There has been quite a hubbub recently concerning what is apparently a ridiculous new Amazon policy. The whole idea was to remove the sales rank of any “adult” content, effectively removing this content from searches and best seller lists. Unfortunately, it seems that Amazon includes any book in the LGBT category as “adult”. This includes books like Brokeback Mountain by Annie Proulx, Ellen Degeneres’s autobiography, and, laughably, the children’s book “Heather has Two Mommies”. Shockingly, this has been an issue since February, which the majority of people were not aware of until Mark Probst, the author of a Young Adult romance called The Filly, wrote a blog entry about it (which you can read here). He contacted Amazon to find out why his novel had been stripped of its sales rankings, and got a response saying “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.”
Over the weekend, Twitter erupted and a Facebook petition to restore the sales ranks of these novels amassed 15,000 signatures. As a result, Amazon has changed its tune a little bit…first saying that these titles were stripped of their sales ranks because of a glitch, and later referring to it as an “embarrassing and ham-fisted cataloging error”. It appears that some of the more than fifty thousand titles which lost their sales ranks are now getting them back, presumably proving that Amazon is slowly fixing the glitch which affected all of these titles (not just LGBT related).
This situation is complicated because, frankly, I’m not sure I have the fortitude to withstand an Amazon boycott. It’s possible that this has all been an honest mistake–some secret conspiracy to erase all the LGBT content from Amazon is incredibly far-fetched. And, after all, Amazon is only hurting itself by making it difficult to buy books (independent online booksellers are surely rejoicing over this controversy). But I still feel very uncomfortable about the whole business. After all, I’m certainly not a computer expert, but the idea of a glitch just randomly deciding that all LGBT content is adult instead of, say, parenting books or science fiction. I think the whole thing is an example of how gross categorizations of literature can be problematic. I understand the practicality of an “LGBT” category, but it is strange that Heather has Two Mommies and Brokeback Mountain are in the same category. I’m also disturbed by how long it took for Amazon to notice the problem–after all, they were getting a few emails about it starting in February. As many websites have pointed out, if all “African-American” or “Feminist” content was stripped of its sales rank, it would have blown up much earlier and merited a much more embarassed apology. I feel inspired, however, by the internet vigilantism that has occured. Who would have thought Twitter and Facebook could actually have an effect on the real world?
For more coverage of this, I recommend the following websites: