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I do software development for an ebook publisher specializing in Romance novels. One thing we encounter from time to time is that a book gets classified by Amazon as "adult". That effectively removes the book from normal searches. We can't figure out what triggers the "red flag" and Amazon isn't saying. The cover art doesn't seem to be any better, worse, more suggestive, whatever. Covers are definitely tamer than directly competitive books. Nothing stands out for us in the book content. It's a case of "If A, B, and C are fine, why did D get flagged?"

For anyone else who has encountered this phenomenon, have you come up with any insights?

EDIT WITH ADDITIONAL INFORMATION FOLLOWS:

To the best of my knowledge, you can only see the ADULT tag via Amazon's API. You won't see it on the book's listing on Amazon.

To see an example, search amazon for the author "Blake Cross". (The results are Not Suitable for Work!) I have no relationship to that author or what's published!

To see the "ADULT" tag exposed via Amazon's API, go to http://www.salesrankexpress.com/ and enter Blake Cross as the author name.

The author/maintainer of Sales Rank Express explains his take on the ADULT tag in his FAQ at http://www.salesrankexpress.com/#adult - in short, he says it appears to be arbitrary and inconsistent. He concludes, "By contrast, a surprising number of Kindle books are blatantly pornographic without being labeled 'Adult'."

Our own specific medium is electronic books (we stopped doing print books), Romance genre. We've concluded pretty much the same thing as the Sales Rank Express maintainer. It seems to be based on the book cover rather than the text content, and rather arbitrary. It seems to be more subtle things such as setting and situation, facial expression, and so on.

To the best of our knowledge, as publisher, there are NO clear guidelines; the publisher is NOT informed when an offering is deemed "Adult."

For something like Blake Cross's offerings, the reason for ADULT designation is obvious. The situation is far more subtle with a Romance-genre novel.

The question remains: For anyone else who has encountered this phenomenon, have you come up with any insights?

  • Could it possibly be that Amazon has a team of "readers" that read a majority of the books to determine if they are adult or not? – aman207 Dec 19 '13 at 2:25
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    aman207 that is very likely. But we don't know for sure! We can't tell if it's a bot or some similar scan which is creating the situation, or if it's a human filing a report. – Edward Barnard Dec 19 '13 at 2:50
  • I suspect that it's marketing. Nobody ever seems to classify the works of Christine Feehan as adult, which simply astounds me. It isn't that she writes bad stories, but ... – Donald.McLean Dec 19 '13 at 5:16
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    Can you provide some specific examples? – Ian Dec 19 '13 at 22:44
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    @Ian, I purposely did not because I would be linking to adult content. I'll see what I can reasonably do. – Edward Barnard Dec 19 '13 at 22:53
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Check your product descriptions for certain trigger words. See this comment: http://www.thepassivevoice.com/12/2013/amazon-is-making-it-harder-to-sell-bigfoot-porn-ebooks/#comment-155994

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This seems to be a moving target that tends to vary from time to time, but from what I have seen in various forums, there are some definite trends that seem to get a book targeted as "adult" content. First and foremost is the book cover, especially those that have images that are sexually suggestive or include varying degrees of nudity. How much is too much seems to vary, but anything that might make a school librarian question the content is likely to raise the attention of the Amazon censors as well.

The next most common red flag is the title of the book. Apparently, anything that specifically suggests an incestuous relationship, especially with a blood relative, is pretty much guaranteed to get your book flagged. Some authors have gotten away with pseudo-incest (step-dad, uncle, etc.), but even those are starting to get flagged more frequently.

A more recent development has been with titles that suggest sex with monsters or other creatures. Apparently some people have complained that such books are nothing more than bestiality, and that has caused Amazon to start scrutinizing them much more closely. This appears to be true in regards to the actual content as well, and not just the title on the front of the book.

Lastly, I would suggest looking at the book's reviews to see if anyone has complained about anything specific in the book. I know a couple of authors who have found their books to be labeled as "adult" because a reviewer found the content to be questionable and complained quite a bit in the review. Amazon seems to be jumping on such reviews pretty aggressively, and often without actually investigating to see if the comments in the review are actually true.

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