In recent days it’s become apparent that Amazon has been blocking some manga titles from both Yen Press and J-Novel Club. Both publishers tweeted about this:
Sadly, we have confirmed with Amazon that they have opted to remove our No Game No Life titles from their platform.
Happily, there are other retailers, both physical and digital, that are thrilled to help you support for these titles in the form of cash exchanged for goods! pic.twitter.com/xDbXGFvyBs
— Yen Press (@yenpress) July 14, 2020
We verified today that starting July 11th, all books in the series The Greatest Magicmaster’s Retirement Plan, I Shall Survive Using Potions (Manga+LN), How Not to Summon a Demon Lord, and Clockwork Planet (LN) are no longer available for sale on Amazon Kindle (except .co.jp)
— J-Novel Club (@jnovelclub) July 14, 2020
The titles in question of course are still available at other stores and platforms, but the blocking of titles at Amazon has brought about concerns of censorship.
Kurt Hassler, the Publisher and Managing Director of Yen Press, gave Otaku USA this statement:
“As publishers, we’re disappointed whenever it becomes more difficult for books to find their way into the hands of enthusiastic readers. We received notification last week that some titles had been removed from sale on Amazon, and after reaching out for clarification on the matter, we were informed that a determination had been made that the books did not fall within their global content guidelines. While we obviously wish they were still available, making the decision as to what to offer their patrons is obviously the prerogative of the seller. Nevertheless, we’re grateful to the fans who have expressed their support and to the many other outlets that continue to make the books readily available.”
Samuel Pinansky, President and Founder of J-Novel Club, gave details on his perspective when asked by Otaku USA for a comment:
“How J-Novel Club is handling the delistings currently:
The first time something like this happened was the first week of May, where two volumes of How NOT to Summon a Demon Lord were blocked, and after approximately three weeks of repeated emails and phone calls with Amazon with no clear explanation, we attempted to reupload the two books, however one of them was again blocked a week later and the other one seems to have been blocked along with the rest of the series that was still available on the 11th.
Throughout the month of May/June numbers of our books were set to blocked, usually with a generic notification that they violated Amazon’s content guidelines (they include a link to those, but repeated inquiries about what specific part of the content was in violation would never be specified). Escalations to supervisor, and then support team leader level multiple times (over multiple weeks) produced 3-4 promises of getting things resolved, but in the end no one at Amazon kindle support even has the capability of talking directly to anyone at Kindle Content Review, which operates as a black-box even within Amazon itself. They only respond to email queries, often taking 5-9 business days to even respond, and each time produced only the same template responses. Phone support has no power to override or obtain any further information from Kindle Content Review, and despite being very upset about the situation we can only send more email queries to the kindle content review team, which will only reply to us (eventually) with the same generic emails. The specific wording of the template response is:
‘As stated in our guidelines, we reserve the right to determine what we consider to be appropriate, which includes cover images and content within the book.
We’re unable to elaborate further on specific details regarding our content guidelines beyond what is available here. ‘
In response to this incident on the 13th, we requested again that phone support send a ticket to kindle content review. This would be the… 10th one? Maybe 12th?
I expect that tomorrow I will get a template email from kindle content review saying they are very busy and will look into the issue in 5-9 business days. Then in 9 business days I will get another template email which states that all the titles were removed from sale for violating content guidelines with no further information about what guideline was being violated. If I reply to that email requesting more information, I will get the template email listed above and after that will not get any response until I call phone support to start the cycle again.
In other words, if there is a review process that’s actually going on, it is a complete black-box and the opposite of transparent.
What we think happened:
Considering we have never had an issue like this before early May, and some other evidence, I suspect this is due to the Kindle Content Review black box beginning to rely more heavily on automated systems to detect problematic content. One piece of evidence is that in late April the time for reviewing submissions became extremely delayed, over a week in some cases, but then suddenly around early May the review time became much quicker, meaning they had somehow cleared their backlog. They publicly stated that this delay was due to staffing issues due to COVID-19, so my suspicion is they sped up the process and cut out a significant amount of human checking relying on some auto recognition system. However no one at Amazon actually knows what their internal process is except the Kindle Content Review team itself, so this is all just speculation.
Our opinions on delisting titles without notifying us:
The emails are mostly automated. In the latest case on the 11th, we think that for some reason the books were left available but only on the .co.jp store (the English versions, specifically). Because of that they still show as “Live” in our admin panel, but after calling up support they looked into the backend and found that the content review team had set a sales restriction flag. Since they are still technically on sale on the .co.jp store, I suspect that the automated emails were not triggered which is why we weren’t notified.
My opinions are that this is all pointing to a content review team which has no consistent policies and are making arbitrary decisions with little to no human input. That would also explain why entire series were blocked this time while previous incidents were just single volumes… My hope is that once the virus situation is under proper control, Amazon will restaff or reconfigure the content review department to actually be able to do their job correctly, but my fear is that they will continue to rely on whatever systems they are currently as it’s likely cheaper and ‘good enough’ for them, and never fix these problems.
Not only that, our print editions of, for example, How NOT to Summon a Demon Lord are still for sale on Amazon. All this means is that this is not the result of some consistent policy being applied. It is the very definition of arbitrary and capricious. Also the content review teams for each language are separate I believe, and it’s quite possible that the Japanese kindle store has different policies and standards.
We actually did try emailing email@example.com, and got a response. But it just ended up getting forwarded to the same kindle content review email address and produced no different response than any of our other attempts. I believe the only people who would have any ability to help this problem would be level 7 senior managers at Kindle Content Review or higher themselves, or someone at the director level or VP on the Kindle team. One of the people who promised to help was a Level 7 Senior Manager at Kindle Support, but even they seemed powerless to affect anything at Kindle Content Review. On the other hand, all of our books are available on Bookwalker, Google Play Books, iBooks, Kobo, Nook, Overdrive (for libraries), and of course directly on our own site at j-novel.club for members and premium members to purchase!
Also, as of a few hours ago, two more titles were blocked by Amazon.
The complete list of titles currently blocked from sale by Amazon:
How Not to Summon a Demon Lord 3, 6, 7, 8, 10
Mixed Bathing in Another Dimension 6
There was No Secret Evil-Fighting Organization (SRSLY!?) So I Made One Myself 1
Infinite Stratos Volume 3, 8
Seirei Gensouki: Spirit Chronicles 4
Grimgar of Fantasy and Ash 1
Lazy Dungeon Master 2
Additionally, these titles have had sales blocked on all stores except amazon.co.jp (delisted?)
How Not to Summon a Demon Lord 1, 2, 4, 5, 11, 12
The Greatest Magicmaster’s Retirement Plan 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6
Previously, Preorders for My Next life as a Villainess 6 were cancelled at the last minute, but we successfully managed to reupload the volume on the publish date and it is currently on sale with no content changes.”
Hopefully this will be resolved at some point, but if not, stay tuned for updates.
Danica Davidson is the author of the bestselling Manga Art for Beginners with artist Melanie Westin, and its sequel, Manga Art for Intermediates, with professional Japanese mangaka Rena Saiya. Check out her other comics and books at www.danicadavidson.com.