for review were donated to charitable organizations who could use them, including a prison library.
Amazon has been slowly working its way towards not supporting indie authors in a way they once did, and the result is a lot of authors leaving the exclusivity of KDP Select that used to benefit them so greatly. Retailers, take note: now would be a great time to build a serious competitor to Amazon.