Monday, April 13, 2009

Amazon Censoring Gay Books?


It's late, and I'm exhausted from a long day of eating delicious foodstuffs with family and friends, but I thought I'd throw a quick post up here about the brewing Amazon.com "de-ranking" scandal.

At some point over the weekend Amazon's site began removing the sales ranking from hundreds of GLBT books. Understandably perplexed, several authors contacted the site including Mark Probst, writer of several young adult novels with gay content, who reports in his LiveJournal that he received the following response from the customer service reps:

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

Now word of the censorship has spread like wildfire, with reports appearing on the websites of the Washington Post and the LA Times, among others. Interestingly, the biggest source in the spread of news on the growing controversy has been the social networking site Twitter, where the hash tag "#amazonfail" has quickly become the number one ranked trending topic of the day.

Publisher's Weekly is now reporting that an Amazon spokesperson has told them that the removal of rankings is a result of a "glitch" in the system and the problem is being rectified. Response from the public has been skeptical to say the least, as many quite rightly point out that a "glitch" couldn't possibly target only books with gay themes and that a "glitch" doesn't send messages to authors explaining it's rationale.

Still, Amazon is widely known as a fairly liberal company, and it seems ridiculous of them to think they could institute such a homophobic policy without provoking outrage from their customers. so I'm willing to give them the benefit of the doubt for now and I'm not quite ready to jump on the boycott bandwagon that many are calling for.

Supposedly, Amazon reps will be releasing an official statement sometime later today, so we shall see what exactly they offer up as an explanation.

Meta Writers has posted a list of titles being affected, which include gay lit classics like James Baldwin's Giovanni's Room, Annie Proulx's Brokeback Mountain, and Andrew Holleran's Dancer from the Dance among many, many others.

For those curious, the second most popular Twitter trending topic of the day is currently "#glitchmyass".

8 comments:

Aviva said...

Hey Adam. I haven't been able to follow the maelstrom of this burgeoning scandal completely, but from what I've read this "glitch" has been slowly happening over the past month or more. Several authors noticed that their sales rankings had disappeared a while ago. That said, I agree with you. I'm not ready to start freaking out yet, but I do think that this can't be a completely innocent mistake. At best, someone on amazon.com's tech team came up with the stupidest programming/sales idea on the planet without considering the consequences. At worst, it's deliberate censorship. I'm sure the truth is somewhere in between.

Michael G said...

Adam, I was just about to post something on this same controversy this morning. I'm not really a big amazon client but been getting the same emails from friends about the brouhaha. I read the same thing that Aviva did that this has been going on for sometime now. I can only imagine that this action stemmed from possible complaints from (bigoted) customers? It would be interesting to see how Amazon responds to this "glitch."

Aviva, great seeing that you follow the blog. How's Denver treating you? We miss you here in Rochester. =(

P.S. Adam, how can you get tired from eating the whole day?

Woody said...

This has been on-going since January at least. It's not a new thing. More on Craig's blog here. It's just starting to get media attention now though.

Woody said...

Hmm.. after a lot more investigation, it looks like this is less Amazon being anti-gay, and more about Amazon being hacked. While I don't think it was this guy in particular, it could easily be something similar. It also explains why this has been happening slowly vs. one big site-wide change (which is how Amazon usually does things).

Aviva said...

Michael, Colorado's lovely, thanks. I miss you guys, too! And, of course, I follow the blog. I have to make sure you guys don't get into any trouble...even if only from afar. ;-)

Michael G said...

Woody, Thanks for the updates and the links.

Aviva, we'll have to get you to work with writing assignments in the summer. =)

Aviva said...

Michael, hey, if you send me the films, I might be convinced to write a blurb or two. ;-)

Hope all that's going well.

Michael G said...

Aviva,
Deal! We have it in writing Jess W. =)