Saturday, August 6, 2011

Smashwords Adds Adult Filter

Smashwords today added an adult filter to the website.

The filter prevents first time visitors and others from viewing content rated adult by the author/publisher unless the visitor specifically asks to see such content. It filters out such content from the home page, search results, category listings and tag queries.

The adult filter was inspired by Google's "Moderate Safe Search" option, which is the default option for all users of the Google search engine.

A clearly visible "ON/OFF" toggle link appears in the upper right portion of the visitor's home page screen so they can easily set their preference. Click the ON or OFF and it toggles your setting to the other option.

Our new Adult Filter replaces what was previously known as our Prude Filter, a name that offended many. We agree, it was inappropriately named. It filtered out all adult material, not just erotic content. More importantly, the previous filter was not the default setting, which meant first time visitors, children and others not looking for adult content were exposed to inappropriate images, words and descriptions on the home page without their consent.

The filter has no bearing on our Smashwords Terms of Service regarding the types of books we will publish and distribute. It simply makes viewing adult content an opt-in choice. We trust this moves us one step closer toward fulfilling the promise of our tag line, "your ebook, your way."


R.E. McDermott said...

I just noticed this today and have some concerns. When I published my book, I hesitated at the 'adult content' question and then checked yes. However, my book has some adult language and situations, but really nothing racier that what one might see on prime time network TV. I erred on the side of caution because I didn't want to offend anyone. However, neither do I want to lose exposure to potential readers.

I'm thinking about changing the designation on my book. Is that possible?



Everly Drummond said...

I agree. I have just as much right to have my book listed on the home page as any other author does. This is going to seriously limit exposure to those of use who write material that includes adult content. Perhaps this should've been more thought out. Wouldn't it be better to ask the user to specify their age when setting up an account? If the user is under the age of 18, then all adult content would be automatically blocked.

Everly Drummond said...

That being said.... maybe you could put into place something that allows the writer to rate their book. Example: PG 13, R, ect... Then said users who find "adult content" inappropriate could skip over the books they don't want to view. If you walk into a bookstore, erotica is available to anyone of any age in the Romance section.

Peter Spenser said...

To: Everly Drummond

If I'm reading Mark Coker correctly, that's exactly what he did. “The filter prevents first time visitors and others from viewing content rated adult by the author/publisher….” You can still view adult content, should you so desire, but “first time visitors” won't be taken by surprise. They will have to “opt in,” as it were, to any adult content, which is as it should be. And, no, you do not have any “right” to be listed on the home page. You have only whatever particular privileges that the Smashwords team decides to allow you to have. It's their site, and their business, and they can run it the way that they so desire.

Dovetail Public Relations said...

Thanks for the feedback, R.E. and Everly.

You can modify the adult setting at Dashboard: Settings. If your book is suitable for those under 18, it probably doesn't need the adult label. It's a subjective measure, which is why we let the author/publisher determine the label.

We'll consider how we might add finer granularity in the future. The goal here is to give the customer control over what they're viewing, so this is the first of many steps to come in the months and years ahead, most of which will not be adult related.

R.E. McDermott said...


Thanks for the clarification. I've modified my original setting via the Dashboard. I think it's wise to let the author/publisher determine the correct designation. However, I think you're also correct that the system could benefit from a bit finer granularity. On/off is, to my mind, a bit draconian.

Having said that, I also realize that no system will satisfy everyone. I am most appreciative of your efforts in developing SW, and your commitment to indie writers everywhere.



CS McClellan/Catana said...

Odd timing. I started using the prude filter just a few days ago. I got tired of having to skim past so much erotica and click through so many pages (especially when SW is being cranky and slow). I don't object to erotica; I'm just not interested in it. I noticed that with the filter on, I still saw titles that I'd consider adult, but at least the most blatant erotica wasn't wasting my time any more.

Sluggo Fernandez said...


Yes, thank you! It seemed the proportion of porn to regular books was very high. Besides, I always thought the name "prude filter" was a slam against those that do not care for porn.

Everly Drummond said...

@Peter S. Hart Why does someone who writes about religion have more of a "right" to be on the front page than I do? Regardless of content, I've worked just as hard at my book as the next author has. If I don't believe in God, is there a way I can turn off the "religion filter"? Not that I am, but what if I was offended by religious writings?

It's six of one, half dozen of the other. Why not have it that when a new user accesses the site for the first time, an option comes up that allows you to opt in/out of adult content before continuing. Maybe new users may not know that they have to opt in to view erotica. All I'm saying is that it's an unfair advantage to those of us who do write erotica.

With this new feature I think you are going to have more writers not checking the disclaimer box stating that their book is unsuitable for those under 18 years old, which in turn could put erotica unintentionally into the hands of minors. It's bound to happen if you start limiting the exposure of erotica writers.

CS McClellan/Catana said...

The point was made that some people might not realize that the filter has to be turned off in order to see adult material. I suspect that the top right isn't the best place to put it. Or at least not *only.* An additional button, in its old place, next to the page numbers, would make it more certain that those who want to opt out of the filter will see it.

And for several who objected to their *rights* being abrogated, the reading public is more important than whatever rights you may think you have.

Will more writers of erotica try to bypass the filter by not checking the box? At the risk of being reported and having your account deleted? Not smart.

Maria said...

Thank you, Mark. I appreciate the filter and have always used it no matter what you call it!

CS McClellan/Catana said...

Either I overlooked the on/off button next to the page numbers or it was added since the last time I was at SW. Anyway, glad to see it there.

Dovetail Public Relations said...

Sylvie, I should have mentioned that... In addition to listing the filter status in the new position upper right, we also kept it in the old position where it once was for the Prude filter. Agreed, I don't expect erotica authors to deliberately thwart this. They don't want their material read by children. With the exception of a handful of bad seeds who no longer publish at Smashwords, I've found the vast majority of erotica authors are professional. They understand their material is subject to extra scrutiny by readers and retailers. Readers who are looking for adult content will still be able to find it. I also should have mentioned: for the thousands of registered Smashwords members, unless they previously activated the filter, their default view will remain "Filter OFF," so their view will remain the same. said...

I struggled with the decision to say my book has adult content or not. It is a coming of age memoir, and it does have strong language in parts and deals with teenage sexuality but it isn't erotica. It isn't porn. I would love a rating system, like a PG-13 type of thing. I didn't activate the filter because I didn't want it lumped in with the erotica(not that there's anything wrong with it), but was left feeling uncertain about whether I did the right thing. I don't think there is anything in my book most high school kids have not seen or heard or heard about.

Do you think I should label Daughter of the Drunk at the Bar "adult?"

Unknown said...

I appreciate the new filter. As a YA author, I stopped telling my teen readers to go to Smashwords because I knew what they would see as first-time visitors. I will feel more comfortable telling them about Smashwords now that the default has changed. Thanks - keep up the great work!

Phoenix Sullivan said...

Mark, I believe it's the language of the post that's confusing to many of us. Does "adult content" equate to "erotica" in SW's estimation? If we look to movie ratings, we have R-rated movies not appropriate for under-17. But an "R" movie is not the same as an X-rated one.

The post seems to single out erotica, NOT what many would consider R-rated content, but how does an author make the distinction when uploading? We only have a choice of "Adult" or "Not Adult."

Yet the post reads: It (the "prude filter") filtered out all adult material, not just erotic content. What is the new Adult Filter using as search parameters that the Pride Filter wasn't?

Since erotica specifically seems to be the concern, I've changed the filter option on three of my titles, which are adult but not erotic.

Phoenix Sullivan said...

[Forgot to check the email followup for previous post.]

Everly Drummond said...

It seems that "erotica" isn't even listed in the genres section on the main page anymore. This si going to seriously hamper the sales of erotica writers, and I think that you will see many of them looking for other distribution options.

Phoenix Sullivan said...

@Everly: The default for the Filter is for it to be ON. You have to deactivate it to see the Erotica link.

What would be helpful for readers would be to have the link visible on the Home page, but have a message pop up when the Filter is On to let people know they need to change the filter option in order to see the content. That would make things a bit more clear, I think, and programming-wise shouldn't be more than the addition of a couple of if-then phrases and adding a message to a popup box. A nice compromise, IMO.

Anonymous said...

I agree that it would be nice to have the adult filter notice in a more prominent position. For some reason, even though I was logged in, my adult filter was in the "on" position, yet I didn't notice it till I saw the notice about this change on the Site Updates page. Google's SafeSearch notice (at least in Google Images) is more obvious, because it's right next to the search box on a relatively uncluttered page, as opposed to two lines above the search box on a page crowded with text. If the customer can't easily know that a site is being filtered, that's a big problem, I think.

Beyond that, I have no problems with the introduction of this measure (and I especially like the careful wording of the "What's This?" notice for the adult filter). Yes, a default filter will probably mean lost sales for me, since a couple of my titles are Adult. But against that, underage customers, and customers who don't wish to read adult material or see adult covers, won't be automatically exposed to the covers and blurbs of e-books that are labelled adult by the authors/publishers themselves. I'm a great believer in the right of people to be able to choose for themselves what to read or see, including being able to choose not to be exposed to adult material.

Valerie Douglas said...

As an author who publishes both mainstream and erotica, I think this is a great idea. It helps separate out one type of my work from the other. I don't see how it can affect sales - the folks seeking erotica certainly know what they want and will know how to find it.

Jason Matthews said...

Mark, I applaud this decision even though it sounds like there are a few wrinkles to iron. I'm sure you will. Keep up the great work!

munchkyn said...

Great idea, Mark.

May I suggest a further step, once you've ironed out the wrinkles? A Fiction/Non-fiction filter, for readers who are looking for one or the other and would prefer not to wade through books they're not interested in. Thanks!

ChulaSlim said...

I speculate on how far this trend will continue. While I realize that the effort to screen “Adult Content' from the prying eyes of sensitive readers is primarily a business decision, I wonder what additional filters will be required? Should we employ a “Religious Filter” so that visitors to the site will only be able to view Christian, Jewish and Muslim content upon entering, or further subdivide it so they each will not be offended by the other? Should we adopt a “This is crappy writing” filter to prevent people from exposure to nothing but the most perfect works on the site, or allow a free-for-all? Will fiction verses non-fiction also be subdivided?
Many books targeted for the YA market have come under scrutiny recently for the sensitive nature of the content, content that should rightly be labeled “Adult”.
Young adults are constantly exposed to the adult nature of the world in schools, on the street, and in televised media, including the news media. How far do we go?
It seems to me that the most effective screening process is the parents or the conscious decisions of the adult viewers to screen adult content. If they fail to activate the adult filter it's their problem, not the author's of the content or Smashwords.

Anonymous said...

ha ha! I always thought Prude Filter was fun, but I could see how someone else might be offended.

I see both sides of this discussion - that the visitor has to turn it on might be a problem if they don't notice it, but on the other hand I've seen book covers on the homepage that made my eyes roll. I know when I do even vaguely erotic covers for other authors I flag them as adult in my flickr gallery.

i think in future some more specific designations would be good, but I know that all takes time to do :)

Philip R Caine said...


Kristie Kiessling said...

Mark, I have noticed that while my adult filter is in the ON position, I still see books I would rather not when I go to the Smashwords site.

Perhaps the solution to this problem is to have the site go to a main page that is NOT the actual book catalog. At other booksellers on the web, I can type in just what I'm looking for and find it. It would be nice not to be smacked in the face with explicit covers, or vulgar tag words that I would rather not see or have others see when I send them to the site looking for my book.

Just a thought.

Cheryl Tardif said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Cheryl Tardif said...

Narratus, give retailers/readers your exact Smashwords book URL and that's all they'll see. Why make them search? Make it easy for them. :-)

Mark, this is a great idea and I am confident that you and your team will tweak this where possible. I have no problem with erotica, but if I were a parent of a younger child (mine is 21), I wouldn't want my child to be exposed to explicit covers or titles/descriptions.

For the people who think this is an unfair disadvantage: when people put the filter on, they're getting a more targeted list of adult books. If they want erotica, on goes the switch. This is an ADvantage, not a disadvantage to you. Yes, they still have to wade through the other books, but erotica always stands out. Your target audience is not the person looking for a thriller or comedy or young adult book.

Back to Mark, maybe you could add a "Suspense Filter", so I can have that kind of targeted exposure. Just kidding. LOL :-)

Cheryl Kaye Tardif
bestselling author

Heidi Schussman said...

Mark, I like the filter. I am glad people trying to find my book don't accidently scroll through erotica on their first visit. Like others, I struggle with my "Adult Content" designation. My novel has scenes of violence. I resolved it by changing all of my marketing to add the extra step of turning off the filter and then typing in my book title.

I wonder how many sales are generated by casual scrolling through the book listings, compared to author marketing-links to smashwords for a specific book.

Anyway, keep up the good work and thanks for your support.


Terry Odell said...

I write romantic suspense. I have sex on the page, but it's FAR from erotica. There's a little adult language as well. I automatically selected the 'adult content' button, but now I'm finding people telling me a search on my name at SW shows only one of my G rated short stories. I wondered why my sales had virtually disappeared and fear this is the reason. I, for one, don't think the filter button is obvious at all--I had to search for it, and a curious reader might not know to do that.

I've had serious thoughts about saying my books aren't 'adult' if the 'adult' rating is geared toward erotica and the like.

I definitely think some tweaks are needed. If I know someone's looking for a book I can give them the direct URL, but I like to think people might find my books via other search mechanisms.


Terry's Place
Romance with a Twist--of Mystery

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