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April 12, 2009


A disturbing new report seems to indicate that Amazon.com is becoming a bit homophobic in their online rankings.

According to a Box Turtle Bulletin report, Amazon is engaged in an inventory-wide program to reclassify a large number of GLBT titles as "Adult" books. Why is this so important to GLBT authors and our community in general? Well, a posting yesterday at the LA Times blog section Jacket Copy, which covers book news and information, put it this way:

"American Psycho" is Bret Easton Ellis' story of a sadistic murderer. "Unfriendly Fire" is a well-reviewed empirical analysis of military policy. But it's "Unfriendly Fire" that does not have a sales rank -- which means it would not show up in Amazon's bestseller lists, even if it sold more copies than the "Twilight" series. In some cases, being de-ranked also means being removed from Amazon's search results.

Amazon's policy of removing "adult" content from its rankings seems to be both new and unevenly implemented. On Saturday, 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's novel was set in the old West with gay characters and was written for young adults. He was rightfully concerned that gay-friendly books were being unfairly targeted.

The obviously flawed and astoundingly arbitrary logic used to determine that a violent and gruesome story about a sadistic killer is somehow NOT considered an "adult content" tome while a thoughtful, reasoned exploration of a national military policy (DADT) IS sounds strangely like the same twisted logic that the radical, right-wing religious zealots have been using against our community for years.

When I first read about this story at Queers United over the weekend, it wasn't clear whether or not this was an intentional effort on the part of Amazon Books or simply a glitch in a new classification system that they were trying to institute. Since I have been ordering from Amazon for years and they've always proven to be GLBT friendly, I really wanted this whole thing to be an innocent administrative mistake. Now, however, after reading BTB's story, the LA Times blog post and a second posting today by QU as well as Amazon's own response to Mark Probst, I'm beginning to think that this is an intentional effort to, once again, undermine the credibility and stature of GLBT publications.

I'm hoping that if this is intentional, that it's being perpetrated by a small, right-wing faction within the megalithic corporate structure of Amazon. In either case, we can't really let this slide. Immediate, responsive action is the only way this is going to be stopped and corrected.

In their posting today, Queers United provided the following link to change.org. Once you go there, the only thing you have to do is fill-in your name, address and email to have your letter sent to Amazon Customer Service and Jeff Bezos (CEO, Amazon.com). The letter is prewritten for you but does have a space for you to add your own, personal comment.

If you don't want your name to be visible to the general community, there is a box at the bottom of the form that gives you the option to not have your petition letter seen by other community members. The box will already be checked to allow visibility so make sure you UNCLICK the box to hide your letter.