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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

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.
bkwyrm
Apr. 12th, 2009 07:05 pm (UTC)
Re: They're not censoring anything - you can still buy the books!
Posthumous cookie to Douglas Adams! He came up with it. :)
devi42
Apr. 12th, 2009 08:03 pm (UTC)
Re: They're not censoring anything - you can still buy the books!
I know. Douglas references always get cookies in my book ;)

Sadly, no cookies for Amazon.
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.
bkwyrm
Apr. 12th, 2009 08:26 pm (UTC)
Re: They're not censoring anything - you can still buy the books!
The books and authors are not searchable from the main page. Most people use the main page to search. If searching "all departments" on the main page returns no results, why would someone think that searching the "Books" department would give a different result? It doesn't make any sense - unless Amazon really wants to make certain books on certain topics hard to find.
Amazon.com markets itself as "the world's biggest bookstore." They're used by many people as a sort of poor man's books in print - if a book isn't on Amazon, it's questionable as to whether or not it exists. They carry everything from baby board books to hard-core BDSM porn, so no, I don't buy the argument that there's books they don't carry. Sure, it's their right to decide what they do and don't sell, but they can't expect to change from "we carry everything" to "we carry everything except you can't search for some things because some people find those things icky" without it being noted - and pissing people off.
It's not Amazon's job to decide what my kids should and shouldn't see - and if they decide to start filtering search results based on book content and topic, they should state this fact and make it possible to opt out, the way Google does with "safe search."
If you're going to claim that this is done to protect minors, you're going to have to make a pretty good argument on why this is a topic that universally inappropriate for minors to even see mentioned. A difficult argument to make, especially when many people have a much bigger problem with their kids seeing books about dogfighting than looking at the cover of a book about homophobia.
The fact is that it's MY job to decide what is appropriate for my kids to see. Not Amazon's. And if they decide to take that job over from me, they'd damn well better check with me first.




davenatts
Apr. 12th, 2009 09:03 pm (UTC)
Re: They're not censoring anything - you can still buy the books!
Haha, it's not their job? I agree, but unfortunately most of society wouldn't. We are told time and time again that companies do have a social responsibility.

Things Amazon won't sell - just a few examples: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/scienceandtechnology/technology/4611161/Rapelay-virtual-rape-game-banned-by-Amazon.html
http://www.nicenetruth.com/home/2008/11/why-amazon-banned-hoffmans-book-on-judaism.html

I think an unmoderated search would be a great idea and compromise - maybe *that* is what you should be campaigning for.
redshira
Apr. 13th, 2009 12:04 am (UTC)
Re: They're not censoring anything - you can still buy the books!
And the only reason Amazon won't sell that game any more is because a journalist made a big fuss about it so Amazon had no choice but to pull it if they wanted to avoid a huge shitstorm. Your example is invalid and you keep evading the point.
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 08:35 pm (UTC)
Re: They're not censoring anything - you can still buy the books!
In addition, Amazon.com's own Terms of Service states the following:
"Amazon does sell products for children, but it sells them to adults, who can purchase with a credit card or other permitted payment method. If you are under 18, you may use Amazon.com only with involvement of a parent or guardian. Amazon reserves the right to refuse service, terminate accounts, remove or edit content, or cancel orders in their sole discretion."

So they don't sell to children. They say so themselves.
davenatts
Apr. 12th, 2009 09:24 pm (UTC)
Re: They're not censoring anything - you can still buy the books!
They also reserve the right to remove or edit content.
kathrynt
Apr. 13th, 2009 01:11 am (UTC)
Re: They're not censoring anything - you can still buy the books!
(and yes, they should be doing it with straight adult material as well as LGBT of course, but that's a different issue).

That is not a different issue. That is precisely the issue. A non-sexual book about gay people is not less suitable for minors than the works of Laurel K. Hamilton.
davenatts
Apr. 13th, 2009 02:15 am (UTC)
Re: They're not censoring anything - you can still buy the books!
No, it's one issue to demote 'adult' content, and another issue to actually fairly define what 'adult' content is.

Not that it really matters what I think, but I agree with them that 'adult' content should not be given top level full on promotion IF they don't want to have armies of offended parents complaining etc., which I'm sure they don't.

I am with you that gay adult content is no different to straight adult content, but like I say, that's a separate issue. They need some offended gay people, say, to complain about the offensive straight adult material that comes up in their all departments search ;-)
kissmyassterisk
Apr. 13th, 2009 02:09 am (UTC)
Re: They're not censoring anything - you can still buy the books!
I don't think you can say that. I know some parents who would not let their children search on any website on their own, and some who have no internet access for their children to use. That is a choice I dislike, but it is theirs to make as it does not endanger their childrens' lives.

Additionally, what about LGBTQIPA children and youth, or any questioning their sexual orientation or gender identity? Don't they have a right to quickly and easily find resources online? Who gets to decide that they can't read Heather Has Two Mommies, if they want to? You don't and Amazon doesn't.
davenatts
Apr. 13th, 2009 02:21 am (UTC)
Re: They're not censoring anything - you can still buy the books!
I'm not a parent, but if I were, I'd also restrict the sites that I'd let my children access, and I can't think of any reason to let them go to Amazon until they have their own credit card or money to spend.

If people want to question their sexual orientation or gender identity, would they really be doing it on the Amazon home page?!

Amazon isn't deciding they can't read that book, they've just decided they don't want to promote it in their main site search. Massive difference.

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