Apr 12, 2009
Amazon has been stripping sales rankings from books with GLBTQ content, claiming that those books are “adult.” This also prevents users from finding the books easily; if you search under “All Products” on the main Amazon page, books without sales ranks are not listed. In effect, Amazon just put Baby in a corner. Baby is not pleased.
This is, to put it bluntly, some bullshit, as you can see by glancing at Metawriter’s list of books currently de-ranked. Here are some of the first few:
James Baldwin’s Giovanni’s Room
Annie Proulx’s Brokeback Mountain
Stripped of sales rank on amazon.com, but not on amazon.ca
Jeanette Winterson’s OrangesAre Not The Only Fruit
Radclyffe Hall’s The Well of Loneliness.
Heather Has Two Mommies has also been stripped of its rank. It’s such a bodice-ripper, you know.
Jezebel is also tracking books that have had their ranks removed. As their list makes clear, this policy is not being consistently applied, which suggests that it’s probably some kind of automatic filter affected by the tags users have left on books. Regardless of how the system actually works, its results are discriminatory.
Here’s the initial blog post in which Mark Probst describes his communication with Amazon about why his book’s sales rank was removed.
Dear Author offers a sample letter for emailing Amazon as well as a direct phone line.
And here’s a petition against this idiocy.
Finally, Ed Champion calls for a boycott.
Below is my own email to Amazon, with some debts to the Dear Author model. Steal it if you’d like to.
It has come to my attention that you are stripping books of their sales ranks, supposedly on the basis of “adult content.” Apparently, this includes books that have anything at all to do with GLBTQ characters, authors, issues, or references, along with some heterosexual erotica. You’ve defined this category so broadly that children’s books meant to teach tolerance — such as “Heather Has Two Mommies” — have been stripped of their ranks. Think about the message you’re sending. Children’s books meant to foster understanding about the lives of children of gay parents are “adult”? Essentially, your policy implies that your “entire customer base” — as one of your customer service workers stated, here: http://markprobst.livejournal.com/15293.html — consists of bigoted homophobes who must be shielded from any mention of homosexuality. I profoundly hope that this is not your intention.
If you want to allow your users to opt in to a transparently designed and labeled special search mode that blocks adult content, go to town. But what your current policy suggests is that you, as a company, intend to judge all books with non-heterosexual content to be intrinsically “adult” (with the strong implication that “intrinsically adult” means “intrinsically dirty”) and to prevent your users from finding, and buying, those books easily. This is discriminatory.
Consequently, as a longtime Amazon customer and a current holder of an Amazon Prime account, I look forward to an immediate reversal of this ridiculous policy. Otherwise, I will purchase elsewhere and encourage everyone else I know to do the same.
ETA: Powell’s is now thinking about a GLBTQ book sale in response to Amazon’s asshattery.
ETA part deux: Jonquil covers the “terrible software design” element of this nonsense admirably well, and includes a truly horrifying screencap taken by prusik of the results of a search for “homosexuality” during amazonfail.
ETA the third and final because I have to do some work: good posts by Rosefox and Carolyn Kellogg at the LA Times’s Jacket Copy blog.