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B&N Would Never Preview Its Own E-Smut -- Though It Will Gladly Sell It [Update]

Censoring sexually charged e-books seems to be the thing to do for online book resellers. Amazon (AMZN) was busy removing erotica from its online shelves through at least January. And now Barnes & Noble (BKS) has begun to take arms against a sea of erotica on its PubIt! e-book self-publishing service.

Only, B&N hasn't gone all the way. Instead of pulling the titles outright, it's simply removed samples from its site. In the process, the company has limited sales not only for the authors, but for itself.

Author and publisher Selena Kitt emailed me to let me know of the situation. She wrote that only one of the erotica books her imprint publishes still has the option to download a sample, even though it "contains [fictional] rape and is one of the more extreme books we sell."

Samples sell smut
Kitt's stable aren't the only writers that have lost the preview button, and it is important. One e-book erotica author reported seeing sales drop by a factor of ten without the samples.

Some writers sell hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of e-books a year after Barnes & Noble gets its 30 percent cut. That can be a lot of revenue to forgo when the retailer still sells a title. But, wait, things get far weirder. B&N dropped the samples only for e-book erotica uploaded via PubIt!. But if an author went through a third party company like Smashwords, samples remained available.

According to some authors, B&N blames them for not uploading samples, even though they used to appear automatically. And as one author commented on the Dear Author blog post about the situation, there is no way in PubIt! to add a sample.

Furthermore, according to the company's own listing of most popular PubIt! titles, erotica still claims three of the top 20 slots. Now, the sample blacklisting might make sense if B&N was concerned that underage readers could get access to racy material. But users have to sign in -- meaning B&N knows your age -- to download samples.

Curiouser and curiouser. It makes no sense whether arguing for censorship, freedom of speech, or even sustained crass money making. I emailed the company's PR department, but heard nothing, which isn't surprising. Maybe I have to wait until someone uploads the sample answer.

[Update: Some authors emailed me to say that preview buttons are largely in place again, although not everywhere. No explanation from B&N as to what happened. What a surprise.]

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