Amazon FAIL: hating on LGBT books

April 12, 2009

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.


How Do We Foment a Rebellion?

March 10, 2009

I’m not sure. I want to know. It’s been done before, by our Second-wave grandmothers, by our First-wave great and great grandmothers, by our moms, by ourselves. How do we start it up again? How do we put an end to the vile pornulation of an already sexist world? Does it really need to get worse before it gets better? Do women need to be shown in the worst way how much men hate us? From the obvious and extreme hate of murder and rape, to the subtle hate of invalidation and invisibility. There’s already so much misogyny in the world – how much more do we need, collectively, before we rise up?

During the sixties the Women’s Liberation movement forged full steam ahead, making great headway. I don’t think many younger women of today quite realize how bad things were, how marginalized and infantilized women were. We are objectified still, of course. But we can wear pants to the office without causing a stir. We can be doctors and lawyers and judges, without too much blinking. In movies and tv we kick ass on a fairly regular basis – however we are always sexualized when we do so. We still need rescuing most of the time, and still mostly serve as plot points and reflections of the main male characters. Two steps forward and one step back, as they say.

But thinking of the ¾ of a million women and girls trafficked into sexual slavery every year, the degree to which violent and degrading porn has become common place, the degree to which it can be difficult to watch a drama or romantic comedy (!) without a rape or a rape-joke, the degree to which blatant sexism is spouting from the mouths of so many tv hosts and journalists (so called), the degree to which women’s sexual debasement has become so commonplace, so regular in our heterosexual (and yes, lesbian) sex lives that we barely blink to think of it.

Our rights are whittled away, and we do nothing. We complain, some of us. Sometimes to the perps, sometimes just to each other. How do we march in the streets again, en mass? Oh wait, we did, not that long ago, didn’t we? Reports of a million women and men, marching around that lake in Washington DC. A million! How did the newspapers report it? Did they report it? Was it front page news and did they talk about it for days? Or was it a small blurb somewhere? From what I recall, that was a record-sized march, too. A million person march. Literally. But how many remember?

Maybe the better question is “how many care?”

I want a revolution. I want it so bad I can barely think of anything else. But I despair that it will happen in my lifetime. I barely have the energy and time to write, let along organize and/or participate in a revolution. But I must. I must do something. We must do something. Breathing is getting harder.

But how to begin?


Girl power!

October 18, 2008

Okay, so go take a look at this. Try to guess what it takes to get 50%.

Now take a look at THIS:

And now go do something about it!

I have exactly $807.09 to my name, total, of which only $65.61 is money I can actually use. I’m freeloading off my parents, so I’ve got food and shelter and everything, but, uh, I’m pretty darn broke. I really can’t give to these people, even though I really want to. So, please! Do it for me?