Amazon Flap May Have Sparked Sales of Controversial Book

The marketplace spoke—in volumes—and Amazon listened.'s fulfillment center in Fernley, Nevada.
Ben Margot's fulfillment center in Fernley, Nevada.

The online retailer bowed to public pressureearly Thursday, removing a controversial self-published eBook entitled "A Pedophile's Guide to Love and Pleasure" that triggered a ground swell of protest on social networks.

It was a major reversal for Amazon , which the day before defended selling the book, saying it was not in the business of censoring titles that may be objectionable.

But before the book was pulled in the wee hours of the morning, the pedophile guide had been propelled to the top 100 rankings among paid Kindle titles on Less than 24 hours earlier, the virtually unknown digital book ranked well north of 157,000 on Amazon.

The controversy may have actually spurred sales of book, which was sold only on the Kindle platform.

"That's the disturbing part about it, that it led to actual sales," says David Carnoy, Executive Editor of, who follows the e-book industry.

"The Kindle right now is the wild west of publishing.", David Carnoy

Amazon doesn't reveal precisely how its book rankings relate to actual sales. The book did not actually appear in the Top 100 Kindle Bestsellers list. But publishing specialists say the extraordinary move higher in Amazon ranking meant people were buying the title, even as thousands repudiated Amazon on the site for selling it.

"The Kindle right now is the wild west of publishing," says Carnoy. He learned more about the impact of rankings first hand after his own novel "Knife Music" was published recently by The Overlook Press.

"It does not take that many sales to move a book," he says. He says there are authors who've used social media, even offering cash to boost the volume of sales for a short period of time. All, in order to raise their ranking. "A lot of times it's about the velocity. If you sell a lot in an hour, it can propel the book."

For writers, self-publishing e-books on Kindle can be lucrative. Best-selling author Stephen King recently told the Wall Street Journal he's netted $80 thousand from sales of his novella "Ur," which he wrote in just three days and released solely on Amazon's Kindle platform.

With more than 700-hundred thousand e-Book offerings, Amazon is a major force in an industry that is growing exponentially faster than traditional printed book publishing.

Adult hardcover books sales dropped more than 40 percent in September, according to the latest figures from the Association of American Publishers. E-Book sales, however, grew more than 150 percent from a year ago, and are up nearly 200% for the first nine months of the year.

"It's either an evolution or a revolution," says Jim Milliot, Co-Editorial Director of Publisher's Weekly, of the migration of readers to digital books. "It's certainly where everbody's attention in the industry is."

Even the venerable old grey lady has finally taken note. The New York Times Book Review, will now begin publishing a separate Best Sellers list for eBooks starting in early 2011. The company's new release says the growth of digital publishing has created a need for an impartial source on top-selling e-books.

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