Don't Jump To Conclusions About Amazon HomophobiaDon't Jump To Conclusions About Amazon Homophobia
Amazon.com is learning that customer service and public relations is a 24x7x365 job in the age of Twitter, as consumers are becoming outraged over reports that the company is unfairly censoring books with gay, lesbian, transgender and bisexual themes.
April 13, 2009
Amazon.com is learning that customer service and public relations is a 24x7x365 job in the age of Twitter, as consumers are becoming outraged over reports that the company is unfairly censoring books with gay, lesbian, transgender and bisexual themes.Writer Mark R. Probst started the furor on Sunday with a blog post noting that Amazon had deleted the sales ranking from two newly-released gay romance books -- a fate which he subsequently learned befell hundreds of gay and lesbian themed books. Probst queried Amazon and got a response back saying they were delisted because they'd been classified as "adult;" the response was signed by "Ashlyn D, Member Services, Amazon.com Advantage."
Yes, it is true. Amazon admits they are indeed stripping the sales ranking indicators for what they deem to be "adult" material. Of course they are being hypocritical because there is a multitude of "adult" literature out there that is still being ranked - Harold Robbins, Jackie Collins, come on! They are using categories THEY set up (gay and lesbian) to now target these books as somehow offensive. Probst notes that another writer noticed a similar problem in February. The issue is important because high sales rankings generate more sales. Outrage flared on Twitter, with hordes of people condemning Amazon. As of Sunday night, the tag #amazonfail was the top trending topic on Twitter. Blogger Edward Champion issued a call to boycott Amazon. He notes that books included in the adult category include "D.H. Lawrence's Lady Chatterley's Lover (Amazon link) (screenshot), Dorothy Allison's Bastard Out of Carolina (Amazon link) (screenshot), Annie Proulx's Brokeback Mountain (Amazon link) (screenshot), John Cleland's Fanny Hill (Amazon link) (screenshot), and numerous other titles," while Amazon is still including within the ranking system books like Adolf Hitler's Mein Kampf and The Protocols of the Elders of Zion. I did some quick searching on Amazon to confirm some of the reports I saw on the Internet. Heather Has Two Mommies, a book explaining homosexuality to children, is unranked. Ellen DeGeneres: A Biography is unranked. On the other hand, this memoir of porn star Ron Jeremy (so raunchy I don't even want to publish the title here) is ranked. The books being labeled as "adult" aren't gay porn; I doubt you'll find any steamy content in Ellen Degeneres's biography. Heather Has Two Mommies is a children's book. Clearly, there's something terribly wrong at Amazon, and gay-themed books are being unfairly given the "adult" label, where raunchier and more pernicious heterosexual books are spared. But it's premature to blame Amazon or boycott them. Let's hear what Amazon has to say before getting out the flaming torches and pitchforks. Indeed, an Amazon spokeswoman said late Sunday that the change was a "glitch" in their software, they're fixing it, and they're still trying to figure out what's going on. Even in text, she sounded tired. My prediction: By the end of the day Monday, we'll find out this is, indeed, a software glitch. Or maybe some bigoted middle manager got too big for his britches. I am confident that this is not a reflection of Amazon policy. If I'm wrong and Amazon is singling out gay-themed books for penalties? Well, I'll boycott them. But I'd like to wait for all the facts to come in before making a judgment. The cause of gay rights and equality will not be significantly harmed if we hold off the Amazon boycott until, say, Wednesday.
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