Amazon FAIL: hating on LGBT books

Amazon is apparently stripping the sales ranks from GLBT books, thus preventing them from showing up in some bestseller lists and searches (and potentially directly damaging their sales), on the grounds that they are “adult” material.

I got that excellent summary from ryda_wrong here, who found the story from one of the authors affected, Mark Probst, who blogged it here. Mark’s story:

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.

There’s a full link compilation here as well, detailing the unfolding of the story, if you want more details. It’s also exploding on twitter, via the hashtag #AmazonFAIL, so you can see up-to-the-second discussion here.

Despite the fact that some straight erotica is being stripped of ranking information, I have trouble buying that it’s not mostly a gay thing– for example, Playboy: The Complete Centerfolds (Hardcover!) still has ranking information! (You can tell by scrolling down to the “Product Details” section and looking for the “Amazon.com Sales Rank. The Playboy book is currently ranked #48,390 in Books. Probst’s The Filly, a young adult book (and therefore, by definition, not really an “adult” book!) simply lacks that information.)

What does all this mean? Well, as ryda_wrong said at the beginning, stripping a book of its ranking information prevents it from showing up in bestseller lists and in certain searches, making people much less likely to find the book unless they’re specifically looking for it. It may directly hurt these books’ sales. More than that, though, it reinforces the idea that anything gay is inherently “adult,” and more adult than anything that is similar but straight.

What books are being affected? Meta Writer is compiling a list here. There’s some stuff with Ghey Sexxx. There are some young adult books that feature gay relationships, although it looks like the lesbian ones are less affected than the gay male one. Autobiographies by people who are trans are getting the axe, as well. And a lot of the classics are being cut off. E. M. Forster’s Maurice, for example, has been stripped of its ranking! It was revelatory to me when I read it a few years ago, the first time I had seen myself reflected in an “old” book, and while it features several occasions of gay male sex, it’s from a time period where it was unspeakably crude to refer to a lady’s stomach. They’re really not that raunchy. Even more absurdly, Radclyffe Hall’s The Well of Loneliness has been stripped of its rankings as well, and the gay sex in that book consists entirely of the line “And that night, they were not divided.”

Truly, someone must protect the children from these horrors. Never mind that some of these books are, in fact, for young adults. Never mind that finding oneself reflected in the classics can be a wonder– as I found with Maurice, when I read it years ago. Never mind that LGBT people are people, too, who deserve to tell their stories and have their stories heard. Apparently, we just can’t handle The Gay, and we have to hide it away where people can’t find it by accident.

What can you do? There’s a petition going here, and you can complain to Amazon directly. Their exec customer service email is ecr@amazon.com  and their customer service phone number is 1-800-201-7575. Folks are trying to google bomb the term Amazon Rank (more info here). And, of course, you can boycott Amazon, which is what I am going to do. I’m going to be awfully friendly with my library in the next couple weeks, until Amazon proves to me that it wants my money again.

Because, right now, what they are saying is that GLBT folks are not important, and that we should be hidden from view. And I won’t hold with that at all.

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10 Responses to Amazon FAIL: hating on LGBT books

  1. […] Dear Amazon dot com By Brandann 0 Comments Categories: LGBTQI, feminism and random babble Tags: assholes, books, fuck you of the day, LGBTQI, WTF? Go fuck yourself. […]

  2. Dalal N says:

    That’s just disgusting. I’ll spread the word.

  3. eloriane says:

    Thanks! I’m hoping we can get this talked about as widely as possible!

  4. queerunity says:

    i love that the twitter hashtag is amazonfail

  5. queerunity says:

    nice blog, come visit me sometime
    http://www.queersunited.blogspot.com

  6. Greg F says:

    Rumors say that this is based on the actions of a few individual hackers, essentially by having a lot of people click on Amazon’s “report as inappropriate” link for all gay-related books.

    http://tehdely.livejournal.com/88823.html is an explanation of how it could be done.
    http://community.livejournal.com/brutal_honesty/3168992.html is someone claiming to have done exactly that.

    And based on my technical background I’ll say that everything described in those links is feasible, but it’s hard to tell if that’s what actually happened.

  7. Greg F says:

    Conversely, another link disputing the details behind link #2 in my prior comment: http://bryant.livejournal.com/672165.html

    (Translation: There are some holes in that guy’s story, so it wouldn’t work exactly as explained without some changes; it’s possible that he was making that up in order to take credit for this whole mess.)

  8. eloriane says:

    I wrote this post something like 12 hours before that theory was proposed, when the whole thing was very, very new. I have a new post coming in which I consider the possibility of a glitch, but this post was very much a “breaking news!!!” post– there were twenty signatures on the petition when I wrote it. (I was number 18.) I say this mostly because I’m excited to have been “in on it” so soon– I tend to find out about this stuff DAYS after the fact– but also to explain why the post is sort of rudimentary.

    But yes, thank you very much for the links and I’ve got a more in-depth “what the hell happened?” post on its way!

  9. Alice says:

    I’ve ben watching this unfold, and it’s been fairly awful. I sent amazon an angry email explaining how I would be taking my mony elsewhere, thank you.

    I’m a bit suspicious of it just being a glitch, but someone suggested (can’t remember where) that the massive rank pulling was a glitch, but that it happened because amazon already had a policy of marking books with LGBT issues (and books about feminism, etc) as more adult than similliar hetrosexual books. There’s certainly evidence that they had already pulled the sales rank of a number of lgbt-themed books that were close to the line of erotica, while similliar hetrosexual books were not affected.

    So I buy the glitch story. It just happened to highlight an ugly policy that already existed. Rarr. My weekend was rageful, how was yours?

  10. […] For a growing list of twitters on the subject, peppered with links throughout, try #amazonfail. Here’s a thoughtful link explaining why this matters. Someone has made an AmazonFails logo. And a petition, if you sign those. It’s always better […]

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