More Amazon Shenanigans


Amazon seems to be pulling some kind of stunt to censor gay and lesbian writers and writing.

First, a post at io9 which naturally focuses on sci-fi by and about lesbians/homosexuals.

Amazon.com Banishes Queer SF Writers to a Null Dimension wherein Nicola Griffith demands an apology from Jeff Bezos (but I wouldn’t hold my breath).

It does appear to encompass more than just sci-fi, according to this article on CNN:

Amazon Criticized for De-Ranking ‘Adult’ Books

They’re trying to claim now it was some kind of “glitch”, but it’s hard to imagine a “glitch” selectively targeting the affected books, especially since other very sexually explicit (even graphic) books by non-queer authors were completely unaffected.

No, no, I don’t think we buy that. Someone at Amazon is attempting to censor books. Books that they personally find offensive. I find that offensive. I do not think Amazon has any business deciding what should be available, or relegating some books to a hidden list of some sort. Censorship is censorship, whether it’s something I would read or not. Some of what they pulled is award-winning fiction. A service rep from Amazon responded thusly:

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.

Oh puh-leeeze. Consideration of the customer base? Who is pulling their strings now?

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15 thoughts on “More Amazon Shenanigans

  1. Astro Sis,

    I just read about this on AW and am outraged. I haven’t liked amazon.com for awhile now. They’ve just given me another reason not to use them anymore.

    One: “In consideration of our entire customer base” Uh, hello- a customer won’t find something unless they search for it. And if they’re taking the time to search for something…

    Two: “adult material”- Right. Let me guess. Sex is bad. Violence is fine. (rolls eyes) Not that I would censor violence either! I just hate the American idea that showing a nipple is outrageous, but it’s okay to show a woman being hacked to death.

    Three: I hope this wasn’t targeted specifically at gay and lesbian writers, but it wouldn’t surprise me. 😦

    Four: Amazon- you are a friggin bookseller. Don’t decide for others what is suitable or not. Don’t police the world. Do I really have to write an essay on the evils of censorship?

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  2. “Censorship is censorship, whether it’s something I would read or not.”>

    Nail? Meet head. I don’t understand why they can’t just put an icon on the material that might not be suitable for younger readers. You know, like they do with movies and music. Why should books be any different?

    It’s happening everywhere. There was that school that banned the book about the little girl with two mommies (or daddies? I can’t remember). It’s all woven from the same thread. Readers are perfectly capable of censoring what they read, and I’m a firm believer that it’s the parents’ job to police what their children search for (or look at) on the Internet.

    As for adults? If people seriously have trouble seeing titles by/for gay/lesbian audiences, they need to learn how to put on metaphorical blinders.

    And I hate it when corporate PR tries to paint an issue a different color. I’d have more respect for Amazon if they just told the truth. If they have a problem with gay/lesbian literature, they should just say so. Then consumers could make informed choices about which retailers they patronize.

    (End Rant)

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  3. Tasha, I am so with you. You’d think the world was coming to an end when Janet Jackson’s nipple appeared on live tv for a nanosecond a few years ago, but nobody bats an eyelash at bloody body parts. Maybe if her nipple had been bloody it would have been ok.

    Sam, you’re thinking of “Heather Has Two Mommies.” They talked about that at some length over at Jezebel

    It does appear to have been specifically targeted at GLBT authors and their work. As one of the articles I linked to pointed out, it wasn’t like you could blame a computer algorithm for specifically targeting anything with the word “homosexual” in it. One of the commenters on io9 found this at Jezebel:

    “From Jezebel:

    Update 3: Commenter Gertymac points out that due to the removal of sales rankings, the first title that pops up when one searches “homosexuality” on Amazon is the aforementioned A Parent’s Guide to Preventing Homosexuality. Also in the top 10 when one searches for “homosexuality:” Coming Out Of Sexuality: New Freedom For Men And Women, Can Homosexuality Be Healed?, and When Homosexuality Hits Home: What To Do When A Loved One Says They’re Gay, which carries this description: “The heart-wrenching declaration that a loved one is a homosexual is increasingly being heard in Christian households across America. How can this be? What went wrong? Is there a cure?”

    You’d think homosexuality was an airborne virus.

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  4. DD,

    Yup. Add some fake blood, a hockey mask, a knife, and everything would have ben okay…

    Seriously, those same people who freaked out at her nipple would drop dead if they came to Germany.

    Ugh- those books make me more aware of the b.s. that homosexuals have to deal with.

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  5. Funny…i just posted on this too :)…It is unbelievable to me that they think they can pull the old “oops, we didn’t know” speech now… they have already stated that they were trying to keep certain searches from bringing up specific titles…that is censorship! ugh! Not only are LGBT books being targeted but also feminist books, health and reproduction…I am sure it is teh result of some campaign targeted to “protect our children” [from thinking for themselves!]…OK I am getting riled up again…must chill
    I really don’t like Amazon anyway, so this cinches it for me…I use BetterWorld Books if I need to order online…but you know I prefer stores and libraries…It irks me though that so many people seem to think this is OK…what’s next?

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  6. Just appalling – y’know, I firmly believe in every business’s right to sell or NOT sell whatever they choose, but I’m w/Sam: go ahead, be honest, and let consumers decide whether or not you are the sort of vendor they choose to patronize. Amazon’s behavior is worse than censorship: it’s deceipt.

    If I DID believe in banning anything, the “Parent’s Guide to Preventing Homosexuality” would be at the top of the list: that bullshit idea that parents are responsible for their offsprings’ sexual orientation, which has been debunked by all legitimate scholars on the topic, has done more harm to individuals and society than any sort of literature, popular cuture, or behavior between consenting adults could ever possibly cause. One of my professors in law school summed it up as well as anyone I’ve ever heard:
    “Most gay people I know don’t spend that much time trying to figure out how we got this way, but the parents sure do…”

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  7. I’d like to believe Amazon is not the Evil Empire I believe they’re turning into, and that it was the malicious work of one individual, but I just can’t. That kind of company-wide effect is dictated by the top brass, and now they’re doing spin control. There have been too many contradictory answers coming out of that organization to believe otherwise. These guys have gotten so big they think they can do whatever the hell they like, and no one can challenge them. I think that author is going to be waiting a long damn time for an apology from Bezos.

    Hmmmm…I wonder if Bezos is part of the Bohemian Club??

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  8. Oh we’re much closer to a dark past than that. Mid-Twentieth Century America was not exactly a high point in civil rights.

    And all Amazon’s claims of this being a “glitch” or “embarrassing and ham-fisted cataloging error”. That would hold a lot more water if authors hadn’t been TOLD by Amazon as early as February that this was going to be done to their books.

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  9. I found their decision understandable on some levels and strange on others. While we can all be outraged at the thought of censorship if a business has a business justification to do something they will and that is how it should be because their responsibility, first and foremost, is to their shareholders. I am sure amazon did not take this decision arbitrarily because they had to know that there would be widely felt repercussions because of this. And since I am not privy to all their reasons I have to temper my annoyance. True, they can find other ways to safeguard content so that adult content is being delivered only to the right audience and not to those who will be offended by it and turned off from buying thereby resulting in lost sales. But making that change systematically would be costly and time consuming and I am guessing this was a quicker move. They may still come back with a different solution in the long run if it’s financially prudent. I want to point this out because I think most of the comments here are overlooking the vitally significant fact that this may not have been an act of censorship so much as a profitability driven move.

    The intended or unintended exclusion of gay and lesbian books because of this move bothers me though because that’s not censorship of content but of a lifestyle although they may not have meant it as such. I want to see how this plays out.

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  10. Hi Venus,

    Thanks for your comment.

    I’m afraid I can’t really give Amazon a pass on this one. If they were going to adopt a new policy about how to carry and display certain books based on content, they could have done it more openly, announcing the change. The way they went about it though seems sneaky and deceptive. It’s the same way they tried to strong-arm self-published authors into using their in-house publishing service, BookSurge (see http://antitrust.booklocker.com/). And the rate at which they backpedaled and changed direction (how did it become a “glitch” if they were simply bowing to shareholder pressure?) almost gave me whiplash. I’m not willing to exonerate them when Bezos hasn’t even bothered to make an apology to all the authors who may have been hurt by this stunt. At no time have they claimed this was a move to accommodate shareholder interests. It went from being a deliberate move to a “cataloging error” when they saw what a huge mistake they’d made.

    Oh what a twisted web they weave.

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  11. The phrase “hamfisted” is interesting to me – I don’t believe this was the decision of one single indivdual, but it’s possible that somebody in middle management went all holy and “Bohemian Club” and Bezos let him/her do what s/he wanted until it started looking bad for sales and PR. “Hamfisted” says to me that Bezos won’t tell the whole story, but he is loudly and clearly blaming somebody else for a bad decision, which is why he refuses to apologize. Any way you slice it, it makes amazon look bad, although as a gay friend of ours in the publishing industry said this week “I don’t care where you buy your books from; just don’t stop buying them.” (He then proceeded to tell me about a whole stack of books he’s going to send me, gratis – THERE’S a real pal!)

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  12. I thought that was an interesting word choice myself. The whole incident makes me wonder how pervasive that “Bohemian Club” mindset of “We rule the world and can do what the f*** we want” attitude is at Amazon.

    (for those who aren’t familiar with the Bohemian Club, I invite you to visit Bohemian Tragedy which maryj was kind enough to share with me the other day. Trust me, it’s worth the read.)

    Ok, so how do I get on the “free books” list?? 🙂

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  13. DD,

    No arguments here. Whatever their reason it was poorly thought out and executed. If they had more nefarious intentions then that is even more horrible. I work as a business strategist and part of my job is to enable business to traverse the marketplace through smarter decision making and in most large companies it would be impossible in this day and age to push through a morally superior viewpoint like this. There are many checks and balances against it. Which is why I am wondering what happened but it was hamfisted to say the least.

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