Storytel wants to reduce visibility on hot romance and erotica because they are too popular

Cupido is a Norwegian site dedicated to all things sensual, and now that includes podcasts. This month Cupido is launching what apparently translates as Cupido Handsfree – a great double-entendre if accurate.

To mark the event Cupido tells us that 4,500 of Storytel’s 100,000 titles are categorized as “sensual”, referencing a report in the left-wing Norwegian news journal Klassekampen:

Norwegian novelists must fight for space with “Anal MILFs” and “First Timers” at Storytel: Taken on the bed of sound porn.

Klassekampen asserts that because these erotica titles are popular they get good visibility. (Or is it maybe they are popular because they get good visibility?)

As ever, when algorithms are allowed to run the show, the results are not always desirable.

Storytel’s chief Håkon Havik, charged with promoting “sound porn” at the expense of other audiobooks, responded,

This is not deliberate in our part. It just shows that erotic literature in audiobook form is very popular (adding) at a general level, this is a challenge many digital services have, where one has lists that are managed automatically based on listening statistics.

Now Storytel says that, while it has no intention to remove erotica, it will instead actively reduce visibility on popular erotica titles.

Said Havik,

It is one thing is to offer such literature, quite another thing to advertise it. We are working on this now.

Klassenkampen thoughtfully provides us with an image of some of the titles in question which I won’t share here as it may not be to everyone’s tastes,.but the titles should be picture enough.

Topping the Storytel Norway charts:

I’m so tight!

He’s in my behind:Anal MILFs 2

Popping my anal cherry at 40.

Each title is around 30 minutes long.

A quick reference to Amazon’s Audible shows that many of these same titles are available there, and many are in the Kindle ebook store and in other audiobook and ebook subscription services and retail outlets, so let’s be clear this is not something unique to Storytel.

So now Storytel joins Kobo, Amazon, Scribd, Smashwords and others in dealing with the thorny question of giving consumers what they clearly want when the product is likely to be deemed offensive to many other consumers.

It may or may not be coincidence that Storytel is preparing to deal with this problem now, just as the new royalties-by-the-hour publisher remuneration kicks in.

There’s no easy solution for the distributors. After the success of Fifty Shades no-one can dispute the wide appeal erotica has, and the question of where to draw the line is clearly one the distributors would prefer not to make.

Or perhaps one they can’t make.

Here’s the thing: None of them want a category of “porn” or “soft porn” or “hard porn” on their site. But the only alternatives are to block titles and content deemed beyond the pale, or lump them together in a catch-all erotic romance or sensual category.

For Storytel, as with those which have trodden this path already, the backlash will come from

a) erotica authors who understandably think they are being treated unfairly if their visibility is artificially reduced, and

b) from mainstream hot romance authors who write more sizzle than sex and resent their works being classed with “sound porn” titles like Popping my anal cherry at 40.

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