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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.

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Comments

(Deleted comment)
kathrynt
Apr. 12th, 2009 05:53 pm (UTC)
The language pedant in me is forced to point out that "censorship" actually refers only to actions by the *state*. Amazon is a private seller, and the First Amendment allows them the freedom to advertise and categorize their works in any way they see fit.

Now, they are so large that their decisions absolutely can and do cause a chilling effect on any kind of literature they choose to hide in this manner, and I find it execrable and infuriating that they'd choose to do so. But it's not technically censorship.
the_sea_to
Apr. 12th, 2009 05:59 pm (UTC)
Would "tacit censorship" fit your definition? I am actually quite curious as would like to use correct terminology.
kathrynt
Apr. 12th, 2009 06:02 pm (UTC)
In this instance, I'd probably use the term "ghettoization." That has the sense of isolating by a common, defining characteristic with the intent to remove from the public view. Either that or "suppression."
the_sea_to
Apr. 12th, 2009 06:08 pm (UTC)
That is a very good word, though I'd probably go with suppression TBH, ghettoization is rather overly emotive for my mainly English audience.
kathrynt
Apr. 12th, 2009 06:10 pm (UTC)
Yeah, it depends on your audience. "Suppression" is certainly factually accurate without drawing historical parallels; I've been referring to the books on the list as "suppressed works."
the_sea_to
Apr. 12th, 2009 06:11 pm (UTC)
Very good. Sorry, on top of all the random flailing, I am a bit of a language geek.
kathrynt
Apr. 12th, 2009 06:13 pm (UTC)
No need to apologize. I am a huge language geek. We should develop some kind of secret handshake so as to be able to spot one another more easily.
the_sea_to
Apr. 12th, 2009 06:16 pm (UTC)
Worse than that, I am going to friend you. Then you get to be privy to all my rants about OMG 15th CENTURY ITALIAN IS NOT MEDIEVAL ENGLISH PLEASE STOP HURTING MY BRAIN.
(Deleted comment)
the_sea_to
Apr. 13th, 2009 07:53 am (UTC)
Hee!
(Deleted comment)
(Deleted comment)
elethe
Apr. 12th, 2009 10:20 pm (UTC)
I was just about to say the same thing. Censorship is not just a state thing. That the US constitution allows private bodies to censor does not make it any less censorship.
(Deleted comment)
elethe
Apr. 13th, 2009 07:47 am (UTC)
Yes, that's the person I was preparing to contradict!
elfwreck
Apr. 12th, 2009 09:54 pm (UTC)
It's "censorship." Which is not, in itself, illegal.

However, in several US states, business practices that discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation *are* illegal. The question would be whether sorting books by "gay content" is considered discriminatory to gay customers, or if the laws cover something more general.

1st Amendment doesn't allow them to consider gay customers less important than straight customers, and doesn't allow them to strip gay authors of sales rankings. The connection between "gay content in books" and "gay readers" and "gay authors" is not direct, but is likely easy enough to make. (If Amazon removed all books with African American characters, nobody would believe that wasn't racist.)

While defining all books with gay content as "adult" is obviously discriminatory, I'm not sure if the laws require a specific *person* be the target of discrimination, and that becomes a bit more of a difficult case to make.
mister_borogove
Apr. 12th, 2009 11:07 pm (UTC)
Mirriam-Webster's definition and related entries make no reference to the state. Obviously it's not a first amendment issue but I see no reason not to call it censorship.




eclexia
Apr. 13th, 2009 12:59 am (UTC)
I'm not quite so sure I agree. While I hate dropping to dictionary definitions, none of them note a state requirement. While the word 'censorship' does carry the implication of state action, it can be applied to other things as well. The fact that the action is legal under the First Amendment and other laws doesn't make it censorship. the things mentioned further down in the thread are the effects of the censorship, rather than the action itself. At least in my semi-pendant view ;P
tapati
Apr. 13th, 2009 03:00 am (UTC)
It also has a chilling effect on what publishers may choose to publish in the future if it lowers sales at Amazon significantly for books they deem "adult." Publishers are increasingly making their decisions according to the sales of the large booksellers. (Of course this is a major reason to continue supporting independent booksellers for more variety in sales since they often promote the smaller presses and less obvious books in a way that the big sellers don't.)

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