Updated, see the end for Amazon’s response
So, last week two historical books — “Transgressions” by Erastes and “False Colors” by Alex Beecroft — quietly dropped off Amazon’s bestseller lists.
Not because they stopped selling, mind you, because Amazon apparently instituted a new policy of removing the sales rankings from books with “adult” content. De-ranking a book doesn’t remove it from Amazon, but it does keep it from showing up in Amazon’s bestseller lists (cutting way down on sales derived from browsing) and there are reports that de-ranked books aren’t showing up in regular searches with any consistency.
More newly stripped books followed, lots of them. When asked about this by various puzzled authors, Amazon’s rep said this: “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.”
Defensible. Annoying, but defensible. Only… there’s still an awful lot of adult material on Amazon with sales rankings. Most of their adult material is still ranked. Nude photography books, explicit romances, everything by Chuck Palahniuk. In fact, judging by what has been deranked, it seems that someone at Amazon is defining “adult” as “gay.”
“Transgressions” and “False Colors” are both gay historical romances. The vast bulk of what has been deranked has been books with a homosexual theme, even when the books in question had no explicit sexuality whatsoever. The sex scene in the 1928 lesbian classic “The Well of Loneliness” consists of exactly this: “And that night they were not divided.” Steamy!
Biographies. Books on lesbian parenting. Young Adult books on coping and understanding and diversity. Books on gays in the military. Books on Harvey Milk. MetaWriter is listing as many as they find.
And the Twitterverse has gone wild. It’s a habit of Twitterers speaking on a common subject to include a “hashtag” to make searching easier. In a matter of hours the subject #amazonfail became the most popular trend in Twitter’s search, outstripping #easter, #masters and #pirates almost immediately. Calls for boycotting have gone out, petitions have begun, and plans are afoot to googlebomb Amazon to bring up a new definition.
Some of the tweets have been hilarious.
EKSwitaj: Ulysses has retained its sales rank; I can only assume this is because no one at Amazon has read it. #amazonfail
annaholmes: Anais Nin has no ranking; Henry Miller does. #amazonfail
drivebysmiting: GAY BOOKS? ON MY INTERNETS? I love when someone on the internet does something stupid, because I love e-drama. #amazonfail wins today.
Personally I suspect Amazon was trying to make their searches more family-friendly and have discovered the ham-handed insanity of trying to block anything solely by keywords or tags, and I hope it gets cleared up soon. E-mails and calls to Amazon have not received any answers beyond “it’s being referred to our IT department” and “please stop calling.” But in the meantime, if you’ve ever wanted to watch an activist uprising in action, check out #amazonfail . T-shirts to come in five, four, three…
Update: According to Publishers Weekly, Amazon said that “a glitch had occurred in its sales ranking feature that was in the
process of being fixed. The spokesperson added that there was no new
Pretty much what I thought, if only because I didn’t think Amazon would be so heavyhanded. Not because of any particular free speech ideals necessarily, but because this sort of thing costs them money and goodwill. Although if no one had complained, who knows. Anyway, it wouldn’t surprise me a bit now to see a big “We Love the Gays” GLBT books sale coming up at Amazon any time now….