Sunday, April 12, 2009

So, the blog is He Knits, but he also reads and thinks. That means you're as likely to hear about my recent purchase of Cascade Alpaca Lace yarn (50g/437 yds of 100% baby alpaca...so soft) as you are to find me ranting about something completely unrelated to fiber or knitting...

Like Amazon.com and their homophobic new policy regarding sales rankings.

If you're a regular user of their website, you're probably familiar with the Amazon.com Sales Rank. On their FAQ's, Amazon describes it as "... an added service for customers, authors, publishers, artists, labels, and studios". . It's a numerical ranking based on recent and historical sales of every item sold on the website. For instance, the camera I want to buy is currently ranked 800 in electronics. You can find rankings for light bulbs and underpants (the 2xist Men's Carbon Trunk ranks 35,799 in Apparel). Every time sold...until very recently.

The Amazon Sales Rank no longer applies to every item sold on the website. This weekend, they started stripping the rankings from those books they deem "Adult". Here's the word from Amazon.com to Young Adult author Mark Probst, whose book 'The Filly' had it's sales rank removed:

"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. "

The obvious irony is that Young Adult fiction has been deemed "adult" material by Amazon.com. The reason, of course, is that the book falls under the category of "gay and lesbian" fiction. Regardless of it's content, in the eyes of the Amazon, "gay" = "adult".

So what's the big deal, you may be wondering. I can still buy the books on the site. They still show up when I do a search. The problem is that they are just a little more difficult to find and they don't show up in the Bestsellers listings because those automatically created listings are generated from the rankings. So, glbt books and authors are automatically at a disadvantage when it come to sales simply because Amazon considers any gay content to be offensive.

Here are a few books that have been deemed to have "adult" content from which the general public apparently needs some protection:
Bastard Out of Carolina by Dorothy Allison (1992 National Book Award winner for Fiction)
Becoming a Man: Half a Life Story by Paul Monette (also a National Book Award winner in '92 for Non-Fiction and a book that played a pivotal role in my own coming out)
A Single Man by Christopher Isherwood
Like People in History by Felice Picano
Running with Scissors by Augusten Borroughs
The Front Runner by Patricia Nell Warren

That's the tip of the iceburg, really. So, what's the point if I can still find the books on thier webpage? The point is that Amazon has made a policy change that overwhelmingly affects a specific category of books and unfairly and inaccurately labels them “adult content” based simply on the fact that they may contain gay themes. That's homophobia, in case you didn't recognize it.

To be fair, maybe the decision wasn't intended to be homophobic, but when you consider that the #1 book on Amazon.com is currently the "Conservitive Manifesto" of talk radio dj Mark Levin, something has me convinced that it probably was.

I, for one, won't be shopping there any time soon.

1 comment:

Joel said...

I was a little shocked when I read your post. I did a little digging and was even more shocked by what I discovered. Not only did the titles you mentioned lose their rankings, they were deleted from the search files. I find it hard to believe this was a "glitch" when I can search for and find Ron Jeremy's autobiography, but not Ellen Degeneres'.

I also typed "homosexuality" in the search box and was dismayed by the results that were returned. Every title was either about curing homosexuality, the case (religious and otherwise) against homosexuality, and dealing with a child who is gay (not in a positive way). I think this sends a very clear message from Amazon about their agenda.

I sent the following email to Amazon's customer service:

Comments:"I am closing my account with Amazon.com. While I am just one customer, and may only be a drop in the bucket for a retailer of your size, I can not support a media company who engages in cencorship. The fact that you have chosen to remove specific titles about Homosexuality from your sales ranking and search functions is blatant cencorship, bigotry, and reveals your obvious anti-gay agenda. Your success as a company is based and dependent on freedom of speech and the press. To impose your own narrow minded opinions and beliefs on your customers is wrong. You should be ashamed.
I'll will be ordering my books and media from Borders.com from now on, and will encourage my friends and family to do the same.
Joel Sutton

I got this reply:
"Hello,
This is an embarrassing and ham-fisted cataloging error for a company that prides itself on offering complete selection.
It has been misreported that the issue was limited to Gay & Lesbian themed titles - in fact, it impacted 57,310 books in a number of broad categories such as Health, Mind & Body, Reproductive & Sexual Medicine, and Erotica. This problem impacted books not just in the United States but globally. It affected not just sales rank but also had the effect of removing the books from Amazon's main product search.
Many books have now been fixed and we're in the process of fixing the remainder as quickly as possible, and we intend to implement new measures to make this kind of accident less likely to occur in the future.
The employees here at Amazon.com truly care about your experience with us and take great pride in the level of service we provide. Your loyalty to our company for the past 6 months is greatly appreciated, and this loyalty is one of the reasons I am attempting to correct an honest misunderstanding.
Although I understand that you requested your account be closed, I sincerely hope that my efforts to correct this misunderstanding have been satisfactory. However, if you still wish to close your account, please visit the following link to submit your request: (link removed)

I hope that you will give us another opportunity to prove the quality of our service to you."

That won't happen any time soon.
Joel