Get Rich Quick: Let Amazon Ban Your Book, Make Big Sales at Barnes & Noble

Last Updated Jan 13, 2011 12:38 PM EST

Amazon (AMZN) has taken to pulling books and Kindle titles off its virtual shelves for allegedly violating the company's content guidelines. You might expect the affected authors to take a financial hit -- and some have. But others found that Amazon competitor Barnes & Noble (BKS) and other sites took up some of the slack. Sometimes a lot of slack.

Several of the banned authors have emailed me to share some details of their experiences. Kyle Michel Sullivan, for instance, heard in December that Amazon removed some of his books because they "contain content that is in violation of our content guidelines." There was no explanation of what about the content was in violation, although the guidelines are expansive enough to snag many pieces of fiction:

Pornography Pornography and hard-core material that depicts graphic sexual acts.

Offensive Material What we deem offensive is probably about what you would expect. Amazon Digital Services, Inc. reserves the right to determine the appropriateness of Titles sold on our site.

Sullivan emailed me that his sales "have ticked up a bit" at B&N's site, with a traditional paper book or Nook ebook selling every day or two. He also noted that earlier this week, Amazon said that it would put both of his titles back up, although again it offered no explanation of what the problem had been or what had changed.

Erotica writer Esmeralda Greene wrote that her sales increased "dramatically" on BarnesandNoble.com after Amazon pulled her best-selling titles in early December. However, even though the last two weeks at B&N saw a four-fold sales increase in one of her titles over the first two weeks, that didn't come close to making up for the sales she lost on Amazon. As a comparison, she sold 370 copies of the book on Amazon between Dec. 1 and Dec. 12, at which point Amazon pulled the book. In the last two weeks of December, B&N sold 82 copies of the same title.

But for author Selena Kitt, Amazon might as well have wrapped up the ban and tied it with a bow. Here's what she wrote me:

I think they did me a favor -- I sold 18,000 books on Barnes and Noble after Amazon "banned" my books (from Dec 15 or so until the end of the month). And 4000 of those were copies of banned titles.
That was an astounding number, so I asked if she would send the data from B&N, which she did. Yes, it showed that she sold 18,000 books -- 18,787 copies, actually. Many of the sales were of 99 cent titles, which only provided 40 cents in revenue to her. Other books ranged anywhere from $2 to $6. Still, that brought her close to $27,000 for the month.

Could "banned from Amazon" eventually have the same lurid sales cachet that "banned in Boston" had in the early 20th century? If so, it could be a rare club. Given how much material Amazon sells that is clearly in violation of its own standards (like the book Daddy Helps Out, which, according to one customer comment, includes incest involving an 8-year-old character), getting banned may be harder than it looks.

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Image: morgueFile user penywise, site standard license.
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    Erik Sherman is a widely published writer and editor who also does select ghosting and corporate work. The views expressed in this column belong to Sherman and do not represent the views of CBS Interactive. Follow him on Twitter at @ErikSherman or on Facebook.