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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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( 394 comments — Leave a comment )
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mandy_croyance
Apr. 13th, 2009 05:15 am (UTC)
This is ridiculous but I'm glad you posted about it. The entire internet (especially Twitter) seems to have taken on your cause and now that the news media is catching on there is no way Amazon will be able to get out of fixing the problem. I'm also hoping for an apology but with their (obviously false) claims of "glitch", that's likely doubtful.
camui_alexa
Apr. 13th, 2009 05:32 am (UTC)
Maybe we should ALL complain and stop buying from them. Let's see how their business goes without we thousands of gay literature.
djrizzo
Apr. 13th, 2009 05:38 am (UTC)
Threatened to terminate my Amazon Prime account.
Here's what I just sent them:

I am dismayed to read that your methods for filtering "adult" content from book sales rankings is showing bias against books containing lesbian, gay, bisexual, and/or transgendered content. I'm sure you are receiving a great deal of feedback on this from your LGBT customers and their community. Being a "minority" I worry that those voices may not be heard as loud as they should be. So I think you should be aware that this is also of great concern to customers like myself: those who value fairness and free-speech and who pay an annual fee to you to be a "Prime" customer.

I do not protest the filtering of adult content (though I do believe those with paid accounts should be allowed to remove such filters if we so choose). I protest the unfairness that is patently obvious when you rank a book of Playboy centerfolds but delist books of non-fiction studies on homophobia.

I look forward to your public response on this issue. If it is conciliatory and provides a FAIR solution to the issue of "adult" content, then I will look forward to continuing as a happy Amazon Prime customer. However, if this issue is not addressed or such bias continues I will be discontinuing my Amazon Prime account.

ambeaux
Apr. 13th, 2009 06:30 am (UTC)
It's *possible* that amazon was a victim of an organized attack
One thing that's seemed weird about all this is that the books that get 'de-ranked' are so inconsistent. Almost like someone got them off of a 'classic offensive LGBT' booklist.

I noticed that amazon allows users who are logged in to check "tags customers associated with this book" and then provides you with about 27 premade tags and allows you the option of making your own. So in theory, amazon may have a policy to automatically de-rank a book that gets too many adult flags (without already being specified as adult content) or a certain number of flags in a specific period of time) until a person can review it (as may have happened with your book and the author who has been dealing with his book being de-ranked since February). Seems to me that if you gave a list of specific books to...500 people or 800 people or w/e you could probably get those books de-ranked automatically en mass.

It's a testable theory and if you pick a book at random ( say http://www.amazon.com/Nicomachean-Ethics-Aristotle/dp/0872204642/ref=pd_bbs_2?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1239591514&sr=8-2 ) and encouraged everyone you knew with an amazon account to go check the tag 'adult' then you'd see at what point they gank the book to give it a trial.

It's not too difficult to imagine a few super churches worth of people being willing to spend their easter weekend doing just that. Maybe?
steepholm
Apr. 13th, 2009 08:40 am (UTC)
Re: It's *possible* that amazon was a victim of an organized attack
That's a nice idea, but - for example, I just checked on Heather Has Two Mommies, and no one has tagged it as "adult", but it's still been deranked. Here are the tags that are there (I've a feeling the first one may be new!):

amazonfail (241)
childrens books (7)
families (6)
gay inclusive (6)
lesbian parenting (5)
parenting (5)
children (4)
lesbian (4)
moms (4)
amazoncensored (1)
book (1)
controversial (1)
lesbian moms (1)
lesbian parents (1)
mommies (1)

If this is the work of an outside party, they're using a different modus operandi.
aussiescribbler
Apr. 13th, 2009 07:03 am (UTC)
Doesn't seem to have been extended to DVDs
There really is a bit of an inconsistency when you consider that a hardcore rape porn DVD still has a ranking :

http://tinyurl.com/cjycwp

I'm sure there isn't a deliberate attempt to discriminate against gay literature in general but the policy doesn't seem to have been well thought out or applied consistently.
kiimp
Apr. 13th, 2009 07:31 am (UTC)
Came here via Jezebel, I don't know how much good it'll do but I'm going to send in a complaint to Amazon.
sloopy312
Apr. 13th, 2009 07:35 am (UTC)
Our Youth Lose Again
I work with suicidal and depressed gay youth. Often they "experiment" to try to understand their sexual orientation. Many are Christians and so they don't feel safe talking to their family, church or pastor who is more likely to condemn their desires as Satan given. These youth already don't have a chance to develop social adapting in their confusing years called adolescence. But there are well written books that gives these kids good information at no risk to themselves. They begin to understand their dignity and worth.
Now Amazon makes this process more difficult and adds a sense of shame to these seeking kids.
Nelson blaine
_jenjen_
Apr. 13th, 2009 08:26 am (UTC)
Thanks for this. I'm boycotting Amazon, and am writing a whole heap of emails to friends and family telling them the story, as well as writing a big note on Facebook and emailing Amazon directly. Hopefully the story will keep spreading.

I've linked back to your post in doing this, as a great source for highlighting the response from Amazon. A 'glitch' indeed.
john_plum
Apr. 13th, 2009 10:13 am (UTC)
real issue is not gay censorship
"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."

One more gay campaign then, never mind the real issues, no a principle of fairness then?
Its clear that what they mean by 'adult' is erotic stuff that children are thought best off not bothered with, or exposed to, just like we don't perform sex in front of them.

steviesun
Apr. 13th, 2009 11:12 am (UTC)
Apparently many books listed as being stripped are now showing up in the search. Has this been fixed?
lexin
Apr. 13th, 2009 11:43 am (UTC)
My random experiment shows Erastes and Beecroft showing up on a search of amazon.co.uk but without sales rankings.

(no subject) - erastes - Apr. 13th, 2009 11:45 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - lexin - Apr. 13th, 2009 11:53 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - steviesun - Apr. 13th, 2009 03:56 pm (UTC) - Expand
catmint_1984
Apr. 13th, 2009 11:47 am (UTC)
Reckon we should organise some kind of boycott of Amazon - so set a date/set dates (not sure if a day will be long enough; maybe a week?), spread the word and get as many people as possible to not even go on the site and to not buy anything from them, whether it's direct from their stocks or through the proxy stuff?
curse_of_avalon
Apr. 13th, 2009 01:45 pm (UTC)
I was informed by a friend today of what has been going on and was linked to your journal.

I guess you've heard a 1000 times by now how much this sucks.

As I was just about to write an e-mail to Amazon my news ticker sent me word about this from the Associated press and the interview with the glitch thing. Highly suspicious.

I wish you'd just send the reply you got from amazon to those news stations.


akuma_river
Apr. 13th, 2009 02:15 pm (UTC)
FYI.

I find it odd that the novel side of gay and lesbian books are the only ones being effected because they haven't touched any of the graphic novels. Not the hard core violence ones, not the horror ones, hell not even the porny ones including gay and lesbian couples.

Only the books listed in the gay and lesbian category is being effected.
pierceheart
Apr. 13th, 2009 02:43 pm (UTC)
Spread this one far and wide:

Oh, I think there's something even MORE insidious going on here: it looks like it's partly what everyone fears (censorship by a private company) AND Amazon trying to boost Kindle sales:

Why do i believe this:

Running with Scissors: a Memoir in paperback, NO SALES RANK.

Running with Scissors: a Memoir in Kindle, WITH SALES RANK.

hat tip to gina_stormgrant

see which books which don't have sales rankings in their hard copy, still do in their kindle versions.
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( 394 comments — Leave a comment )