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Amazon Follies

On Amazon.com two days ago, mysteriously, the sales rankings disappeared from two newly-released high profile gay romance books: “Transgressions” by Erastes and “False Colors” by Alex Beecroft. Everybody was perplexed. Was it a glitch of some sort? The very next day HUNDREDS of gay and lesbian books simultaneously lost their sales rankings, including my book “The Filly.” There was buzz, What’s going on? Does Amazon have some sort of campaign to suppress the visibility of gay books? Is it just a major glitch in the system? Many of us decided to write to Amazon questioning why our rankings had disappeared. Most received evasive replies from customer service reps not versed in what was happening. As I am a publisher and have an Amazon Advantage account through which I supply Amazon with my books, I had a special way to contact them. 24 hours later I had a response:

 

In consideration of our entire customer base, we exclude "adult" material from appearing in some searches and best seller lists. Since these lists are generated using sales ranks, adult materials must also be excluded from that feature.

 

Hence, if you have further questions, kindly write back to us.

 

Best regards,

 

Ashlyn D

Member Services

Amazon.com Advantage

 

Yes, it is true. Amazon admits they are indeed stripping the sales ranking indicators for what they deem to be “adult” material. Of course they are being hypocritical because there is a multitude of “adult” literature out there that is still being ranked – Harold Robbins, Jackie Collins, come on! They are using categories THEY set up (gay and lesbian) to now target these books as somehow offensive.

Now in fairness I should point out that Amazon has also stopped ranking many books in the "erotica" categories as well which includes straight erotica. But that's a whole other battle that I'll leave to the erotica writers to take on.

 

Now I could probably convince the automatons at Amazon that The Filly is YA and therefore not “adult” in the least, and I could probably even convince them to reinstate my ranking.  But if they are excluding books just on the basis of being “gay” then by all means exclude mine too because I don’t want them just to reinstate the “nice” gay books, they need to reinstate all the gay books and if they are really going to try and exclude so-called “adult” material, then how come this has an Amazon ranking?

 

Here is a screencap of the case log from Amazon. Keep clicking on the image to make it bigger

************For everyone who has commented on my blog - Thank you very much. and everyone who has asked if they can use my name and link back to me. YES please do. Spread the word. Amazon will be beside itself in the face of all this fury!

*******UPDATE**************
Publisher's Weekly now has a story here, that an Amazon spokesperson claims this is all a glitch and they have no such new policy.  My caselog is still active in my Advantage account with the response from customer service rep Ashlyn D. Also I'd like to point you to this blog of an author who received this same response from Amazon back in February. Amazon has some 'splainin' to do!

***********UPDATE #2******************
As of 8 AM this morning (April 13th) The Filly has had its ranking reinstated by Amazon.  I also noticed Alex Beecroft's False Colors was reinstated as well.  Many others are not, so they haven't fixed the "so-called" glitch as of yet.

*******FINAL UPDATE******************
Amazon has released a statement of apology stating that it was  an "embarrassing and ham-fisted cataloging error" that pertained to 57,310 listings.  They also say that It has been misreported that the issue was limited to Gay & Lesbian themed titles.  So it's over.  Amazon admits they goofed, and I, for one, shall give them the benefit of the doubt and say I do not believe that there was any malicious intent. Case closed.

Tags:

Comments

davenatts
Apr. 12th, 2009 05:07 pm (UTC)
They're not censoring anything - you can still buy the books!
They're just taking them out of mainstream public display. Just like a physical book store wouldn't put them in its window or on the lower shelves.
oceaxe
Apr. 12th, 2009 05:24 pm (UTC)
Re: They're not censoring anything - you can still buy the books!
So it's okay to put GLBT stories, even ones that are not explicit, on the back shelf where no one will see them? Separate but equal? Come on.
kathrynt
Apr. 12th, 2009 05:24 pm (UTC)
Re: They're not censoring anything - you can still buy the books!
Truly, they aren't censoring anything; as a private seller, they don't have that power. But when they hide gay YA romance in the back room and put Playboy Centerfolds in the store window, what message does that send about what's acceptable for children to view?
davenatts
Apr. 12th, 2009 05:53 pm (UTC)
Re: They're not censoring anything - you can still buy the books!
It sounds like a mistake. Just send in a complaint asking for the Playboy stuff to be taken out of general searches and sales rank too if it really bothers you that much.
kathrynt
Apr. 12th, 2009 05:56 pm (UTC)
Re: They're not censoring anything - you can still buy the books!
How exactly is it a "mistake"? The Playboy stuff in and of itself doesn't bother me in the slightest; what bothers me is the implication that gay romance is less suitable for a general audience than heterosexual sex. This is a concept with long-standing precedence in American culture, and it's deeply damaging.
queerbychoice
Apr. 12th, 2009 07:17 pm (UTC)
Re: They're not censoring anything - you can still buy the books!
I agree that they probably did not intend to leave the het sex in the store window. But I believe they did intend to put the gay romance on the back shelf.

And that's a huge problem. They would never in a million years put het romance on the back shelf; that would mean protecting children from Snow White and Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty and all the rest of the Disney empire and Grimm's Fairy Tales.</i> Nonsexual romance, when it's heterosexual, is by definition deemed absolutely fine for children by everyone in the whole world. Nonsexual romance, when it's gay, suddenly isn't. And I absolutely believe Amazon's actions indicate an intentional acceptance of that distinction. And I strongly object to that.
alexeia_drae
Apr. 13th, 2009 12:00 am (UTC)
Re: They're not censoring anything - you can still buy the books!
Um, I don't care about Playboy being ranked. I care about the freedom and easy access of material. By targeting gay and lesbian books and making it harder to find and less accessible, they are discriminating against a group of people and giving them the message that their love and lifestyle is not appropriate. I think tat if they are going to have a ranking system at Amazon, then everything needs to be ranked.
lexin
Apr. 12th, 2009 05:41 pm (UTC)
Re: They're not censoring anything - you can still buy the books!
Irrelevant logic.

Your argument would stand if they were doing the same for all explicit material, but they're not. There are very much more explicit hetero books still with their sales rankings, giving the impression that they think that gay sex is somehow 'more sexual' than non-gay sex. That is homophobia.

kathrynt
Apr. 12th, 2009 05:43 pm (UTC)
Re: They're not censoring anything - you can still buy the books!
It's not without precedent, either. Have you seen "This film is not yet rated" ? At one point in the movie, they show two sex scenes side-by-side; one mixed-gender, one same-gender. The mixed-gender one earned the movie a PG-13, the same-gender one an NC-17. They are virtually shot-for-shot identical.

Congratulations, Amazon. You're officially just as right as the MPAA.
the_sea_to
Apr. 12th, 2009 05:48 pm (UTC)
Re: They&#39;re not censoring anything - you can still buy the books!
Thank you, did not think that this could make me laugh... but oh you just did.
enkanowen
Apr. 12th, 2009 05:55 pm (UTC)
Re: They're not censoring anything - you can still buy the books!
but why can I still search hardcore straight erotica and, yet GBLT books I cannot?

And a lot of books are being flagged as 'adult' when they are self-help books, contain no mention of sex (only gay characters) and so on.

here is a list of books that are being subjected to such censorship: http://community.livejournal.com/meta_writer/11992.html
bkwyrm
Apr. 12th, 2009 06:05 pm (UTC)
Re: They're not censoring anything - you can still buy the books!
If you can't find it when you're looking for it, you can't buy it. It's not like refusing to put books in the windows - it's like putting the books in a box, in a back room, with a label that says "beware of leopard."
And I don't know what it's like in the bookstores near you, but my local bookstores assume that people are grown up and mature enough to do their own browsing and make their own judgments about what to buy. They're not putting "Tipping the Velvet" or gay erotica in the kids section. This is in adult fiction and adult non-fiction, and on the end-tables and the new release tables for adults.
So no, I don't buy your argument that this is just like taking the books out of the window. It's not.
devi42
Apr. 12th, 2009 06:41 pm (UTC)
Re: They're not censoring anything - you can still buy the books!
with a label that says "beware of leopard."

That deserves a cookie.
davenatts
Apr. 12th, 2009 07:37 pm (UTC)
Re: They're not censoring anything - you can still buy the books!
Your metaphor is wrong. All you have to do is change the range of your search on Amazon.com from 'all departments' to 'books' and what you want comes up in the search. Everything is still there, and still being sold. They're just keeping it away from the immediate eyes of what you Americans call minors (and yes, they should be doing it with straight adult material as well as LGBT of course, but that's a different issue).

And in any case, I bet there are thousands of books that Amazon don't sell at all, based on their content, so this isn't exactly a new thing. They're just a business trying to make money, and to do so they have to keep the most people happy. The simple facts are they probably have more minors looking at the site than homosexuals.
You really need to open your eyes... - missbehavior - Apr. 13th, 2009 07:30 am (UTC) - Expand
Re: You really need to open your eyes... - erastes - Apr. 13th, 2009 10:23 am (UTC) - Expand
Re: You really need to open your eyes... - missbehavior - Apr. 14th, 2009 11:18 pm (UTC) - Expand
(Deleted comment)
bkwyrm
Apr. 12th, 2009 06:29 pm (UTC)
Re: They're not censoring anything - you can still buy the books!
Oh, also - books without a sales ranking cannot be searched for from Amazon.Com's front page. You can still buy the books, I guess, if you can figure out a way to FIND them.
Tell me again how this isn't censorship? Seriously, I hate to hijack this discussion, but I'm fascinated that some people think it's perfectly acceptable for physical and online booksellers to HIDE certain books due to subject matter.
kathrynt
Apr. 12th, 2009 06:37 pm (UTC)
Re: They're not censoring anything - you can still buy the books!
Pursuant to my comment below -- it's suppression and ghettoization, but not technically censorship because it's not a governmental action. The First Amendment actually guarantees their right to do this.

That doesn't make it OK, or even remotely acceptable. My husband llachglin points out that what probably happened is that they bought the filter from a third-party and did not intend this consequence, which is good news because it means that complaints will be far more likely to find receptive ears. But by the actual definition of the word, it's not censorship.
(Deleted comment)
davenatts
Apr. 12th, 2009 08:31 pm (UTC)
Re: They're not censoring anything - you can still buy the books!
Sure, and society is full of censorship, hence in most countries it's illegal to walk down the street naked for instance.

The thing is though, they are barely hiding the books. All you have to do is a book-specific search (as opposed to all departments) to find them.
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mresundance
Apr. 12th, 2009 08:28 pm (UTC)
Re: They're not censoring anything - you can still buy the books!
Oh, yes they are. They're just doing it in a very oblique manner thinking people won't notice.
kyalesyin
Apr. 12th, 2009 09:48 pm (UTC)
Re: They're not censoring anything - you can still buy the books!
Yes. Because "Heather has two mommies" is adult material and needs to be hidden away.

This IS censorship. This is gay people being made invisible and pushed behind the curtain by a massive international retailer. It is NOT OK in any sense.
davenatts
Apr. 12th, 2009 10:37 pm (UTC)
Re: They're not censoring anything - you can still buy the books!
I'm not American myself, but I'm not so naive to assume that the whole country (where Amazon.com is based) is totally gay-friendly. In fact, I know it's not. Obama only got voted in by a small lead, California has outlawed same-sex marriage, and we all know what it's like in the bible belt.

Amazon are a business - they need to satisfy the most people who spend the most money with them as much as they can. They're not the government, they don't have any obligation to give all products the same level of promotion. And it's not like they've removed it all, they've just taken it out of the focus of those who might take offence at it. I'm sure if 90% of the population was gay and 10% was straight, it would be an entirely different story, but the fact is that homosexuals are in the minority.
(Deleted comment)
literalgirl
Apr. 13th, 2009 04:40 am (UTC)
Re: They're not censoring anything - you can still buy the books!
Actually, for many of these titles, you cannot even FIND them in a search from the amazon homepage anymore. Even if they've since been restored, that was certainly true around midday today, and that, my friend, IS CENSORSHIP. If I CANNOT FIND the book, I CANNOT BUY the book.
davenatts
Apr. 13th, 2009 04:46 am (UTC)
Re: They're not censoring anything - you can still buy the books!
Actually, you can find them all if you just select 'books' as the product type instead of 'all departments'.
manna
Apr. 13th, 2009 01:14 pm (UTC)
Re: They're not censoring anything - you can still buy the books!
Whether it's censorship or not, I would be astonished if amazon.co.uk stripping of sales rank from GLBT books while not doing the same to equivalent straight material doesn't break the 2007 sexuality anti-discrimination legislation here. It's absolutely blatant discrimination in the provision of goods and services, both to GLBT authors and readers.
davenatts
Apr. 13th, 2009 03:27 pm (UTC)
Re: They're not censoring anything - you can still buy the books!
As far as I know, there's no filtering taking place on Amazon.co.uk

Also, I've never heard of that legislation, but I suspect it about discrimination of people, not discrimination of subject matter.

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