Cover of American PsychoA nice Easter has turned ugly as news broke this morning that Amazon.com was de-listing LGBT books in their sales rankings.
For those not familiar with how Amazon and book sales work, let me explain. The sales rank determines whether a book is listed as a "best seller" and where it ranks in search listings. Having a book's sales figures removed can even mean that a book is no longer searchable on the site.
The first person to figure out this new policy was a self-published author. Mark R. Probst noticed that his book had lost its ranking, and made inquiries. The response he got from Amazon's customer service explained:
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.
Probst is the author of a novel for young adults with gay characters set in the old West; he was concerned that gay-friendly books were being unfairly targeted.
Image via CrunchBaseWithin hours the news had been picked up on Twitter with thousands talking about the new ban on LGBT sales rankings on Amazon. The hash used is #amazonfail if you'd like to watch the story unfold.
Shortly after the news hit Twitter a Facebook group sprung up calling for a boycott of Amazon as well as an online petition.
The policy, ostensibly to "protect" people from erotic literature seems to be aimed mainly at LGBT works. According to research this afternoon by the L.A. Times, the breakdown of those unranked and those still ranked is confusing.
Individuals have found that while works like James Baldwin's "Giovanni's Room", a classic of mid-century literature has been removed, books on training fighting dogs (complete with graphic photos) has remained in the rankings.
Our research shows that these books have lost their ranking: "Running with Scissors" by Augusten Burroughs; "Rubyfruit Jungle" by Rita Mae Brown, "Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic" by Alison Bechdel, "The History of Sexuality, Vol. 1" by Michel Foucault, "Bastard Out of Carolina" by Dorothy Allison (2005 Plume edition), "Little Birds: Erotica" by Anais Nin, "The Diving Bell and the Butterfly" by Jean-Dominque Bauby (1997 Knopf edition), "Maurice" by E.M. Forster (2005 W.W. Norton edition) and "Becoming a Man" by Paul Monette, which won the 1992 National Book Award.
Books that remain ranked include: "Naked" by David Sedaris; "Tropic of Cancer" by Henry Miller; "American Psycho" by Bret Easton Ellis; "Wifey" by Judy Blume; "The Kiss" by Kathryn Harrison; the photobooks "Playboy: Helmut Newton" and "Playboy: Six Decades of Centerfolds"; "Naked Lunch" by William Burroughs; "Incest: From 'A Journal of Love'" by Anais Nin; "The Diving Bell and the Butterfly" by Jean-Dominque Bauby (2007 Vintage International edition), "Maurice" by E.M. Forster (2005 Penguin Classics edition).Certianly many of the books that are no longer ranked are no more "adult" than many of those that are...
Perhaps most bizarre are the effects on searches. Searching for "homosexuality" returns the book: "A Parents Guide to Preventing Homosexuality." A search for "Gay" bestsellers returns a self-help book for heterosexual men on dating by Steve Harvey.
While it appears that Amazon has targeted LGBT works primarily, the larger and more troubling assessment is their desire to implement a system of censorship in their store that will effectively keep controversial works off the shelves and out of the hands of the buying public. That is a troubling turn for the world's largest bookseller.