Scarlett Skyes

Amazon’s Invisible Filter

amazon search

A week or two ago some big changes started happening in the way Amazon shields the innocent children from the horrors of erotica. Until this change the only sub-genre they deemed worthy of the filtering process was pseudo-incest, i.e. stories that depicted sexual relations between step-siblings, adopted relatives, etc.

Now, however, they have rolled this out to sweep up a number of other sub-genres of erotica, hiding it on the “general search”, that is the search you get when you go to the front page of Amazon and use the search bar there and also removing filtered titles from the “Also bought” list of unfiltered books. To find the filtered titles, you need to specifically go into the books category, or the kindle store before using the search bar.

For the life of me, I can't see how this change protects any specific demographic. Do people under 18 only use the general search? Do ultra-conservative people only use the general search? What good is such an untargeted filter?

What keywords are at the top of Amazon's shit list? Breeding, Gangbang and, believe it or not… SEX! These days if you publish a book (in the ‘erotica' category at least) with ‘sex' somewhere in the title, it will have the adult filter applied unless it slips through the review process by accident. Amazon has prioritised these keywords, and others, over other keywords like “nonconsent”.

Neither I nor any author of erotica I have spoken to is saying it's a good thing for erotica titles like “My Step-Daughter, my Cumbucket” to show up in searches alongside parenting titles like “Activities for Daddy Daughter Day”. In my opinion, every single piece of work in the ‘erotica' section should be behind the adult filter with the proviso that AMAZON TELLS IT'S CUSTOMERS THAT RESULTS ARE FILTERED AND MAKE IT POSSIBLE FOR THEM TO OPT IN OR OUT OF THE FILTER IN AN EASY MANNER.

That's one of the painful things about this. The cloak and dagger, behind the scenes, way that Amazon's filter is implemented suggests a very low opinion of it's customer base like, “These people are too stupid to know what is good for them. What they don't know won't hurt them.”

Another painful aspect is the hamfisted way the filter has been applied. It's hamfisted in two main ways. Firstly, as mentioned in the way they have prioritised “breeding” over “nonconsent”, they are applying an arbitrary moral standard to what kinks are allowed on their general search, and thus to a larger proportion of their customer base. Honestly, everything in the erotica section contains adult material, who are they to say that fisting is worse than gender transformation or make any morality calls about things that are done by and to FICTIONAL CHARACTERS. Nobody writes these stories as “How-To” guides for first dates or the best way to select your babysitters, they are fantasies that are fun and exciting to observe in a safe setting (i.e. the land of make-believe) where nobody can possibly get hurt.

Secondly, not all stories with similar content, covers and titles get the filter applied in an even manner. This is a huge boon for those authors who, by luck alone, show up through Amazon's general search. I'm not begrudging these authors the sudden massive increase in their sales, I don't think this is a conspiracy or anything, but it is “unfair”. Due to this sporadic application of the filter Amazon customers can still go to the front page of Amazon, search for “Gangbang” and get relevant erotica titles in the results. The side-effect of this is that it makes the filter all the more invisible. People get relevant results, but no indication that the results are incomplete and no indication that the results don't represent the newest or most popular titles (if that is what was chosen to sort by). So they don't look any further and countless titles that may have been much closer to what they were really looking for don't get seen.

We independent publishers have little recourse but to bend over and take it, because Amazon doesn't care about us, we don't have the clout to do anything except receive copy and pasted answers from their customer service drones, often about completely different topics to what we email them about. All we can do at the moment is sacrifice goats to the dark Gods of smut and pray that Amazon eventually applies the filter even-handedly so that we have a level playing field on which to try and make a living to feed our kids and keep the electricity on.

We can also do what we can to educate Amazon's customer base about the extra steps they need to take to see the content they want. That being the case, please feel free to repost this public service announcement if you have a blog you don't mind being associated with the content of erotica. Link back to, if you don't mind 🙂

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